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Address at the unveiling of ‘Dearcán na nDaoine – The People’s Acorn’

Áras an Uachtaráin, Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dearcán na nDaoine – The People’s Acorn will now stand in Áras an Uachtaráin as a permanent testament to our shared journey towards a Republic where we all have a place and of which we all can feel proud.

A chairde,

Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom féin agus le Saidhbhín fáilte ó chroí a fhearradh romhaibh ar fad chuig Áras an Uachtaráin. Táimid bailithe le chéile inniu ar ócáid chomórtha an Éirí Amach, mar chéiliúradh ar an méid atá bainte amach againn mar thír agus mar náisiún ó shin i leith, agus i gcuimhne, chomh maith, ar an obair atá le déanamh againn fós chun cospóirí an Fhorógra a chur i gcríoch.

Dear friends,

On behalf of Sabina and myself, let me thank you most sincerely for joining us on this joyous occasion, and thank you all for braving the elements for the unveiling of Rachel Joynt’s stunning work –

Dearcán na nDaoine – The People’s Acorn. There were so many people involved in the creation of this work that we literally couldn’t fit you all in one room in the Áras so this event has been in two parts. Just before the unveiling I addressed over 170 children from seven schools in different parts of our Island, and now I have an opportunity to speak to all of you.

I particularly want to welcome those of you from the Bealtaine Writers’ Group and from the Lourdes Day Care Centre on Seán McDermott Street. You generously gave of your time to work with Rachel Joynt and poet Enda Wyley to share your memories and your perspectives on life in Ireland. Your words and thoughts are now sealed within the Sculpture to be pondered by the children of the 22nd century and your names, like those of each of the children who were with us earlier, will be forever etched on Dearcán na nDaoine.

I would also like to recall Elizabeth O’Carroll who chaired the Bealtaine Group’s input to this project. Sadly, Elizabeth died since the workshop. I welcome her husband Tom who is with us today and thank him for coming. I know that Elizabeth is dearly missed by her family and friends in the Bealtaine Group.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam.  

Since 2012 we have collectively been engaging in a period of reflection – the decade of commemoration - on the momentous events of a century ago that were to lead to an independent state, the partition of Ireland and eventually the birth of a republic.

As part of this reflection, Sabina and I decided that Áras an Uachtaráin, the seat of the President of Ireland, should mark these centenary commemorations, not only through the hosting of events - which we have done, but also in more permanent artistic interpretations of our contemporary reflection on the past. Next year, we will install an artwork commemorating the 1913 Lockout and today we recall the Easter Rising, with our beautiful new addition to the grounds. 

What we sought was an appropriate and permanent tribute to the women and men whose effort and sacrifice contributed so much to Irish freedom and a symbol that would also serve as an inspiration towards realising the promise of a true republic, which remains a challenge for us all.

Today, I would especially like to welcome some of the relatives of the signatories of the proclamation, and of other participants in the Rising who have joined us for this occasion.

Tá fíor-chaoin fáilte rómhaibh a chairde agus tá súil agam go mbraitheann sibh go bhfuil Dearcán na nDaoine mar shiombal oiriúnach den fhís a leag bhur ngaolta ós ár gcomhair an Luan Cásca sin ós cionn céad bliain ó shin. 

I hope that what we have achieved with this commemorative work is a fitting tribute to the memory and vision of the signatories of the Proclamation, and all those who stood with them. It is, I think, both an accolade to our shared past and a beacon for a brighter future. 

All of us as citizens of Ireland are now living in a context that was shaped by the actions and vision of your ancestors, who with other men and women took to the streets on Easter Monday 1916 to make a demand for independence and to respond directly to the consequences of Imperialism in Ireland.

Those who participated were men and women who risked everything in their different ways, fighting for freedom and inspired by the declaration of a Republic, and the dream of a better, fairer future.

We should not forget that the rebels were a group that had a variety of talents but a shared belief in the independence of Ireland. Amongst their number were socialists, feminists, republicans, devout catholics, protestants, radicals and other ideologists compelled, in their different ways, to dream of an alternative existence to the subjugation of Irish people and their culture and they rejected the imposed deference to empire.   

As my speeches last year emphasised, all of the participants in 1916 had come to perceive and recoil from what was a constant theme in the assumptions of the Imperialist mind: that those dominated in any colony such as Ireland were lesser in human terms, in language, culture and politics. The historical evidence for this view was all around, in the circumstances of housing, hunger, emigration, exclusion and language loss. The cultural freedom allowed was a freedom merely to imitate or ingratiate.

While the vision for the future of those we recall and honour today was set out in the Proclamation, it can, I think, only be viewed in retrospect as a challenge to succeeding generations. An ideal that was yet to be achieved.

It was such thoughts and reflections that drove Sabina and I to set down a challenge of our own to artists. This challenge was to capture, in the one work, the foundations we have been bequeathed by that revolutionary generation and those that succeeded it, the part that each of us are called upon, and have the opportunity, to play in our national story as we seek to achieve the promise and potential of the future – ár bhféidireachtaí gan teorainn.

To this end, in 2015 we invited renowned artists and sculptors to make proposals for such an artwork to be placed here in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin. Each of the sculptors was highly accomplished and all had reputations as exceptional artists who we were confident would bring reflective and imaginative ideas to this project.

We were delighted at the positive and enthusiastic response we received. Some of the fourteen artists who submitted proposals are with us today and I would like to thank you all for your engagement and for the truly wonderful and inspiring ideas that you put forward.  

We realised from the beginning that choosing between all the profound but very different proposals would require the application of exceptional and experienced individuals who together could discern the most appropriate sculpture for its intended setting. We were so delighted that our first choice of Jury members to oversee this project responded positively to our invitation and gave freely of their time and of their energy.

The formidable minds and talents of Jenny Haughton, Robert Ballagh, Seán O’Laoire and Imogen Stuart were brought together and set to the task of making a very difficult choice, which involved several stages of consideration, interrogation and distillation. The Jury was expertly chaired by Catríona Crowe, under whose guidance this project ran so smoothly.

On behalf of Sabina and as President of Ireland, I would like to thank the jury most sincerely for all your efforts in this endeavour. I know that we set a very challenging brief for you and for the artists but we both think that you made an inspired choice. I hope it gives you much satisfaction to see the People’s Acorn having moved so successfully from concept to realisation.

Molaim sibh.

I would also like to publicly thank the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology for facilitating the participation of Jenny Haughton and apologise to her students if she missed a lecture or two while we kept her busy. 

Let me also take this opportunity to thank a small army of civil and public servants who have quietly and efficiently contributed to the successful execution of this project. Much like the entire 2016 commemoration programme, this project has been a demonstration of the very best of our public service and of our public servants. Officials from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht not only helped to secure the funding for the project, but also assisted greatly in its administration.

Go raibh maith agaibh uile.

Our partners in the Office of Public Works were on hand to provide crucial advice and guidance to the Jury on procurement, planning, landscaping, architecture and horticulture. OPW staff oversaw the planning process and worked closely with Rachel’s team during the installation. Like much of what we do at Áras an Uachtaráin, the OPW was vital at every stage of the process.

Gabhaim buíochas leo agus molaim iad.

We are so pleased that the Broadcasting Unit from the Houses of the Oireachtas agreed to record the development of this project from the very start. We have been posting video clips from the workshops with the children and older participants, and of each stage of Rachel’s creative work on the piece, to the installation on the grounds here and even today’s proceedings. I understand that the final programme will be broadcast on Oireachtas TV and we have seen a teaser here earlier.

Ár mbuíochas ó chroí don Ionad Chraolúcháin.

I would also like to thank our own staff here in the Áras for their work on this project and, of course, to the whole team of people who work in Áras an Uachtaráin for making days like today such a success.

Maidir leis an obair féin, Dearcán na nDaoine – The People’s Acorn. Ní féidir liom a rá ach go bhfuil muid thar a bheith sásta leis.

Rachel Joynt is such a gifted artist and we were familiar with her work for many years. Her idea captured beautifully what we had asked for.

I commend you, Rachel, for this wonderful piece and I thank you. 

I also salute Enda Wyley, a fellow poet, for her contribution to this work and thank her most sincerely for the part she played today.

Leo Higgins and the staff at Cast Foundry brought Rachel’s dreams to reality and I thank you all for that. The staff of Saxa Landscaping and Nicholas O’Dwyer Consulting Engineers made sure that the sculpture was expertly installed and will remain accessible to visitors for centuries to come.

As I mentioned earlier, the detail of all this work and the craftsmanship involved has been captured on video. Rachel has also produced a publication and a poster for the children which gives the context of this public art commission and tells the story of Rachel’s idea, the input of the hundreds of children and adults and it also details the creative and fabrication process. It is so important to capture these things. A Dublin based company – Language – helped Rachel to design and produce these documents and I salute them on their excellent work.

I can think of no better soundtrack to this day than that we have already heard and what is promised for later. The uileann pipes,

na píobaí uileann which in Ireland we have taken for granted as a profound acoustic connection to our musical past and a medium of contemporary cultural and artistic expression, have now been recognised by UNESCO and added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

We have heard the pipes wonderfully played by Gay McKeon, Joseph Byrne and Jacqui Martin.

Gabhaim buíochas libh a chairde táimid ag tsnúth le tuilleadh uaibh ar ball.

We are also honoured to be joined by two women who are no less than icons of music in Ireland. We are delighted that Mary Coughlan, Sharon Shannon and Alan Connor are with us today and have agreed to perform for us in a little while. Thank you both most sincerely.

In regard to Dearcán na nDaoine - The People’s Acorn, I will let Catríona Crowe reflect more fully on the piece itself. Suffice to say that in our opinion, it is truly beautiful. Given its symbolism, it is highly appropriate that Rachel chose to involve hundreds of citizens, young and old, in the execution of her plan and gave them the opportunity to include their stories and their ideas in the final artwork.

