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Speech at the Unveiling of the ‘Footsteps’ statues

Hobart, 14 October 2017

May I begin by addressing you in the language of so many of the women who would have arrived here, all those years ago.

A Dhaoine Uaisle, a Chairde Gael, 

Is mór an áthais a thugann sé dom a bheith in bhur measc inniu ag an ócáid stairiúil seo agus táim thar a bheith buíoch daoibh as bhur gcuireadh dom teacht agus cuairt a thabhairt ar Hobart. 

May I, like you Governor, begin by acknowledging the first occupants of this land. I honour their Elders, present and past.

I want to say what a great honour it is for Sabina and me to be with you today at the unveiling of this most magnificent work by the Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie, these poignant statues commemorating the thousands of women and children who arrived on these shores in chains, after a long and tortuous journey. 

One hundred and seventy years ago, famine raged through the fields of Ireland. ‘Black ‘47’ was the nadir of the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mór, when the peasant population of Ireland was literally dying in the ditches. 

Today I recall that terrible time in our nation’s history because not all who suffered died. Over a million people died of hunger and disease, but over 2 million were forced to leave their native land. The majority did so out of necessity, fleeing poverty, seeking a new life and a new hope in a new land. 

In Perth last Monday, I recalled over four thousand young women and girls who, faced with a bleak outlook in famine ravaged Ireland, were transported voluntarily, it is claimed, from Ireland’s workhouses to the Australian Colonies. 

Evelyn Conlon, in her wonderfully researched and written historic novel Not the Same Sky recounts the voyage of the Thomas Arbuthnot which left Plymouth on the 18th of October 1849 with what was described as “a cargo of Irish girls” under the care of surgeon-superintendent Charles Strutt, from whose diaries we have gained such an insight into the reality of what these women experienced. The ship reached Botany Bay in February 1850. 

Those women were brought to these shores as part of a scheme instigated by Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies, which was designed specifically to attract women between the ages of 14 and 20, women who were needed to address a gender imbalance that had emerged in the Australian Colonies. 

The mindset that would devise such a scheme is in itself something to ponder. Is there not something deeply unsettling in the attitude of the then imperial social engineers, such as Earl Grey? Having failed to attract a sufficient number of female settlers, he seized the opportunity of Ireland’s famine to pluck young, desperate women from the most wretched of conditions, separating them from any surviving relatives they might have had, removing them from the land of their birth and transporting them to the other side of the planet. While they are described, in some records, as volunteers, it is worth considering whether they had any choice at all. With starvation and disease ravaging the land, with their daily reality of wretched workhouse conditions, I wonder, could they have really opted not to come? 
Today we are recalling another specific group of women who were transported from Ireland and Britain as punishment, victims of a harsh judicial system that valued property above people’s lives. The crimes for which they were transported were often petty. The theft of food or a few coins, a watch or a shawl, stolen to try and sustain a starving family; desperate acts of destitute individuals. 

Among them were the 25,000 women, nearly half of them Irish, transported in the dark holds of ships on a 16,000-mile journey to what for them was the other end of the Earth. These Mná Díbeartha, Banished Women, left their homeland in the most desperate of circumstance. Thirteen thousand of them arrived on the shores of Van Diemen’s Land alone, or with small children in tow, facing an unknown country and unknown future, with little hope of ever seeing their families and native island again. 

Rowan’s sculptures have their companion pieces in Dublin and Toronto. Unveiled on the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine, in his Dublin sculptures Rowan gave a face to the suffering of the many starving people who departed in ships from their homeland. The 160th anniversary of Black ’47 was commemorated in Toronto with the unveiling of Rowan’s depiction in Ireland Park of those who arrived there in hope in a new country. 

Here in Hobart, commemorating the 170th anniversary of that dark time, Rowan did not need to imagine the women who were forced to make the perilous voyage. For he could meet them. I was particularly moved to learn that the models for Rowan’s sculptures are the descendants of some of these banished women, some of whom are with us here today. 

It shows a maturity and depth of understanding in coming to terms with Australia’s origins that Australians are now confident in transecting the multiple strands of their identity, including their convict ancestry. To find a convict ancestor is no longer a matter of shame but can be cause for reflection and indeed celebration. 

Because many of these destitute and down-trodden women triumphed. These women and young girls, and the choices they made, shaped the world in which they lived. They were the founding mothers of Modern Australia. And so, it is fitting that we should remember them; and that we should celebrate them. 

Of course, their arrival in Hobart, carrying the label of convicts, was not immediately a cause for celebration. Though no doubt many were glad to be back on dry land after months spent at sea. 

But for those who arrived with children, they had to suffer first the pain of forced separation as the infants were taken from them and incarcerated in conditions that often proved fatal. 

The women themselves had to survive their own incarceration and beatings, long hours of labour and harsh conditions in which they were housed. And they had to endure assignments to masters as bonded labour. 

In those early years, convict labour was a main resource chosen as a means to build what were the new Australian Colonies. Convict women made clothes, cleaned and cooked for the population of colony, and became the mothers of this new nation. 

The resistance, resilience and dogged determination they needed to continue to survive and to build new lives seem incredible and are to be admired. Their landing in Hobart town was indeed their first footsteps towards a freedom from hunger, dispossession and the poverty that went with vagrancy, but it was also their entry into a particular form of bondage in terms of incarceration and punishment. 

We should never forget those who did not survive to mother a new generation; many did not survive the arduous voyage; many others who did were broken by abuse and the troubles they encountered and by the cruelties and humiliations imposed upon them. We now have the means to remember them too and to recall their suffering and sacrifice. 

That we are able to do so, we must note, has a certain degree of irony for we must be grateful to the colonial administrators who recorded so meticulously the details of every woman and child arriving on Hobart’s waterfront. We are grateful to the historians, archivists, archaeologists and others who have trawled through those records to bring us the stories of these women. Their work is invaluable in aiding our understanding of the women’s lives and the circumstances under which they came here. They have rescued these women from obscurity and restored their historical importance to both our nations. 

I have spoken many times of the ethics of memory and the importance of not setting boundaries on what we recall. This has been useful in our own Irish experience of reflection on the Famine, on our colonial past and on the choices that were made, and not made, before and after the independence of the Irish State. It has also been important in our effort of recent decades to forge a better future on the island of Ireland from a legacy of division and bloodshed. Exploring the less palatable parts of our history has, I believe, allowed us to come to a fuller understanding of ourselves. 

The women and children we are remembering today were just some of the victims of a brutal and brutalising imperial regime, that in many respects cared little for human life or dignity. They were not the only victims of course. We need only think of what befell and what was perpetrated upon the Palawa, those who occupied Tasmania for tens of thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans; original occupants who were brought to the brink of extinction in the 19th century.  They are also victims who should be remembered. We should recall that it was within this ruthless and, in many ways, inhumane environment that these women and children were incarcerated.   

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Project Team who have worked to bring their vision to fruition. John Kelly, Professor Lucy Frost, Jo Lyngcoln, and Carole Edwards united their various skills and expertise over a number of years to achieve their goal of telling this untold story. Their reward is this monument; one that records not just skill and art but one that does so while communicating a real passion.  I congratulate and thank you all on a job so beautifully executed. 

I also wish to thank Hobart City Council, the Tasmanian State Government and all who supported this project in any way. 

We are defined, among other things, as a people by what we choose to commemorate. In choosing to commemorate the convict women, the city of Hobart has also chosen to acknowledge and recognise its convict past, and to celebrate the indomitable spirit of those convicts who survived and then thrived to build a new home. 

These sculptures, let us remind ourselves, also make common cause with the suffering of migrants in our times. They should remind us that the trauma of displacement and forced exile are not experiences confined to our past, but are the lived experience of millions around the world today, including many who now call Australia home. 

Migration is part of Ireland’s past and our present and defines our nation. We often recall the men and women who achieved success or notoriety. People such as Edmund Dwyer Gray, (no relation to Earl Grey), who was born to an Irish nationalist family in Dublin in 1870 and went on to become the Premier of Tasmania in 1939; But we also recall the millions who left Ireland to lead quieter existences, trying to survive and trying to make a better life for their children and for their communities. 

We are a migratory people so much more than a sedentary one.  It is reflected in every aspect of our being.  It places responsibilities on us too, as to our response to contemporary migration.  The Irish have always been leaving, returning at times to leave again.  There are more than 70 million people worldwide who can claim Irish ancestry.  Éirenann, Ireland’s relationship with its diaspora is enshrined in our Constitution, Bunreacht na h which states that “the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage”.  Among this diaspora are the descendants of the Irish convict women who left unwillingly but whose legacy we celebrate today. 

In recalling those special Irish women and children that we remember today, we are acknowledging them as a part of both our nations, I am reminded of the Connemara Cradle Song, popularised by ballad singer Delia Murphy, wife of Ireland’s first Ambassador to Australia: 

“May no one who’s dear to our island be lost, 
blow the winds gently, calm be the foam, 
shine the light brightly and guide them back home”. 

Thank you again to all those who united in common cause to give us this monument, this memory. 

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir. 



Hans Zomer
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Áras an Uachtaráin
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Speech at University of Melbourne, Australia

University of Melbourne, Australia, 12 October 2017

"The Economic Debate: From The Great Famine To Today – The Australian/Irish Dimensions”


A Sheansailéir,

A Leas-Sheansailéir,

A Dhaoine Uaisle,

A Chairde Gael,




Distinguished guests, 

Dear Friends,

May I begin by acknowledging that we meet today on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people, and may I thus pay my respect to their Elders both past and present.

Ar an gcéad dul síos is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le Comhairle Ollscoil Melbourne as an chéim oinigh seo a bhronnadh orm. Is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leatsa, a Seansailéir, as do chuid focail lámhaca.

May I thank the Council for the University of Melbourne for conferring upon me the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, and may I thank you, Chancellor, for your very kind words of introduction.

As a university teacher for many years in my former life it is always a pleasure to return to a university setting.  I know the years of perseverance and hard work required to acquire a university degree. I hope that I can justify mine in the next short period.

As President of Ireland, it is a very particular honour to address you today in this city, and in this State, which has, perhaps more than any other, exhibited a distinctive Irish influence. Perhaps too, more than any other State, Victoria has absorbed the full spectrum of Irish society in its different manifestations of migration, voluntary and involuntary, and presentations of itself in the modern period.

In the earliest years of European colonisation, Port Philip society was marked by the presence of what were representatives of an Anglo-Irish aristocracy on the move, as it were, often referred to as the ‘Irish cousinage’ who sought to import their self-perceived social standing, wealth, and at times their vanities pursuing an inclination to recreate a mythic lifestyle and mores of the Irish eighteenth-century Protestant Ascendancy. This could manifest itself on occasion as disdain for the forms of English society that were seeking to establish themselves in the new colonies. 

The discovery of gold in the later nineteenth century brought with it not only a rush of immigrants but within it a new middle-class Irish element. Overwhelmingly Anglican and predominantly educated at Trinity College, Dublin, these lawyers, doctors, merchants and engineers felt that they could, in this new world, create the liberal – though not necessarily democratic – polity denied to them in Ireland, by taking up leading positions in, and giving form to, the juridical, academic and political life of the new colony of Victoria. 

It was in the second part of the nineteenth century, however, that the operation of the Land and Emigration Commissioners and assisted migration brought the largest element of the Irish population – farmers, agrarian labourers, and tradespeople, most often followers of the Catholic faith – to this city and to Geelong, and from there often onwards to cultivate land in the environs of Melbourne, to Ballarat or Bendigo and, at the lure of gold and as European encroachment continued, to the Wimmera wheatbelt. 

This University has, since its inception, reflected all these various strands of Irish influence, from your very first Chancellor, Sir Redmond Barry, who arrived to New South Wales as a young lawyer only newly called to the Irish bar, to Newman College which owes its foundation to the efforts of Archbishops Carr and Mannix, and to the generosity of Thomas Donovan and the Catholic parishioners of Melbourne. 

This link has been given a contemporary expression which I welcome in the establishment of the Gerry Higgins Chair in Irish Studies, which plays such an important role in promoting and sustaining the study of arts and culture, literature and music, and politics and history, of both Ireland and of the Irish in Australia.

As someone who has taken a deep interest in the development of economics as an academic discipline, and its influence on the formulation and administration of economic policy and the lives of peoples, I was particularly interested to learn that one of four foundation professors in this University – three of whom had previously held academic positions in Ireland – was the Irish scholar of political economy and jurisprudence, Willian Edward Hearn, considered by another eminent Melbourne professor, Douglas Copland, as the ‘first Australian economist’.

Before emigrating, Hearn had held the position of Professor of Greek in the newly opened Queen’s College Galway, one of the three universities in Ireland founded under the Irish Colleges Act of 1845.  I undertook my own undergraduate studies in what is now called NUI Galway and i had the privilege of being a lecturer in sociology and politics there for many years, and it is the work of my colleagues there, the economist Tom Boylan and intellectual historian Tadhg Foley, which first drew my attention to Hearn.

Hearn was part of an extraordinary generation of Irish political economists, all Anglo-Irish, with a similar intellectual, historical and moral formation to men such as Redmond Barry or George Higginbotham – two of the great influences on the legal, educational and institutional development of this State. 

For this generation, the most formative historical event of their youths was not political, despite the moral force of the cause of Repeal of the Union between Britain and Ireland which, in the person of Daniel O’Connell, embodied the most advanced liberal positions of the day, but rather, at least to their eyes, the assumptions that governed what was ‘economic’,  that was the force of their critical debate, in the form of the ideas that influenced the policies that in turn stood behind the human devastation of the Great Famine of 1845 to 1852 – an Gorta Mór – which left nearly a million dead and led to a great wave of migration of over a million more, as people sought to flee hunger, starvation and certain death. 

Between the conclusion of the Napoleonic War and the Famine, political economy in Britain and, to a lesser extent, Ireland, moved away from its origins in the Scottish Enlightenment, from the Adam Smith of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and his conception of humanity as bound together by a common sympathy, by what he termed ‘moral sentiments’, to  what began to be called a more economistic, and indeed with all the accompanying weaknesses, mechanistic understanding of human motivations, characterised by the popularisers of the writing of David Ricardo, such as John Ramsey McCulloch who had such an influence in the 1830s. 

What were, for Adam Smith, observations of tendencies, had hardened for such writers, into iron laws of nature, and the belief in not just the possible but the inevitable universal application of these laws. This manifested itself as a belief in the universality of the economic structure of England, such that any deviation from such a model or practice came to be seen as a symptom of under or mal-development. 

This eschewing of the necessary declaration of grounding or domain assumptions became the absolutist tendency, the hubris of its time, the TINA – There Is No Alternative – of its day.

As the great Irish historian of economics R.D.C. Black has chronicled, it was this hegemonic perspective that political economists brought to bear on pre-Famine Irish society. This society was a product of the conflicts of the seventeenth century, and was characterised by a large number of fragmented smallholdings, many farmed on a subsistence basis, and, at the peak of economic and legal relations, a small quantity of landlords, who operated through estate managers or through middlemen or intermediate landlords who took full advantage of opportunities to further sublet land. 

Though observers, not least political economists, could not agree on what might be empirical causes of such circumstances or putative solutions, they could at least agree on the empirical fact that the lives of Irish cottiers and their families were precarious, particularly in the period between April to August, the ‘starving season’, when old stores of potatoes were exhausted and had yet to be replenished by the new crop. This precariousness grew as the agricultural boom of the years of the French Wars gave way to periods of depressed grain prices, and landlords, their agents and middlemen in order to sustain, or raise their income, began to raise rents.

To the orthodox liberal political economist, the right of the landlord to his property was inviolable, and the relationship between tenant and landlord a matter of contract, immune to the demands of right, of justice, and a matter for none other than the tenant and landlord. 

Though the theoretical basis of the inviolability of property had changed, from Lockean notion of property as a natural right to the Benthamite notion of property as means to ensure the owners of capital would maximise the utility of capital, the policy recommendations and social outcomes remained the same. 

If the property was inviolable, and the landlord-tenant relationship simply contractual, the only solution to Irish poverty lay, in the mind of the political economist, offering the hegemonic theory of the day, in the rapid consolidation of Irish holdings, the creation of a class of medium and large scale farmers, and the acceptance of the depopulation of the countryside as cottiers and small farmers would, it was believed, emigrate or, if they remained, become available as hired labourers.  

This would not be the first time, nor would it be the last, that those economists inclined to hubris have, when confronted by the inapplicability of their existing theory to a social reality, demanded that social reality change to reflect theory. This is not at all to take from or diminish the occasional sympathy and humanitarian sentiment of the time which was brought to bear on the Irish situation. 

The flaws of imposing a strategy for managing the poor, a strategy designed for industrial settings to a totally different setting, were recognised. The Royal Commission on the Poorer Classes in Ireland had after all recommended that the New Poor Law of 1834, which forced those in poverty into disciplinary workhouses, should not be extended to Ireland.

Instead, the Commission recommended a programme of public works and a scheme of assisted emigration, as the most effective and convenient means to raise the income of Irish cottiers, and to transform them from small proprietors to proto-industrial wage labourers. 

These recommendations were perceived as being too radical, or more likely, they simply did not fit within the liberal political economy of the day – the institutions of the new market economy were viewed as entirely natural in their operation.  The functions and duties of Government were viewed as creating a possible set of obstacles or as wholly negative – and thus the New Poor Law was largely grafted on to Ireland.

The Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Richard Whately, who, with his Catholic counterpart, sat on the Commission, was particularly interested in the lessons and what he felt was the example of the new colony of South Australia, and he corresponded with Robert Torrens, another Irish political economist, disciple of Ricardo and the champion of a ‘self-supporting colonisation’ which envisioned creating a class of small farmers in Australia. 

Despite the rejection of the report of the Royal Commission by the British Government, and the extension of the New Poor Law to Ireland, Torrens championed Irish migration to South Australia, or, as he later termed it, the ‘New Hibernia’. 

He proposed the establishment of an Irish South Australian Emigration Society, which would raise funds from Irish landlords to purchase land in South Australia and pay for the transportation of their tenants to their new properties in the southern oceans, facilitating both the depopulation of Ireland and the colonisation of Australia. 

It was Torrens’ eldest son, Robert Richard Torrens, who, prior to his short tenure as Premier of South Australia, gave the impetus for the development of the principle of title by registration, which originated in that State. I think it would be appropriate to note the immediate context of the development of the Torrens system of land registration, namely the chaotic issuance of land grants and subsequent speculation and rapid turnover of title in the South Australia of the 1830s and 1840s, which led to a great incoherence in property ownership and disputes regarding the title to the land. 

One of the defining principles of the Torrens system – indeed the defining principle that allows the resolution of the kind of dispute that may arise in a context of fevered property speculation - is the indefeasibility of title given to the registered proprietor or proprietors.  There are, as we know, few exceptions to this indefeasibility which may be nonetheless wide in potential scope and application. 

I would like to make here a moral or ethical point, rather than a legal point: namely, that the Torrens system constituted, at its inception, part of the legal technology of empire by not only resolving a crisis of colonial speculation, but also by effectively extirpating any claim of title to the land by the first occupants whose rights and enjoyments to their land, we should recall, were guaranteed by the Letters Patent authorising the colonisation of South Australia. 

I do not, in this paper, want to speculate what bearing the rejection of the doctrine of terra nullius and consequent recognition of native title by the High Court in their judgement in the second Mabo case would have in this situation, but would only here recognise what an important legal and moral milestone it was.

The context of the extension of the Torrens system to Ireland in 1891 was quite different – it was a response to the struggle for land ownership by Irish tenant farmers which was resolved through a series of Acts of the British Parliament designed to finance the purchase and transfer of the landlord interest in the land. This required the removal of the vestiges of post-conquest property relations in Ireland, which had built up by accretion over centuries. Title by registration achieved this by severing the old ties, delivering to Irish tenant farmers freehold title, unencumbered by the past.

There is, I would suggest, a terrible tragedy, an irony of history here, as the same legal technology was used at first to dispossess the first occupants of this land, and then, in Ireland used to repossess, albeit that such a repossession was accomplished only after a great exodus from Ireland, one that would change the class system and when combined with electoral changes be fundamental in defining both the impulses to independence and the marginalisation of egalitarian hopes.  

Such repossession was carried out in such a fashion as would in time favour the larger farmer, leading to the emergence of a new hegemonic grazier class.

This repossession was the outcome, as I have said, of a great political struggle for ownership of the land. The intellectual origins of this revolution in ownership of the land, were based not on the prevailing political economy of the day, but rather on a contrarian belief based on a knowledge of, and sympathy for, the Irish cottier. 

It was the leaders of Young Ireland, contemporaries and, in some cases, members of the same class and religion as Hearn, who were transported to Tasmania for leading the Irish chapter in that great European movement for democracy and self-determination, the Springtime of Peoples of 1848, who provided the most incisive criticism of the liberal laissez-faire political economy which contributed, and indeed formed, the desultory response of the British Government as the Famine continued beyond Black ’47. 

Here, I speak of such as James Fintan Lalor, the brother of the leader at the Eureka Stockade, Peter Lalor, who most forcibly assailed the central assumption of the sanctity of property in his letters to the Irish Felon, a radical newspaper of the time: 

‘I acknowledge no right of property in eight thousand persons, be they noble or ignoble, which takes away all right of property, security, independence, and existence itself, from a population of eight millions, and stands in bar to all the political rights of this island and all the social rights of its inhabitants.   I acknowledge no right of property which takes the food of millions and gives them a famine, which denies to the peasant the right of a home and concedes, in exchange, the right of a workhouse.’


Charles Gavan Duffy, another leader of Young Ireland, editor of the Nation newspaper, and later Premier of this State, described Lalor as a ‘tribune of the people’ who nonetheless represented a more radical, agrarian path to Irish independence than Duffy and his often gentlemanly, liberal comrades.

Shortly before his emigration to Australia, Gavan Duffy had been returned to the British Parliament on the Tenant Right platform, which sought a more moderate intervention in the landlord-tenant relationship, through the regulation of rents, improve security of tenure and the possibility of tenants selling their interest in the land.  From the long grass came more than whispers of another tradition in agrarian imprest, one that would define the difference in emphasis and experience of Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell, and which would divide the Parnell family.  

There is another irony of history in Duffy’s ascent to electoral power and influence. It was partly through the efforts of the Ballarat Reform League, of English, Scottish and Welsh Chartists, German and Italian veterans of the Springtime of Peoples, Victorians of all ancestries, and Irish miners led by Peter Lalor, that male suffrage was extended in the State of Victoria. 

