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Speech at a Garden Party to celebrate Care and Solidarity in the Community

Áras an Uachtaráin, 30 June 2017



There can be no doubt that, while retaining and valuing a spirit of concern for others and a willingness to offer of our time and support to those who are vulnerable is essential, we need, as a society, to invest in public policies and resources that can reduce the burden on those who care for loved ones.

Tá áthas orm féin agus ar Saidhbhín fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh go hÁras an Uachtaráin. Tá áthas orainn go raibh sibh in ann a bheith linn le haghaidh tráthnóna aoibhnis, cairdis agus comhráite spreagthacha.

[Sabina and I are very happy to welcome you to áras an Uachtaráin. We are delighted to be sharing your company for an afternoon of enjoyment, friendship and stimulating conversations.]

The garden party season is a special time of the year here in the Áras when Sabina and I welcome to áras an Uachtaráin many citizens who have contributed in their unique way to Irish society, in acts of citizenship and solidarity.

This afternoon we are fortunate to be joined in the gardens of Áras an Uachtaráin by so many pro-active citizens whose altruism and great generosity of spirit have immeasurably enriched the lives of others, creating the better communities and societies that we need to create a better world.

Here in Ireland, despite the many challenges of the contemporary moment, we have thankfully remained at heart a creative, resourceful, and warm people, with a firm sense of common decency and justice. That is something which I have experienced time and again in the many groups and communities I have met as Uachtaráin na hÉireann. I encounter it here again this afternoon and it has been greatly inspiring to meet so many of you who provide support, services and the hand of friendship to those within our society who are in special need of care or assistance,

There can be no doubt that how a society treats its more vulnerable citizens is a reflection of its moral core. A main theme of my Presidency has been the importance of building an inclusive Republic – one in which all citizens are treated with equal dignity and respect and are empowered to participate in our democracy.  

If we are to achieve the goal of a true Republic and give expression to the vision of universal human rights, then we must stand with and embrace those of our fellow citizens who are most vulnerable and suffer the greatest exclusion.

I am so delighted therefore to welcome so many of you who support people through difficult times, - through serious illness or disability, addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, unemployment and the many other challenges that darken and shadow so many lives. It is people like yourselves who are providing the building blocks to construct the strong and compassionate communities that lie at the heart of any true Republic.

Your presence here today is an encouraging reminder of the many quiet and unsung acts of kindness that take place every day in towns, villages and suburbs across the country – of the listening ear, the practical assistance, the advocacy, the fundraising and the many other demonstrations of solidarity that are such a vital lifeline to those who have found themselves in situations where they are vulnerable or have been pushed to the margins of our society.

Thinking beyond the self is the basis of all ethics. Issues of inter-generational justice remind us of the importance of thinking of future generations. Climate change is one of the great challenges of our time, and I am also deeply grateful to those who work to create a more ethical and sustainable life and to ensure we treasure this fragile planet for our own and for future generations. Your work is vital to the building of a more democratic and just society, reminding us that while significant decisions are being taken at conference tables around the world, each and every one of us can make a great contribution to creating a cleaner, safer and better world.

So may I thank all of you here today for the valuable work you do, and for the great contribution you make to the creation of a fairer and more equal society.

Now to something very important. February saw the launch of a year long campaign, “Share the Care”, aimed at highlighting the vital role of carers in Ireland, and very many of you invited here today represent some of the hundreds of thousands of people who, every day in homes across the country, are providing generous care for parents, children, partners, or other family members or friends. 

“Share the Care” contained the fundamental message that nobody should care alone – that caring should be a shared responsibility between a number of partners and parties including the state. That is a greatly important message, and one too often overlooked by a society that benefits so much from the quiet altruism of those many thousands of citizens who spend their days caring for another. that of long term care, for our ageing population, becomes ever more clear.

The most recent census figures publicly available have shown that 4.1% of our population now provide unpaid care, with over 6.2 million hours of such care being provided every week in this country.  I am delighted, therefore, to have this opportunity to acknowledge the quiet, sustained work of the many unsung heroes who provide critical care for family members and others. 

The altruism and generosity of all those who support fellow citizens through difficult times is greatly uplifting. It is important however, that we, as a society be challenged by your actions and sacrifices.  There can be no doubt that, while retaining and valuing a spirit of concern for others and a willingness to offer of our time and support to those who are vulnerable is essential we need, as a society, to invest in public policies and resources that can reduce the burden on those who care for loved ones.

A caring state, and the building of such a state, is the responsibility of all citizens. A caring state does not grow from nothing, but must be founded on articulation and action by concerned citizens who not only visualise a democratic society, but make a case for it and support its realisation.  

Cinnte, is dlúthchuid d'ár sochaí é an obair agus an iarracht a dhéanann gach éinne a thugann tacaíocht agus aire d'ár saoránaigh soghonta, le go mbeidh cáilíocht bheatha níos fearr acu.

[Indeed, the work and efforts of all those who, in so many different ways, enrich and support the lives of so many that need help and are vulnerable forms a vital component of our society.]

Today is a greatly welcome opportunity to express my deep appreciation, and indeed admiration, directly to some of the citizens whose work and contribution so greatly enriches the lives of others, and the many other people around the country that you mirror or represent.

All of you play your heroic role in creating a just, ethical and democratic republic. I thank you for the work you do so quietly, neither seeking nor receiving reward or fanfare. I thank you also for being citizens of whom we can be very proud and from whom we can learn so much as we seek to create a society that is just, fair and founded on a spirit of true solidarity.

I would like to conclude by thanking all those who have worked so hard on behalf of the Áras to make this a wonderful occasion for you.  A big thank you to our MC Norah Casey; and our talented entertainers Arthur Greene on piano; St. Patrick’s Reed and Brass Band; traditional musicians Colm Ó hArgáin, Ruairí Ó hArgáin, and Elaine Clarke; Fiachra Potts (piper); Tara Viscardi – Harpist; Meadhbh O’Rourke – Flautist; Havana Club Trio; David Keenan; Wyvern Lingo; and The Riptide Movement.

Sabina and I are greatly looking forward to seeing more performances in a few minutes. On your behalf and my own, I salute the hard work, unfailing good humour and – not least – culinary skills of the staff here in Áras an Uachtaráin. 

Our thanks for the assistance of the Civil Defence, our friends from St. John of Gods, the Defence Forces, and our Gaisce volunteers.

Sabina and I hope you have a great afternoon. Enjoy the rest of your time here and thank you for coming.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.