Dearcán na nDaoine – The People’s Acorn will now stand in Áras an Uachtaráin as a permanent testament to our shared journey towards a Republic where we all have a place and of which we all can feel proud.

Gabhaim buíochas libh ar fad as teacht inniu agus tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh taithneamh as an gcuid eile den lá.

Speech at the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Áras an Uachtaráin, 9 December 2017

A Dhaoine Uaisle,
A Chairde Gael,
Agus a Pháistí ach go háirithe,

Tá fáilte romhaibh go léir chuig Áras an Uachtaráin tráthnóna. Tá súil agam go bhfuil sibh ag baint taitnimh as an lá.

You are all very welcome here this afternoon. This is always a very special day in Áras an Úachtaráin. It is the day when we officially mark the beginning of the Christmas season by lighting up the big Christmas tree outside. All of you have been invited here today to represent, and share this special occasion on behalf of, all the people of Ireland.

Christmas is a time when we recall the birth of a child in Bethlehem to parents who were homeless and who had to flee from their homeland.

It is a time of year that we associate with joy and expectation and wonder.  It brings with it a warm glow that lights up the darkness of mid-winter and makes our thoughts turn to family and friendship and Christmases past. Christmas is also a time when we begin to say goodbye to one year, and to look forward with hope to a new year to come.

Of course, nobody looks forward to Christmas more than our children. That is one of the reasons why today is such an important one in the Áras. It is a day when we get the opportunity to see the Áras filled with children and their families, all of you looking forward I have no doubt to the arrival of Santa Claus and to your Christmas holidays from school and to all of the magic that comes your way at this time of the year.

For the adults here today Christmas is probably as much a time of nostalgia and fond memories, as it is of anticipation and looking forward. It is a time when we remember loved ones no longer with us but who are still not forgotten and are an intangible part of all our Christmases; a time when the absence of loved ones, or being a long way from home, can be particularly hard to bear; a time when our cherished memories of Christmases past inspire us to embrace even more fully the joy of spending time with our families, friends and loved ones.

And so this evening, as we light the Christmas tree in Áras an Uachtaráin, we will remember all of the people for whom it is being lit – we will remember our emigrants who will be with us in spirit even if they cannot make it home for Christmas this year; we will remember those who have lost someone, the bereaved for whom this Christmas will be a particularly sad and difficult time; we will remember the lonely, the ill, and the homeless; we will remember those who have come to Ireland in recent times to make a new home here and who will be bringing their own special memories to their Christmas celebrations; we remember the Irish Defence Forces who will be absent from home this Christmas performing peace-keeping duties in troubled parts of our world; and we remember all the people who will be working during the Christmas season including the Gardaí and all the emergency services and the medical staff in hospitals across the country. And, of course, we remember our own families and friends and neighbours who are such an important part of our own Christmas celebrations.

Finally, I would like to thank you all for coming here this afternoon and helping Sabina and me to carry on the great Áras tree lighting tradition. I would also like to thank the Áras staff who have worked so hard to decorate the house and to provide the fare you have been enjoying. Thank you also to our first-aiders and, of course, our talented entertainers the Clarecastle/Ballyea Youth Choir, Leah Barniville, the Fanzini Brothers, Jack Wise, and Brian Halpin. My thanks also to Mr. Claus who has come all the way on his sleigh to visit us in the Áras this evening, and to our MC today Niall de Burca.

I hope you have all had a wonderful time, and that this afternoon will become a special family memory to share in years to come. I wish each and every one of you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful, prosperous and joyful new year.

Nollaig faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise oraibh go léir.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Speech at the 2017 Gaisce Gold Award Ceremony

Dublin Castle, Wednesday, 6th December, 2017

No noble or difficult task is ever easy, and it is perhaps made more noble still and the achievement is all the greater when undertaken in difficult and testing circumstances or where resources were scarce or the context challenging.

Dear friends, 

It gives me great pleasure to be here with you today to recognise the dedication, perseverance and generosity of our Gaisce Gold recipients, and to present 55 talented young people with their award. Today marks the conclusion of a journey – a journey in which you tested yourselves, through your thoughts and actions, first discovering and then surpassing your own limits. It was a journey in which you demonstrated not only a personal determination, but also a commitment to the service of your communities and of your fellow citizens. 

Tréaslaím sibh as bhúr carthanachas agus as bhúr saoránacht. 

Today is a day on which you, your families and friends, your teachers and mentors, and all those who helped you on your path to the Gold award, can justly feel very proud of your accomplishment. 

Over two hundred years ago, a great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, wrote that our humanity is measured by our capacity to invent and to innovate. He saw our best resources as residing in our creative use of imagination and reason, our ability to remember our pasts and anticipate our future, and by our universal feelings of sympathy and empathy for one another. It is qualities such as these that have been given expression in the empathy, kindness, persistence, patience, and personal initiative you have all shown in achieving your awards. 

Tá searmanais den sort seo tábhachtach. Tugann siad deis dúinn aitheantas phoiblí agus ómós a thabhairt don iliomad slí ina bhfuil na daoine óga atá bailithe sa seomra seo tar éis cuidú le saibhriú a bpobal áitiúil agus, leis sin, le saibhriú na tíre i gcoitinne trína gcuid diansaothair, a smaointe agus a ndíogras anamúil. 

While much has been achieved over the years in the school setting, in recent years I have been encouraged by the expansion of Gaisce beyond the traditional setting of the secondary school, and towards a much wider representation of Ireland’s young people, in all their diversity and from all backgrounds. 

In their decision to participate in Gaisce, young people are inspired to develop their skills and to gain a new-found confidence in their abilities. Each Gaisce recipient, whether they have achieved bronze, silver or gold – and I know a number of you will today have achieved all three – makes a pact with themselves to pursue and persevere towards goals that they have selected themselves. They do so in circumstances not of their own choosing, but in circumstances determined by our society. No noble or difficult task is ever easy, and it is perhaps made more noble still and the achievement is all the greater when undertaken in difficult and testing circumstances or where resources were scarce or the context challenging. 

This year has seen an increasing number of awards to young people in YouthReach, Community Training Colleges, disability organisations, youth and community organisations, prisons, probation and Garda Youth diversion projects, and I was pleased to hear, for the first time, to young people in Direct Provision. 

This time last year, following this ceremony in Dublin Castle, I travelled to Mountjoy Prison to present Gaisce awards to three young prisoners. In the coming weeks I hope to do the same in a Direct Provision Centre. Gaisce is to be commended for bringing the benefits of the President’s Award to young people in such challenging circumstances. 

It is evidence, not only to the fortitude of the awardees, but also to the commitment and generosity of their President’s Award Leader. Indeed, we have seen evidence of both in one of our awardees –  Aaron Fallon not only received the Gaisce Gold today but has now himself become a Leader and youth worker for the Ballymun Regional Youth Resource. Maith thú Aaron. Guím gach rach is beannacht ort. 

Without the participation of the President’s Awards Leaders, who guide and assist these young people through what is often a challenging journey, we would not be here today. There are today in this country over 1,500 President’s Awards Leaders, known as PALs, who give of their time, their effort, their experience and their wisdom to support thousands of young people every year. May I take the opportunity today to salute those Leaders who are exemplars of a committed, active and inclusive citizenship. 

I also wish to recognise and thank all of those involved in Gaisce for providing the framework through which you pursued these formative endeavours. I commend the Gaisce Council, led by its Chair,  John Concannon, and the C.E.O. of Gaisce, Yvonne McKenna, for their dedication in promoting this Award. 

Since its inception in 1985 under the patronage of one of my predecessors as President, Patrick Hillery, over 300,000 young people have attempted this Award, and this year alone over 25,000 registered to take part. This is testament to the enduring and continuing success of Gaisce, and to the idealism and passion of our young people. 

Each of your individual stories reminds us of the immense potential that lies within all of us, no matter our circumstances. You acquired new skills and improved old ones, including crocheting, woodwork, and photoshop, and discovered that, with practice and diligence, you were capable of more than you might have known. 

You have undertaken new sporting and physical challenges, both as individuals and as members of a team, and found a new balance between mind and body. You cycled and walked the highways and byways of this country for your adventure journeys, from the Castlebar International Walking Festival to the Kerry Way. 

Today marks an ending, the achievement of the highest Gaisce distinction, but also a continuation, as you will continue to be members, not only of your local and national communities, but also of the global community of this fragile planet, with all the duties and responsibilities, and rights and opportunities that such a membership entails. 

The same virtues that you have displayed in your achievement today – the resolution demanded to master a skill, the fortitude required to complete a long and difficult journey, the compassion and solidarity you have shown through your community work – will be called upon more than ever in the coming decades, and I know you will, all of you, rise to whatever challenges are presented. 

Your generation faces great contemporary challenges: the moral imperative to welcome those fleeing war, persecution, famine and natural disasters; the demand for a just and sustainable development, both at home and abroad; and above all, the urgent necessity to address the causes and consequences of climate change. 

It may sometimes seem difficult to imagine the difference that any single individual can make when confronted by these global issues. But as you have learned through all the hard work you have undertaken to reach this day, and as all those who have attempted and received the Bronze and Silver award have discovered, it is through numberless acts of kindness, compassion and solidarity that you will change our world. 

Let me then, once again, congratulate you all for receiving the Gaisce Gold today. You have learned, accomplished and achieved so much of which you can be proud. You, and all those who received the Gaisce awards before you, have shown that we can look towards our future with hope and optimism. 

Is mian liom sibh a mholadh agus guím gach rath agus beannacht oraibh don todhchaí, cuma cén conair ghairme a ghlacann sibh. 