Duffy quickly took up the cause of the workers in the goldfields, the urban democrat in Melbourne, and the small landholder, and as Minister of Lands in the administration of the more conservative John O’Shannassy, introduced a Land Act in 1862.  This was incidentally the year my Granduncle Patrick Higgins came on the Montmorancy with his sister Mary-Ann and began work as a ploughman and later a farm manager.

This Land Act of 1862 proved to be the first and last practical exercise of legislative drafting by William Hearn. The Act, intended to allow the selection of good, cheap land by new proprietors willing to cultivate the soil, achieved the precise opposite due to deficiencies in its drafting, as pastoralists were able to exploit the legislation by establishing fronts to acquire land. 

This did not prevent, as Patrick O’Farrell reminds us, the burnishing of Duffy’s already heroic reputation in Ireland, as Australia in the 1860s was presented in Ireland as a rural idyll, and his Land Act presented as the land charter for the Irish.

The doomed expedition of another Irish emigrant to Victoria, Robert O’Hara Burke, came in another way too to symbolise the new Irish spirit in Australia which was, in the words of the Cork Examiner, ‘opening up continents for the sons and daughters of Ireland, far away from the grasp of the rack-renting landlord, the griping agent, and the selfish middleman’.

Duffy’s Land Act, and the Selection Acts of the other colonies, were, unlike the ideas of the Young Irelanders or Fintan Lalor, not in deviation from, or even any outright defiance from the strictures of political economy of the time, for they rested partly on the assumption of a superabundance of land held by the Crown. They rested, in other words, on the brutal political economy of primitive accumulation, on the fiction of terra nullius with all of its original and evolving negative assumptions as to the essence, dignity and capacity of first caretakers. Those were seen as being very distant from moral concerns.

In contemporary writing on Australia, I sense distance is sometimes adduced as explanation for failures in communication, knowledge of Australian past or present on the part of, among others, Europeans. But may I suggest that distance can be an advantage if it facilitates independent intellectual work.

There is, I want to suggest, something important in the distance between Australia and Europe, between the new and the old world, and increasingly in the proximity to Asia, which allows for an independence of thought, a willingness to break with orthodoxies, a dedication to fostering quite new modes of thought, and a commitment above all else to pluralist discourse. These are qualities which are required now more than ever, as the global challenges of this current century – climate change, the resurgence of xenophobia and racism, the growing inequality in wealth, power and opportunity, the destructive consequences of social cohesion being made vulnerable - will not be solved with policies that, after all, were designed to address the challenges of the past.

As to William Hearn, he was not a heterodox thinker – one of his first papers was entitled ‘On the Coincidence of General and Individual and General Interests’ – and in many ways his ideas were formed by the Great Famine in Ireland rather than Australia, but he was part of an extraordinary generation of Irish political economists who pursued quite different intellectual agendas, who are evidence of the existence of a pluralism of economic discourse. 

For example, John Elliot Cairnes remained a faithful disciple of the Adam Smith of The Wealth of Nations as well as Ricardo, Malthus and John Stuart Mill to the last, often defending doctrines which Mill, a close friend, had renounced. 

Thomas Cliff Leslie applied the comparative theories of jurisprudence developed by Henry Maine to political economy, arguing against reasoning from a small number of a priori assumptions and for an inductive approach to economic analysis, sensitive to the unique historical development of each society.  John Kells Ingram, heavily influenced by the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comté, sought to subordinate the study of economic relations to sociology, breaking down the distinction between the economic and other forms of social life.

We see here of course the outlines of the battle as to method in economics which so engaged Irish, British and German political economists in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.

This is a battle that had its value. Today a debate that distinguished between the efficacy of instruments, the adequacy of a method, and the assumptions of a theory would serve political economy and its publics well. A vulgar rejection of all economics and indeed economists is not helpful to anybody.  Alternatively teasing out the issues is a valuable part of participatory citizenship.

Conducted across and within the changing national borders of the time, in English and in German, the late nineteenth , early twentieth century, methodological debate shared a common theme, namely the rejection of a deductive reasoning from a small number of a priori assumptions which characterised Ricardian classical political economy. With this rejection came a rejection of the formulation of theories of distribution, production, consumption and exchange, based on a number of universal axioms. In its place, economists such as Cliff Leslie and Kells Ingram, and in Germany, a group led by Gustuv Schmoller, proposed there were no self-evident natural laws of economics, but only such conclusions as could be drawn from the accumulation of historical studies.

We can also glimpse another great struggle, namely that which occurred between the classical political economy championed by Cairnes and the outlines of neoclassical economics which was arguably, at least in part, presaged by William Hearn’s work Plutology.  My former colleague  at the National University of Ireland, Galway, Tom Boylan, and the Australian economist Gregory Moore, have both argued that this work, published here in Melbourne, inspired what came to be termed the ‘marginalist revolution’ in economics. 

In short, classical political economists, such as Mill and Ricardo, had accepted that value, and in the long run, the determination of prices, should reflect the cost-of-production of a good, reflecting the labour used in the production of that good or service. 

This objective theory of value was replaced by a subjective theory of value, which postulated that there was no inherent value in goods, but only that which results from the relative importance placed on such goods by individuals seeking to satisfy their needs. 

This framework had at its heart, as its subject, the utility-maximising individual, subject to diminishing marginal returns, and constrained by scarcity of resources. From these foundations, it was possible to derive the values of factors of production and goods and services.   

This would reshape the discipline of economics, so that by 1935, Lionel Robbins could define economics as ‘the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses’. 

Gone were the historical economists with alternative moral frameworks such as Ingram and Leslie, and gone too were the classical political economists, subsumed as new footnotes in the development of neoclassical economics, and indeed now largely missing in the teaching of economics in the contemporary university.  

I do not wish to criticise the specifics of neoclassical economics today.  Time does not allow and it would be easy to get lost in definitions and debates about what may be minutiae, but only to note that the discipline of economics was not so dominated by a single methodology in the past as it is today. 

Nevertheless, I do want to stress the significance of some very eminent scholars currently working in the field, such as Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen who are continuing to pursue a research programme which, while accepting the underlying assumptions of neoclassical economics, have en passant systemically undermined some of the central claims once advanced by some fundamentalists, such as, for example, the assumption of a narrow rationality on the part of individuals, and assumption of market efficiency.

Economists, while still taking as their starting point the competitive market as the most efficient institution for allocating resources, now increasingly recognise that markets are characterised by profound, and what are even within their own terms, inefficiencies. 

I know that this has perhaps become a truism at this point, but it is important to acknowledge nonetheless. 

Indeed, it was the late, great Kenneth Arrow, who did so much to develop general equilibrium theory – giving a mathematical proof to the intuition of the protagonists of the marginal revolution that, given a certain set of assumptions, there will be a set of prices across multiple markets such that the aggregate supply equals the aggregate demand – who also noted that ‘the model laissez-faire world of total self-interest would not survive for ten minutes; its actual working depends upon an intricate network of reciprocal obligations, even among competing firms and individuals’.

This observation with its less than tacit appeal for humility, should remind us that there is at times a sharp distinction between the development of neoclassical economic theory and its application, by economic policymakers. There is at times a sharp distinction between the academic programme of neoclassical economics and a theory of government which seeks to validate itself by claims to economic theory, to conflate, in imitation of some of the classical political economists, assumed mutable laws of nature with the prosaic practice of economic policy. 

I speak of course of the philosophy of government popularly termed neo-liberalism. This was initially a term used by a small group of radical economic thinkers, including Friedrich van Hayek and later Milton Friedman, to describe their own distinctive economic and social philosophy at a time when the governments of both right and left cleaved to the consensus of the Keynesian welfare state.

Neo-liberalism is now widely accepted to describe a theory of politics which postulates a wholly ‘economic’ theory of human nature, universalising, beyond previous boundaries, the necessary simplifying assumptions of neo-classical economics – namely that human beings are rational utility-maximisers - to encompass all human activities. 

Its ethics rests on the liberal principle that people should be left to do as they will, how they will. And such views are not uncommon today. 

The political theorist Alan Finlayson has suggested that following these two principles, price is viewed as the key mechanism in transmitting information, enabling rational individuals to make decisions and allocate resources. Following this, effective competition and competitive exchange is required for prices to be accurate. Finally, Finlayson argues that, due to these principals, neo-liberals do not hold a concept of the ‘common good’ in politics as they fear that government will act on a set of principles dictated by the common good, which will in turn distort rational individual decision.

We cannot continue to avoid the collision that is there, morally, between such assumptions.

Recent work such as that of Mariana Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State, powerfully critiques this under-labourer theory of the State.

The starting point of neoclassical economics does remain, I suggest, questionable as to its method and its epistemology in its sharp distinction between economic life on one hand, open to economic analysis, and other forms of social life, which are subject to other types of forces. 

As one describes the work of those whom the Irish political economists to whom I have made reference, one is struck by the breadth of their vision, of their capacity to range across and to integrate a broad range of academic disciplines. 

For those of the historical school, this was a necessity born of their inductive methodology. 

Yet it also reflects something broader – Hearn’s first assignment to this university was as chair of Modern History and Literature, Political Economy and Logic.

I found an echo some years ago of such scholarship in the debate here in Australia and in New Zealand between the distinguished economist Professor David Throsby and the late Dr. Michael Volkerling on cultural economics – it is a debate I drew on when I was Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht between 1993 and 1997. It was a debate I recommended to other European Culture Ministers. Professor Throsby had suggested that the epistemological basis of economics was inherently based on individualism.  Culture was social in its assumptions and thus irreconcilable with economics. Michael Volkerling disputed this.  

Dr. Volkering suggested that the public discourse of economics – by which I mean an explicitly neoliberal discourse - and its underlying assumption of self-interested behaviour, that had developed such strength of support during the 1980s and 1990s, shaped rather than revealed a new spirit of selfishness. He also suggested, correctly in my view, that culture and economics should not be envisioned as antagonistic, as a clash of the collective impulse with the individual impulse, but rather that economics should be considered as a cultural discourse itself, in terms of both its origins and in its application. 

This is not only because of the origins of political economy in a broad frame of discourse such as the early Enlightenment writings of Adam Smith, who proposed, we recall, sympathy with other humans as the driving motivation for human actions, and who, as the Irish political economists remind us, used historical experience as a guide, but also because economics shares with other forms of intellectual practice, a cultural purpose, a shared and similar purpose, that of seeking to represent, and dare I say enhance,‘real life’. 

The conclusion of Dr. Volkerling may be summarised by saying that culture is not ever a residual of living experience, an uncolonised space and time, but should be considered as a framework for thought and practice, that can help economics recover its moral and social strength, keen to integrate new findings in related disciplines, and achieve a result that will offer a plurality of policy suggestions.  

The question then of that debate between the great economists of the day remains: Can we integrate and facilitate new perspectives, or recover old ones, in the contemporary period? Is the economics which is being taught at third level sufficient to the present moment? Have we replaced questions of methodology with a restrictive focus on measurement? Can we lift economics out of the narrow ideological framework in which it is presented in these times? Can such questions find a space within contemporary economic discourse?  Indeed are they to be allowed at all in an atmosphere that too regularly comes close to anti-intellectualism, and is simply reflecting a bad-tempered intolerance of critical thought?

May I suggest that the outcomes to how we answer such questions will be seen in two areas. The first is in the area of teaching, research agendas and university curricula, particularly in the realm and domain of academic economics. 

Since the global financial crisis, there have been demands for a new curriculum, from both teachers and students, which more closely represents, and which can more adequately critique and describe, the social and economic world which they inhibit and which many of them seek to change. 

A significant result to emerge from this concern is a proposed new introductory curriculum, the Curriculum Open-access Resources in Economics, or CORE, project, an initiative of the economists Wendy Carlin, Margaret Stevens, Oscar Landerretche, and Sam Bowles. 

Their proposed textbook, ‘The Economy’, fully recognises its titular term is a social construction, and provides, as its starting point, an account of the effects of the industrial revolution, the development of capitalist institutions, the impact of climate change, and the measurement of economic inequality. Its bibliography is capacious and generous, including Angus Deaton and William Nordhaus, and Karl Polanyi and Maurice Dobb. 

Yet the proposed curriculum does not shirk the mathematical rigour of neoclassic economics, as students are still required to understand the calculus traditionally deployed in microeconomics to explain marginalist concepts such as indifference curves.  

The promise of this initiative, and others like it, is the replacement of the simple nostrums of what is referred to in US universities as Economics 101, which commences its teaching of the subject at perfect competition, leaving students with a desiccated – and inaccurate – picture of economic life. Over time, it will, I hope, open up quite new research agendas as those students continue on to graduate studies. 

I wish I could be more optimistic about the prospects, in the short term, for the integration of a new pluralist discourse in the public sphere. The rhetoric of neoliberalism - the elevation of individual self-interest, and even selfishness, to an almost moral certainty, the disdain for a language of the common good and public purpose, and which at times produces a near contempt for those who fall behind – remains as a rhetoric even more pervasive than its policy prescriptions.

If there is a glimmer of hope it is in the fact that some international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund which once advocated characteristic neoliberal policies such as the liberalisation without regulation of capital flows, deregulation, creation of financial markets, and fiscal consolidation in all circumstances, have now begun to question these once sacrosanct policy positions, and the assumptions which underlay them.

There is now an urgency, may I suggest, to contest what remains as unhelpful, entrenched ideas of a failing paradigm of thought. The challenges of the next decade simply cannot be met with the old orthodoxies. Social cohesion is fracturing, fading, as inequalities in wealth, power and income are deepening, as labour becomes more precarious and our societies become increasingly divided between what is often lazily described as ‘the lucky’ and the ‘left out’, those on the street and those behind gates communities, between those who can access highly paid employment and those left to struggle on zero-hour contracts. Within the European Union, cohesion between the Member States has declined, to create a problem of connection and legitimacy with the European street, as we have allowed ourselves to become divided by a common, one size fits all macro-economic policy framework which pits creditor against debtor, and those with trade surpluses against those without, those in the North against those in the South. 

How should we meet these challenges? I suggest that in this century fiscal and economic literacy may be as important to cohesion, citizenship and democracy itself, as mass literacy was in previous centuries to universal suffrage, parliamentary democracy and the sovereignty of the people. Armed with a critical and inquiring economics - one that does not tolerate poverty amidst plenty without question - citizens can begin to question the current dispensation, and begin to imagine a quite different future than that which is so often presented as inevitable. 

If William Hearn felt a moral impulse, drawn from a wide perspective in scholarship, to address the issues of his day, new challenges, surely those gifted today with the opportunity to do so might benefit from following his examples in our urgent times of change, and help recover the rich possibility of political economy and the prospect of better, more inclusive, sustainable policies for all our citizens of an ever more fragile world. 

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir, agus go dté sibh slán.


Parliament of Western Australia, Perth, 10 October 2017

Mr Speaker,

President of the Legislative Council,


Members of the Legislative Assembly,

Members of the Legislative Council,

If you will allow me to begin in my own ancient language.

A Chairde,

Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, ba mhór an onóir dom é bhur gcuireadh a fháil labhairt le Parlaimint Iarthair na hAstráile, agus mar Uachtarán na hÉireann tá fíorchaoin áthas orm a bheith anseo libh agus go raibh míle maith agaibh as an fíorchaoin fáilte a d’fhear sibh romham.

Continuing in my other language. Mr Speaker, I appreciate what a great honour it is for me to have received an invitation to address the Parliament of Western Australia and to have the opportunity of reaffirming the long and abiding bonds that are shared by the peoples of Ireland and the Commonwealth of Australia. Premier, I thank you for your kind hospitality and the very warm welcome that you have offered to me and to the Irish delegation.

In making this visit as President of Ireland, I am minded of all those earlier visits by others, including my own ancestors. My grandfather’s siblings came to Australia in 1862. They did not come to a terra nullius, and may I begin here today by acknowledging the first occupants of this land who for tens of thousands of years negotiated with its possibilities and its challenges, and developed one of the oldest cultures in the world; one that valued symmetry with nature, ancient wisdom and practical balances. I honour their elders present and past.

Mr Speaker, President of the Legislative Council, since the arrival of the First Fleet 230 years ago, Irish people have traversed the vast seas to this continent. They have come or been brought, some as prisoners and some as servants of empire, and later as migrants fleeing hunger, poverty, oppression, frustration and stagnation seeking maybe, perhaps, the economic security of land tenure, adventure, professional or economic opportunity. When we speak of the Irish diaspora, there has never been any one Irish migratory experience, and those who form the Australian component of the Irish diaspora are no exception. The different streams of Irish migration to Australia show us, for example, differences in religious affiliation, level of skill and loyalty. In the years before the Great Famine of the late nineteenth century—1845 to, say, as late as 1850—Irish migrants were in the category of skilled workers and most often self-financing as to their passage, referred to frequently as Protestant and prudent. Although post-famine, it was the poor, the most broken and their dependants who often sought escape and the prospect of new beginnings.

All migrant journeys are impelled by individual deeply personal decisions to leave a home. Also, the timing of these personal decisions is undoubtedly affected by great structural, economic, social, political and natural forces, which even today are shaping the modern world. We find in the journey of Irish and indeed all migrants to this country, a complex interplay of impelling or attractive structural forces and at the same time personal decisions. The structural forces affect the rate; the personal decision—the incidence—is usually some last-straw effect.

In the early years of the penal colonies, to those imprisoned on criminal or political charges, who were awaiting transportation in the gaols of Ireland—this is something that is reflected in the songs and literature of Ireland—the foreign yet threateningly familiar names of Botany Bay and Van Diemen’s Land had a particular ring as they signalled leaving one’s home and one’s loved ones for a life of imprisonment and exile. The term could be for seven or 14 years, and of course it had a particularly extra chilling effect if those awaiting transportation were aware that for some of them it could include or be followed by a forced removal to Norfolk Island—the gulag of its time.

As transportation gave way to assisted passage—including my ancestors—the new colonies of the southern oceans were offered often as an Arcadia of abundant land. In time, too, the announcement of the discovery of mineral resources, as a location for a new life, or as some landlords in Ireland saw it, an opportunity for clearing estates of what they saw as unproductive and increasingly more desperate tenants. A third of a million Irish people emigrated to Australia between 1840 and 1914, often travelling, particularly in the later period, with assistance from the governments of the new colonies. Indeed, the high price of land in my grand uncle’s time of the 1860s was something that was connected to the assisted passages; it was about 80 times the cost an acre of land in Nova Scotia at the time.

We Irish, for example, were the most prolific users of the nomination scheme, which allowed whole families to migrate over time. The migrants who came to Australia were diverse—Catholic, Anglican and dissenting, Quakers and Jews. They came for different purposes with different motivations from all social classes. They would, in time, include a diversity of experiences, from gentlemen and lawyers to farmers and cottiers. My grandfather’s brother Patrick Higgins and his sister Mary Ann were emigrants from County Clare, and they arrived in Moreton Bay on the Montmorency on 8 April 1862. Five of my grandfather’s family of seven would end up moving to Australia. Patrick, my granduncle, was a ploughman and, in his own words, he described himself as a tiller of the soil, brought up to plough from a young age. He used these skills to become a worker and manager of different farms in Queensland, and finally to establish himself with his own farm at Sandy Creek, seven miles from the town of Warwick. This is somewhat of a familiar story, because Patrick was from the same county as his namesake, Patrick Durack, whose life and times as an overlander driving cattle to the Kimberley were so memorably recounted in that great book of history, Kings in Grass Castles, by that great Western Australian author—his granddaughter Mary Durack.

Since the Second World War, the Irish have continued to travel to Australia and have been part of the new waves of migration that have made Australia the multicultural society it is today. The ebb and flow of migration since that time has been a result of the same conjunction of structural forces and personal agency, of the push and pull of economic and social circumstances, individual hopes and dreams, and, in the Irish case, as with others, of the pressures of a society and economy in Ireland that so often struggled or was not permitted to provide the necessary opportunities and economic security for all its citizens. During the late 1940s and the 1950s, times of economic hardship in Ireland, the great post-war reconstruction projects, particularly the Snowy Mountains scheme, attracted construction workers from Ireland. In recent years, they have been here in Western Australia, and Australia has again become both a site of travel and work, as many Irish people now come to participate in what is a prosperous, modern economy. Today, over 90 000 Irish-born people live in Australia, and of course two million Australians have recorded their ancestry as Irish in Australia’s census.

I am so happy — Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, as President of Ireland, to have the opportunity of not only greeting them all, but also those who have welcomed them and with whom they have made their lives as Australians. Some lawyers came to seek professional recognition and opportunities for advancement from which they were excluded access to at home on religious grounds. Among them was John Hubert Plunkett, who should always be remembered as the prosecuting counsel at the trial of Myall Creek. Ever since Paddy Hannan struck gold in Kalgoorlie, Irish men and women have come to labour, with hand and brain, in the mines of this state; to work the soil in the vast wheatbelt; to contribute to commerce and industry, law, journalism—so many of them—and the academy; to be involved in the practice of their faith and to have it recognised. It was here that Charles Yelverton O’Connor designed goldfields pipelines and Fremantle Harbour. I always think as well that the purpose of his water scheme was to be beneficent—water not just for the use of extraction, but for the benefit of the workers. It was here that John Hackett became the founding chancellor of a great university; from here that John Curtin, the son of emigrants from County Cork, became Prime Minister of this commonwealth; and from here that the last of the Fenian captives escaped aboard a whaling ship called the Catalpa. I was so pleased to receive a gift of the story of the Catalpa. The Irish imprint in this state, surely, is captured in the lines of that great Western Australian poet of the goldfields, Edwin “Dryblower” Murphy, who wrote —

Our harps are hung in the towering trees

And the mulga low and grey

Mr Speaker and President of the Legislative Council, 122 years ago, in 1895, one of our nation’s finest patriots, the land reformer and Labour leader, Michael Davitt, travelled for seven months through Australia and New Zealand. He wrote of his journey seeking, as he put it, to understand the story of the goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, the utopian settlements of the Murray River, and the rising cities of what he called the future Australia. Founder of the Land League and leader of the Land War in Ireland 1879 to 1882, he was disappointed that a leasehold rather than an absolute ownership system was not finding favour among the tenant holders whose cause he had so stoutly defended in Ireland. He remained deeply interested in his travels abroad in innovative forms of representation of interests. His independent mind had led him to be removed from the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Never a narrow nationalist, he saw the workers on the land and the workers in the factories and cities as having a common cause. Davitt was very aware too of what he saw as what could be the corrosive effect of absolute property ownership in terms of the emergence of an abuse of class position. He was concerned to recognise those who laboured on the land; hence his emphasis on the naming of his organisation as the Land and Labour League. He encouraged workers, as I would, to seek protection by joining trade unions and by having a collective spirit. In Perth, only five years after the proclamation of Western Australia’s Constitution and achievement of self-government, and in other states, he found a confident legislature and people who were, in his own words —

... teaching, by their examples, not alone the parent countries, but other lands as well, —

He found what he called —

the courageous wisdom of progressive legislation on most of the vexed social and economic problems of Europe ...

