President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins apologized for a comment he made about Irish-born Professor Dame Louise Richardson, one of the world’s leading academics on terrorism.

Richardson – who was awarded the honor when admitted to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire last year – is a political scientist whose specialist field is the study of terrorism. She is also president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and former vice-chancellor of Oxford University.

She is due to chair the Irish government’s Consultative Forum on International Security Policy which opens on Thursday, June 22.

Higgins apologized to her on Monday for what he called a “throwaway remark” in an interview he gave to the Sunday Business Post when he made an observation about her being a Dame of the British Empire (DBE).

A statement from the president’s office said Higgins referred to Richardson of Oxford University and her “very large letter DBE” in a casual manner during the course of a long interview.

References to the DBE were received in some quarters as the president disparaging the objectivity of Richardson in advance of her chairing the forum.

The statement from Áras an Uachtaráin referred to Higgins looking through a copy of the program for the forum at the time of his interview. It said he was referring casually to the fact that almost every reference to Richardson in the program was in a bold typeface, with DBE in capital letters after her name.

The statement added, “Indeed, the president’s exact words were ‘a very large letter DBE.’

 “The president intended no offense by such a casual remark. He apologizes for any offense which he may have inadvertently caused to Professor Richardson by what was a throwaway remark.

 “As a political scientist and sociologist, the president is familiar with Professor Richardson’s work. He has too, with others, an appreciation for the initiatives for which Professor Richardson was awarded her DBE, in attracting more undergraduates from non-traditional or deprived backgrounds to Oxford University.”

Richardson, 65, born in Tramore, Co Waterford, will chair the forum which will be held in Cork, Galway, and Dublin this week and next week, and will feature a range of international and national experts, academics, diplomats and politicians.

Separately, in his Business Post interview, Higgins issued a strongly worded warning about deviating from Ireland’s traditional policy on neutrality.

He said the country is “playing with fire” during a dangerous period of “drift” in foreign policy, and should avoid “burying itself in other people's agendas.”

Higgins said Ireland's policy was one of “positive neutrality” and if Ireland interfered with that, there was no difference between it and Lithuania and Latvia, which are both NATO members.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin insisted the government does not intend to change Ireland’s policy of military neutrality.

And Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said joining NATO was not on the agenda of the government or any political party in Ireland. He said the forum of experts convening this week to discuss Ireland’s defense and security policy was about having “an in-depth conversation” in the face of cyberattacks, issues around international terrorism, industrial espionage, and hybrid threats.

*This column first appeared in the June 21 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.