[I thank you for being citizens we can take such pride in, and I wish you all happiness and success, wherever life may take you.] 

Speech at a reception on World Aids Day to mark the 30th anniversary of HIV Ireland

Áras an Uachtaráin, 1 December 2017

Through your work, your advocacy, your support services, and your campaigning you are making this republic of equals a reality.

A Aire Stáit,
A Theachtaí Dála,
A Sheanadóirí,
A Chomhairleoirí,
A Cháirde Gael,

Tá áthas orm fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh chuig Áras an Uachtaráin.

Dear friends,

It is a great pleasure for Sabina and I to welcome you all here today to Áras an Uachtaráin on World AIDS Day, and to have the opportunity to mark the 30th anniversary of HIV Ireland. It also is a great honour for us to be here with you, and to have the opportunity to recall all those years of dedication, perseverance and hard work – sometimes undertaken in very difficult, and indeed hostile, circumstances – which began over thirty years ago.  It was indeed in difficult circumstances the work of campaigners involved in what was known as the Dublin Aids Alliance began.

May I take this opportunity to recognise the work, not only of HIV Ireland, but also of AIDS West in Galway City, ActUp Dublin, ACET Ireland, the All-Ireland Network of People Living with HIV, Positive Ireland, GOSHH in Limerick City, and the Sexual Health Centre in Cork City.

May I also welcome the announcement that Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis will be available in this country from Monday the 4th of December. The addition of another measure to prevent HIV is an important step forward.

Anniversaries are occasions not only to look forward, but to look back, and this occasion today is an opportunity to reflect: to reflect on loss – the loss of friends, of family members, of loved ones, of companions – that so many have endured; and to reflect too on the struggles in which so many have participated, the struggle for the recognition of rights long denied – the right to equality and the right to services – and the struggle against discrimination and stigma. 

It is troubling now to recall the moral and ethical atmosphere of Irish society in 1982, when the first two cases of AIDS were diagnosed. Those who suffered the most in the 1980s were those exposed not only to a prejudice born of misunderstanding of HIV and AIDS, but also to other forms of social oppression which were, and are, too often manifested in our society.

At that time, contraceptives were only available through a medical prescription – as was said at the time, this was ‘an Irish solution to an Irish problem’. Our laws prohibited same-sex sexual relationships.    My two predecessors in this Office, Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, both played a significant role in the campaign – led with bravery by Senator David Norris - to overturn this discriminatory legislation. 

It is perhaps indicative of those years - years in which Irish society yielded only most slowly and painfully to change - that the offending Act was amended all of five years after the European Court of Human Rights had found that the legislation was in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Our social policies were insufficient to a moment of crisis in Irish society, and the citizens of our cities and towns – particularly parts of Dublin City – paid a terrible price in the 1980s.

In those years, in terms of living up to its duties to its citizens, our society and State was anything but adequate or indeed republican in the best sense of that term. 

I know that this time – a time before the development of anti-retroviral treatment – was a fearful time, a time when so many loved ones were lost so suddenly, a time so often remembered with grief, hurt and anger. It is deeply affecting to read the words of Tonie Walsh, who has spoken of the ‘hidden histories of how we lived, how we died, how some survived, yearn to be heard’.   

Some of the most moving testaments of friendship that I have read are from this period and were written on both sides of the Atlantic.
We, as citizens of Ireland, do owe a duty to all those who lost their lives, a duty to remember and in that remembering, a duty to build a better future. 

Some during that time did act, and today is an occasion to recognise the courage, energy and activism of those campaigners, activism often conducted in the face of ignorance and sometimes hostility. 

It is also an occasion to acknowledge the great strides that have been made thanks to the efforts of those campaigners and of campaigning organisations like HIV Ireland and the work of health and social care professionals and volunteers. It is also, a time to look forward to all that which must still be achieved in our own society – and in countries around the world to realise the possibility of an AIDS-free generation and to ensure that those living with HIV may be able to live their lives without stigma, fear or discrimination. 

It is truly sobering to recall that over 35 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the beginning of the epidemic, and that over a million people died of such illnesses in 2016. 

At global level there is much which needs to be done, and approached with urgency. 

For example, in the plan of action that 193 countries have committed for the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed in New York in September of 2015, there is a commitment to end the AIDS epidemic by the year 2030. 

These Goals are ambitious, but they are realistic in their recognition of the scale of the response required to achieve them. Over 36.7 million people are living with HIV, and of these only 53% have access to treatment. The Goals recognise that nothing less than universal health coverage and access to quality health care, including universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, are necessary if there is to be a possibility of meeting them. 

But if we are to achieve these Goals, both at home and abroad, it is not enough merely to make additional resources available, though this is a necessary condition. We are also required to create the consciousness for a more inclusive and more just societies.  

Globally, new HIV infections have fallen – by 45% between 2000 and 2015 – but as we are all too well aware it has continued to increase amongst some of the most vulnerable groups in our societies. Only a response which eliminates inequalities based on gender, sexuality and race, raises the dignity of all people, and meets the demands of social justice, will be truly capable of eliminating HIV/AIDS and ensuring that those who live with HIV can live lives free of stigma, prejudice and discrimination.

It is remarkable that the effectiveness of treatment has improved to such an extent that HIV may be suppressed such that it is undetectable in a person’s body, which means that the virus cannot be transmitted. This illustrates the continuing importance of HIV testing, as those who do not know their HIV status cannot access treatment and have the greatest risk of transmitting HIV. The provision of community testing by organisations such as HIV Ireland and the Health Service Executive is to be truly commended and must be supported. 

There were 508 new HIV diagnoses notified and recorded by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre of the Health Service Executive in 2016, an increase of 35% on 2011 figures. 

This is concerning, and we must continue to implement, support and promote, as a society, comprehensive prevention measures, including the kind of sexual health education and training which HIV Ireland have pioneered and continue to provide.

The findings of the National HIV Attitudes and Knowledge Survey and People Living with HIV Stigma Survey, carried out by HIV Ireland in 2017, reveal that there is some work to be done to improve knowledge about the transmission of HIV, particularly amongst younger people. 

The surveys also revealed that for the 4,000 people estimated to be living knowingly with HIV in our country today there is still a degree of stigma – stigma arising from lack of knowledge, and sometimes, we must recognise, from pre-existing forms of prejudice based on a person’s sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, class or whether they are a drug user. 

This stigma takes a deep toll, whether experienced at the hands of friends, family, employers or strangers, takes a deep psychological toll on lives of people living with HIV.

So, as we meet here in Áras an Uachtaráin on World Aids Day may I then commend the work of all those organisations here today for raising awareness of HIV amongst the public, and of offering support and advocacy to those living with HIV. May I thank too all our health and social care professionals working in the Health Service Executive, in our hospitals and in other bodies for your dedication and your hard work.

May I also take this opportunity to salute the bravery of all those individuals who have taken a stand against discrimination.

As a people, we are more aware than ever, in this decade of centenaries, of the urgency to build, by our thoughts and deeds, a republic of equal citizens. This demands of all us a spirit of inclusion and a duty of kindness, of compassion, and above all, of solidarity and respect towards others, whether at home or abroad.

Through your work, your advocacy, your support services, and your campaigning you are making this republic of equals a reality. I would like to conclude by thanking you and re-iterating once again what an honour it is for us that you all could join us today.

May I thank Camille O’Sullivan, and Feargal Murray on piano, for providing our entertainment tonight – what a wonderful pleasure it is to hear and see one of our country’s greatest performing artists.

May I also thank our first aiders John Gold and Josephine McGlinchey from the Civil Defence, and all the staff here at Áras an Uachtaráin who have worked so hard to make this night a success.

Presidential Distinguished Service Award For The Irish Abroad

Áras an Uachtaráin, 30 November 2017

Now more than ever, the compassion, empathy and generosity of spirit, so characteristic of Irish people in our better moments, and displayed by all of our awardees here today, is necessary if we are to meet the challenges I have mentioned.

A Thánaiste,
A Airí,
A chomhaltaí na Comhairle Stáit,
agus a chairde,

Thar ceann Sabina agus thar mo cheann féin, is mian liom fíorchaoin fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh chuig Áras an Uachtaráin le haghaidh na hócáide an-speisialta seo. Is mian liom fáilte ar leith a fhearadh roimh ár n- aíonna speisialta – faighteoirí na bliana seo de Chearnmhír an Uachtaráin um Sheirbhís Dearscna do Ghaeil Thar Lear. 

[On behalf of Sabina and myself, I would like to welcome you all here today to Áras an Uachtaráin for this very special occasion. I wish in particular to welcome our guests of honour – the recipients of this year’s Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad.]

One hundred and seventeen years ago, James Connolly, one of our finest patriots, wrote words which still ring through the generations to us today: ‘Ireland without her people is nothing to me’. More than any other leader of our revolutionary generation, he, as a migrant, understood that our nation should be defined less in terms of territory of geography and more in terms of a people, a people bound together by a shared culture and heritage, a language, a consciousness of a historical experience, all of which should contribute in our potentially finest moments to a commitment to building a more humane and a more just society. 

Such a commitment is exemplified by the achievements of our honoured guests this evening, and that is why we are assembled here this evening, we are gathered to honour their work. The Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad is an opportunity for us to recognise those who have, as you will hear, through dedication and tireless work, extended the boundaries of human knowledge, fostered peace where there was none, elevated the standing and reputation of Irish people throughout the world, and demonstrated, through their actions, an inspirational solidarity and compassion for others, made such a special contribution as it has, continues to exemplify the best of Irishness, and a humane cosmopolitanism, one that is powerfully moral in the sense of Immanuel Kant.