Members will be pleased to know that as a former parliamentarian, he concluded that Western Australian parliamentarians were proficient public speakers. As he put it, they were “full to overflowing with the subject—climatic, commercial, constitutional” that faced what he called this coming country.

He found in Australia what he saw as a new society in embryonic form that was profoundly shaped by the remembered thoughts and actions of Irish emigrants, who, whether of Irish ancestry or Irish born, comprised, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a quarter of the population of the new federation. Today it is 11 per cent. Here in Australia, thousands of miles from the ancient conflicts and the sometimes stifling orthodoxies of an old world, he felt Irish people could contribute to building what he wrote of as “a new world full of hope and promise”; one that at its best would vindicate the economic, social and political rights and liberties of the people, raise the dignity of labour, foster an active government dedicated to the public purpose and, above all, subordinated to the public good. He knew that achieving this would not be easy. It would not be without its challenges and contradictions. The shearers’ mobilisation and the Sydney lockout would polarise settlers and workers. The lockout of 1890 in Australia would echo later in the Dublin lockout of 1913. Both defeats for workers would, within a decade of such defeats of course, lead to a massive recruitment and birth of what would become a strong trade union movement. This new world, with its burgeoning democratic tradition, was formed and gave form, had an influence too on the struggle for democracy and independence in Ireland. Some of the defining characteristics of Australian democracy, established in often perilous and difficult conditions, carry a distinctive Irish influence. Indeed, conditions in Ireland may have given to some a perhaps singular determination not to carry and necessarily repeat all of the sins of the old world in the circumstances of the new.

Among the first political prisoners to arrive in New South Wales, for example, were members of the revolutionary organisation the Society of United Irishmen, many of whom were Anglicans and dissenters, who had fomented a rebellion to create an independent Irish Republic inspired by the ideas and practices of the American and French Revolutions. They were imbued with the ideas of the Rights of Man by Tom Paine. They would often be castigated as being carriers of the French ideas and they would be moved by the case for religious and civil liberty for all, and many of those who stayed, upon completion of their sentence, would go on to become prominent emancipists.

Then the influence of Daniel O’Connell, the Irish liberator, extended to this country through the appointment of the remarkable John Hubert Plunkett as Attorney General of New South Wales in 1832, where he fought for and established the principles of civil and religious equality, and of equality before the law, thus helping break down the distinction between emancipist and exclusionist that had divided and marred the infant colony. His prosecution of the case of Myall Creek, with its vindication of the rights of Indigenous people, would of course come at a great personal cost.

As to political representation, on 11 November 1854 on Bakery Hill at the inauguration of the Ballarat Reform League, there stood alongside English, Scottish and Welsh chartists, German and Italian veterans of the Springtime of Peoples, and Victorians of all ancestries, a distinctive Irish presence influenced by the ideas of O’Connell and the Young Ireland movement in the person of not only Peter Lalor, later elected leader of the diggers by universal acclimation, but also Anastasia Hayes, who wove the southern cross that flew over the Eureka Stockade. The resolutions of that assembly were not narrowly national in any sense but, as I have been describing it in terms of their moral ideas, they were universal in origin and they still echo today in their demand for the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws they are called upon to obey.

The impulse to build here a new and better world, to bend the destiny of this land towards a more humane and egalitarian future, has been a recurring theme in Australian discourse. The Irish who contributed to this discourse perhaps saw reflected in this coming nation, as Davitt put it, the future form of a free Ireland. That is why I am so pleased to be here. We can see this in the views of the leaders of Young Ireland, successors of the United Irishman who were sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land in 1848. Remember 1848 is the first year after the worst year of the famine of 1847 when poor relief was suspended. While there, William Smith O’Brien drafted a constitution for what would become the self-governing colony of Tasmania, and he envisioned a federation of the colonies, willing to work towards a common good. Another leader of Young Ireland, Charles Gavan Duffy, who arrived in Australia as an emigrant, and as a politician and later Premier of Victoria, became an advocate for Federation as the vehicle for the creation of a new nation.

The distance from Europe and from Rome allowed for the development of a distinctive Australian Catholic Church, long seen as an extension of Ireland’s spiritual empire, which was perhaps, at times, more willing to address the challenges of the new industrial society than its Irish counterpart. In the tumult of the 1890s, which witnessed the great battles of capital and labour to which I have referred and which gave birth to your great trade union movement, Cardinal Patrick Moran, the Archbishop of Sydney, supported the cause of labour, giving a distinctly Australian expression to the Papal encyclical rerum novarum—of things new—to the rights and duties of labour and to the legitimacy, and at times necessity, of collective action to secure those rights and fulfil those duties and obligations. This was a disposition not unique or limited to the Irish leadership in the Catholic Church and this is exemplified by Henry Bournes Higgins, a Methodist born in County Down and educated in Dublin, who declared, as presiding judge at the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration during the famous Harvester case, that what was considered a fair and reasonable wage should be that which is considered sufficient for, as he put it, “a human being in a civilised community” to support a family in “frugal comfort”. These words might ring in so many places today in our world.

I have highlighted these Irish contributions to the development of our shared values not only to celebrate the distinctive Irish influence on the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia and its states, but also to suggest that it was living and working in this young society that allowed for the expression and formulation of quite new modes of thought—modes that were equal to the challenges of the new as well as the old world. Indeed, one of our contemporary challenges is surely to be faithful to meeting the challenge of an inclusive history. This is a challenge we face in Ireland in our tasks of commemoration that we have been completing and the tasks of commemoration that we will commence. It is a challenge that we face in both Australia and in Ireland.

Although the Irish emigrant experience in Australia is, for the vast majority of our recent Irish emigrants, an overwhelmingly positive one, this was not always the case. The dominant ideas of the time of the emigrants leaving and their arrival defined that experience. It was surely not a positive experience for the thousands of young girls orphaned by the Irish famine and transported to Australia under Earl Grey’s scheme developed to address a failing landlordism at home, and to meet the labour force needs and the gender balance as it was seen in the new colony. These girls were often exposed to humiliation based on the threefold prejudice of gender, religion and nationality. Neither was it the case for the thousands of convicted men and women who, on arrival, encountered a prison system that was little less than slavery by another name. Nor was it the case either for succeeding generations who, in Peter Carey’s words, bore “the historic memory of unfairness in their blood ... the knowledge of unfairness deep in bone and marrow.”

Then too, if we are to be truly unblinking in our gaze, we must acknowledge that although most Irish emigrants experienced some measure—some a large measure—of prejudice and injustice, some among their number inflicted injustice too. For example, when former Prime Minister Paul Keating memorably acknowledged responsibility for crimes against Aboriginal communities, his “we” included not only the most powerful; it included all the elements of the society who had participated or acquiesced in. It had to include, we must recognise, some who were Irish in Australia too. His were powerful words —

We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice.

His speech in my belief was, and remains, an emancipatory act in the ethics of memory. Indeed, it stands as an example to those of us who must do something similar in our different circumstances, for surely we can take encouragement from Thomas Keneally, who has written that —

... if there are to be areas of history which are off bounds, then in principle we are reduced to fudging, to cosmetic narrative.

Dear friends, it is perhaps the vast distance from what were for many years considered mother countries that has allowed in Australia the exercise of an independence of thought, characterised by an unwillingness to become an unquestioning servant to old orthodoxies, and an Australian tendency to innovation and experimentation in institutional forms and structure.

Mr Speaker, President of the Council, your Parliament has, since its inception, and perhaps magnified by distance, displayed these characteristics, when as one of the first Parliaments in the world, it would recognise the basic demands of equality by embracing women’s suffrage. This spirit of intellectual independence is required today and I wish you well with it more than ever, and it can so serve us well. The great issues of our time—the necessity for just and sustainable development; the challenges of climate change; the resolution of ancient and new conflicts; the reconciliation that is necessary with communities and sections of communities who have been, or whose ancestors have been, victims of great wrongs; the need to oppose, all of us together, by concerted voices of opposition and denunciation, all forms of the contemporary and, increasingly, the persistence of xenophobia and racism—demand a critical and inquiring engagement from all of us who have the privilege of serving in public life.

As to matters economic and the need for a new international economic order becomes ever more clear, we have seen over the past 30 years the dangers of accepting, without examination, any reductionist, narrow economic philosophy that would separate our engagement and activity in economic life from our culture and society. The consequences of suggesting a singularity of economic models rather than a plurality of models are so obvious. This has led, where it has been uncritically accepted, to the adoption of unsustainable economic models that have widened the inequality of wealth, power, income and participation in our societies; created rather than mitigated instability; and contributed to the degradation of our environment. We are challenged to produce alternatives and advance them with, of course, the necessary courtesies of discourse, but being resolute in not accepting the failed paradigms of economy, society and life itself. There is now, surely, an imperative need and an urgency to challenge these still entrenched ideas, and to demand a space for a new, more pluralist discourse—one capable of an ethical remembrance of the past and adequate responsibility to finding new solutions to our collective challenges, of participating in the resolution of the global challenges we face together on a shared vulnerable planet.

Mr Speaker and President of the Council, may I conclude what I have to say today by saying again that the warmth of the welcome I and all those travelling with me have received in Perth has touched me deeply and is an indication not only of the strength of the Irish community in this city and in this state, but also of the warmth between the peoples of Australia and Ireland, which I hope and know will deepen.

Allow me to finish again by saying — Go raibh míle maith agaibh agus guím rath agus beannacht ar bhur n-iarrachtaí ar son na ndaoine i gcoitinne san Astráil agus don daonnacht ar fad.

I thank you and I wish all your colleagues success and good health on your work for all Australian people and, in particular, the people of Western Australia, and for all of humanity. I thank you for listening to me.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir, agus go dté sibh slán.

Speech by President Higgins at the unveiling of an Irish Famine Memorial

Subiaco, Perth, Australia, 9 October, 2017

A Dhaoine Uaisle,

Is mór an pléisiúr dom a bheith libh inniu  i Subiaco chun an saothar chuimhneacháin álainn seo a nochtadh.

I would like to thank you all for your welcome here today and for your kind invitation to me, as the President of Ireland, to dedicate this beautiful, poignant and profound artwork within your community.

I particularly want to pay tribute to the City of Subiaco Council and Mayor Heather Henderson for their generous support of this memorial, which has a most fitting home in the community of Subiaco, which is so closely associated with the Irish in Western Australia.

May I congratulate Fred Rea and all the members of the Western Australia Irish Famine Commemoration Committee for their vision and their unstinting resolve in bringing this project to fruition. I understand that many, many people - far too numerous to mention by name - have supported this project and contributed to it. Your collective efforts and generosity have delivered a remarkable memorial in a remarkable location. I have no doubt that this will become an iconic landmark for Perth and for its Irish community.

I must also acknowledge the sculptors, Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith. Both are artists of great renown, not only in Western Australia but internationally. You have accomplished a most beautiful and moving depiction of the desolation that unfolded during and following those apocalyptic famine years in the 1840s.

A mother, bent low by the crushing loss of her children. A people, hollowed out by starvation and forced exile. Caoineadh - keening, from the Irish word for weeping, so clearly and sensitively presented is a metaphor perhaps for the collective trauma that the Famine undoubtedly was for the Irish people, and the long shadow that it cast on successive generations scattered throughout the globe. For me, the work also brings to mind the perhaps unresolved feelings of loss, grief, anger and even guilt, of the survivors in Ireland, of those who fled, and indeed of all of their descendants, including those of us gathered here today.  

We have struggled to come to terms with this seismic event in our shared story. Over recent decades scholars and historians have compiled a solid exposition of the factors that contributed to the great calamity that led to so many deaths and so much dislocation. The Famine, of course, was never merely an accident of nature, nor can it be explained as merely a series of mistakes. It was not providence, as was claimed at the time. It occurred within the philosophical biases of Empire and an imbedded atmosphere of conquest and conflict. It was allowed to unfold within a prevailing mindset of economic theory, of land ownership and an emerging desire to industrialise agriculture.

There were structural features, which created the social vulnerability that is famine. Dependency on a single source of food is obvious, but other factors also come in to play. In 1841 Ireland had a population of over eight million people. Land-ownership was largely concentrated in the hands of an elite of 8 to 10,000 families. Below them 45% of the land holdings were under 5 acres. In the West of the country, the areas most severely hit, 75% of those who scratched a living from the land lived on holdings, where they had them, with a valuation of less than £4.  Much of the population led a precarious existence, with little reserve or resilience against what was to come.

The Act of Union 1800, had seen Ireland’s industrial and commercial structure slip into decay. We can also discern the emergence of certain assumptions in the years leading up to the Famine that came to dominate political and moral thinking. The new citizen of the post-industrial revolution period was to be thrifty, industrious and motivated by individual welfare – characteristics very different from those assumed to be the characteristics of the Irish peasant.

In the throes of the Famine, it was concluded that the giving of relief directly to those dying would constitute a “moral hazard”. It was important, in the minds of those administrators and politicians who sought to respond to the Famine, to continue the project of moral reform even as the death toll soared. Ultimately over 1 million Irish would die of hunger and related diseases, and 2 million would flee from their country. Meanwhile, avoiding the creation of dependency, as imperial elites saw it, was a target that could not be allowed to slip.

But it is also true that the reaction of official Ireland and Britain was complex. We must be aware of how the treatment of the Irish Famine changed as one year succeeded another: the first identification of the crop failure in 1845 was different to 1846 in terms of policy response; any resilience in the existing structures of poverty relief was soon overwhelmed; the rhetoric as to providence became a central feature of the discourse in 1847; and by 1848, in response to the William Smith O’Brien revolt, we have cartoons presenting the Irish as ingrates towards those who are supposedly saving them. 

News of the emerging catastrophe in Ireland was slow to reach these shores. Word of the potato crop failure of 1845 reached Sydney in February 1846, but the extent and seriousness of the situation was not clearly reflected in media reports. However, by August of that year, the first of a series of relief fund meetings was held in Melbourne, followed quickly by Sydney and a number of other centres. By the end of 1846, over £4,600 had been raised and transmitted to the Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Dublin for relief of the poor. It is notable that these sums were made up of thousands of small contributions from all sectors of Irish Australia. In 1847 – 1848 over £8,400 was similarly raised and transmitted. This was a significant achievement given the small size and modest means of the Irish community in Australia and its relative isolation from the unfolding events back home.

At that time, the Australian colonies hosted an Irish population of only 70,000. Unlike Britain, Canada or the US, Australia did not witness the arrival of tens of thousands of emaciated women, men and children fleeing during the years of starvation. Between 1845 and 1848 it is estimated that about 14,000 Irish arrived here, mostly not direct victims of the Famine, but those who feared they might become so.

It was not until later, from 1848 onwards that Famine casualties started to arrive. These were in the form of several thousand girls and young women, who volunteered to be relocated from Ireland’s workhouses to a new life in the Australian colonies. Sometimes known as Famine Brides, these young women and girls had their passage funded, through the Earl Grey and similar schemes. They are sometimes described as orphans but many had a surviving parent. It is sobering to think of the desperate situation that these girls faced, where the option of transportation to the other side of the world, of probable permanent separation from their homes and surviving family, to a future that they could scarcely comprehend was preferable to what was around them. While the purpose of these schemes was largely to satisfy a need for more females in the Australian colonies, for these women it presented an opportunity to escape from the workhouses and the desolation of Ireland at that time.  

Some of the later transportations, in the early 1850s came to Western Australia. In 1853 Elizabeth Carbury, from Galway came to the Swan River colony on the Palestine with her sister Mary and other young women from the Mountbellew workhouse. Limerick woman Bridget Mulqueen arrived in the same year on the Travencore. It is heartening to hear that the communities in which they settled in Dardanup and Bunbury have been remembering them, their lives and the contribution they made here, following their traumatic departure from Ireland. I understand that memorial services were held for both women earlier this year with the assistance of Fred Rea and the Western Australia Irish Famine Commemoration Committee.  Remembering these women, their lives and their legacy is important. Indeed, recognising the full profile of the experience of our people is necessary, if we are to learn, to understand, even to forgive.

Can we, of Irish extraction, borrow from our own history when faced, as we are today, with the largest number of displaced people on the planet since the Second World War? Is the plight of those risking everything to cross continents and seas in search of refuge or a better life so different from the choices that faced our own people? Today, we have the capacity to anticipate the threat of famine. We have the capacity to take measures to avoid it; and yet we have almost a billion people living in conditions of extreme but avoidable hunger.

The moral principle remains the same: should we adjust our populations to an abstracted economic ideology, be it laissez faire or neo-liberalism, or should we, rather, use the best of our reason to craft economic and social models that can anticipate the needs and care for the peoples who share this fragile planet?

Captivating art, such as this magnificent sculpture, “Uaigneas” serves to remind us of these things. It challenges us to remember and to think.  I was particularly struck by the artists’ concept in designing this thought-provoking sculpture that it should also represent and highlight the resilience of the Irish people and by extension of the human condition– in their words: “Hope is not extinguished. It never is! ...because the human spirit always soars over adversity in the end”. The lives of Elizabeth Carbury and Bridget Mulqueen are a testament to the fact that people can and do emerge from the most horrendous situations, can lead good lives and make valuable contributions in their changed surroundings.

We must therefore acknowledge that from the depths of despair and devastation some positive consequences emerged. The most notable, perhaps is the contribution that many in the Irish diaspora made to the societies they helped shape in so many places around the world.

Their shared story, wherever they landed, in Birmingham or Boston, in Sydney or Subiaco, was a common striving for a better life. Many had learned the hard lessons of the Famine and pressed for the creation of a fairer society in their new homes, and a more prosperous and secure future for the next generation. In many, it imbued a concern for their fellow citizen. This passion is still evident in so many Irish communities around the world today, including here in Perth where the work of organisations like The Claddagh Association is so vital in supporting those members of the Irish community facing times of distress and difficulty.

An Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, is the source of so much of the Irish diaspora, and was a catalyst for further emigration right up to present times. Today, Ireland and Australia are wealthy countries, full of opportunity and promise for our upcoming generations. In the very different context of the terrible post-Famine years, those who arrived in their new destinations often found their Irishness to be a source of marginalisation, of stereotypical presentation of their cultural status as inferior, be it in terms of language or behaviour. It is from this space that many overcame such prejudice to make outstanding contributions in their new homelands. And they did not forget their homeland or the challenges faced by those that were left behind. They assisted their relatives. Sometimes providing funds for the passage to follow them, sometimes simply to assist those who stayed at home with remittances sent from abroad. 

These emigrants’ remittances not only helped other relatives to follow, they paid shop debts, they built Churches, and for many of those who survived, they were a vital source of money for the purchase of food and clothes and the payment of the rent. 

The Famine diaspora was also vital in Ireland’s successive struggles to break from the shackles of Empire and to forge its own future. It is important, therefore that we remember these things, these bonds of kinship and historic mutual support. That we recall the fragility of our daily existence and the perils of doctrinaire approaches that are blind to the vulnerabilities of human beings. Most usefully, we should let the memory of our great pain colour our reaction to our fellow human beings facing similar threats today. 

Go raibh maith agaimh arís as ucht an cuireadh a thug sibh dom a bheith libh ag an ócáid suntasach seo do phobal na nGael i bPerth agus i Subiaco. Táim thar a bheith buíoch daoibh uile as ucht a bheith ag éisteacht liom.

Thank you all for your patience and for inviting me to share in this special event.

Speech at the 86th National Ploughing Championships

Screggan, Co. Offaly, 19 September 2017

A Chairde Gael,

Is mór an pléisiúir dom an 86ú Comórtas Náisiúnta Treabhdóireachta a oscailt.

It is an honour and a great pleasure to open the 86th National Ploughing Championships here in Screggan, Co. Offaly, a venue which proved to be an ideal location last year, drawing record attendances of 283,000 people over the three days.

Every time that I come here – and Sabina and I have been here every year in recent times – I marvel at the sheer size, scale and energy of “the Ploughing”. What began as a small contest, all the way back in 1931, seeking to answer the crucial question as to which county in Ireland had the best ploughman, has now grown into one of Europe’s largest outdoor events, creating what approximates to a temporary town – which emerges almost overnight in the heart of the countryside.

This festival is a testament to the vibrancy and the organisational talent in Ireland’s farming community, and I want to congratulate and thank our hosts, and all the neighbouring farmers who have facilitated the transformation of some 600 acres of farmland into Ireland’s farming ‘capital city’. The community effort required to make this event a success should warm the heart of all those who are gathered here today.

The continued expansion and development of this event is due in no small part to the dedication of the National Ploughing Association’s organising team, including its Managing Director of over four decades, Ms. Anna May McHugh. Their commitment, enthusiasm and professionalism allow all of us, year after year, to fully enjoy these days together.

Of course, there are many others who also deserve our thanks and without whom this important event would not be possible; Offaly County Council, the Gardaí and the many clubs and rural organisations that all come together, in a tremendous display of rural enthusiasm, to create this inspiring festival.

Together, in the co-operation that is an essential part of rural life, you have created and sustained these Ploughing Championships, this most enjoyable and important celebration of rural Ireland in all its aspects, and an annual tribute to those who farm, and to those who are the custodians of not only our food but also our society, our landscapes, our natural environment and our ways of life.

It is also important to stress that these Championships, “the Ploughing”, are also an annual opportunity for those who have moved to our towns and cities to restore their connections with rural communities and the land we live on.

A chairde,

These few days are a celebration, and an opportunity to take note too, of the profound role that farmers and farming play in our society – a role that can never be fully understood in market figures and sales statistics. They are important indicators, but they do not reflect the changes that are taking place.

Above all else, family farming is a fundamental human activity that not only connects all of us to nature but also transfers not only the knowledge of food security from generation to generation, but also a valuable lore of understanding that comes from proximity to soil, animals and plants. It is a valuable way of life, needing nurture, support, understanding and social policies as well as economic and price interventions.

Among the stands I hope to visit is that of Teagasc. As I prepared my notes I was indebted to a valuable paper prepared by David Meredith on the challenges facing rural communities. That paper quoted the National Farm Survey of 2015, that showed 34% of farms were vulnerable, as without an off-farm source of income to farmer or spouse the farm was not viable.

