The ‘Why Women Matter’ conference was due to take place in the Holy See yesterday but organisers moved it to another location in Rome so Mrs McAleese and another barred speaker could take part.
“I have to say that as current president I was deeply concerned and upset at recent exclusions of her,” said President Higgins during an RTÉ radio interview that was recorded on Tuesday.
His comments preceded Mrs McAleese’s comments ahead of the conference when she described the Catholic Church as an “empire of misogyny”.
President Higgins said he thinks Mrs McAleese is a very, very important person in speaking on matters of spiritual significance.
“That is maybe one of the most important things that has to happen is removing exclusions — exclusions from discourse and exclusions from thinking,” he said.
We had our censorship period, the President said: “I think I might have been regarded as not an appropriate speaker myself at some stage in certain institutions.”
President Higgins asked how ideas and reflections could be threatening to anybody who is committed to equality. Society is healthier when there is equality of participation but we are not there yet because of pay and pension gender gaps.
President Higgins also said it is a “nonsense” for social media platforms to claim that they do not have responsibility for their content: “They are not just platforms; they are in fact spaces that are set up and from which arrows emerge that affect people’s lives.”
President Higgins said he mentioned the importance of using the new technology of communications in a way that is of assistance when he visited schools. “But I am very well aware that it is being used to abuse people.”