Is mian liom fáilte a fhearadh roimh ní hamháin na faighteoirí de Chearnmhír an Uachtaráin um Sheirbhís Dearscna do Ghaeil Thar Lear, ach roimh a muintir agus a cairde chomh maith, agus tá a fhios agam gur thaistil roinnt agaibh achar mór le bheith linn anocht. 

[May I not only welcome our guests of honour, the recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards, but also your family and friends, some of whom I know have travelled great distances to join us here, for your presence here tonight.]

We also remember those who cannot be here with us tonight.

As 2017 draws to a close, it is worth reflecting on the great changes which are now underway, both globally and here at home. For all those of us who consider ourselves part of the Irish nation, the commemorations of the Easter Rising of 1916 last year brought an important reflection that has led to renewed pride and interest in the greater understanding of our history, one that encourages a confidence of our place amongst the nations of the world, and awareness that there is much which must still be done to truly vindicate the promises of our revolutionary decade. 

We took steps towards an inclusive version of our history, engaging as we did in the task of ethical remembering, a task which will be even more challenging in the coming years. For example, we remembered the contribution of women and their role in the revival and in the founding moments of our State.

We meet now at a time that is one of profound change, not least for our nearest neighbour. Great challenges await us in the coming decades – we are now being confronted with the consequences of our economic and behavioural models on the global temperature, consequences which will only grow ever more serious. 

We are challenged to make a new pattern of trade that can take account of demographic changes, achieve a new sustainable vision of development, and help the beginning of the end of the recurring cycles of global poverty and crises. As a migratory people, we Irish, and more than perhaps most other people, we must be aware of the deep moral imperative to welcome those fleeing war, persecution, famine and natural disasters.  

These challenges will test us all, and today, in recognising and celebrating the best of our Irish contribution to Irish communities abroad and at home and to the global community, we are given examples of the moral, mental and material resources that are available and that we, as a diasporic people, can bring to bear. 


Now more than ever, the compassion, empathy and generosity of spirit, so characteristic of Irish people in our better moments, and displayed by all of our awardees here today, is necessary if we are to meet the challenges I have mentioned. 

These values have been given an inspiring expression in the work of the indefatigable Mary T. Murphy, who has spent her life caring for and supporting those affected by illness, drought, conflict and poverty. 

Some of our recipients this evening are working with the continent of Africa foregrounded in their work – a continent that carries many of the several consequences of global warming, a continent that by 2050 will have 26% of the global population and 38% of the young people of the planet.

It was my honour to visit Mary in Gambella in Ethiopia in November 2014 and I had the opportunity to see at first-hand the impact of her tireless work with those fleeing famine, persecution and war. Her dedication of her life’s work to helping people on the continent of Africa – in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Sierra Leone, in Burundi, and in Ethiopia – is a testament to the best of the humanitarian spirit. It is humbling to consider the influence that Mary’s work has had on so many people.

Another of today’s awardees who has also had an enormous impact on the lives of people living in Africa is Dr William Campbell. In 2015, Dr Campbell became the first Irish-born scientist to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine in recognition of his discovery of avermectin, the derivatives of which are used to treat two of the world’s most damaging parasitic diseases. 

As a result of his pioneering research, River Blindness has been almost eradicated, while the spread of Lymphatic Filariasis has been significantly reduced, positively impacting the lives of millions of people. 

Dr Campbell’s Nobel lecture was so impressive as it spoke of the process of discovery involved. It is truly an example of the best in modern science: simple in its origins, multi-disciplinary in its development, and universal in its impact.   

Our connection with Irish America and its influence on our history and historical scholarship cannot be overestimated. In present day Ireland this continues and in a unique contribution to post conflict healing. In 1975, Denis Mulcahy, a New York Police Department Bomb Disposal Officer, founded Project Children. 

Over the course of thirty-six years, this Project brought over 20,000 young people – Catholic and Protestant – from Northern Ireland to encounter each other in the safe environment of North America and Mr Mulcahy has justly been a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Mr Mulcahy, Project Children, and the hundreds of families who supported the hosting of thousands of children from Northern Ireland during the Troubles, were the subject of a recent documentary, “How to defuse a Bomb: The Project Children Story”, narrated by another of today’s recipients, Mr. Liam Neeson who unfortunately is not available to be here with us today. 

Liam Neeson has made an enormous contribution as a voice for Ireland on the global stage of international entertainment, and through his support for the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, where he started his career, and the Irish Arts Centre in New York, where he now lives, has played a vital role in Irish culture both at home and abroad.         

One of the televisual highlights of the last years commemorations was the historical documentary, 1916, with which Liam was centrally involved.

Another representative of Irish-America being honoured this evening is Patricia Harty, Patricia co-founded the Irish America magazine in 1985, which has, since its inception, become a powerful voice on a range of political, economic, social and cultural themes that are of importance to the Irish in America. 

Voices and activists like Patricia’s are integral to maintaining the strength of relationship and feeling between Ireland and the United States, which has been, and is, so important to generations of Irish people, at home and abroad.

Our post Brexit circumstances have sharpened our gaze towards Asia, long before that we had distinguished connections through such thinkers as Lafcadio Hearn. Tonight we celebrate our contemporary connections to Japan through a special person.

Hideki Mimura, although born and raised in Japan, has worked to promote Ireland for many years. He was instrumental in arranging the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Tokyo more than 25 years ago and has continued this work throughout Japan, which he carries out with his great affection for Ireland, Irish people and all things Irish. 

Our two countries, island nations at the periphery of Asia and Europe, share not only a unique and ancient culture, but also a shared future of infinite possibilities, exemplified by the work of Hideki Mimura.

Coming nearer home, to our most proximate neighbour, between 1955 and 1960 a quarter of a million of Irish left as emigrants, approximating 50,000 per year.  They went, women and men, largely to Britain.

Being honoured this evening is Jacqueline O’Donovan is a hugely respected and successful member of the Irish business community in London. Her pride in her Irish heritage and commitment to the Irish community is reflected in all the work she does with our community in London, including as Executive Board Member of the Women’s Irish Network. 

With her typical Irish spirit, she has been a generous donor and sponsor. Her generosity includes the giving of a most precious resource, her own time, to a number of Irish charities including the Brent Irish Advisory Service, London Irish Centre, London Irish Film Festival, Irish Youth Foundation and the Irish Cultural Centre Hammersmith and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in London.

I have said that we are a migratory people and continuing our migratory emphasis, another voice of the Irish in Britain, part of that wave of the 1950’s is Bernard Canavan, an artist whose distinctive work addresses the economic and social experience of Irish emigrants during the 20th century. 

Bernard Canavan has had a number of highly acclaimed exhibitions on these themes both in Ireland and London, themes that are intrinsic to our experience as a people. 

Through his art, writing and scholarship – including as an editor of the History Workshop Journal - Bernard has done so much so to bring the experiences of the ‘forgotten Irish’ in Britain into our collective consciousness, and it has been through his work such as his visual art that we are impelled to remember those who should never be forgotten, whose circumstances of origin and destination are an essential thread in the tapestry of our history.

“To be forgotten”, Paul Ricoeur wrote, “is to die twice”. There is then a vital moral significance to Bernard’s art, and I am very pleased that the producers of the documentary of his life, currently being prepared, can witness the appreciation of the Irish people for his work, that is expressed through this award today.

There is hardly an adult on this island who will not recognise the name of General John de Chastelain which is synonymous with the peace process in Northern Ireland and the tireless work of countless people to achieve that hard-won peace. General de Chastelain helped forge the Belfast agreement, the blueprint for peace on this island, signed on Good Friday in 1998. We would not have achieved that historic agreement without the generous assistance we received from our friends abroad. Recent events have reinforced the centrality of the Good Friday Agreement to the future of our island, and we must work as tirelessly today to maintain it as General de Chastelain and others did to achieve it.

Professor Marianne Elliot is another friend of the Irish peace process, particularly as a member of the international peace commission, the Opsahl Commission, and was co-author of its report, A Citizens' Inquiry. 

She was a co-founder of Irish Historians in Britain and the British Association for Irish Studies, as well as Director of the Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, which she did so much to help establish, and has been a pioneer of the pursuit of Irish Studies in Britain. 

We are deeply indebted to her for her historical scholarship – a scholarship that has deepened our understanding of the role of religion in the history of this island, that illuminated the lives of Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet, and which indicates the international dimensions of the United Irishmen.

I would like to take this opportunity also to thank the members of the High Level Panel who deliberated on this year’s Presidential Distinguished Service, Mr Niall Burgess, the Secretary General Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade; Mr Martin Fraser the Secretary General Department of the Taoiseach; Mr Art O’Leary, the Secretary General of my own office; Ms. Sally O’Neill Sanchez; Professor Declan Kiberd; Father Bobby Gilmore and Mr. Kingsley Aikins. I am delighted to see so many of them here this evening.

Mar fhocal scoir, is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le gach aon duine d’ár bhfaighteoirí don méid atá déanta agaibh, agus atá á dhéanamh agaibh fós, fiú i ndorchadas an gheimhridh. Cuireann bhur gcuid oibre in bhur dtíortha cónaithe ar leith go mór le clú agus cáil na hÉireann, agus is cúis bróid agus inspioráide sibh ar fad.

[Finally, I would like to thank again each and every one of our award recipients for all that you have done and continue to do, even in the darkness of winter. Your hard work in your respective homes adds to the reputation of this small nation, and you are a source of pride and inspiration to all of us.]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Óráid an Uachtaráin Uí Uigínn agus dealbh Phadraic Uí Chonaire á nochtadh aige

An Fhaiche Mhór, Gaillimh, 23 Samhain 2017

A Aíonna Oirirce, agus a Chairde,

Tá an-áthas orm a bheith anseo tráthnóna chun onóir a thabhairt do Ghaillimheach cáiliúil agus chun an saothar ealaíne seo a nochtadh.