Farming has to be supported. As part of our economy, the agri-food sector is our largest indigenous industry. Its contribution to the national and global production of food for a growing population is significant, since it operates in our rural communities to provide sources of income and employment, but also makes use of the natural capital and resources in our environment. It accounts for over 11 billion of exports and over 160,000 jobs. Ireland’s agriculture has been, and continues to be, central to shaping the future of our country and our society.

Farming as a crucial component of society is vulnerable all over Europe. Ireland is no exception. We are challenged to address the succession issue, offering a future to the next generation of educated young farmers.

Acknowledging these crucial facts also means acknowledging instances of unbalanced development in Ireland, that leave us with both rural depletion and urban diseconomies – two sides of the same coin, and a contradiction that affects not only those who work in agriculture and make their living on the land, but impinges on the whole of society.

Social cohesion requires achieving a balanced society and economy. That aim was always the main purpose of regionalism, regional theory and planning, an emphasis that has fallen out of favour with the privileging of sectoral thinking.

When rural communities struggle with a lack of adequate infrastructure and with an exodus of its young people, this is a matter not only for those affected, but for all of us; Some rural towns have become sleeper communities, as 71% of all jobs associated with new foreign direct investment are concentrated where existing clusters are located; Such rural commuter concentrations may have seen population numbers increase, others fare worse.

Recent Census figures show that, despite an overall increase in our population, population numbers have fallen in 40% of the Electoral Divisions of our country, and this was where the population was already in decline. It is in these areas, as current figures suggest, that one-third of Irish farms are deemed ‘economically vulnerable’. This is a situation that concerns us all.

Rural depopulation has contributed to the loss of services such as post offices, shops, banks, pubs and restaurants and health services. The loss of this social infrastructure then becomes a factor in driving further rural depopulation. A vicious cycle, if you like, which we must find ways of overcoming, and which requires the intervention of an entrepreneurial State.

In addition, it must be noted that the other side of the coin of this pattern of rural depletion is one of urban strain, where the benefits of the city, in terms of agglomeration, accessibility and economic clustering, are being outweighed by all too-often inadequately planned urban growth and its associated inefficiencies through congestion, spiralling costs associated with speculation and under provision of housing, all contributing to social fragmentation.

May I suggest that, as we gather here to celebrate what is good and important about Irish rural life, we should turn again to the case for balanced regional development, and renew our commitment to achieving a balance in society, meeting the great challenge of reviving and revitalising rural Ireland.

This is indeed one of the great challenges of our time; one that can, and must be met. We have the means to understand this challenge. A socially based application of technology, science, and crafted infrastructural expenditure of an economic, social and technical kind can help us achieve our targets.

The loss of vibrant, viable rural communities is not inevitable, nor is it the result of some unalterable natural phenomena, presented lazily as some “way of the world”. Rather, the challenges being faced by rural communities across Ireland are the result of choices, both large and small – or failures to make choices – that have the cumulative effect that I have been describing. These choices are ours, and as such, they are ours to change. With the required political will, ambition and imagination, we can, I believe, turn the tide.

It would simply be wrong, too, to assume that any endeavour to revitalise our rural communities would in any way be contrary to our overall economic development. By revisiting our analysis of the advantages of effective regionalisation and regional planning, by investing in rural infrastructure, transport and broadband, and by providing appropriate business support, we can create new efficiencies and opportunities in rural settlements, generating jobs as well as more vibrant, cohesive communities across the country. Cities relieved of spiralling diseconomies are likely to be more sustainable living experiences. The very last thing we need is a wasteful, false divide between city and country.

Dear friends,

Next week marks the second anniversary of the adoption of that most important agreement of 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals.

This international accord set out a path towards a healthier, more just world in which all nations are working together to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. In doing so, the new “Sustainable Development Goals” invite us to radically rethink our approach to the economy, to solidarity and to the natural world. Although infused with a sense of time-bound urgency, the Sustainable Development Goals implore us to “think long”, and to focus on the needs not only of those who currently dwell on this planet, but also those yet to come. The Goals require all of our support, our understanding, our advocacy and our changes in practice.

Good farming, achieving succession in farming, has always involved thinking long. Resourcing the farming sector and individual farmers to achieve sustainability makes sense.

Balanced rural development is a test for our aims, within social policy, such as “leaving no-one behind.” As such, it is relevant not only for our approach to the natural world, but also to our thinking about how we promote and protect cohesion and solidarity at local, national and international level.

The challenges I have outlined are important ones, and require new thinking and new practices, in areas as diverse as, for instance, carbon-neutral agriculture, soil management and renewable energies, as well as new policies to manage our spatial planning, our education system, our social safety nets and indeed our foreign policy.

It is also important to base this new thinking on a strong awareness of the facts, as well as on a grounded appreciation of the core elements in Irish agriculture, its rural communities and the environment, which allow sustainable farming practices to be positioned at the centre of the agri-food sector’s vision and long-term strategy for itself and for our society. If it is valuable to have traceability of product – and it is a huge asset – surely it will be valuable too to have transparency in the relationship between producers and every link in the chain of food production, particularly in the retail sector. In that regard the recent report for the OECD of Cees Keerman is worthy of study and support. We should be open to considering legislating for farm transactions if it is found necessary.

Our starting point in this context must be, as stated in Food Wise 2025, one where “environmental sustainability and economic sustainability are equal and complementary – one cannot be achieved at the expense of the other.”

This cannot be just an empty slogan. It must become a way of thinking for all who are involved in the agri-food sector.

Muna bhfuil timpeallacht sláintiúil ann, ní bheidh geilleagar sláintiúil ná sochaí sláintiúil ann ach oiread.

[Without a healthy environment, we cannot have a healthy economy or healthy society.]

These Ploughing Championships are an opportunity to celebrate the tradition, knowledge and innovation of our farming sector. If we are to meet the challenges I have outlined, it is vital that we mobilise all the members of society involved in farming, food production, retail and consumption to share new ideas, new skills and methods, within an ethic of fairness, transferring information and exchanging best practice across a range of areas.

In that context, let me celebrate some of the good news and pay tribute to the many schemes that pioneer the transfer of knowledge from the ground up. Programmes such as the Burren Programme, that has initiated a novel ‘hybrid’ approach to farming and conservation which sees farmers paid for both work undertaken and, most importantly, for the delivery of defined environmental objectives. I wish to especially recognise its being awarded the title of ‘Best EU Life project’ in the past 25 years under the Nature and Biodiversity heading.

Similarly, the development of locally-led schemes, such as the hen harrier and freshwater pearl mussel schemes, bring farmer representatives on the ground into the scheme. Their local knowledge and experience of the agricultural landscape and practices are used to develop the actions at local level across all areas of the scheme.

These are encouraging and tangible examples of how the new thinking and new co-operative practices we need are being delivered at farm level.

It is this type of new thinking that we will need, at policy and institutional level, to meet the other challenges we are facing. Chief among these, are the challenges arising from our rapidly changing international context, most tangibly those related to the decision by voters in the UK in June 2016 to leave the European Union.

The impact of this decision, although the form which it should take is still under discussion, is – as noted by the farming organisations – already having a negative impact on Irish agriculture, with currency fluctuations already having cost us €650 million and creating the risk of fostering investment uncertainty.

The fall in the value of Sterling has already adversely affected our exports, and the SMEs and agri-food sectors that rely on it.

Ireland’s agri-food sector has a high dependence on the UK market, with 37% of all food and drink exports in 2016 going to our nearest neighbour and €2.8 billion of our annual €7 billion worth of imports of food and live animals sourced from the UK.

It is clear that, with the shared land border and the level of trade and co-operation between North and South, it is pivotal that our future relations with the United Kingdom not only preserve the closest possible trading relationship, but also the many benefits associated with our close relations in all other areas of life. Similarly, it is important for Ireland and Irish food producers to strengthen our relations with as many other countries as possible in Europe and further afield.

The Irish have always been an international people, and we have common bonds with many countries. Now is the time to strengthen those bonds, and to build new bridges with our partners around the world. I have found a willingness and a welcome available to us in the meetings that I have had with other Heads of State. That simply creates opportunities for the opening of doors through which our producers and exporters are well-prepared to enter with excellent, fully traceable product.

Next month, Sabina and I will undertake, at the request of the Government, State Visits to Australia and New Zealand, at the invitation of the governments in those countries. Those visits will be an opportunity to highlight our countries’ shared histories, and to strengthen the economic, tourism, cultural and political links between our nations.

In my meetings, I will be discussing many of the challenges I have just highlighted, and it will also be an occasion to reach out to the 2.5 million Australians, or 11% of the population, who indicate they have Irish ancestry, as well as the 80,000 Irish born citizens who have made the country their home.

On one of the days of the State Visit to Australia I will be meeting the descendants of my great-uncle Patrick Higgins, who went to Australia in 1862 as a ploughman, and went on to win local draught horse competitions and Ploughing championships in the Darling Downs on a number of occasions in the 1860’s.

Now is also the time, I suggest, not to focus solely on the risks inherent in the Brexit process, but to forge ahead with a positive and constructive articulation of the Europe that we want to build with our fellow members in the European Union. The future of that Union depends on social cohesion being at the top of the agenda at every institutional level in the Union.

Lest we forget, that community of peoples that we call the EU was always about more than the creation of a single market or a single currency. At its heart, the “European Project” is about shared values and a common purpose. Europe is short-hand for the sharing of prosperity and security, for achieving freedom from poverty, for solidarity with those less fortunate than ourselves, and for articulating - as well as living up to - a core set of values and ethics.

Friends, we are at a crucial moment in our history, when the challenges to our established patterns may at times seem greater than the opportunities for a new departure. Let us be positive, however, and remind ourselves that now is an outstanding time for new thinking. The failings of old paradigms and dogmas have become apparent to the many. So let us allow the new sustainable thinking its day.

Now is not the time to retreat behind national borders, or behind imagined glorious pasts. Now is the time for us to think afresh, and to gather our strength. To build, together, structures that serve what we value, recognising the value of the edifice painstakingly built by generations before us, but encouraging each other to take the steps necessary to achieve that fundamental objective of human life, which is the guaranteeing of the well-being, flourishing and full participation of all the world’s citizens, both today and in the future.

May I wish the best of luck to all of this year’s competitors and a very enjoyable Ploughing Championships to you all.

It is a great pleasure for me to be able to declare the 86th National Ploughing Championships officially open.

Go raibh maith agaibh arís as ucht an cuireadh chun bheith anseo, agus go n-éirí go geal libh go léir.

Speech at Afternoon Tea Reception for Community Groups

Áras an Uachtaráin, 18 September 2017

A chairde,

Ar an gcéad dul síos, is cúis mhór áthais dom féin agus do Shaidbhín fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh go léir chuig Áras an Uachtaráin inniu.  Tá sibh tagtha ó cheann ceann na tíre agus is mór an sásamh a thugann sé dúinn sibh a fheiceáil anseo le chéile, chun an tráthnóna a chaitheamh linn agus sult a bhaint as an teach álainn seo. Bígí ar bhur shuaimhneas.

Dear friends, you are all so very welcome to Áras an Uachtaráin this afternoon. Sabina and I are delighted that you have been able to visit us, travelling as you have from different parts of Ireland and indeed from as far away as Freemantle, Western Australia! You have travelled from Galway, Dublin, Wicklow, Tipperary, Louth, Cork, Meath, Offaly and Mayo to be here today, and I thank you all for joining us. It is indeed wonderful to see Dublin and Mayo come together again in the spirit of friendship after such an enthralling and spectacular All Ireland Final yesterday. I hope today will be a more relaxed occasion and that we will not be witness another clash of the Titans!

Whether you have come as members of groups and Active Retirement Associations, or with a family member or friend you are all most welcome, and I hope you are all having a truly enjoyable time. I would like to extend a particular welcome to Eva Sutton, who I am delighted to see here with us today.

Since becoming President, I have had the opportunity to welcome many visitors to the Áras. Indeed, more than thirty thousand people have visited the Áras since I came to office. Very often receptions here are formal State events where protocols must be followed, so it is especially nice to have an informal day, a day such as today when people can come together in friendship and meet other people from different parts of Ireland – but most of all a day when you can relax, make new friends and enjoy yourselves.

Sabina and I greatly value such occasions to pay tribute to people of all ages and circumstances who are doing so much to build solidarity and cohesion in our country. To all of you who care for others, who offer friendship and support, please accept my sincere thanks as Uachtarán na hÉireann.

Tá nath cainte a úsaidim ó am go chéile "ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine" agus ta tuiscint faoi leith ag daoine cosúil libhse ar an dtionchar dearfach gur féidir a bheith againn ar ár gcomharsan, ár gclann agus ar ár bpobal nuair a thugaimid cabhair, cairdeas agus tacaíocht da chéile i ngach gné d'ár saol. Agus bíonn cabhair agus tacáioch faoi leith ag teastáil ag gach éinne againn ag amannta éagsúla i rith ár saol.

At the time of my inauguration, I underlined the value of working together to build an active and inclusive citizenship based on participation, equality and respect for all. I also stated that citizens of all ages would be invited to make their own imaginative and practical contribution to the shaping of our shared future. I was delighted that 2012 – during my first year as Uachtarán na hÉireann – was designated as “European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.” 

It was a year during which we were all encouraged to focus on solidarity between the different age groups within our society. Its objective was to develop and promote more cohesive communities where younger people can benefit from the knowledge, experience and wisdom of older people.  There is much accomplishment in the room and a wisdom acquired from our individual and shared experiences. This is perhaps our greatest asset and is what we have to offer and to share - as parents, friends, confidantes, workers, mentors, caregivers and volunteers. All of you who are engaged in active retirement groups and community initiatives are helping to create an Ireland that recognises the importance of supporting people in their efforts to be healthy, to live independently and to be full and active participants in their communities as they grow older. You have much of which to be proud.

As people who have lived through many challenges, you all know the scale of the problems we are facing as a global community, in terms of poverty, displacement, social exclusion, and violent conflict. We have also brought our very planet and the natural systems on which we depend to a precarious position, with ecological collapse and climate change threatening to undermine the basis of our civilisations in so many ways.

In September 2015, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, we collectively agreed to do all we can to attain 17 goals for a better world. By the year 2030 we must have achieved these Sustainable Development Goals. Equally importantly, in December of that year, the nations of the world signed the Paris agreement which committed to halting, and even reversing, global warming.

Achieving less destructive models of development for this and future generations is not only a moral obligation, it is also necessary for the survival of our communities at a local and global level. It is an obligation we must do our very best to fulfil. And there is nothing to be afraid of in embracing an ethical approach to how we make our living and in being more cognisant of our impact on our local and global neighbours.  Putting ethics and empathy at the heart of how we organise our economy, as well as our society, will enhance our collective experience and secure our futures on this fragile planet.

I often think of the critical role the agriculture sector has in maintaining a vibrant rural economy and its central role in protecting our natural eco-systems, water quality and even in regulating our planet's climate.  Indeed, our farmers, and rural Ireland at large are crucial to our sustainable future. Farming men and women must be supported; new generations must be enabled to continue to carry out what is one of the most important and rewarding human activities on earth: the tending of the land and the cultivation of its fruits, in a way that can be sustained into the future.

Social cohesion is, of course, another core pillar of what we mean when we talk about sustainable development. I know that so many of you here understand that very well and are active in building and maintaining social cohesion through your everyday lives, in what you do to help others – family, friends, neighbours, strangers – on the most basic and human level.

Tá sibhse, agus na mílte eile cosúil libh, ag obair i gcroílár bhur bpobail, ag tabhairt cúnaimh riachtanach, agus tacaíocht nuair is gá, do bhur gcomharsan, do bhur gclann agus do bhur sochaí. Molaim sibh uile.

Despite the myriad of ways we can communicate these days, it is a cause of some concern that we are witnessing a growing feeling of isolation experienced by too many people around us. Loneliness can gnaw away at the spirit and combined with poverty, can leave people bereft of hope. We must work together to restore that hope for our shared future. I know that so many of you do so much already and I ask you to continue giving in to your best instincts by reaching out and by working towards that better world we want, and the world we owe to our children.

To conclude, agus mar fhocal scoir, may I say that it is my great wish that we all make a special effort, each in our own way, to embrace and speak our Irish language. I am the ninth Irish President, and when you hear me speaking Irish, I am continuing the work of the first President of Ireland, Dr. Dúbhghlas de hÍde – An Craoibhín Aoibhinn – who played such an important role in the cultural movement in general and, through his work at home and among the Irish in America, for the revival of the Irish language in particular.

Iarram oraibh an méid Gaeilge atá agaibh a úsáid agus iad siúd atá mórthimpeall oraibh a speagadh leis an rud chéanna a dhéanamh. Tá saibhreas mílteanach inár dteanga agus is ceangal direach í lenár noidhreacht, lenár dtimpeallacht  agus lenár stair thar na mílte bliana.

Finally, may I thank all those who have helped to make today such an enjoyable and memorable event, especially our entertainers George Hunter and Edward Finnley, the first-aid volunteers from St. John of Gods and all the staff here at Áras an Uachtaráin who have worked so hard to make today a success.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir agus go dté sibh slán.

Speech by President Michael D. Higgins to mark National Literacy Awareness Week 12th September 2017

Dia daoibh a chairde. Tá an-áthas orm fáilte a fhearradh romhaibh go hÁras an Uachtaráin inniu, ar an lá speisialta seo.

Today is a very special day, one which brings us together to mark National Literacy Awareness Week and I am delighted to welcome you to Áras an Uachtaráin to honour this important week in our national calendar.

May I commence by saying how delighted I am to be Patron of the National Adult Literacy Agency. The invaluable work your organisation carries out is a vital resource for helping those in our society who are experiencing literacy challenges. Through your work, the National Adult Literacy Agency has brought hope and opportunities to many citizens who, for a variety of reasons, may not have been enabled to acquire literacy skills earlier in their lives.

Experiencing difficulties with literacy problems can at times make life seem a dark and lonely place.  I am particularly delighted to welcome those of you here today who have bravely addressed the challenge of acquiring literacy, emerging into a world of hope and possibility that must once have seemed unattainable. 

Each of you serves as a great inspiration to the many others whose lives have been shadowed by literacy difficulties, and I thank and commend you for your courage and the determination that has brought you to where you are today.

May I say how humbling and uplifting it was to hear Eamon Delaney’s personal story of his childhood and his journey with the National Adult Literacy Agency; his embracing and sustenance of his desire to learn and, in his own words “be a role model for my children”. The dignity and honesty with which Eamon shared his story of growing up with feelings of a sense of shame, frustration and failure due to his reading difficulties, was visceral.

His resolve to make not only his own future, but also that of his children, better is a shining example of remarkable courage and perseverance in the face of adversity. His will to succeed, his success, is a powerful impetus for anyone who may feel discouraged.

I commend his courage and generosity in sharing his story, a deed which will greatly help reduce the stigma associated with literacy difficulties. I congratulate his success, as I congratulate you all. You all have so much of which to be proud.

Throughout life, I have met many people whom I admire for their different qualities, strengths and attributes but it is true to say that among the most impressive people I have met are those who have experienced inequality, marginalisation, disenfranchisement and social injustice, but have retained or found the vision and sense of possibility that enabled them to embark on a journey of enlightenment and empowerment.

The importance and value of literacy cannot be underestimated and the achievement of global literacy is one of the Sustainable Development Goals. The accomplishment of this goal will be a significant step forward towards the achievement of equality and social justice; towards a fair, ethical and equal society where there is no conversation we cannot have, no information we cannot access, no doors that remain closed to us.

It is heartening to witness the progress that has been made during recent decades in Ireland in the development of adult literacy and in helping individuals improve their basic skills. There is still much work to be done, however.

A recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills showing that one in six Irish adults are at or below level 1 on a 5 level literacy scale, is clearly a sign that, more must be done to encourage and assist citizens who struggle with illiteracy to access the tremendous resources the National Adult Literacy Agency provide.

I am delighted to learn about the National Adult Literacy Agency’s campaigns – ‘Take the First Step’, and your ‘Learner Ambassador Programme’. I have no doubt these initiatives will be instrumental in raising that OECD figure, bringing closer the day when the goal of literacy for all our citizens will be achieved.

Some time ago I had the pleasure of addressing the Irish Reading Association of Ireland and I quoted the words of the great liberator and champion of civil rights Frederick Douglas: ‘‘When you learn to read, you will be forever free’. Such simple yet profound words. The ability to read and to write is at the heart of our journey through life. Through reading and writing; we travel and find treasures, both in print and online. Reading is fundamental to our independence and sense of well-being, it clears our thoughts and widens our perspective, it gives us a world view of ourselves, of life, and of human existence as a whole.

These skills open our minds and allows us to form opinion and good judgment. They allow us to express ourselves, to engage fully in society, to educate and inform ourselves, to open our minds, to realise our possibilities and to discover new worlds and new ways of thinking, to appreciate the beauty of life and to deal with its corresponding daily challenges.

Of course, in this digital age, the way people work and learn and communicate with each other has changed very much indeed. Nowadays, people who are not enabled to be digitally literate are also at risk of becoming outsiders in a society where more and more information is now being made available solely on line; more and more people are using modern technology to engage in everyday communication; and more and more workplaces rely on a digitally literate workforce in order to compete effectively in a global economy.

I am delighted, therefore, that digital literacy is included as an element of this literacy programme; a recognition that becoming part of the information society can no longer be viewed as an optional extra in life but must be seen as an essential and liberating life skill.

As to the future, may I suggest that a literacy on fiscal and economic matters may be as important to cohesion, citizenship and democracy itself, as being able to read was to parliamentary democracy and the extension of the franchise. Knowing the assumptions behind proposals that affect not only income but life itself is what is necessary, for example for the European Union’s Institutions to reconnect to the European Street.

In conclusion, may I thank you all, and through you everyone across the country who is involved with NALA, as students, dedicated literacy tutors or in the many other roles which contribute to the enduring success of NALA.

Mar fhocal scoir, is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil libh go léir as an obair atá ar siúl agaibh agus guím gach rath oraibh don todhchaí.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Speech at the 20th Anniversary of the Opening of The National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks

Collins Barracks, Dublin, 12 September 2017

Tá áthas orm a bheith anseo libh ar fad inniu agus sinn ag ceiliúradh 20 bliain ó osclaíodh Brainse na hEalaíona Maisiúla agus Stair Ard-Mhúsaem na hÉireann anseo i nDún Uí Choileáin.

