Friday, June 21, 2013

Whose First Lady?

The First Lady with her husband
One of the things that went unnoticed during Obama's visit.  I was listening to the news in the car one day - the subject was Michelle Obama's visit to a theatre in Dublin to see a production of Riverdance.   The reporter said something very interesting.  "The First Lady Michelle Obama...will meet Mrs Sabina Higgins, wife of President Higgins..."  I didn't quite crash the car, but I was a little indignant - the old republican was rising up in me. 
In this country, Mrs Sabina Higgins is the First Lady and she should have precedence when reporting on the visit of the wife of a foreign president.  The reporter should have said: The First Lady, Mrs Sabina Higgins, will greet Mrs Michelle Obama, wife of the US President, at the theatre....
Now maybe Mrs Higgins does not have that title in Ireland, and if she doesn't I would appreciate someone telling me.  But I think the fawning over the Obamas went too far in that case.  Why did it happen?  Is it a case that at the end of the day Ireland still lacks confidence in itself?
Anyway, rant over.  Old republican streak being laid to rest.


  1. We do not use the term First Lady because in a republic it is incorrect, all citizens are equal. So Mrs Higgins was correctly addressed as the Wife of the president. You are correct she should have come before Mrs Obama. As far as I am aware only the USA uses the title first lady.

  2. I think obviously the spouse of the President of Ireland takes precedence over the spouse of a foreign president in Ireland. However, the US First Lady has a more legally recognised substantial role than the spouse of an Irish President. See this from

    So what is the legal status of the First Lady? In 1993, Hillary Clinton was appointed by her husband, President Bill Clinton, to head the Task Force on Health Care Reform, a high visibility and controversial panel. Some citizens filed suit to require the group to make public all of its business. A 1972 law declared that federal advisory committees must conduct all meetings in public and make their papers publicly available, if there were members who were not government officials; bodies made up entirely of government officials and staff were exempt. Hillary Clinton maintained that as First Lady, she was not an ordinary citizen, but a defacto government official, and thus the task force itself was a staff function of the executive branch of the government.

    A federal district judge ruled that the spouse of the president was not an official, officer or employee, and thus the task force fell under the rules for a federal advisory committee. The First Lady, that decision said, was not a government official. The case was appealed.

    On June 22, 1993, a United States Court of Appeals backed up Hillary Clinton's assertion that the First Lady was a full-time government official, in a ruling which found that the task force was wholly composed of government officials, and thus could conduct its work in private. By the time the court ruled, that particular task force had been disbanded, its work completed.

    The court ruled that, while such a designation was stretching the definition of "officer or employee," it avoided constitutional problems to do so. And, with laws such as those funding the First Lady's office and staff, the court said "Congress itself has recognized that the president's spouse acts as the functional equivalent of an assistant to the president."

    Thus, the current legal status of the First Lady of the United States is as "a de facto officer or employee" of the United States government.

  3. Thanks for the responses and clarifications, Fr Gabriel and Catholicus.