I dtús báire ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh le Príomhfheidhmeannach Chomhairle Cathrach na Gaillimhe, Brendan McGrath, as an gcuireadh fial a thug sé dom a bheith in bhur gcuideachta inniu. Tá a fhios agam gur féidir liom a bheith muiníneach de go mbeidh fáilte chroíúil romham nuair a thugaim m’aghaidh siar thar an tSionainn.  

[I would like to begin by thanking Galway City Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath for the kind invitation to be with you today. I am always confident of a very warm welcome when I travel west of the Shannon.]

The name Pádraic Ó Conaire is synonymous with Galway. Though born here in the city, he spent his formative years with extended family members in Connemara and in County Clare following the untimely death of his parents in 1887 and 1894.

Despite attending such august learning institutions as Rockwell College and Blackrock College, the young Pádraic was never overly academic and left school in 1899 with no formal exams or qualifications.

Ach an oiread leis an iliomad daoine roimhe, thóg sé an bád bán go Londain agus chláraigh sé láithreach le brainse Londan de Chonradh na Gaeilge, mar ar aimsigh sé a chúinne féin mar mhúinteoir agus mar scríbhneoir Gaeilge. Go deimhin is ann a d’fhoilsigh sé a chéad ghearrscéal sa bhliain 1901, dar teideal An tIascaire agus an File sa Chlaidheamh Soluis, páipéar nuachta Éireannach agus náisiúnach, gan é ach naoi mbliana déag d’aois.  

Is ar théamaí na bochtaineachta, na himirce, an uaignis agus an alcólachais, agus ar théamaí eile nach iad, a dhírigh sé, den chuid ba mhó, ina chuid scríbhneoireachta luaithe. Scaip a cháil go tapa agus in 1906 bhuaigh sé gradam an Oireachtais as a shaothar gearrfhicsin ghruama Nora Mhárcais Bhig.

Fuair sé ardmholadh chomh maith as an novella Deoraíocht in 1910 agus tarraingíodh aird, freisin, ar a chnuasach gearrscéalta An Chéad Chloch in 1914.

By 1917 he had completed Seacht mBua an Éirí Amach, arguably his seminal work. Remember this was only one year after the rising, and the scars and wounds were still fresh. His script was accepted by Maunsels, who had published works by Padraig Pearse amongst others. Publisher Edward MacLysaght had the foresight to see what an impact Ó Conaire's writings would make and bought the copyright for a mere £50.

The book had to pass through a censorship process, but due in no small part to the influence of RIC Head Constable Peter Folan, a Connemara man with nationalist sympathies, the book was published in April 1918 in its raw unedited version.

Ba é Padraic Ó Conaire a leag síos caighdeán na scríbhneoireachta sa Nua-Ghaeilge.  Bhain sé leas as an nGaeilge san iriseoireacht chomh maith, céim cheannródaíoch eile. D’fhéadfaí a rá gurbh é an scríbhneoir Gaeilge ba nuálaí a tháinig as an Atbheochan Ghaelach agus le linn a shaoil ghearr d’fhoilsigh sé níos mó ná ceithre chéad gearrscéal, sé dhráma agus úrscéal gearr, chomh maith le thart ar 200 aiste iriseoireachta.

Ceapann údair ar nós Declan Kiberd go bhfuil an milleán ar chriticeoirí toisc nár aithin siad tábhacht Uí Chonaire don litríocht. Is féidir an rud céanna a rá faoi chúrsaí pholaitíochta agus aitheantas an phobail. Sheas Pádraic sna toghcháin áitiúla mar shóisialacht agus mar bhall den Lucht Oibre, ach chaill sé a “deposit” [thaisce]. Ní raibh a thuairimí radacacha inghlactha ag muintir na cathrach ag an am sin.

Ar aghaidh linn mar sin go dtí an phríomhchúis a bhfuilimid anseo inniu. Is ábhar aoibhnis an mhacasamhail de dhealbh Phadraic Uí Chonaire a fheiceáil ar ais san áit is dual dó ar an bhFaiche Mhór arís, áit a mbíonn an solas agus an scáth ag damhsa trasna na spéire, agus iad á dtionlacan ag aimsir luaineach an Atlantaigh.

The previous statue had something of a chequered and colourful past. It was a focal point in the city for the native Galwegians and visitors alike. A meeting place for a night out if you were travelling up the country for a match. And more than one marriage proposal has been performed under the gaze of Padraic.

Chonacthas go leor cuairteoirí cáiliúla ina chuideachta ar an bhfaiche sna blianta ó nocht Éamon De Valera é in 1935. Agus ar ndóigh, thug an cúigiú Uachtarán is tríocha ó Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, cuairt air ar an 29 Meitheamh 1963, níos lú ná 5 mhí ó fuair sé bás go tragóideach in Dallas.

Is faoina amharc, freisin, a chonacthas corn Liam Mhic Chárthaigh ag teacht ar ais le Joe Connolly in 1980 tar éis bhearna seacht mbliana agus leathchéad.

Ait go leor, corraíodh Padraic óna frapa chun áit a dhéanamh do leacht cuimhneacháin don Chinnéideach. Tharraing a athlonnú, go láthair nach raibh chomh feiceálach céanna san fhaiche, go leor conspóide agus alltachta ag an am. Níos faide anonn cuireadh ar ais i láthair níos feiceálaí é taobh le leacht cuimhneacháin JFK.  

Ar an droch-uair, de bharr eachtra loitiméireachta in 1999, b’éigean an dealbh a bhogadh go dtí áit níos sábhailte mar gheall ar an drochbhail a bhí air. Tógadh an bhundealbh ón bhFaiche Mhór in 2004 agus aistríodh ar dtús é chuig oifigí na comhairle cathrach ar an mBóthar Beag agus ina dhiaidh sin chuig músaem cathrach na Gaillimhe ag an bPóirse Caoch, áit a bhfuil sé inniu. Tá an-áthas orm go bhfuil an Sáirsint Vincent Jennings agus an Garda Frank Keane, arbh iad a d’aimsigh ceann na bundeilbhe, anseo linn inniu.

I'm delighted to see Pacella Uí Chonaola, granddaughter of Albert Power and her husband Dara here today.  Albert was of course the creator of the original statue. Their daughter Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola is secretary of the Albert Power Society and campaigned for many years for the replica statue to be erected in Eyre Square.

Bhí croílár aitheanta na cathrach ar iarraidh ar feadh na mblianta, agus dá bharr sin tá tábhacht nach beag ag baint le hócáid an lae inniu. I ndiaidh cúpla iarracht gan rath, ceadaíodh coimisiúnú an phíosa  bhreá seo ar deireadh. Teilgeadh an mhacasamhail chré-umha seo as múnla na bundeilbhe agus tá sé socraithe ar bhonn cloiche, as áit chónaithe mhuintir Uí Chonaire i Ros Muc i gConamara, a bhronn an teaghlach orainn.  

So many people must be acknowledged for getting us to where we are today. Firstly, the elected Members of Galway City Council, who provided the impetus and the funding for the creation and installation of the replica.

Ón tús, bhí baint an-mhór ag foireann Chomhairle Cathrach na Gaillimhe leis an tionscadal, ina measc an Rannóg Pobail agus Cultúir agus an Rannóg Caitheamh Aimsire agus Fóillíochta; san áireamh bhí Colm Ó Ríordáin, Pat McHugh, Kevin Neary, Patricia Philbin agus Gary McMahon, a raibh baint mhór acu leis an togra.  

Teilgcheárta CAST i mBaile Átha Cliath, go háirithe Leo Higgins – a fuair coimisiún chun macasamhail chruinn den bhundealbh a chruthú i gcré-umha. Agus nach breá an píosa den scoth atá cruthaithe acu.

I would also like to acknowledge the staff of Galway City Museum – Brendan McGowan & Eithne Verling – where the original statue continues to be housed. Brendan is an acknowledged expert on the subject of the original statue.

Artist, teacher and sculptor Maurice Quillinan from Limerick acted as Sculptural Advisor on the project from early days, his expertise proved invaluable.

Tá buíochas ar leith ag dul do Jane Conroy agus do mhuintir Uí Chonaire. Tuigim go bhfuil cuid den chlann tar éis taisteal ón mBreatain agus ón Spáinn le haghaidh na hócáide seo. Chuir siad an chloch eibhir óna n-áit chónaithe i Ros Muc ar fáil, mar a luaigh mé roimhe seo, áit ar thóg a uncail Padraic ó bhí sé aon bhliain d’eag d’aois.

Bhuail an fhoireann tionscadail ó Chomhairle Cathrach na Gaillimhe leis an gclann mí Feabhra seo caite chun coincheap an bhalla a bhfuil an dealbh suite air a chur chun cinn, ionas go bhféadfadh cuairteoirí suí in aice le Sean Phadraic agus an traidisiún a athbheochan go bhféadfaí grianghraf a ghlacadh agus tú le taobh na deilbhe.

Ba í Jane a mhol an chloch eibhir as Ros Muc a úsáid agus glacadh go fonnmhar leis an smaoineamh. Roghnaigh Denis Goggin agus an máistircheardaí Réamonn Ó Flatharta an chloch agus dhear siad agus thóg siad an balla timpeall ar an dealbh.  