[I am delighted to be here with you all today as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the opening of the Decorative Arts and History Branch of the National Museum of Ireland here at Collins Barracks.]

It was during my time as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, that Collins’ Barracks was first secured as the site for this important branch of the Museum. The decision to cancel the sale of the Barracks and pursue its public use as a heritage location was taken by me but would not have been possible without the interest, initiative and co-operation of my valued Cabinet colleague David Andrews, the Minister for Defence.  It was an important moment in Ireland’s cultural history, a moment that was to bear much fruit and as the National Museum at Collins’ Barracks celebrates its 20th anniversary this Museum has much to look back on with great pride and satisfaction. 

May I commence by saying what a great pleasure it always is to come to Collins’ Barracks. The Barracks constitutes a space rich in history which has witnessed, and indeed played its own seismic role, in so many significant chapters of Ireland’s complex past. 

Stretching back three centuries and beginning its life as the Royal Barracks, Collins’ Barracks was erected in an Ireland under British rule as part of a network of barracks connecting the 6 main Irish Garrisons. Across the intervening centuries, the Barracks has been at the centre of many important historical moments.

It was here that Wolfe Tone was court martialled and imprisoned following the 1798 Rebellion against British rule. It was from here that two hundred and twenty soldiers marched to their death in Gallipoli during the first World War, and, of course, it was here that rebellion troops tackled rebel positions on Usher's Island, at the Four Courts, and in the GPO during the 1916 Easter Rising. Today the Barracks is named after Michael Collins, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Free State Army, while the main quadrangle is named after Thomas Clarke, one of the executed rebel leaders, and the Barracks has become synonymous, in many Irish minds, with our long and bitter struggle for independence.

Collins Barracks is now not only, however, a place with its own profound history. It is also, since the end of the 1990s, a custodian of our rich heritage, a place where an invaluable strand of that heritage is safeguarded and, very importantly, made available to all citizens. As the location for the Decorative Arts and History branch of the museum, Collins Barracks stands at the forefront of Ireland’s cultural life, conserving and displaying many beautiful works that connect us, in a profound way, to our past and the many significant, and indeed quiet moments that have influenced and formed the Ireland we inhabit today. 

Artistic works not only reflect the society and time in which they were created; they also, in the here and now, help to shape and shade the world in which we live while also challenging us to look at that world in different ways. Spaces like the one we celebrate today are important, indeed critical to a truly functioning society, holding so much of our collective memory within their walls. 

Mar sin is mór an phléisiúir dom an deis seo a ghlacadh le haitheantas a thabhairt don tábhacht a bhaineann le Brainse na hEalaíona Maisiúla agus Stair Ard-Mhúsaem na hÉireann, agus don méid a chuireann sé le cultúr ár sochaí.

[It is a great pleasure therefore to have this opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the Decorative Arts and History Branch of the National Museum, and all that it contributes to the cultural dimension of our society.] 

I understand that the Museum now holds over half a million objects in its Decorative Arts and History collection and currently hosts twenty one separate exhibitions. They are exhibitions whose range and breadth gift us with unique insights into so much human thought and experience, telling us what has gone before, and looking to the future in ways that are inspiring and full of possibility. 

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of coming here to open Portrait of a Century, a photographic celebration of the diversity of our people and the range of their contributions across a century of Irish life. These images constitute a powerful evocation of the bounty of ideas, achievements, vulnerabilities, and commitments of an intellectual, political, artistic or sporting kind, that have shaped our collective destiny throughout ten decades.  

Today, I have yet again been fortunate to witness how the combined powers of memory and imagination can contribute so profoundly to the ongoing evolution of our society. I was delighted to receive a most interesting tour of three of the current exhibitions located here in Collins’ Baracks; exhibitions which connect us, across time and distance, to some of the many powerful stories which have built a nation. 

Seamus Heaney’s description of how inherited objects provide us with:

‘a point of entry into a common emotional ground of memory and belonging’  

is apt.

I was reminded of those words again here this morning as I experienced four centuries of evolving Irish furniture design at the ‘Reconstructed Rooms’ Exhibition and witnessed three and a half decades of changing Irish fashion through a retrospective of the work of the renowned Ib Jorgenson. I very much recall Ib Jorgensen telling me in the 1990s that he wished fashion was part of the responsibilities of the Department I had created as the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. Each piece of craftsmanship, each designed object, on show or held here reflect lives lived and stories written in a past that has so profoundly influenced the Ireland we inhabit today. They are a reminder of the real debt of gratitude we owe to our designers, our artists, our craftsmen who allow us so many opportunities to not only engage with the past, but to witness its unfolding.

Art, of course, has always transcended cultural barriers speaking to, and of, a common humanity. In our increasingly interdependent world art and design has evolved, weaving new and vibrant patterns whilst allowing each strand to retain its own distinct identity. 

The ‘Shadow of Sodeisha: Japanese and Irish Art in Clay’ exhibition is not only a fitting memorial to the founding of diplomatic ties between our two countries, but also a demonstration of how contemporary sculpture from two island nations at the extremities of Asia and Europe can speak to us of both unique and separate pasts and of a shared future of great possibility.

These, and the many other exhibitions housed here in Collins’ Barracks, invite us to deepen our knowledge and understanding of Irish political, military and social history, and are an invaluable record of the making of modern Ireland and its relationship with the outside world.  

Before I conclude may I thank Catherine Heaney, Chair of the Museum, for her invitation to be here with you all this morning to mark the 20 year anniversary of the opening of this branch of the Museum. I also thank and congratulate all those who have worked, with such care and dedication, to ensure the ongoing success of the Decorative Arts and History Branch of the National Museum of Ireland here at Collins Barracks.

Our cultural heritage, in all its many forms, is at the very heart of our identity; connecting us not only to our shared past, but to our creative present and to a future full of possibilities. We are deeply grateful therefore to those who work to keep that culture and heritage alive and relevant in an Ireland that continues to evolve and change, and who also enable us to view our world in ways that are new and emancipatory.

Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil an Músaem ag tabhairt máistirphlean chun críche chun tuilleadh forbairtí a dhéanamh ar na láithreacha éagsúla atá faoi chúram an Mhúsaem agus guím gach rath ar an togra seo.

[I am aware that the Museum is currently in the process of finalising a Master plan for the further development of all four sites belonging to the Museum and I wish you every success with this.]

May I say how aware I am of what has been achieved, but more importantly what could be achieved if resources at Turlough House and the other sites secure additional, dare I say essential, increases in funding.

In conclusion, I congratulate you all on reaching this milestone and wish you every success as you continue with your important work.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech by Sabina Higgins at the Roma Holocaust Memorial

Mansion House, Dublin, 2 August 2017

Dear Friends,

May I begin by thanking our hosts here in the Mansion House for allowing us to gather here today for this sombre but so important event. I would also like to thank our friends at Pavee Point for inviting me to be with you today. I am looking forward to hearing Gabi Muntean, Bianca Paun, Lynn Jackson, Prof. Ethel Brooks, along with all the representatives of the Roma community who will share with us their rich culture and heritage.

We are gathered here today to remember the Porajmos which took place on 2 August 1944 when almost 3,000 Roma were exterminated in the gas chambers of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. In remembering the terrible genocide which was perpetrated against the Roma and Sinti, the Jewish people and against various other minority groups in the 1940s, it is my hope that we can address the lasting effects of the holocaust and prevent a similar loss of life in the future.

The Roma and Sinti people are often forgotten when we discuss the holocaust. During the Nuremberg Trials, held by the Allied forces after World War II, no mention was made of the genocide perpetrated against the Roma. In fact, the genocide of the Roma people wasn’t formally recognised as such until 1982. As a result, Roma survivors of the concentration camps received no assistance or compensation from the German government for the terrible suffering they had to endure.

While preparing my remarks for today, I was particularly struck by the words of Romani Rose, head of the German Council of Sinti and Roma. A Sinto activist who lost 13 members of his family at Auschwitz-Birkenau, as referenced by Ethel Brooks in her paper “Remembering the Dead, Documenting Resistance, Honouring the Heroes”, he said “There is not a single family of Sinti and Roma in Germany who has not lost immediate family members. It shapes our identity to this day”.

We are not even sure of the full extent of this genocide.  The number of Roma who were executed by the Nazis has often been underestimated by historians. The Nazis did not keep accurate records of the Roma they killed, and as a result contemporary historians estimate that between one third and two thirds of the European Roma community, approximately half a million people, were exterminated. In addition to this horrific genocide, a further 500,000 Roma were displaced, dispossessed or had their identity papers destroyed during World War II.

Of course, the suffering of the Roma people did not end with World War II. Today, the Roma still face racially motivated hate crimes, violence, persecution, deportation and discrimination in countries across Europe. The recent rise of right wing, neo-fascist political parties across Europe has led to the return of anti-Roma sentiment, along with anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant narratives.

These poisonous ideologies must not be allowed to gain a foothold in the contemporary moment. It is a cause of great grief that right through history such appalling unnecessary suffering has been inflicted on humanity through man’s inhumanity to man.

The politics of hate, fear and “otherness” must be rejected, and in its place we must strive for inclusion, mutual respect and ethics. We must acknowledge that which makes us different and strive to learn from each other, to better understand each other and care for each other.  This is how we overcome discrimination – through education, mutual respect and love.  Integrated education for our children is, I think, an essential step along the way.

The Proclamation of the Irish Republic set us the challenge to cherish all the children of the nation equally. We must renew and redouble our efforts to meet this challenge. Every child in Ireland, including the children of Travellers, Roma, asylum seekers, migrants and many other minority groups should be afforded the care-free, joyous childhood which they so richly deserve.

It is a challenge, not only for government but also for us as citizens to honour our responsibility to create a contemporary environment where cultural difference is recognised, respected and celebrated with true democratic, republican values at its core.

Both myself and the President were delighted when, earlier this year, Irish Travellers were formally recognised as an indigenous ethnic minority. It was a time of national celebration. I know that many people who are here today campaigned and worked on this issue for many years, and I would like to convey my congratulations and appreciation for their work.

In conclusion, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and to remember all who lost their lives during the darkest moment of European history; whether Roma, Jew, Gentile, homosexual, people of different physical and mental ability and all other minority groups. We must never allow ourselves to forget. We must remember. 

‘Reflecting on the Irishness of Eugene O’Neill’ - Speech at the Eugene O'Neill Society Gala Dinner

National University of Ireland, Galway, Friday, 21 July 2017

He has left us a legacy of work that continues to inspire those who work in theatre, those scholars who seek to locate such work and practice in a literary context.

A dhaoiní chóir,

Tá an-áthas orm bheith i bhur láthair ar an ocáid seo. Tá me buíoch dibh as an cuireadh agus an fáilte forchaoin a chur sibh romham.

I am delighted to be your guest of honour at this gathering of scholars to celebrate a true giant of literature. I am not so sure as to what the response of the ghost of Eugene O’Neill might be to the idea that a gathering of eminent scholars had spent four days in the west of Ireland discussing the content, production, and legacy of his work. Perhaps he would see it, I would like to think as a belated recognition in the setting of the descendants of the common ancestors. So mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, as President of Ireland, I want to thank all of you for coming here, for your scholarship, and for the significance that you accord to a writer that, I believe, should always be regarded as part of the Irish canon.

I have spoken of this connection of Eugene O’Neill with Irish history and literature before – on one occasion when I was giving the Third Thomas Flanagan Lecture in New York in May 2012, and more recently when I had the privilege of speaking at the launch of Robert Dowling’s magnificent biography of Eugene O’Neill in April 2016 at UCD.

Eugene O’Neill has been so well-served by that biography of Robert Dowling. All of us can be grateful for it. I have been re-reading it and what I have to say this evening is by way of a further reflection on it suggested to me by the life of O’Neill as accounted in Robert Dowling’s work.

I have, of course, as I was preparing to come here, also been scanning the titles of the papers that have been given over the last three days and those that will be delivered tomorrow, at what is a magnificent gathering of good scholarship drawn from experience and of course eclectic themes and new insights.

I thus concluded that for my pre-prandial remarks this evening that something by way of personal reflection, rather than any engagement with what is such a wide scholarship, might be most appropriate. You will also have had the benefit of context, by hearing from Declan Kiberd, my friend of so many years and the author of such good research on Irish writing in English and the Irish language.

A quotation that occurs again and again in the work of those who have engaged in research on Eugene O’Neill is a heartfelt tribute he offered to Irish playwrights whose work he had read, and production of some of whose work he had seen on stage, during the tumultuous but very relevatory visit of the Irish Players to the United States in 1911. The effect on him of what he saw on stage was profound. In contradiction of his declared antipathy to memberships and accolades he wrote:

“I was asked to be a member of the Irish Academy being organized by Shaw & Yeats & Robinson, etc. – and accepted. Of course, I’m ‘associate’ because not Irish born. But this I regard as an honour, whereas other Academies don’t mean much to me. Anything with Yeats, Shaw, A.E., O’Casey, O’Flaherty, Robinson in it is good enough for me … At any rate, I’m pleased about all this.”

O’Neill would go on to say much later, in just a few short years before his death in a conversation with Eugene Jr.: 

“The one thing that explains more than anything about me is the fact that I’m Irish”

That O’Neill was proud of, and attached importance to his Irishness is not in question.

It is interesting, I suggest, to speculate on which side Eugene O’Neill fell on the choice that Paula M. Kane summarised as deciding whether in their production of John Millington Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World” the Irish players were “staging a lie” or revealing an inadmissible “naked truth”.

The Irish catholics in many of the cities where the productions took place in 1911 were anxious that no ammunition be given to a cultural elite who were aggressively defending a declining hegemony in cultural matters.  

Paula M. Kane was writing in that wonderful series on the Irish migrations, edited by Patrick O’Sullivan. In the “Religion and Identity” volume he drew on Doris Goodwin’s, “The Fitzgeralds and The Kennedys” to describe the ambivalence of Irish Americans in Boston to the production in the Plymouth Theatre of John M. Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World”. She wrote of the reaction of the twenty-one year old daughter of the Mayor, Rose, daughter of Joseph Kennedy:

“Just those qualities of poverty, dirt and sloth which the Yankees had always accused the Irish of having and there they were depicted as characters of the Old Country – unvarnished and naked to the eye”

Seeking to analyse what that Irishness offered on stage and which impressed O’Neill really meant, what influenced it, what price was paid for it, what it released and with what consequence will, no doubt, continue to be a matter for continuing scholarship. It is very much worth the effort and I believe important not just for Irish American studies but also for migration theory, literary studies and the neglected concept of transience in the social studies.

That scholarship has to deal, not only with the genius of O’Neill, but the diverse and complex sources of his vulnerability. It is a vulnerability that is located certainly in his alcoholism, in his anger – an anger that, without doubt did lead, on occasion, to violence. These outbursts are expressions of frustration, from proximate and personal experience, the regular loss of control of an impulse never addressed, was and should not ever be, excusable. Neither can it be allocated to some feature of culture. The stereotyping of some cultures as being inherently prone to violence, is familiar to me If I may offer an example, I recall hearing from the highest diplomatic level during my early visits in the 1980s to El Salvador the suggestion that the Salvadorean people were inherently violent. Some critics of O’Neill’s work, perhaps allowed themselves to come too close to those lazy constructions of such behaviour as being in any essential sense inherently Irish.

There are, however, deep sources of vulnerability that flow, I believe, from the migratory experience of families such as that of O’Neill’s. The response to the transience that is at the heart of the migratory experience, and the use, and abuse, of memory in interpreting what influences based on the source of the migratory experience are important.

A constructed, communal memory to be invoked as material not just for art, but for life, is central to O’Neill, as it was to his father, and as it would be to his children.

In fact, I would like to suggest, that part of the legacy of Eugene O’Neill to theatre, not only in the United States but in the world, has been the new ground he carved out for the use of memory as not being ever simply an invocation of anything shared for the purposes of establishing a setting, but also as a scalpel, an instrument that in different forms could become available for the psychic destruction of a protagonist. This would impact, not only on his own life but on the lives of others with whom he shared communal, but also contrived mythic sources for memory as contested spaces, temporary or permanent, and its reach involved a period of time not confined to any present circumstance. It invoked the ancestors. In present circumstances it functions as a ‘de profundis’, from below, that claims discursive space for souls in bodies, a space that might be spiritual, where rituals had become insufficient.

Then too, I found myself on re-reading Robert Dowling’s work, returning to a consideration of something very old, near eternal, the father-son relationship. This is a theme that goes beyond any Irishness and can be attributed to O’Neill’s respect for classical Greek sources.

In the Irish migratory experience, it has a particular meaning in terms of a response to dispossession. The devalued father of the dispossessed is the father who has not been able to redress a great wrong or achieve excellence in the new conditions, the new destinations, to which the family of the dispossessed has fled or migrated.

The concessions made by first generation parents  to the opportunities offered at the point of destination of the migrant, that constitute the father’s achievement are far short of either what has been lost, but what the myth demanded as a birth-right to be recovered, or that which should have been attempted and which would have achieved greatness again, albeit in a new setting.

Returning to O’Neill’s Irishness it is important to understand, I believe, the powerful mythic force of the remembered Irish Famine from which his grandparents had fled. If the Irish Times had attributed the Irish Famine of 1845-47 to an Act of God or the inherent backwardness of the Irish peasantry, it had also been moved to acknowledge in an editorial two decades after the famine, with its millions of deaths and great exodus across the Atlantic, to say in an editorial “we have made a great mistake. They have gone to what will be one of the most powerful nations in the world and they will never let us forget”.

It was thus for the Irish in O’Neill’s circumstances in the United States. In their accounts they drew, not only on personal and family experience, but also on the literary and competing ideological versions of the Irish Famine of 1847 that were available to them. John Mitchell’s Jail Journal, claimed to be read in every Irish house, was important. Mitchell’s work is part of a long contemplation on the Irish Famine. If his account is purposefully ideological, the relatively recent “The Graves are Walking” of John Kelly is a work of fine and balanced scholarship.

The Irish in North America drew on such memories as the material for a founding myth for their migration. It was real, but in doing so they did not confine themselves to the events of the middle of the 19th Century. They pushed their historical analysis back through centuries of dispossession, a culture consciously crushed, despised. Regarded as inferior, a language forbidden to be used. They invoked a mythical Ireland of Kings and Chiefs – a form of nobility in striking contrast to the circumstances with which they struggled. The attraction Seán O’Faoláin’s The Great O’Neill had for Eugene O’Neill is not accidental. It fits.

Robert Dowling quotes from a draft of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Hair of the Dog”:

“That’s right! A hair of the dog that bit you’…….

And they’re all the same dog, and his name is Greed of Living

And when he bites there is a fever comes and a great thirst and a great drinking to kill it, and a grand drunk and a terrible hangover and a headache and remorse of conscience – and a sick empty stomach without greed or appetite. But take a hair of the dog and the sun will rise again for you – and the appetite and the thirst will come back, and you can forget – and begin all over!”

What a powerful metaphor for late nineteenth and early twentieth century capitalism.

There is, I believe, in what Synge sought perhaps the cossets approximation to O’Neill. A multitude of interpretations are available for what Synge sought to achieve in “The Playboy of the Western World.” Years ago I quoted his letter on what he called “the ungodly ruck of fat-faced sweaty headed swine” which he suggested were in Dublin and in Kingstown and also in all country towns.

This past of dispossession and humiliation which served as palliative to the present is in the background, I suggest, of so much of O’Neill’s work. It constitutes a fragile structure. The lash, when I think of Long Day’s Journey into Night, falls on the most proximate, equally but differently vulnerable, and the scalpel falling on the personal histories but also on the particular constructions of a past that had been placed on top of the common, shared myth of dispossession. The dramatic force increases when it is not only the personal identity and esteem of the character on stage that is destroyed in the violence of the discourse, but the previously shared mythic source and its structure itself. The tragedy will not be relieved by any sentimental reconciliation or resolution. The conclusion is stark, and this may have created a problem for O’Neill in terms of his audiences who may have wished the tragedy relieved by some form of reconciliation but that would have of course contradicted both the realist intention of the author and the classical form from which he drew. It might also not be expected from a migrant population invoking the name of a peasantry but who are members of what was little less than a new urban underclass from which they were intent on escaping and for which they would make whatever changes are necessary, including changes in the definition of what was religion and nationalism.

What is truly astonishing is the sheer range and depth of O’Neill’s work. Looking back at it the prism of Genet and Beckett suggests itself. Play after play appears and the voices of the excluded are heard, voices from below, from settings where there is an intensity of experience, of sensual excess, of what is ephemeral, but yet, for all that, deeply and profoundly human. It is less the case of the playwright falling into such circumstance rather it is the case of such experiences being brought into the light of an audience’s experience. The exercise cannot ever, as O’Neill warned, be propaganda, but yet it is intended to be revelatory and in being so it is potentially a contribution that is profoundly emancipatory.

I see in the work of Tom Murphy some parallels with Eugene O’Neill’s work. I think of ‘Whistle in the Dark’. If O’Neill had the Melodys, Murphy has the Carneys – ‘Champions of the World’. The early production of Tom Murphy’s plays in London had a similar experience to what greeted some of O’Neill’s work such as The Hairy Ape or All God’s Chillun. Not only were conservative sensibilities offended but the conventions of the theatre itself were perceived as being challenged.

In the case of the early London productions of Tom Murphy’s plays there was a similar response. Audiences thankfully, change.

While Harold Hobson and Kenneth Tynan were horrified in the 1960s, with one stating that he would not like to meet Mr. Murphy after dark, and the other stating that if any Irish man was left in London at the weekend, the Home Secretary would not have done his job, just a few years ago, the production of Murphy’s cycle of plays received several ovations. It is a source of hope that time honours the brave in literature. Speaking of time, and O’Neill’s work was criticised for its sheer length and the long monologues, Tom Murphy also experienced the suggestion from critics that he might shorten such works as The Gigli Concert.

I find in O’Neill’s work a wrestling with contradictions. There is the price paid for the loss of certainty, a certainty that had been provided in a simple version of faith, replete with reassuring rituals reflected in a great sense of loss. It is a faith that cannot be recovered and neither sensory indulgence from below or consumption of any shallow social experience in its modernising context, are proving to be an inadequate substitute.

The objective experience of these Irish migrants on whom O’Neill drew was not a passive one in their new settings or indeed as the moving from one generation to another. New values had emerged, had become dominant in Ireland, and new values were being forged in the United States. Both were highly individualistic. And these changes affected religions, nationalism and cultural communities. From the flux Eugene O’Neill, and later in Ireland Tom Murphy, wrote.

Irish historiography in recent times is coming to terms with the shift on values, with the significance of the post-Famine adjustment in terms of the heightened importance that became attached to land, property and respectability. Those who starved, but survived, and could stay would come to value possession and chase respectability, the respectability of property ownership. Indeed there is a primitive violence associated with land ownership. An aggressive view of the world is suggested as necessary. In Liam O’Flaherty’s “Two Lovely Beasts” the old mother can say in criticism of her son “A man must have a greed for the world in him”.

The Irish migrant experience was not immune from this and while Eugene O’Neill’s work exposes the falsity of an insatiable consumption, and the society that is based upon it, much of the lived life of his varying partners and family members includes a search for the security of property. The contradiction of communal and individualistic values had crossed the Atlantic. The search for respectability, assisted by property aggrandisement, will fit neatly with an authoritarian clericalism, and upward mobility has been defined.

In Ireland, the old country, the Irish society of the last years of the 19th Century and early 20th Century was one that had transitioned from a society of landlords and tenants to one of smallholders. A rural grazier class had also consolidated its position, a native predator would prove less easy to dislodge as it invoked both faith and nationalism. In such a way, radicalism could easily depart both politics, society and spirituality.

Eugene O’Neill’s middle name, we should not forget, Gladstone, invokes the British parliamentarian who is associated with the Land Acts and acceptance of the need for a modicum of Irish self-rule.

When I gave the Thomas Flanagan Lecture in New York we were on the eve of a decade of commemorations. I gave as the title of my lecture ‘Remembering and Imagining Irishness’. I was preparing at that time, a number of papers on the ethics of memory. It is a challenging field. I was conscious, for example, of the need to dispose of any bogus amnesia in relation to the sources of conflict in Irish history. I sought to acknowledge the new scholarship on the complex sources of conflict. I was conscious of the danger of a bland version of historical change that was not amenable to any critique of empire dominating the period of commemoration.

As I look back on the use I made of Ricoeur. Arendt and others I saw that even through the task of an open and real revision was difficult, it was essential. Critiquely, the imperialist work is the slowest work. In some respects, it has hardly begun.

On that occasion, I said, and I have had no reason to change my mind since -

“I want to take advantage of this opportunity to consider how Ireland has been - and must now again be – renewed through memory and imagination. Renewing Ireland and with it our sense of what it means to be Irish is one of the most urgent challenges facing us at present. It is a challenge which encompasses and underpins economic renewal but also which goes beyond it.” 

It is an exercise of empowerment in constructing an ethical relationship with others and it can be emancipatory in our contemporary condition in freeing us from models of economy and society which are not only failing but which are disastrous in their social consequences.

I went on to suggest that: -

“This is neither a new exercise or a new challenge for Irish people. I suggest that the Irish have repeatedly mined the past to meet the needs of its present. We have done so, not as sentimentalists but as modernisers. Contrary to the caricature often drawn of us, we are among the greatest of modernisers – innovative and adaptive to a rare degree. This is an insight which is perhaps better preserved among the Irish disapora than in Ireland itself.”

What remembering and imagining have in comon is mythmaking: the one, remembering, is often initiated so as to achieve a healing; find a rationalisation; construe an event in such a way as to be both a warm cloak for the self and a dagger for the threatening other; the other imagining, needs myth to retain belief, not merely as assurance or reassurance, but as a mechanism for the retention of hope in the unrealised possibilities of being human, truly free, in emancipatory, celebratory, joyous co-existence with, and through, others on this vulnerable planet on which we share life.

Mythmaking is not confined, as practice or admission, to us Irish. But I think we can immodestly claim to have excelled at it in our different ways, in different times, and from different sentinel outposts, and so often the consequence of having invented instruments invoked for defence, that ended up being destructive not only for those we opposed but for ourselves. It is in literature that we Irish have perhaps laid bare the full creative potential of mythmaking, and the price that attends it.

That achievement is not divorced however from historical context. It carries the burden of history but flies from it, making something new.

This can happen, will happen, again and again. This is the stuff of hope, which is so much more than any optimism.

James Joyce, for example, draws on so much of what there is in the memory baggage of his people yet he did not seek to place it, or surrender it, to what he inherited as the form of the novel as it prevailed in his time. The excellence of imitation that was available to him within the prevailing genre was not chosen. Rather he, in his novel Ulysses, brought something entirely new into the world.

An ancient myth transacted in oral tradition, soiled, reworked and reworn became a frame for something contemporary and mould-breaking. It became a vehicle for what silences had sought to cover, for intimacies forbidden, racisms thinly disguised and faiths no longer trusted but then not easily discarded and never forgotten.

All of this creates a more challenging context for a writer such as Eugene O’Neill working in the flux of an exciting urbanism. The song that prevailed was now a song of the city, with all its layers of humanity. One thinks of Simmel’s “The Metropolis and Mental Life” an industrial system of material form replete with winners and losers in a wild capitalism that would open new wounds, psychic social and racial.

In their mythmaking, Irish people have had to be modernisers again and again in different circumstances of adversity at home and abroad and in truth circumstance has given them rewards from both its necessity and its promise. It is in transcending the challenges of transience of migration that Irish people have through famine, migration, exile and colonisation been forced to be modernisers again and again.

I could argue that, faced with new forms of financialised global speculative capital, that it is not only the migrants of our time, but the structures of thought that pull them into a set of vulnerabilities must change.

A migrant sensibility is a valuable sensibility. It enables structure to be seen. It is at its best when that capacity is exercised rather than any dalliance with the vagueness produced by a collapse into postmodernism, that is nihilistic in its outcome.

That informal, vigourous ‘Irishness’ that is being frustrated is the Irishness discernible in so mch of Eugene O’Neill’s work. This is what I believe served as background to the often-feverish mind of Eugene O’Neill – a modernising instinct that saw, in the modernism that had arrived in social form, something deeply unsatisfactory. This, I think, for example, is what leads him to suggest, after a long 12-year silence, in an interview given when he was very frail, where he states that the American Dream was not anything other than an opportunity lost.

That set of suffering souls and drying out bodies, that set of communities of loss of which he wrote was peopled by characters from below, characters drawn, too, from dysfunctional forms of the family too where the lash could fall with most vicious effect, they would fill his plays. Migrants can never forget, they are continually modernising. Even after the second generation they are transacting again, as they reach the subsoil and, in their recoil, encounter, the previously sustaining myths of previous generations, and find them insufficient and thus they set about the revision of old and the construction of new, myths that can both sustain and destroy.  

So then, if Eugene O’Neill provides an example of a vulnerable human being overwhelmed by forces of background, economy, social form, repression and loss. But if this be so we must never forget that he also has left us a legacy of work that continues to inspire those who work in theatre, those scholars who seek to locate such work and practice in a literary context.

He took the risks from which we all benefit, and his work has provided inspiration for so many brilliant dramatists, such as Arthur Miller and so many others.

While his name may be sometimes recalled in the media as a Nobel Laureate, or in terms of his Pulitizer Prizes, we in Ireland are honoured that you have come to discuss his work a great Irish-American literary giant, and at a time when he is at last being recognised as a significant part of the Irish canon.

Would Eugene O’Neill be pleased?

May I leave you with this quote from Carol Bird of Theatre Magazine, who said of O'Neill in 1924:

"Interviewing Eugene O'Neill is like extracting testimony from a reluctant witness. In fact, to use the word "interview" in connection with him is to employ almost a misnomer.

Certainly, it is an inapplicable designation. An interview presupposes a colloquy. A flow of words between two persons. Nothing more erroneous could be circulated about [him]. ... Silence. Silence. More questions, probings, attempts to secure opinions, statements, anything but monosyllables.

Futility! Suddenly, I am overcome with a sense of the ridiculous. Here are two people whose very careers oppose this sort of conduct. A playwright who deals in words. A writer who juggles them daily. Sitting across from each other in silence, apparently overcome with shyness.”

May I wish you all every success in your work and your silences.

Míle buíochas.

Speech at a Community Garden Party

Áras an Uachtaráin, 6 July 2017

A Dhaoine Cóir, A Cáirde Dílis,

Tugann sé an-áthas dom fhéin agus do mo bhean chéile Shaibhín   fíorchaoín fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh go léir go dtí Áras an Uachtaráin tráthnóna.  Tá súil againn go bhfuil sibh uilig ag baint taitneamh as bhúr gcuairt ar an teach agus ar na gairdíní.

[Sabina and I are delighted to welcome you all to Áras an Uachtaráin this afternoon. I hope you are all enjoying your visit to the house and gardens.]

The garden party season is a special time of the year here in the Áras.  It gives Sabina and I an opportunity to meet members of communities, so many citizens who by their involvement in communities, are engaged in acts of cohesion or solidarity, some are building new communities across Ireland, and in doing so promoting real participation, citizenship.  Sabina and I are delighted to have the opportunity to invite them to enjoy for a while the house and the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin.

You are all so welcome whether you have come as members of a family, a workplace, a profession, or a friendship or activity group.  However, you have made your contact you will have had a variety of experiences and a multitude of different stories to share.                             

All of us are complex, social beings.  We are people who both need, and thrive, on a sense of solidarity with others and we are enriched by a sense of unity, kinship and belonging when it can be achieved.

Community spirit, for which we, here in Ireland, are so dependent and are so renowned is a very valuable aspect of our identity.  It is, therefore, as activists and members of communities that you, our guests, have written in or contacted us and have been invited here today to Áras an Uachtaráin.

This, the seventh garden party of eight for 2017 has in attendance a strong representation from the West of Ireland.  Muintir Iarthár na hÉireann - Thank you for the effort you all have made to travel to be with us.

I speak often, as President of Ireland, about the importance of creating societies that are ethical and inclusive. However, ethical societies can only grow from ethical communities; communities that work together, in solidarity, recognising the needs of all their members including those who are vulnerable and marginalized. 

Sabina and I have shared with many of you here today many decades of campaigning, advocacy, rights and inclusion.  What you have given has been your time, your commitment, your life, and what you have been giving, and continue to give, will have a legacy, and is exemplary. 

The campaigns we shared over the years stretched from equality, women’s rights, housing, economy, war and peace, rights of travellers, to global issues of our present times such as climate change and sustainable development.   

It is within our communities and throughout the discourse they hear, as well as formal education, that our young people are first exposed to the concept of citizenship. That early experience of debating and experiencing community life, of inhabiting, in conditions of change, a space that is shared with others, is a critical factor in shaping the future citizen they will become. It is so important that communities promote a sense of solidarity and cohesion amongst its members, identifying what is necessary to be achieved, confronting and challenging obstacles to equality and thus enabling our young people to experience that all important sense of belonging to, and identifying with, a place that they will always regard as ‘home’.

One of the most enjoyable experiences as President of Ireland is having the opportunity to witness and share in very many community events across the country, and to be able to hear the advocacy that is under way. 

These community occasions may be diverse in nature but they are always uplifting occasions, celebratory occasions, and a reminder of the power of genuine solidarity to transform, re-imagine, restore and renew. 

The community response with its offer of assistance and solidarity to other citizens has often surprised many as it has provided opportunities and possibilities that would once have seemed unattainable.  

I have witnessed, time and again, the genuine communal pride when Tidy Town awards are achieved. I have seen the intergenerational turnout for a school which is celebrating a significant anniversary. I have seen derelict spaces re-imagined into places where residents can gather together to socialise and learn new skills.

I have seen so many examples of care and compassion as members of a community come together to fund raise, to look after their elderly and sick and to lobby for much needed facilities for their vulnerable and marginalised.

At the heart of all this activity lies an acknowledgement of the importance of the public space, the public world, and a citizen awareness that brings with it, not only a sense of belonging, but a sense of responsibility for those with whom we share that public space.  

We all have, in our own way, the capacity and the opportunity, and, may I say, even the obligation, to play our part, in our time, in creating and nurturing a vibrant, caring and forward looking society, one which will include each and every member and enable them to fully participate in our shared lives together.

Finally, I hope today those of you who know each other will enjoy the opportunity for a conversation in this setting, that you will make new friends.  Friendship is one of the most important values in life.  Aristotle said that the demands of friendship are greater than the demands of justice and they are not quantifiable.

So today, let me celebrate friendship and may I, once again, congratulate and commend all of you for the efforts you generously and unstintingly are putting into your role as citizens, for working so hard to keep community and family at the heart of our society. 

Is iontach an rud é, fiú leis na deacrachtaí ar fad a thit orainn mar phobal le blianta beaga anuas, go bhfuil saoránacht ghníomhach, comhpháirtíocht áitiúil agus meanma pobail fós le braith i gcroí lár ár mbailte, ár sráidbhailte, ár bparóistí ar fud na tíre agus I gcroidthe ár gcáirde.

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 Maura Derrane and to the talented performers who have provided such magnificent entertainment throughout the afternoon:   Arthur Greene (on piano);   The Irish Prison Service Pipe Band;    Colm Fahy, Ruairí Ó hArgáin, Aoife Ní hArgáin (Trad. Group);  Terry Moylan (Piper);    Síofra Ní Dhughaill (Harpist);  Naoise Ó Briain (Flautist);  the Havana Club Trio;  In the Marqee -  the Keltic Kats;   Ryan Sheridan;  Music Generation Laois,  and Walking on Cars. Sabina and I are greatly looking forward to seeing more performances in a few minutes.

How is all this made possible?  Through a generous and enthusiastic staff.

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. 

Could I also thank Dee Rogers who is the maestro of our entertainment programme and draws all elements together with such style.  Molaim é.  Also, may I thank all of our colleagues in the OPW and Bill Garrioch from the Transport Museum for their assistance.  

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.

Address at the Biennial Conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions - ‘Of the Discourse that we need and the role of the Trade Union Movement’

Belfast, Assembly Building Conference Centre, Tuesday 4 July 2017

Trade unions are collective. There is a culture that goes with collectivity, a strength that comes from membership, from what is shared as a value beyond the self.

Let me say at the outset how pleased I am to be invited to address you here today. I feel I am among old friends. I have been a member of a trade union for over 50 years. I would like to thank Brian Campfield, of NIPSA, your President, for the invitation to speak here this morning and of course Ms Patricia King, your General Secretary, and I go back some time together - to the times when she represented staff in Leinster House and I was a member of another division of the Oireachtas.

Your movement with over 700,000 members in over 40 affiliated unions, is Ireland’s largest civic society body. Your contribution to the evolution of politics, economic and society in every part of this island has been essential and it has been emancipatory in so many ways.

I am also pleased to be speaking here in Belfast because I am conscious of the importance of this city, Belfast, to the wider Irish and UK labour movement. With Manchester, it emerged as one of the earliest industrial cities in which a trade union movement would emerge, face obstacles, and succeed in establishing the unfinished project of the rights of workers.

It was in this place that the young James Larkin, the organiser of unionists and nationalists on the dockside, received his formal introduction to Irish politics, and the possibly even more complex politics of the Irish Labour movement. As President, it has been a privilege to be asked to speak of the role of Larkin, Connolly and others, of trade unionists, and particularly of the brave and neglected women trade unionists and their importance to our history in the late 19th and early 20th century. These were themes I addressed in the Littleton Lecture on the Lockout of 1913 and again when I gave the second Phelan Lecture at the International Labour Organisation on the future of work.

As I was preparing my remarks for our meeting, I was struck by how clearly certain aspects of the trade union movement had retained a special place in my memories. The image I recover is of banners, bands, marches, speeches in the public space – great speeches – which people would debate on the way home, some of the phrases of which they would make their own.

That is a proud tradition. One thinks of how it makes its way into the hearts of those who were struggling for freedom in their different ways. There are hundreds of songs on the theme of “I’m off to join the union”. Joe Hill, the song of the Swedish-American organiser of the Industrial Workers of the World, executed after a deplorable trial in 1915, is just one example and the early trade union organisers realised the importance of culture, of time spent together, of music shared, of songs in whose rendering workers competed for excellence. This is true of the docks, of the mines, of the factories. It is part of the symbolic life of a collective that shared values.  It is the very antithesis of extreme individualism. 

This was a powerful tradition from which Civil Rights movements, the Anti-Apartheid movement, and Equal Rights movements could call on for support. It is important that on all parts of this island we acknowledge the role of the trade union movement from its beginnings down to our times in opposing sectarianism.

The trade union movement has also been an international one and it correctly sees, as Edward Phelan did in his day, in his Harris Lecture with John Maynard Keynes in 1931, that migrating unemployment from one setting to another setting wage levels in competition with each other in a downward spiral could be disastrous for global economics.

You give a great example of your internationalism by organising fringe events and by inviting Omar Barghouti who will speak on the challenge ahead for Palestine, and Huber Ballesteros, of the Colombian Trade Union Movement, whose leaders have been assassinated, and whose members have been decimated, to your conference.

The trade union movement now faces new challenges and I wish it the same courage as those who have handed us such a fine tradition. These challenges can be faced. It will involve revealing and challenging some powerful myths that have been established, myths without empirical evidence, and that can more easily flourish in an era of concentration of ownership in media, decline in public service broadcasting, and an anti-intellectualism that serves those who hold unaccountable power as much as it prevents workers knowing the basis for policy choices that affect our lives.

To sustain and deepen democracy, to encourage a participatory citizenship, to have a deliberative democracy.  We need a new discourse and that discourse must be an inclusive one. We must empower ourselves through a new literacy on matters economic and fiscal, so as to be able not just to criticise, but to expose the basis upon which certain aspects of our global economic life are presented in a curious, medievalist way, as inevitable – rather in the manner of those who insisted that the earth was flat and that the sun orbited the earth.

We need this new literacy to save language itself. We need it so as to be able to give real meaning to terms like flexibility, globalisation, productivity, innovation, and social protection.

At global level - if we are to achieve success in facing challenges that require global agreement, such as responding to climate change or moving to sustainable development, we must be free to ask the question, and have the courage to insist on an answer: do those who are drafting policies believe that these projects can be achieved within our existing economic and social models? If they do so, what balance do they see between the role of the State, accountable to its citizens, and some new forms of capital that are not accountable except to those looking for a short-term speculative profit?

If it is the case that they accept different models are necessary, and indeed many scholars suggest that little less than a paradigm shift is needed, are they willing to acknowledge what is failing, or if that term is unacceptable, what is inadequate? Will they allow the policy, institutional, intellectual changes that are necessary for new forms to emerge – forms that could combine economics, ethics, and ecology?

There has always been, and it survives a belief in certain elite circles that all of this is too complex for citizens to understand. In present circumstances, this is a sotto voce belief. Many years ago, Friedrich Von Hayek was much more explicit. He stated that only a select few could understand the complexity of the market, and further that “an atavistic solidarity” as he put it among the public had the capacity to disrupt the achievement of the total free market. Such thinking is not dead, nor has it gone away.

All of the ruling concepts - flexibility, globalisation, productivity, innovation, social protection, decent work - are capable of being redefined, given moral meaning, made useful. It is possible to humanise the new technological forms that will emerge, to ensure that science will serve all of the people rather than the few. It is possible to recognise forms of care and voluntary contribution as indeed what they are – work in its finest sense. All of the scientific and technological changes are capable of being made citizen-friendly, but this requires an informed public.

Redefining work itself is more than a distribution issue, it is much more than a set of aggregated labour units. It has an importance beyond sustaining the demand curve of the economy. Work is how we express the essence of our humanity. I believe the role of the trade union movement, through its membership, its effect on governments and the ILO, will have a crucial role in forcing these changes.

The union movement too will be crucial in restoring a recognition of the role of the entrepreneurial State in partnership with private investment and civil society. Exposing the myth that only the private sector takes risks and that the State cannot ever take, or does not, take risks, is extremely important. It acquires an even greater importance as decisions have to be taken in relation to science, technology, research and development policy. This has been brilliantly dealt with by Professor Mariana Mazzucato in the revised edition of her book The Entrepreneurial State ‘which appeared in 2015.

Let me quote the final paragraph of her book:

“We live in an era in which the State is being cut back. Public services are being outsourced, State budgets are being slashed and fear rather than courage is determining many national strategies. Much of this change is being done in the name of rendering markets more competitive, more dynamic. This book is an open call to change the way we talk about the State, its role in the economy and the images and ideas we use to describe that role. Only then can we begin to build the kind of society we want to live in, and want our children to live in, in a manner that pushes aside false myths about the State and recognises how it can, when mission driven and organised in a dynamic way, solve problems as complex as putting a man on the moon and solving climate change. And we need the courage to insist – through both vision and specific policy instruments – that the growth that ensues from the underlying investments be not only ‘smart’, but also ‘inclusive’.”

The truth is that it has long been public investment that created the infrastructure for the many corporate entries into the market in so many areas. The State’s role in taking and undergirding long-term risk is in stark contrast with the pressure put on governments to eliminate risk for those who are interested in simply short-term gains. Again, one might ask is it not a noble aspiration that every child, girl or boy, would be able to have access to all such education as is necessary for their human development.

If this be so, should the State that provides such opportunity not unreasonably expect that the early tax yield in such employment as is made possible by State-assisted qualification should accrue to the providing State, so as to enable its yield to be recycled and create the capacity of ever-more high class skills?

Of one thing I am certain: the contribution of the trade union movement in facing these challenges is essential for the discourse that we need.

I have seen the themes that you are to discuss. I congratulate you on them. They are inclusive. You will debate what is to be done, how work is to be defined and protected, how the State must not be a minimal State confined to saving the financial sector but rather be enabled to respond to the needs of its citizens.

When I go to meetings on global poverty, on climate change, on sustainable development, the audience always includes a significant attendance from trade unions. This stems from the inherent generosity of trade union solidarity. I remember that early piece of research of mine on the Galway Docks, where 58 able-bodied Dockers divided their income among the 72 Docker families who needed it.

I would like to suggest to members of the trade union movement that the Social Pillar which Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission on which he has announced that he wishes to sign-off on “at the highest level” before the end of the year, will be of immense importance.

This initiative, which it is suggested will deal with issues of cohesion, upskilling, reduction of inequality and related poverty, would be all the more effective if it incorporated a social, economic and cultural rights perspective, resisted until now by the Council of Ministers of the European Union and those who advise them. It is unfortunate that he chose to describe its putative success as requiring it to have “a triple-A rating”. That phrase is one that will resonate with all those who remember the dishonesty and the fraud associated with such a phrase and which visited such devastation on so many people in so many countries.

Let me end with a brief critique on the word ‘populism’. Its rather loose usage at the present time should concern us. We should remember it is capable of a benign as well as a malign usage. The phrase was used to describe the response to the New Deal in the United States, and to make the case for a national health service, and a national housing scheme in the United Kingdom.