Bhí rianú, cóipeáil agus greanadh na bunscríbhinne, atá taobh leis an mbundealbh agus atá cuimsithe anois sa bhalla, i gceist; is éard atá scríofa sa chló Gaelach ann – “Pádraic Ó Conaire, Fíor Ghaedheal agus Sár ughdar Gaedhilge, Rugadh 28-2-1882, Fuair Bás 6-10-1928”. Tagann leaca aolchloiche bladhmtha Chill Chainnigh sa cholbha go maith leis an aolchloch atá sa timpeall ar an bhFaiche Mhór. Tá an láthair chruinnithe ar ais i nGaillimh arís, agus cá bhfios cé mhéad ceiliúr pósta, corn Mhic Cárthaigh agus Mhig Uidhir a thiocfaidh i láthair sna blianta atá amach romhainn!

Ba mhaith liom clabhsúr a chur ar mo chaint le freagra a thug an dealbhóir cáiliúil Edward Delaney, a raibh cónaí air i gConamara, nuair a iarradh air sainmhíniú a thabhairt ar phíos ealaíne agus dúirt: “No one should ask what a work of art is.” Paradacsúil, teibí, ach i gcónaí ábhartha. Tá seasmhacht ag baint le saothar agus oidhreacht Edward Delaney, agus tá sé ábalta cur suas le lorg aimsir na hÉireann agus níl aon amhras orm ach go ndéanfaidh an saothar breá ealaíne seo an rud céanna.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh

“OF THE DISCOURSE THAT WE NEED” Speech at Social Justice Ireland Annual Social Policy Conference

Croke Park, Dublin, 21 November 2017

...At the heart of our present discontents lies a deep and growing disjunction in the distribution of power and authority, not simply between the citizen and the state, but between the state and legally protected concentrations of wealth and power....

Justin [Kilcullen],

May I thank you for your kind introduction, and may I thank also Social Justice Ireland for their invitation to address this conference today.

A Chairde,

I was very pleased that Dr. Healy included a quote from the late T.K Whitaker in the preface of the programme. Last year, I had the opportunity to reflect on his life - a life dedicated to the service of this society and its citizens- and I quoted then, and may again quote now, his vision of economic expansion as means not an end:

“Let us remember that we are not seeking economic progress for purely materialistic reasons but because it makes possible relief of hardship and want, the establishment of a better social order, the raising of human dignity, and, eventually, the participation of all who are born in Ireland in the benefits, moral and cultural, as well as material, of spending their lives and bringing up their families in Ireland.”

The theme of this conference echoes such a vision. – Addressing the changes and the fracture in the relationship between the citizen and society has been a matter of great importance for me throughout my Presidency.

It is a relationship that was fraying long before the onset of the Global Financial Crisis, but it has markedly lost cohesion in these last ten years, aggravated by a global macro-economic policy response that saw the losses in so many economics socialised while the gains of the financial sector were not just privatised, but concentrated at the peak of the wealth and income pyramid. Unprecedented programmes of austerity became mainstream for citizens and countries reeling from the consequences of an era characterised by a new form of lightly regulated speculative capital.

May I contend that at the heart of our present discontents lies a deep and growing disjunction in the distribution of power and authority, not simply between the citizen and the state, but between the state and legally protected concentrations of wealth and power, namely incorporated and non-incorporated organisations, and then in turn between the citizen and the actions and policies of those same organisations. In short, we are coming from a period when the state has retreated, or been ideologically pushed to retreat, or redefine its role, the citizen’s social opportunity to fully participate or flourish, as many social philosophers would put it, has been diminished, and unaccountable sources of wealth and power have advanced.

In place of public or common modes of allocating resources, we have witnessed the expansion of what is often simply referred to as, in a form of shorthand, as ‘responding to the market’. This is offered as the pre-eminent justification for a taken for granted method of determining and distributing wealth and power in our society.

Such phrases come from a strategic, and in so many places hegemonic, discourse, one that rewards a small set of wealth owners, or managers ‘compensated’ for speculative skills, and at the same time serves as a form of mystification, one aimed at hiding a suggestion of inevitability, but in recent times has come to be simply perceived as harsh by an increasing number, for example on the European Street.

The transition, in its day, between The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) of Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations (1776) drew a more extensive debate in the eighteenth century than the changes in contemporary international economies, that are in our time presented as near inevitable, and that are being delivered as their sole policy choice to publics suffering the burden of what Pope Francis has called a ‘plague of indifference’. This includes not just the authors of policies but weary publics that are looking away, averting their gaze from deepening inequalities, the welfare of workers, the plight of migrants. He was referring to publics that, in the absence of technical literacy, felt they could not initiate change, were forced to accept what was socially damaging as ‘inevitable’.

Responding to the necessary transformation of this relationship between economy and society is an urgent priority, in times that are marked, in the absence of an adequate and inclusive discourse, and I believe as a consequence, by the rise of an ever more rancorous rhetoric, often sourced in despair, alienation, anomie, exclusion, which produces statements that seek to divide us against one another on the grounds of ethnicity, religion and nationality.

The persistence of a failure to critique or challenge a political economy which maintains and even deepens existing inequalities of income, wealth, power and opportunity within societies and between nation-states is eroding social cohesion. These inequalities in wealth accumulation are often delivered to the public as celebrations of individual genius. The absence of an inclusive discourse has in too many places led to the recrudescence of a vicious politics of the far-right - that in form, content and iconography – many of us had hoped never to see again.

I do not wish to speculate at length here today on the origins, trajectory or destination of these terrifying new political forces - all of which raise complex questions – except to reflect that political formations of the far-right draw, in part, on the support of those who feel disconnected from the democratic political communities of which they are putatively members, and disenfranchised in their social and economic lives.

I do want to urge caution on misuse use of concepts such as ‘populism’. To dismiss the excluded simply as negative carriers of populism is wrong. There have been after all popular movements that initiated change in the form of achieving or deepening democracy, towards universal health provision, housing and social protection.

I sense that this issue of the missing critical discourse that we need is now coming to the fore.

The silence is being broken.

I believe we are entering a period of time in which, for the first time in many years, the future shape of the European Union will become a matter of contestation and everyday debate.

As we begin to listen, or are induced to listen, to the European Street, the voices may at first appear as inchoate, discordant and incoherent to those of us who may have had the advantage of decades of occasional or adequate engagement with the institutions of the European Union.

We must not be afraid. In the coming debates, we will have an opportunity to draw to on the best moments of our national and European histories, including those significant moments of our most egalitarian and humane traditions, and on the rich sources of solidarity, humanism, innovation and capacity which can inform and transform the experience of the European Street.

We are reaching a critical juncture, for we are indeed at a moment when it is clear that the Union cannot adequately be reconstructed from above, but rather must be renewed and rebuilt from below. This is necessary if we are to recover even a semblance of authenticity for the concept of ‘Union itself’, if the concepts that were invoked at the founding, offered as legitimation of its Treaties, are not to be construed as an empty rhetoric. Again, I use the term rhetoric with care. It has, and can be, emancipatory, if it reveals an authentic intention or purpose and is delivered with consistent practice.

One of our tasks in the next decade must be to restore the cohesiveness of our communities here at home in this country and in the European Union, to elevate, once again, the project of the universal citizen, the welfare and the role of participating citizens in making and shaping their own lives and the lives of their communities.

This necessary task, if undertaken with ethical intent, can contribute to rebuilding and sustaining our capacity and our willingness, as citizens and human beings, to work together to lead fulfilling lives in all spheres of human activity. For it is only by restoring social cohesion that we can confront the great challenges that lie ahead: the requirement for just and sustainable development; the urgent necessity to address the causes and consequences of climate change; and the imperative of welcoming those fleeing war, persecution, famine and natural disasters.

I often feel like asking the difference it would make if we were to consider the concept given to us by Immanuel Kant – ‘cosmopolitanism’ – as a source of our thought, reconciling as it does the best of internationalism with ethical practice at home; if we had made that reflection rather than relying on an uncritical acceptance of the term ‘globalisation’ which really is interconnected trade.

To achieve any new departure, we must be very clear of the causes of our present distempers, and so I am very pleased that many of the papers presented here today reflect on and describe some of the manifold sources of the fracturing of the triadic relationship between citizen, state and society: growing inequalities in wealth and income within and between nations and regions, the rise of new forms of work characterised by precarity, and the threat to, or even curtailment of some of the most foundational elements of our systems of social protection.

May I suggest that we must first acknowledge that these changes in our society are not natural phenomena – the result of the inevitable laws of history or economics – they are the result of a distinctive set of policies and a political philosophy which has been pursued over the past forty years to the point that it has become what the French call the pensée unique, the single permitted form of political and economic thought.

In acknowledging this, we are challenging a discourse which assumes, and often baldly asserts that, amongst all the means, the models of theory and practice, by which we may organise the distribution, consumption, production and exchange of resources in our societies, there are only a few options as sources of policy which may even be countenanced.

I am speaking of course of the theory of politics we know as neoliberalism, a term initially used by a very small group of radical economic thinkers to describe a distinctive and marginal economic and social philosophy.

Developed as a minority view in an age when governments of left and right defended, at home, the consensus of the Keynesian welfare state and, abroad, the international economic order as symbolised by the Bretton Woods agreement, neoliberalism offered a radical alternative vision of human society, simultaneously drawing on a version of the liberalism of the past and the technological possibilities of the future.

Neoliberalism is now widely recognised as a term which describes a philosophy of government, one which has elevated the simplifying assumption of man as a utility-maximising economic agent motivated by a form of instrumental rationality as was suggested in neo-classical economics to now, being as advocated by more fundamentalist adherents, to an organising credo of all human activity.

‘Self-interest’ is elevated into the status of uncontestable assumption, and perhaps often claimed as the only, moral ideal. Its ethic of liberty is, in Milton Friedman’s dictum in Capitalism and Freedom, ‘the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow man’.