Of course, the malign use of populism must never be forgotten. Drawing on hate, ignorance, fear and genocidal impulses, our European history has a form of populism as its darkest heart. Thankfully, the tide of populism that we are experiencing now has not yet reached either the level or the ferocity of the populism that erupted across Europe in the 1930s. Whatever the short-term appeal of the simple solution, I feel certain that it will not again reach such a level. The people of Europe, I think, know the price too well.

In any of its forms populism is most often founded in an aggregation of insecurities, be they economic, social or racial. As an economy creates high levels of unemployment, as a quasi-constitutional set of fiscal constraints takes precedence over social cohesion, new opportunities for predators of the intellectual life of the young, and the old, take advantage of the devastation caused by mistaken economic policies.

Each and all of these exclusions are capable of being addressed within a shared prudence, and if a flexibility is allowed that emphasises social cohesion as a primary value in the language of politics.

Trade unions are collective. There is a culture that goes with collectivity, a strength that comes from membership, from what is shared as a value beyond the self. We must recognise that while the new technology enables us to transmit information to more people, the collective sense of what is shared is still important, as we introduce a new campaign for fiscal and economic literacy.

Your movement of 700,000 members and 40 trade unions is discussing these issues. I am well aware you are doing so in an atmosphere of distorted communication, of a concentration of media ownership, of a declining public service broadcasting, of a culture that is encouraging a dangerous level of aggression.

All this may be true, but the embracing by young people in England of the opportunity to vote, the rise of indigenous movements with a traditional respect for the earth, the greater involvement of women, the evidence of not just tolerance for difference but its recognition as a necessary element of justice should give us hope. I often feel like asking some audiences I address what would life have been like without the trade union movement? How extensive would be ‘the precariat’ that is emerging as a feature of a dualistic economy that offers huge salaries at one end and total insecurity and a life below frugality at the other?

Yours is a great tradition. Yours is a powerful emancipatory, genuinely progressive force capable of engaging all challenges and bringing what is struggling to be born into being. In all of this, as President of Ireland, I wish you well.

Beir Beannacht d’on todchaí. 

Speech at “Fáilte” Garden Party

Áras an Uachtaráin, 3 July 2017

Is cuma cén bóthar, cén slí, whatever the road that has brought you here, you are part of an important group who have changed our country for the better, in remarkable ways, enriching our culture and our communities, and you have enhanced all our lives.

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, or are contributing, in their unique way to Irish society.

Today is a particularly joyful occasion as we receive the opportunity to acknowledge a special contribution as we extend a céad míle fáilte to some of our newer Irish citizens, who play an important role in modern, multi-cultural Ireland, a country constantly experiencing change, evolving and adapting in an increasingly interconnected world, a world that is beginning to realise our global interdependency, as we did in 2015 in Paris on Climate Change and in New York when we accepted the responsibility of re-thinking what we call ‘development’ and deciding that it has to be sustainable, respect nature and cultural settings.

The roads that brought so many of today’s guests to Ireland, whether they represent the 95,000 people who have taken part in citizenship ceremonies since they began five years ago, or the many children who have joined Irish families through adoption, are individual and unique.

Some of you came here seeking refuge from persecution, war and natural disasters; turning to your fellow global citizens for protection and shelter. Others came in search of a better future and increased opportunities for yourselves and your family. For some of you Ireland was meant to be a temporary adventure, but love for our country or indeed for one of its citizens exerted its strong pull.

Some of you here today have had to grapple with a strange language, a different climate, and a new set of social norms. Others among you may have experienced prejudice and stereotyping born of ignorance and fear. Many of you may have had to courageously move outside of your comfort zones in order to create new and better lives, whilst also making your valuable contribution and positive difference to your new communities.

Of course, there is a greatly joyous and uplifting story behind the presence of many of our guests. I speak of the children who travelled to Ireland to join new families through adoption; strengthening, completing and bringing great joy to those families while beginning their own journey of new hope and opportunity. Theirs is a tale that brought a greatly happy ending for the parents who had to overcome so many obstacles to bring their child home to Ireland, and of course positive new beginnings in so many ways.

Is cuma cén bóthar, cén slí, whatever the road that has brought you here, you are part of an important group who have changed our country for the better, in remarkable ways, enriching our culture and our communities, and you have enhanced all our lives. 21st century Ireland is a dynamic and cosmopolitan place, an Ireland that embraces the innovation, opportunity and creative energy that cultural diversity brings.

Citizens who have chosen to become Irish nationals bring with them a distinct and unique cultural background that has shaped and formed them and to which they remain profoundly connected. You must make sure you add your stories and experiences into ours.

Those who arrived here as welcome and long awaited members of adoptive families inherit the strands of two rich cultural heritages, both a vital part of their identity.

We have witnessed, in this new Ireland that we all share, and is under way, how it is through the combination of the best of such heritages that we weave new patterns to create the multi-cultural dimension of modern Ireland. As a society, we can be deeply grateful to all of you, including the parents of so many of the young children today, who work so generously to ensure the sharing of a valuable range and mix of traditions that have immeasurably enriched our society to the benefit of all. What we are making is a tapestry for our times and the future that will have many colours and threads, all important, part of the texture.

Many of the children have been enjoying the lovely games on the lawn this afternoon. I would like to thank Dublin City Council and Play Development Officer, Debby Clark, who have been instrumental in co-ordinating the wonderful entertainment and activities the children are enjoying here today, making this special day a marvellous success and a joy to witness.

Like many adults in this age of advanced technology, I often look back to my own childhood: to the games we invented, the stories and plays we conjured up and the innovative ways we used whatever toys or props we had available to us.

It is wonderful to see such imaginative play taking place in the Áras gardens today. One of the most valuable publications of a great organisation, UNESCO, and its sister organisation, UNICEF, was its Games of the Children of the World.

Indeed, today is a greatly joyous occasion and I am delighted to have this opportunity to formally acknowledge and welcome those who contribute so much to the creation of a diverse and inclusive Ireland and who will, I am confident, play their own important role in shaping the Ireland of the future, the Ireland that we will hand on to a new generation.

Before I conclude, I would also like to thank our superb MC this afternoon Sean Moncrieff, as well as our talented entertainers in the house and gardens – David O’Connor on Piano; Trad. Group – Colm Fahy, Ruairí Ó hArgáin and M.J. McMahon; Tara Viscardi (Harpist); Meadhbh O’Rourke (Flautist); Donnacha Dwyer (Piper); The Ross O’Connor Quartet; The Thomas Ashe Pipe Band – and the performers here in the marquee - The King Kong Company, and the wonderful music of Jack O’Rourke and The Swing Cats.

Could I also thank Dee Rogers who is the maestro of our entertainment programme and draws all elements together with such style. Molaim é. Also, may I thank all of our colleagues in the OPW for their assistance.

Thank you to our friends in St John of God’s, the Gardaí and our Civil Defence colleagues, our Gaisce volunteers, the tour guides and all who have worked so hard to make today an occasion of friendship and joy.

Finally, a big thank you to the staff here at the Áras for their hard work, their unfailing good humour and – not least – culinary skills, all things which contribute in no small part to making this garden party a very special event for you.

Tá súil agam go mbeidh samhradh álainn agaibh le bhur gclanna, mar is tréimhse den bhliain í an samhradh le haghaidh grinn agus aoibhnis agus le haghaidh dea-chuimhní a chruthú a bheidh agaibh bhur saolta. Is é mo ghuí é go mbeidh an lá seo i measc na cuimhní speisialta sin.

[I wish you all a wonderful summer with your families, a time of fun and enjoyment and the continued creation of happy memories that will remain with you throughout your lives. I certainly hope today will become one of those special memories.]

May all of you enjoy the house, the gardens, and make yourself at home.

Bainigí sult as an lá, agus bígí ar bhur suaimhneas.

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.

Speech at a Garden Party to celebrate Creative Arts and Craft

Áras an Uachtaráin, 27 January 2017

It is Culture that will save the Economy, not the Economy that will make Culture possible.

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 ras 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 a special way through their talents, work and indeed genius to Irish society.

This afternoon we are fortunate to be joined in the gardens of Áras an Uachtaráin by those fellow citizens who, while they may have been gifted with artistic and creative minds have, and it is as important as it is generous, applied their time and labour for the benefit of us and future generations. I am pleased to have this opportunity of thanking you for all you contribute to our society and to Ireland’s reputation as a country of creativity and imagination.

You are defining, sharing and communicating beauty in your special way through your work as painters, sculptors, crafters and designers and in so many other areas which contribute so profoundly to the life of our society. Not only do we benefit from the pleasing aesthetic of your work; but also from your manifestation of the role of art and artistic craft in assisting us to understand the nature of our society, its wonder and possibilities, and our own role within that society. I believe economies and societies are created within cultures. It is culture that will save economy, not economy that will make culture possible.

While artistic works may reflect the society and time in which they were created; they also, in the here and now, help to shape and shade the world in which we live challenging us to look at that world in different ways, calling on us to have the courage to push the boundaries and defy and critique the norms of the societies and age into which we have been born.

So therefore we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to citizens such as yourselves who enable us to view our world in ways that are new and emancipatory.

The work of innovative and imaginative Irish craftspeople is receiving wide acclaim on both the national and international stage, reminding us that Irish creativity and our country’s reputation as a world class source for quality and craftsmanship is something in which we all can celebrate and take pride.

I remember a dear friend, Noel Browne, often saying to me – if every house had but one beautiful object – which a difference it would make, what a source of memory.

Indeed, here in Ireland crafted objects are central to our rich heritage and culture. While they remind us of how much of our craft has developed from ancient skills, cultivated by our ancestors and passed down through the generations, they also celebrate new and innovative use of imagination and engagement with materials and technology. Craft, like all art forms, is continuously evolving and it can and does use technological advancement to its benefit.

All of our artists and designers here today are greatly skilled at weaving together the legacy of traditional techniques and the imaginative use of contemporary materials. They also remind us, through their imaginings and craft that we belong to a world that is diverse and beautiful - to a global family that has both unique and shared elements.

We are, in Ireland, currently moving through and engaging with the ongoing Decade of Commemorations – a Decade that encompasses not just the Easter Rising, but other defining events such as the Great Lockout of 1913, the outbreak of the First World War, the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War.

One of the significant means of ensuring that the public, including future generations, remember such defining moments is through commemorative public art – through statues, monuments and sculptures designed as representations of aspects of that event that will engage and inform and allow for a real understanding of how such seminal events have profoundly influenced the contemporary moment.

Here, in Áras an Uachtaráin Sabina and I felt, and it was agreed, that a significant piece of Public Art in this beautiful garden setting would be an appropriate and permanent tribute to the men and women whose effort and sacrifice contributed so much to Irish freedom and would also serve as an inspiration towards realising such a promise as outlined in the 1916 proclamation.

We received many imaginative, creative and greatly inspiring proposals from greatly talented designers – and indeed I am delighted that some of them have been able to join us here today. You are all most welcome.

The artwork selected, Dearcán na nDaoine – the People’s Acorn – focusses on a seed. It is of the nature of a seed that it contains both a history and a great potential, and the piece chosen is a piece of art that will be lasting and symbolic, both recalling our rich and complex past and providing a vision for the future.

The acorn contains a time capsule which will ensure this commemorative work will hold within it a living representation of the present time, formed by the past, and already crafting the future to come.

Tá áthas orm go bhfuil Rachel Joynt anseo linn inniu agus tá mé ag súil go mór le Dearcán na nDaoine a fheiceáil agus é curtha i gcríoch. Táim cinnte go mbainfidh cuairteoirí chuig an Áras taitneamh as agus go spreagfar chun machnamh iad chomh maith.

[I am delighted that Rachel Joynt is here today, and I greatly look forward to the completion of Dearcán na nDaoine, and the enjoyment and opportunity for reflection it will give to future visitors to the Áras.]

Works of art can also, of course, create strong and beautiful connections between nations and peoples, introducing us to new perceptions of the world, shaped by each other’s unique experiences.

Last week I had the pleasure of welcoming members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to Áras an Uachtaráin. They are a nation whose ancestors gave to our ancestors a gift of glowing compassion and solidarity during one of the darkest in Irish history – the Great Famine, An Gorta Mór. We Irish will never forget how, in the winter of 1847, as people in Ireland were dying from starvation and despair, members of the Choctaw Nation met in the small town of Skullyville Oklahoma, to discuss the plight of the Irish, and, how, although their own resources were very limited, they decided to send to Ireland whatever funds they would manage to raise.

One hundred and seventy years later, we chose to honour and commemorate that extraordinary human gesture which links our two nations so profoundly through the dedication of a sculpture in Midleton Co Cork to the Choctaw Nation. ‘Kindred Spirits’ by Alex Pentek with its beautiful eagle feathers arranged in a circular shape and reaching towards the sky, is a metaphor, not just of the bowl filled with food the Choctaw offered to the starving Irish women, men and children, but also of the Choctaw’s love for life and for humanity, and of the solidarity we share with all those who dwell on this fragile planet.  

It reminds us of how strongly art speaks to us across oceans and generations; and of the important imprint and legacy of great craftsmen and designers.

Before I conclude, may I thank all our talented designers and craftspeople who make possible, through their imagination, skill and patient work – their creativity, so much of beauty, endurance and joy.  I thank also those who provide the opportunities, the insight, the help and encouragement. Without those who value performance, access and the importance of culture in our lives, not as residual but as an essential structure, nothing would be possible. All of you allies in culture, performance, and appreciation - you are all so welcome here today.

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 John Kelly, a legend – who knows more about world, classical, contemporary music, who has more courage in moving us to appreciation of the eclectic than John Kelly; and to our talented entertainers David O'Connor, Cian McBride, Ruairí Ó hArgáin, Barry Ryan, Cormac Keegan, Tara Viscardi, Meadhbh O'Rourke, Setanta Strings, Randolf and the Crokers, Beoga, Duke Special and The Strypes.

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.

Speech at a Family Day Garden Party

Áras an Uachtaráin, 25 June 2017

Families do matter. For most of us, it is very hard to imagine life without a family, without people who care about us unconditionally, who accept us with all our faults and failings, and who we know we can count on no matter what happens in our lives.

Dia dhaoibh a chairde, Sabina and I would like to welcome you and thank you all for coming to the Áras today - céad míle fáilte roimh gach duine atá anseo.  

Tá súil agam go bhfuil sibh uilig ag baint taitnimh as bhur lá i ngairdíní Áras an Uachtaráin, is gairdíní atá ar a mbarr áilleachta an taca seo den bhliain de thoradh obair thiomanta na foirne garraíodóireachta. Tá freagairt iontach tugtha agaibh dár lucht siamsaíochta agus tá rogha gacha bídh réitithe daoibh ag foireann an Árais. 

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all here today to Áras an Uachtaráin and to extend a special welcome to those of you who have travelled long distances to be with us. 

You have been invited here because somebody - perhaps a child, a friend or relative of yours expressed an interest in spending an afternoon at the Áras. I hope you will relax and enjoy your visit to this beautiful house that Sabina and I have lived since the 11th of the 11th 2011 following my inauguration at the 9th President of Ireland.

Today we celebrate our Family Day Garden Party, a wonderful occasion that gives us the opportunity to welcome so many families to Áras an Uachtaráin; families who have travelled from all over Ireland to be here today, filling this big house, this marquee, these lovely gardens with fun, laughter and happiness; the sound of music indeed.

The music we have assembled for today is simply fantastic.  Those we sought said ‘yes’ with such enthusiasm you could forget how much their fame goes before them!

It is wonderful to see you all enjoying this special family day but as we celebrate, I think we would all like to take a moment to think of our neighbours in London who suffered the dreadful tragedy at Grenfell Tower, many of whom lost family members and sadly for whom family life will never be the same again.

We live in an interdependent world so let us too remember families who have been displaced by conflict, natural disasters, climate change; families who may be grieving, or recalling a lost member.  To families everywhere in all circumstances, we send our warmest thoughts.

Families do matter.  For most of us, it is very hard to imagine life without a family, without people who care about us unconditionally, who accept us with all our faults and failings, and who we know we can count on no matter what happens in our lives. We also know that family life is never perfect; all of us have experienced the normal day to day differences and disagreements.  I am sure none of you here today would choose to be without your family, or would prefer to travel through life alone and without the support and love and concern that goes with that spoonful of interference and criticism -  just for good measure! So, I thank you all for coming here today to celebrate family life in all its diversity and all its contemporary forms. 

This time of year, is always a special time in the lives of families around the country, it is a time that marks the beginning of school holidays, a time which awakens happy memories in those of us who are no longer children. 

It is a time when we look forward to spending more time with our families – enjoying being free to maybe plan day trips to the park, beach, or to the zoo, stop to think about summers past, whether accurately remembered or embellished!  They are precious memories we cherish and our fond recall of those good times, with more to come, keeps us buoyant through the challenging and sometimes difficult days.

Few of us get through life without encountering tough days, problems and crises of one sort or another and, whether we face sorrow or joy, there is no doubt that having the support of good family, friends, and neighbours, makes life’s journey so much easier. We are renowned for our strong culture of family and friendship and that is what we are celebrating today.  

Before I finish, I am delighted to be able to tell you today, at this very special garden party, a time when we celebrate and delight in the curious, energetic, enthusiastic and creative children around us that we will launch shortly, a new resource dedicated for children, the Children at the Áras website – Páistí ag an Áras.

This is a website with a wealth of information on Áras an Uachtaráin and the Office of the President, its history and functions, in an engaging and exciting child friendly format. I hope it inspires all of you children here today, as you learn so much about the nine Presidents of Ireland, history of the Presidency and how it has changed and adapted in a new and modern Ireland. 

There is much to see and learn on the website…there is even a quiz, which might be a particular attraction for those of you who may be suffering withdrawal symptoms from the school campus! I am confident you will all pass with flying colours.

I would like to thank Dublin City Council and Play Development Officer, Debby Clark, who have been instrumental in co-ordinating the wonderful entertainment and activities the children are enjoying here today, making this special day a marvellous success and a joy to witness. Like many adults in this age of advanced technology, I often look back to my own childhood: to the games we invented, the stories and plays we conjured up and the innovative ways we used whatever toys or props we had available to us. It is wonderful to see such imaginative play taking place in the Áras gardens today.

We all know that play is an important part of a child’s development.   Play is a child’s way of making sense of the world. Children have an innate and wonderful curiosity, keen to learn, to engage, to challenge, to bargain and to please. 

Playing gives them an opportunity to demonstrate all that they have observed and learned and it equips them to experiment their newly acquired skills in their own world.  

The sense of wonder children hold is so valuable and it is important that we nurture their desire to play and to learn, that we encourage them to develop their ideas, to experiment, to design, to build and create stories and stretch their imagination and skill. 

As I look around today, I am delighted to see in our children such promise for a caring and just society with all its possibilities.

Before I conclude, I would also like to thank our superb MC this afternoon, Alan Hughes, as well as our talented entertainers Arthur Greene, Gluais – Scoil Mhuire, The Booka Brass Band, Ye Vagabonds, Ham Sandwich, Curtis Walsh, Colm Ó hArgáin, Ruairi Ó hArgáin, Aoife Ní hArgáin, Fionnán Mac Gabhainn, Tara Vicardi and Meadhbh O’ Rourke.

Finally, a big thank you to the staff here at the Áras for their hard work, their unfailing good humour and – not least – culinary skills, all things which contribute in no small part to making this garden party a very special event for you.  Thank you to our friends in St John of God’s, the Gardaí and our Civil Defence colleagues, our Gaisce volunteers, the tour guides and all who have worked so hard to make today an occasion of friendship and joy.  

I wish you all a wonderful Summer with your families, a time of fun and enjoyment and the continued creation of happy memories that will remain with you throughout your lives. I certainly hope today will become one of those special memories.

May all of you enjoy the house, the gardens, and make yourself at home. 

Bainigí sult as an lá, agus bígí ar bhur suaimhneas.

Speech at a Garden Party for Representatives of Ireland’s Island Communities

Áras an Uachtaráin, 20 June 2017

The boundless sea, which those of you who are fishermen or who work on the ferry services know so well, is the element that connects us to our deep identity as an island civilisation.

A chairde,

Tá fáilte agus fiche romhaibh ar fad go hÁras an Uachtaráin. Tá súil agam go bhfuil sibh ag baint taitneamh as bhur gcuid ama sa ghairdín tar éis an aistir fhada atá tógtha agaibh le bheith linn tráthnóna. Agus do thug sibh an dea-aimsir libh.

Sabina and I are delighted to welcome you all to Áras an Uachtaráin.   I have had the great fortune, in my various public roles, including a period as the Minister responsible for the islands, to undertake many visits to our islands, and I have developed a deep respect and appreciation for island life – a life lived in dialogue, and sometimes in confrontation, with sea and sky, waves and wind; an existence at times austere and vulnerable, but always heightened by the strength of close community ties, and blessed by landscapes of astonishing beauty.

Tá cuimhní geala agam ar mo chuairteanna ar na hoileáin, agus tá áthas orm mar Uachtarán na hÉireann an deis seo a bheith agam inniu fáilte a chur romhaibh, pobail na n-oileán agus na daoine siúd a thacaíonn libh sna h-eagrais éagsúla atá linn chomh maith.

Is chuimhin liom go maith an céad uair a léigh mé focail Mháirtín Ó Direáin ina dhán, ‘An tEarrach Thiar’:

“Toll-bhuillí fanna
Ag maidí rámha
Currach lán éisc
Ag teacht chun cladaigh
Ar ór-mhuir mhall
I ndeireadh lae;
San Earrach thiar.”

Máirtín Ó Direáin’s poem evokes those long, calm island evenings, with spring giving way to summer, where all is well and there is nowhere to compare.  It is the experience of Winter however, that islanders of all generations may have easiest recall and where the obligations of policy arise and too often are insufficient.

Anuraidh, bhí deis agam féin agus ag Saidhbhín a bheith libh le haghaidh comórtas peile na nOileáin, thiar ar Inis Meáin. Is íontach an lá a bhí againn, le fir agus mná cróga na n-Oileáin, in iomaíocht dáiríre lena chéile, ach le meas agus tuiscint ar a chéile chomh maith.

It was such a pleasure for Sabina and I to be with you at the Islands Football competition on Inis Meáin last summer. We had such a great day and witnessed the terrific, competitive but good-tempered games involving the young, and some not so young, men and women of many of our offshore islands. It was also an opportunity for me to be updated on the challenges facing islanders and I am all too aware of current concerns.