Based upon these two foundational principles, Friedrich van Hayek took from Ludwig von Mises a term ‘catallaxy’, from its use in antiquity, to describe the process by which relative prices guide and co-ordinate production and consumption revealing and satisfying the preferences of ‘the rational individuals’ imagined by neoliberals.

It was an alternative usage to Aristotle’s ‘Oikonomia’ which meant a direct a single household. Hayek’s term was to refer to a group of individuals interacting in accordance to their shared self-interest.

The accuracy of prices, it was suggested, is considered necessary to ensure the most efficient use of resources, and such accuracy is of course considered to be created by competition and competitive exchange. Decision-making in this model is devolved, at least in theory, to the rational utility maximising individual, so that any notion of the ‘common good’, that is revealed, or might evolve, by deliberative discourse, is to be regarded as suspect.

Some distinguished economists did of course engage with this and went on to expose the tenuous basis of this assumption pointing, for example, to what was a galaxy of asymmetries of information in the practical delivery of the market.

This version of economic thought, neoliberalism, which became hegemonic in many political settings in recent decades implied and required a retreat for the state and other non-market mechanisms from any role in the allocation of resources. Accordingly, it implies the extension of the utilisation of the price mechanism to allocate resources – or to put it another way, the creation of markets – to ever more realms of public life.

I recognise that only a minority of economists subscribe to the Hayekian or Friedmanesque extremes of this political theory, and fewer still would elevate it to the status of the organising principle of human society. Nonetheless, ‘neoliberalism’ appeals to neo-classical economic theory for validation, as it seeks to subsume legitimate questions of public policy under supposedly unchangeable or immutable laws of what it suggests is human nature. Reductionist in its assumptions, the problem is that the assumptions and the consequences of its overreaching influences on technocratic policy shapers have not been subjected to sufficient scholarly critique.

We can describe whole policy programmes based on the political theory I have outlined as neoliberal. I speak of those programmes which are concerned with the creation of markets where there were none, the demand for markets where they are damaging to social protection or participation, or the retreat of the state from control of or intervention in, the operations of markets.

This evaluation of what was once a marginal theory has required an affirmative decision to withdraw on the part of the state, and often, following this to the erection of elaborate mechanisms to reregulate market operations along the lines elaborated in theoretical economic models. As the scholar of international economics Susan Strange said, ‘it is very easily forgotten that markets exist under the authority and by permission of the state, and are conducted on whatever terms the state may choose to dictate, or allow’.

If I may, I wish to illustrate this point by examining the policy-induced changes in international monetary system over the past forty years, and to compare and contrast the policy regime of the post-war years, adopted during the thirty-year expansion of employment, output and productivity adopted between 1945 and 1973, with the neoliberal policy regime which gradually replaced it, and which still today is embedded in the thinking about international financial markets. For example, when we speak of ‘globalisation’, a usage that trips easily off tongues, far from introducing a conceptual system open to scrutiny, we are really referring to the outcome of the policy of liberalisation of capital markets.

At the heart of the post-war policy regime lay the Bretton Woods currency system, which represented a compromise between the visions of the British representative John Maynard Keynes and the New Dealers of the United States.

As part of this compromise, a fixed currency based on the dollar – which itself would be convertibility to a fixed quantity of gold – was established, protected and policed by a system of capital controls with the addition of flexibility in the adjustment of exchange rates from time to time.

The international relations scholar Professor John Ruggie has referred to this regime as a form of ‘embedded liberalism’, as it enabled an element of domestic autonomy to allow governments pursue national goals and construct national welfare states without the kind of sudden adjustment shocks imposed by balance of payment disequilibria which so affected national economies under the gold standard regime of the nineteenth century.

We must recall that this compromise relied on a dramatic suppression of the role of financial firms in the allocation of resources and it effectively subordinated the operation of financial markets to state control through the use of control of movements of capital. As John Maynard Keynes stated, capital controls were to be ‘not merely as a feature of the transition, but as a permanent arrangement, the plan accords to every member government the explicit right to control all capital movements. What used to be a heresy is now endorsed as orthodox’.

Time and time again during the Bretton Woods period, governments would use capital controls to maintain their domestic policy autonomy and, for example, the objective of full employment rather than raise interest rates or reduce government expenditure by way of response to periodic balance of payments crises.

The Bretton Woods system came to an end in 1971, as a result of what has become known as the ‘Triffin’ dilemma. As foreseen by Maynard Keynes in 1944, the use of the dollar as the international reserve currency led to a constant current account deficit on balance of payments of the United States as it was required to supply the necessary liquidity to ensure, for example, the operating of the global trading system.

Successive governments United States were, unsurprisingly, unwilling to reduce domestic economic activity through expenditure cuts, interest rate rises or tax increases to reduce the current account deficits, and instead relied on the imposition of capital controls.

These controls were in turn undermined by the promotion, by certain governments, of the growth of the ‘Eurodollar’ market, which became centred in the City of London. The large quantity of dollars built up by US private and public investment were deposited in international branches of the US banks, at interest rates higher than those allowable by the Federal Reserve in this era.

These Eurodollars created a quasi-international capital market and pool of freely-tradable dollars outside the control of the Federal Reserve. Unable to devalue because of its role as the international reserve currency, unwilling to reduce military adventures abroad or social programmes at home, the United States was placed under increasing pressure during the late 1960s by other states, some of whom threatened to redeem their dollar reserves for gold.

The pool of Eurodollars became a weapon of speculators, who were gradually restoring themselves after decades of financial suppression, to attack an overvalued dollar.

Under such intense pressure and unable to compromise any domestic economic autonomy, the United States, the anchor of the Bretton Woods system and under some pressure from a piece of adventurism by President de Gaulle, presided over its dissolution in 1971, by suspending convertibility of dollars into gold and imposing emergency import tariffs, and price and wage controls.

The collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971 and the Oil Shock of 1973, a sharp increase in oil prices experienced as a result of the embargo imposed by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, brought an end to historic period of economic expansion in the capitalist world.

The ‘petrodollars’ held by the residents of the oil-producing countries were recycled through the Eurodollar market, which in turn, as those of us who were familiar with South American realities in the 1980s will recall, were used to purchase the debt of governments of the Global South.

There was always, throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, among some leaders, the consequences of a possibility of international co-operation that might address the joint economic challenges facing both East and West, North and South. We might recall the Declaration for the Establishment of a New International Economic Order, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in April 1974.

I recall Willy Brandt coming to Dublin promoting its vision, based as it was on ‘theory of interests’ but open to redefining international economic relations.

It demanded the right of developing countries to regulate and control the activities of multinational corporations within their territory; the freedom to nationalise foreign property; freedom to establish associations of primary commodity producers; the provision of economic and technical assistance; the transfer of technology; and an international trade order based on the stable prices for raw materials and generalised non-reciprocal and non-discriminatory tariff preferences. This, to our ears, sounds utopian now, such is the enclosure of the imaginative space.

As we know, the policy response which came – and the political forces behind that response –took a quite different path. The biographers of Julius Nyerere tell us of his meeting on a return from Canada: ‘They mean nothing of it’, and he went on to say, ‘we have lost an opportunity for change.’

The alternative came to be, and the international monetary system was re-founded upon the principles of international capital mobility and financial deregulation, based on the assumption and assertion that private financial institutions would ensure the most efficient distribution of resources internationally, and that newly emboldened financial markets would discipline wayward governments through the changes to price of government debt or through capital flight.

This ‘re-emergence of the global finance’, as the scholar Eric Helleiner has termed it, occurred far more rapidly than trade liberalisation, partly because there were few costs to a state to it unilaterally allowing an unregulated international financial market such as the Eurodollar market to emerge.

The creation and re-creation of financial centres thus facilitated a transfer of accountability, involvement and thus power from the democratic state to the market, and more specifically to new financial conglomerates. These are new phenomena unamenable to influence in many ways and the influence of previous forms of mediating institutions, treaties or advocacy. Capitalism had changed form and its counter-balancing forms were slow to adapt.

The answer to the impossible trilemma posed by economists – that a country must choose, between free capital movement, a fixed foreign exchange rate, and an independent monetary policy – was decisively answered by the renunciation of capital controls.

Central banks were tasked with controlling inflation, and full employment targets were abandoned. Those countries in fixed currency regimes, such as the Exchange Rate Mechanism of the European Monetary System, opted to effectively hide their anti-inflationary efforts behind a commitment to the Mechanism. This became a quasi-constitutional principle, the most often quoted appeal for a solidarity of interests within the Union.

Though some of the initial interest rate increases and monetary policy manoeuvres of the early nineteen-eighties were undertaken under the cover of the monetarist fallacy – one quickly abandoned - that one could control inflation by restricting growth of the money supply I am inclined to agree with the late Tommy Balogh who saw in this policy simply the tolerance of high levels of unemployment to reduce wage inflation, or what he called ‘the incomes policy of Karl Marx’.

Beginning in the Anglophone world in the late 1970s, a programme of neoliberal restructuring was pursued through the removal of all constraints on the growth, use and flows of capital and wealth, the privatisation and contracting out of state assets, the redistribution of income through sharp reductions in the taxation of capital income and increases in consumption taxes and charges for public services, and the use of high interest rates and dismantlement of collective bargaining to control inflation. John Kenneth Galbraith pithily summed up ‘the doctrine of the eighties, namely that the rich were not working because they had too little money, the poor because they had too much’.

As we may recall, one of the effects of the decision to dramatically increase interest rates in the United States – the so-called ‘Volcker Shock – was to increase the cost of repaying the recently issued dollar denominated debts of the developing world which had been purchased with petrodollars often recycled through the Eurodollar markets.