I know that many of you have made long journeys to be with us this afternoon, and I thank you very sincerely for that. I realise that for many this is a particularly busy time of the year, and I am grateful for those of you that have come.

We have representatives from 24 Islands. Including Achill and Valencia, which are, I suppose, semi-detached, but you are welcome nonetheless. I am so pleased that we have friends here from Rathlin Island and also representatives from Ionad na mBlascaod.  Tá fáilte romhaibh.

The boundless sea, which those of you who are fishermen or who work on the ferry services know so well, is the element that connects us to our deep identity as an island civilisation. It is the natural highway our ancestors navigated so extensively, binding us to other lands near and far, weaving the threads of the ancient cultures we share with Scotland, Wales, other parts of Britain, the edges of Europe and beyond, ancient bonds deeper and more important than the divergence of recent histories.

We can think of the circulation of Irish monks between islands, of Saint Colmán and Saint Finan departing the island of Lindisfarne, the former to settle on Inis Bó Finne, off the Mayo coast, and the latter on Church Island, across the bay from Skellig Mhíchíl, in Co. Kerry.

That human story of places, spaces and migrations of which all of you are the descendants and custodians, continues to exist, while you seek of course to adapt to new realities, opportunities and challenges. It would be a tragic loss and it is unacceptable that the island way of life, which is so central to Irish culture, drift to the margins of our history and public policy.

We should surely be able, as a country, and as a Member of the European Union, to harness the great possibilities offered by new modes of transportation, new telecommunications technologies, such as satellite communication and fibre-optic broadband, the development of teleworking, the advances of renewable energies, eco-tourism, and a revived awareness of the value of sustainable farming and fishing, so as to support vibrant human communities on our offshore islands.

Nothing is inevitable.  The loss of sustainable island life is not inevitable.  The recent decline in many of our islands’ populations is a challenge to be addressed. More accurately, it is the result of a series of challenges not having been adequately addressed. However, with the required political will, ambition and imagination, we can, I believe, turn the tide. Intervention is needed – intervention conducted in dialogue with islanders and their representatives.

The issues facing islanders today are well-known. They have to do with transportation and access, the provision of adequate infrastructure and of suitable ferry and air services. They have to do with the provision of basic services: medical care, social and childcare services, energy, sanitation and proper waste-management systems.

Then too, sustainable economic development must be a priority: the maintenance of farming, fishing and biodiversity. Education and the adequate resourcing of primary and secondary schools on the islands are equally vital.

Caithfimid, ag an am céanna, tacaíocht a chur in áit do chultúr teanga na nOileáin. Maraon leis na Gaeteachtaí ar an mór-thír, is seod agus acmhainn sóisíalta faoi leith í go bhfuil an Gaeilge beo i gcónaí ar roinnt mhaith d’ár n-oileáin. Ach tá tacaíocht uaithi.  

Many of those challenges are, in fact, similar, if at a more urgent scale, to those facing Ireland’s mainland rural communities. And all of those challenges are intimately related – the presence or absence of any single element can make the difference between sustainable, healthy communities or communities in decline. They call for a holistic, all-of-government, development strategy for our offshore islands, as for rural Ireland, and such a policy should, above all, have a flexibility that acknowledges the uniqueness of different island experiences and aspirations.

We cannot accept that some of our islands be left cut-off from the mainland during several weeks in the year, nor is it simply an adequate response to request that some islanders move to the mainland so as to avail of the right to public housing. Neither is it a normal pressure of living that entire families be left with no choice but to move away from their island rather than send their children to live-in bed and breakfast accommodations on the mainland during the school year.

In relation to health, one needs only to think of the distress experienced by pregnant women, older people and those in need of urgent medical care on those islands without a resident nurse or doctor; or the loneliness of winter months spent without children on those islands where schools have been closed, to realise that this state of affairs is not acceptable.

Island life has an intrinsic worth which cannot be assessed simply in population size or financial cost or touristic consumption. It has a value that can only be measured adequately by the fullness of the experiences which all of you derive, day after day, from your lives as islanders. It has a value which lies in the extraordinary sense of freedom and security enjoyed by children on the islands. It has a value which should be assessed in light of the exceptional natural life the islands harbour: the distinctive flora that feeds off the winterage of cattle in the dry fields, the nesting of guillemots, cormorants and storm petrels in their cliffs, and the visits of seals, dolphins and basking sharks to their shores.

That richness of island life expresses itself, too, in the beautiful Irish language spoken on some of our islands. It has infused the memoirs of Tomas Ó Criomhtháin, Muiris Ó Suilleabháin and Peig Sayers and the work of Liam O’Flaherty, Peadar O’Donnell, Brendán Ó hEithir.     It shines in the writings of all those, from Ireland and abroad, whose imagination was captured by the islands: Synge, O’Malley, Heaney, ina measc, but also, for example, Graham Greene and Heinrich Böll, whose cottage on Achill Island is now a residence for artists.

I suggest, a chairde, that we should build on the profusion of initiatives, public and private, which already contribute to sustaining and strengthening our island communities, so as to craft, together, a generous and daring vision for the future of our islands.

I am thinking of projects such as the EU funded “Aran Life” on the three Aran islands, where farming communities are known to have lived for over 4,000 years.  Such projects, more than mere conservation enterprises, are the future of sustainable communities.  A future which will draw on new and responsible cross-fertilisations between our natural environment, science and local knowledge.

And each of our offshore islands is different, and their communities are different, with different needs and development paths appropriate to themselves. There can be no on size fits all approach.

In achieving that great collective task, I know that Ireland can rely on all of you here today, who know the value of island life and who are determined to perpetuate it: You are fishermen, farmers, teachers, nurses, civil servants and entrepreneurs. You are engaged in the tourism industry, shop keepers, members of cooperatives and development companies. You are builders, scientists, vets, people who bring letters, water and electricity to the islands, who maintain roads and piers and who supply ferry and air services – to all of you I, as Uachtarán na hEireann, extend my support and my most sincere thanks.

Cinnte, tá áthas orm an deis seo a bheith agam inniu le mo bhuíochas ó chroí a ghabháil le gach aon duine agaibh as an méid a dhéanann sibh ar son beocht ár bpobail oileán. Guím gach rath oraibh a chairde.

Mar fhocal scoir, may I thank all those who have worked so hard to make this afternoon a memorable occasion for all of us. A big thank you to our MC, Sean Rocks, and to the talented musicians and artists who have so generously performed for us today: Mícheál Ó Catháin, Tara Viscardi, Meadhbh O'Rourke, the “In tune for Life Orchestra”, the Dublin Ukulele Collective, Colm ÓhArgáin, Fergal Ó Murchú and Éadaoin Ni Mhaicín, Conal Duffy, Skippers Alley, Odd Socks and Jerry Fish.

Could I also thank Dee Rogers who is the maestro of our entertainment programme and draws all elements together with such style. Molaim é.

On your behalf and my own, I also salute the work, unfailing good humour and – not least – culinary skills of all the staff here in Áras an Uachtaráin. These are the biggest events in the Áras calander and all shoulders are put to the wheel to ensure that our guests have a memorable day.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh uile agus bainigí taithneamh as an cuid eile den lá linn.

Speech at a Reception for Delegates of the Choctaw Nation [AUDIO ONLY]

Áras an Uachtaráin, 20th June 2017

Palabras del Presidente Higgins a la visita de una Delegación de Educación Superior de Centroamérica

Áras an Uachtaráin, Monday 19 June 2017

Nos enfrentamos a un mundo de inestabilidad, en el cual las viejas certezas se desmoronan y los modelos previos son cada vez más inadecuados, van en declive y han perdido el apoyo público.

Secretario General Fuentes,
Estimados Decanos, Rectores, Profesores, Investigadores y Catedráticos,
Representantes de la Asociación de Universidades Irlandesas
Representantes de las Autoridades de Educación Superior,
Representantes de University College Cork,
Distinguidos invitados,
Queridos amigos,
Estoy encantado de darles la bienvenida a Áras an Uachtaráin.


Me siento muy contento por dos razones. Primero, porque como antiguo académico, estoy consciente de la importancia de las ideas y de la necesidad de apoyar una educación superior pluralista e integral. Y segundo, porque tengo un profundo aprecio y consideración por la región de Centroamérica desde hace muchos años, la cual he visitado, en capacidades diferentes, por décadas. Su visita es por lo tanto, una feliz confluencia de dos de mis más preciados intereses. 

Centroamérica y el curso de su desarrollo político y económico han ocupado un lugar especial en mi corazón por décadas. Antes de mi elección como Presidente de Irlanda en 2011, había visitado Centroamérica en seis ocasiones – incluyendo Nicaragua, Honduras y El Salvador – principalmente en los años ochenta, un periodo de enorme sufrimiento y turbulencia en su región que me afectó profundamente e influenció de gran manera mi forma de pensar al inicio de mi carrera política.

Como Presidente, tuve el honor y privilegio de visitar El Salvador y Costa Rica en 2013. Como Presidente, he visitado nueve países en América Latina, desde México en el extremo norte hasta Chile, en el extremo sur. El papel central que la cooperación educativa tiene es el reforzamiento de las relaciones entre Irlanda y América Latina, lo cual me ha quedado claro más firmemente en cada visita.

Los lazos entre Irlanda y el mundo hispano-parlante son profundas e históricas. Desde el siglo XVII, hombres y mujeres de origen irlandés, incluyendo muchos investigadores y académicos, encontraron refugio de la persecución religiosa en España. Miles de irlandeses hicieron el viaje desde España hasta lo que en ese momento se conocía como el Imperio Español en América.

Después, en los siglos XIX y XXv, hubo migración significativa a la tierra prometida de las “pampas” en Argentina. Irlandeses, por supuesto, participaron en el movimiento de independencia de la región y en el desarrollo durante la era moderna.

Olas sucesivas de migración irlandesa a Latinoamérica han dejado su huella en el área de la educación. Durante el siglo XX, por ejemplo, órdenes de misioneros irlandeses jugaron un papel muy importante en la provisión de educación a los pobres y marginalizados del continente. Hoy en día, hay un fuerte interés intelectual en los estudios sobre América Latina y sus conexiones irlandesas. Soy benefactor de la Sociedad de Estudios de Irlanda y Latinoamérica (SILAS por sus siglas en inglés) que reúne investigadores de una amplia gama interdisciplinaria de campos de estudio.

En años más recientes, he tenido la oportunidad de otorgar mi apoyo a los crecientes vínculos entre los sectores de educación superior de Irlanda y América Latina. Durante mi visita a Colombia, Cuba y Perú en febrero de este año, fui testigo de la firma de varios Memorándums de Entendimiento entre University College Cork e importantes universidades en la región.

Durante mi visita a Brasil en 2012, participé en el lanzamiento de la Sociedad Educativa Irlanda-Brasil, bajo el auspicio del programa brasileño “Ciencia sin Fronteras” que ha logrado que más de 3,000 estudiantes brasileños de educación terciaria vengan a Irlanda a estudiar ciencias a nivel superior. Esto es aparte de los más de 10,000 brasileños que estudian inglés en Irlanda.

Cada estudiante brasileño que regresa a casa con, confío sean, recuerdos felices y una experiencia positiva de nuestro sistema de educación superior es un vínculo más en la cadena de relaciones bilaterales y nos ayuda a unirnos más. Sólo necesitamos escuchar la meliflua corriente de portugués brasileño que se escucha en las calles de Dublín para entender el poder de la educación al fortalecer nuestros lazos persona a persona.

Permítanme mencionar por un momento la importancia de la educación superior en el desarrollo económico, político y social.

Nos enfrentamos a un mundo de inestabilidad, en el cual las viejas certezas se desmoronan y los modelos previos son cada vez más inadecuados, van en declive y han perdido el apoyo público.

La transformación social positiva requerida para confrontar esta realidad, ya sea en Europa, Centroamérica o en cualquier otro sitio, dependerá de la educación de una generación de pensadores críticos equipados para cuestionar las ortodoxias prevalecientes. Durante mi discurso a los estudiantes de la Universidad de La Habana en febrero pasado, sugerí: “necesitamos mentes curiosas e inquisitivas; necesitamos apertura a modelos alternativos de crecimiento y desarrollo; y necesitamos que este proceso de debate sea conducido con un espíritu generoso de respeto por el punto de vista de aquellos que tal vez difieran de nuestras propias perspectivas. En resumen, necesitamos personas comprometidas con lo que es, en algunas ocasiones, un frágil hilo de un diálogo compartido.”

Como hace bien notar la Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe, la educación juega un papel vital en el crecimiento reconciliador, la equidad y la participación en la sociedad y es la piedra angular en el proceso de transformación estructural que se requiere para combatir la inequidad y reducir la pobreza. Me alentó leer un reporte reciente de la CEPAL que mencionaba que los jóvenes que vivían en extrema pobreza y hogares modestamente pobres son los que más se han beneficiado de la expansión educativa que se llevó a cabo en Latinoamérica y el Caribe en la década pasada. Sin embargo, el mismo reporte menciona que aún no se descubre el potencial de la educación superior como fuerza transformativa en América Latina.

En Irlanda somos afortunados de que la inversión en educación desde hace décadas significa que somos uno de los países con la fuerza laboral más instruida, calificada y productiva del mundo. Irlanda tiene una de las más grandes tasas de personas entre 25 y 34 años que han completado satisfactoriamente su educación terciaria en la OCDE, con 52% de los jóvenes en ese rango de edad habiendo completado sus estudios superiores. El porcentaje que le corresponde a Latinoamérica y el Caribe es el 16%.

El trabajo que ustedes están haciendo para mejorar la cooperación regional y la integración será crítico para develar el potencial de la educación terciaria en Centroamérica. Esta es un área en la que la Unión Europea ha sido muy exitosa, ya que los miles de estudiantes irlandeses que han participado en los programas Erasmus y han hecho más estudios alrededor de Europa, lo pueden atestiguar.

La cooperación regional en el área de investigación, apoyada por el fondo de investigación de la UE, también ha sido un importante motor para la innovación y el descubrimiento en las universidades irlandesas.

En ese contexto, me gustaría felicitar a la Asociación de Universidades Irlandesas por su apoyo a esta visita y a estas importantes sociedades de cooperación. El programa que han desarrollado para nuestros amigos de Centroamérica es excelente y estoy muy complacido de apoyarlo al recibirlos aquí el día de hoy.

Me enorgullecen los esfuerzos pioneros de University College Cork al desarrollar vínculos educativos en México, Centroamérica, Colombia, Perú, Brasil y Chile.

Nuestros amigos de UCC deben estar particularmente orgullosos de ser la única universidad en Irlanda – y de hecho, la única universidad de habla inglesa en Europa – de participar en AMIDILA, el proyecto de movilidad de la UE enfocado a universidades públicas en Centroamérica, de manera que facilitaran el intercambio de estudiantes y profesores para personas que de otra manera no tendrían la oportunidad de estudiar y enseñar en Europa. Cuando visite El Salvador en 2013, la participación de UCC en el proyecto apenas empezaba a tomar forma, y es muy satisfactorio verlo dar frutos de manera tangible.

Y debo agregar, los beneficios fluyen en ambas direcciones, ya que UCC recientemente envió a un estudiante de doctorado a Nicaragua. Los logros de Yensi Flores, una alumna de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, que vino a UCC a hacer una maestría en Biología Molecular y Bioinovación a través del programa de movilidad apoyado por la UE, es otro ejemplo. Durante sus estudios en UCC, Yensi desarrolló una herramienta de diagnóstico que rápidamente detecta infecciones transmitidas por mosquitos y ganó una competencia internacional en el área de la medicina genéticamente modificada. Actualmente estudia un doctorado en UCC.


Queridos amigos, si nos detenemos a analizarlo un poco más, nos daremos cuenta que el proceso actual de integración regional en educación es cuestión de formalizar algo que siempre ha existido en el sector universitario: las universidades siempre han tenido una vocación internacional, desde la Edad Media, cuando las primeras universidades europeas compartían el idioma Latín y competían para atraer a los mejores estudiantes.

La raíz de la palabra “universidad” es la palabra en latín para “el todo”, que significa la comunidad de los catedráticos e investigadores. La comunidad de catedráticos y alumnos es global y permite que los límites de estado y nación desaparezcan. Después de todo, la conectividad es el centro de cualquier proceso de aprendizaje exitoso, y la inspiración no simplemente emerge in vitro.

Requiere de un dialogo de ideas a través del tiempo y el espacio, utilizando los textos del pasado y las conexiones del presente para catalizar nuevas percepciones.

De nueva cuenta, los felicito cálidamente a todos por el trabajo que están haciendo para contribuir al diálogo al abrir los horizontes de nuestros estudiantes, investigadores y catedráticos, para el beneficio de todas nuestras sociedades.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech at a Garden Party to mark Bloomsday

Áras an Uachtaráin, 17 June 2017

Words matter. They can advocate or they can threaten, they can support or subvert, they can encapsulate or they can emancipate, and those are never simply choices.

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.]

As we do so, we are aware of the grief being experienced by our neighbours in London at Grenfell Tower.

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, through the generous giving of their talents, skills and time.

This afternoon I have the privilege of welcoming members of a special community -  Ireland’s literary community - and creative thinkers to the gardens of áras an Uachtaráin.

I am pleased to have the opportunity of thanking you for all you contribute to our society, and to Ireland’s reputation as a country of literary renown and imagination.

Yesterday, as a nation, we celebrated Bloomsday, honouring that great work of twentieth century literature Ulysses.  Built around a day in the life of somebody who would become one of the world’s most well-known migrants.   There is, in Leopold Bloom’s famous odyssey around Dublin on 16th June, a poignant sense of a citizen in search of a sense of identity and nationality.

Joyce, in breaking the mould of the novel, creating a new form, foresaw that the writing he wished to do would be difficult both to achieve and have published in Ireland, and thus in pursuit of what he saw as his mission as a writer, and to realise his full possibilities as a writer, he chose to leave Irish shores and became a permanent exile, a man apart.

Words matter. They can advocate or they can threaten, they can support or subvert, they can encapsulate or they can emancipate, and those are never simply choices.

Today however is an exciting time to be a writer, or indeed a reader, in Ireland. Irish fiction is thriving and flourishing. Every week sees the heralding of new and original work by Irish writers unafraid to push boundaries, and in so many cases, to defiantly challenge their readers.

Internationally, more and more Irish writers are making a profound impact as they are garnering admiring reviews, most importantly from their peers, and they are receiving the recognition of international prizes.

The figures published last year indicated that book sales in Ireland had increased by up to 20 percent, with a particularly large growth in the sale of books for children. This is good news. There can be no doubt that the world of Irish literature has become a greatly renewed and empowered space, its critical role in Irish society a newly energised one.

This afternoon I am delighted to have gathered here so many of those who work in and contribute to that space. Looking around me I see so many familiar faces, writers whose long and distinguished careers have made such a profound impact on the world of literature, both here in Ireland and across the world.

I also see many new faces, those writers who have only recently experienced the joy of seeing their work in print, but who are already making their mark on our literary landscape with work that continues to push boundaries and move Irish literature forward. 

Sabina and I have invited you here as writers of individual renown and success. However, equally importantly, you have been invited here as members of a writing community that could take the opportunity to celebrate, amongst like-minded people, the creativity you share and that so defines you.  

Today’s world of Irish literature is a vibrant and interconnected one. It is also a greatly interactive and supportive one, where exciting new journals and anthologies, weekly and well attended launches of new works, and the initiation of many opportunities for the reading of works in progress continue to bring our writers together in a spirit of shared community and solidarity.  

Indeed, it is always greatly encouraging to experience the sense of family that exists amongst the writing community, a family composed of creative individuals interested in supporting each other’s gift and talent, and a multi-generational family who chart together the changing landscape and new patterns of a constantly changing society through the prism of their own experience and perspective.

Some of you here today are poets and short story writers, adept at capturing singular moments of revelation, redemption or insight, others amongst you are novelists who use words to deftly move, coerce or navigate the reader through time and place, perhaps, and myriad complex thoughts and emotions. Some of you are playwrights whose skillful weaving of that which is spoken and that which is left unsaid, bring us so deeply into the lives and thoughts of others, and some of you, I am delighted to say represent the world of children’s literature - that important space of possibility and wonder from where all our writers began the journey that has brought them here today.

May I also mention, and particularly thank, the many amongst you who do so much to encourage and support new and emerging writers. By offering new opportunities for publication or readings, facilitating workshops and seminars, taking up positions as writers in residence, and in so many other ways generously sharing your talent and expertise, you are making an invaluable contribution to the development of Irish literature and the discovery and emergence of new and exciting literary voices.

May I take the opportunity of saying too how valuable the libraries and library staff of Ireland’s libraries, public and private, are, have always been, in providing space for readings, advice and encouragement to readers and writers alike. 

I was thinking earlier this afternoon that if we were to take the combined published works of all those here today and lay them out in single file, the distance they covered would be remarkable. Ever more remarkable, however, would be the range of experience they cover, the many stages and moods and shades of Irish life that would be contained in that long line of exquisitely written novels, short stories, poetry and plays. For that is the great and profound legacy which writers gift to future generations; the sensitive and insightful capturing of the moods and concerns of their own eras and generational experiences -  unique and exceptional moments which will inform that which is yet to come. 

Gabhaim buíochas libh de bhárr sinn agus tá áthas orm go raibh sé ar bhur gcumas a bheith linn inniu. Is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháíl libh agus sibh a mholadh as bhur dtallann a roinnt le bhur gcomhshaoránaigh, agus don uile rud a dhéanann sibh le cliú agus cáil na hÉireann a bhreisiú ar an ardán idirnáisiúnta.

[I thank you for that and am delighted that so many of you have been able to join us today. May I congratulate and commend all of you for the talent you so generously share with your fellow citizens, and for all you do to enhance Ireland’s reputation on the international stage.]

As always, Bloomsday for Sabina and I and all of you, calls to mind Deirdre O’Connell who would have been seventy-eight last week. Deirdre, as founder of the Focus Theatre played an integral role in the world of Irish theatre. Indeed, some of you here today will recall the Focus Theatre as an important part of your artistic journey and will have your own personal memories of that much loved and respected theatre.  So today it is fitting that we remember Deirdre and her profound contribution to Ireland’s cultural life.

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 Mary Kennedy; and to The Stunning, Eleanor McEvoy, the Trieste Ensemble, Brenda and Noel, Little John Nee, the Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band, and the Dublin Male Welsh Voice Choir who have provided such magnificent entertainment throughout the afternoon.

Sabina and I are greatly looking forward to seeing more performances in a few minutes. I also thank the National Library for providing such interesting archival material.

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.