This forced many countries, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, to turn to the International Monetary Fund to service this dollar denominated national debt. In return, as we are all too familiar, they were forced to accept ‘structural adjustment programmes’ based on the ‘Washington Consensus’, the now familiar neoliberal policy prescriptions of privatisation, liberalisation of capital markets, and the imposition of what is euphemistically called labour market flexibility.

The results are well known: reductions in economic expansion, exposure to the volatility of international capital markets; and increased precariousness for working people.

It was only in the late 1990s that senior officials in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank began to doubt the efficacy of the ‘Washington Consensus’, and it is only now that those institutions are beginning to return to some elements of the wisdom of their founding father, John Maynard Keynes, and to recognise that the control by the state of capital flows in the public interest should not only be permitted, but should at times be actively encouraged.

Many of the sources of the fractured relationship between citizen and state that will be discussed here today - increasing inequality in income, power and wealth, the breakdown, in some countries of a positive relationship between productivity and wage growth, the continuing power of overmighty financial markets in misallocating and distorting investment, the increased precariousness of employment, particularly for young people, and even the reduction in the labour share of the proportion of national income - may be traced to the retreat and transformation of the role of the state in the neoliberal era. As I have outlined I believe that this commenced in the 1970s and still, without perhaps the same self-confidence as before, continues today.

I would add one more major player to this list of sources, one which is perhaps indeed one of the most important phenomena of the neoliberal era, and that is the growth of the power, wealth, income and influence of the multinational company.

This should give us pause for thought, for if we return to the idealised ‘catallaxy’ of Friedrich von Hayek, there is an implicit assumption that most economic interactions occur between individuals and firms, rather than within firms.

This lies at the heart of the prescriptions of the role of the market in ensuring individual freedom that one hears from time to time from neoliberals. As the great polymath Herbert Simon observed, a large amount of economic activity takes place within firms, through the lines of authority between company boards, managers, and workers.

The most powerful, and insufficiently transparent and accountable, economic organisation of our time is the multinational company, and the role of such companies in organising production and shaping consumption patterns continues to grow. The United Nations Conference in Trade and Development has estimated that 80% of global trade takes place in value chains linked to multinational firms, or as they accurately describe them, transnational corporations.

One can understand therefore, why much of the present public debate about this power and influence has focused on what would be an appropriate manner in which to tax large corporations, and perhaps more contentiously, in which state the right to tax appropriately resides. I think, however, that the larger challenge before us is to ask the deeper question about why and how some of these organisations earn such extraordinary profits, and why they wield such power over the lives of citizens. We must always recall that when we speak of the market, that we speak, as Herbert Simon reminded us, of large companies with very significant power, power that is not very transparent and as so many instances tells us can claim a new immunity for its actions, for example, in relation to ecological impact and the threats to the health, and indeed lives, of such as indigenous communities.

My friends,

I have, in recent months, had cause to return to the works of thinkers writing in the tradition to which the term ‘Enlightenment’ has been affixed, which, in its Scottish expression, through thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Hume, affirmed that mutual sympathy - the capacity to imagine ourselves in the place of others - and natural sociability constitute the heart of human motivations.

This natural tendency for mutual sympathy, empathy and understanding of the fellow-feeling of others is said, by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, to be the foundation for our conception of justice. Humanity’s concern for justice is, in turn, conceived by Adam Smith to be, in a famous passage of that same work, ‘the main pillar that upholds the whole edifice. If it is removed, the great, the immense fabric of human society… must in a moment crumble into atoms’.

This concern for justice in the moral philosophy of Adam Smith underpins his answer to the question of what constitutes a market economy. It is a type of society. We must recall that any distinction between the market and society was alien to many of the eighteenth century thinkers – for which the actions of autonomous individuals were assumed to have the result of producing and distributing resources with an end of meeting the demand of justice in the absence of a central authority to coordinate economic activity.

The contrast of course is between the ‘self-interested’ individual, and the imaginative, ‘sympathetic’ individual. That is the difference between Adam Smith’s two great texts and it is a difference that would be distorted and exploited in its distortion. As that great economist, the late Kenneth Arrow, reflecting on the Wealth of Nations, observed:

‘we can take it for granted that for society to operate at all, and to function successfully in any sense, we must have an ethical code, that is, some sense of justice. Conduct of an economy of even the most self-interested type requires a recognition of others, or it will not function on its own terms.’

Reflecting on this, we can begin to see that one of the most fatal flaws of neoliberal programmes, whether it be through programmes of disciplinary welfare restructuring or the creation of internal markets in public health systems, is the assumption and imposition of a model of human behaviour which is quite antithetical to our sense of justice, and of ethics.

Relocating economic theory within pluralist cultures that can carry a variety of proposals for the inclusion of a test for justice and ethics suggests itself as basic. I question the capacity of the present, albeit hidden, paradigm of policy which prevails for example in the European Union, to deliver the changes so many of your papers seek. You must make your efforts with the material thrown to you but surely you must provoke a critique of its grounding assumptions.

It is surely appropriate that we reflect on the ethical basis of the modern business corporation, and the moral environment that is created by the often-conflicting expectations regarding corporate behaviour, the frequent setting of expectations of shareholder value against the moral and ethical demands of the wider community.

Dear friends,

What I have said reflects a strong belief, one that I offer with humility. It is that the democratic state as an agent in coordinating economic activity is required-to play an important role in these times, that the need for role has advanced, become urgent even, again, whether those who have responsibility for states and our Union want to discuss it or not. That is a consequence of the financial crisis.

Our new circumstances have emerged almost on a form of auto-pilot. A glaring vacuum faces us as the theory of neoliberalism, which has been incrementally but dramatically emptied of its content, still retains some of its form as policy residuals which have served as an obstacle to the necessary tasks of reconstruction. For example, we simply have not had the kind of public discussion regarding the appropriate mechanism to distribute credit in our country which I believe the crisis should have occasioned.

This State has, in recent years, been well served by our enterprise agencies, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, who have pursued successful interventionist policies – including the provision of sites - to promote domestic Irish enterprise and in the case of IDA Ireland so as to ensure that multinational corporations locate their facilities here.

As Professor Mariana Mazzucato has written, the entrepreneurial state actively creates and shapes market outcomes. We might reflect, at a time of acute housing shortage, and at a time when the most efficient use of the current stock of housing and of residential land is not being made, whether an enterprise agency of similar character to those in other areas might not be warranted, released and resourced to play a role in the market, one that would show the same urgency and the same élan as IDA Ireland or Enterprise Ireland, which I recently witnessed during my recent State Visit to Australia and New Zealand, does in its own activities.

There is today, in this State, a fixed supply of residential building land – fixed by nature but defined by the planning laws of the State, and good planning with provision of housing is a necessary part of a social cohesion. There is a stock of housing, some of which is empty. There is residential land, which much like agricultural land in this country in the nineteenth century, constitutes in some settings, and much like that time, a limited resource. How are we to balance the responsibility of a just use of such for social usage with the absolutist claims of inviolable private title and usage? During the first sixty years of the history of the State, the Land Commission – first established by the British Government in 1881 – continued its programme of intervention in agricultural land, compulsorily transferring under-utilised lands to former tenants. The interventionist role of the State was accepted. The interventionist role of the State has to be adequate for circumstances that change, circumstances that affect the cohesion of society at home and in the European Union.

The European Council, Commission and Parliament last week proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights in Gothenburg, which I am pleased includes a right to housing, and now I hope that we can look forward, throughout the European Union, to leadership and an ambition equal to the needs of our citizens and demands of the present moment.

Dear friends,

We must, as Leonard Cohen told us, ‘ring the bells that can still ring’.

We must not despair. We should not despair, for markets can be made and unmade, shaped, where required, to serve the citizen, and modified or indeed suppressed, when necessary, to serve the interest of the public good. States have, over the past forty years, I have suggested, shaped markets based on an insufficient political theory, insufficient in its conception of human welfare, and insufficient in the capacity to monitor its outcomes. The challenges of the coming decade cannot be met by the outdated orthodoxies.

I believe that in our own country such challenges can be met by drawing on ethical core that is lodged in the best of our political traditions, forged in the long struggles for national independence, for universal suffrage, for economic, social, and civil equality, for the rights of labour, the rights of women, and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.

These struggles, throughout our history, have only been given their fullest expression, and their most authentic expressions, through the demand for a republic of equal citizens, a citizenship which is inclusive, open, generous and relentlessly committed to - through deliberation, disputation and participation in democratic politics – to discerning and achieving the common good.

Internationally, we have a foundation for such action in the agreement signed at the Paris Climate Conference in December of 2015, an important moral milestone, as imperfect as it may be, in recognising the demands of climate justice, and in the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals in New York in September of 2015, in which over 193 states resolved to end poverty and hunger, combat inequalities in income and opportunity, to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies, and to create conditions for a shared welfare or prosperity. This is ‘cosmopolitanism’ in the best sense of the better Kantian writing. In embarking on the great effort required to achieve goals, we must not, and we cannot, rely on a ‘globalisation’ whose freedom extends only to the liberties of the market, and whose vision is so narrow that it can contain but a single ideal of humanity: one formed its own image.

Our gaze must be ‘cosmopolitan’, encompassing humanity in all its cultural diversity, for as Immanuel Kant wrote two centuries ago, our ‘innate right to freedom’ derives from our humanity, our capacity to invent and educate desire, our creative use of imagination and reason, our powers to remember and to anticipate the future, and our universal feelings of sympathy.

Let us then found our efforts on that great ethical imperative he suggested which is to ‘treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end’ in itself.

The challenges of the future can only be met by a narrative of hope, a recognition that we can and will, change our own destinies and our own societies. The horizons of our hope must be ‘cosmopolitan’ in character, extending to all the peoples of globe and across the generations, recognising that all of us on this planet owe to each other a moral duty to remedy, and to prevent, the recurrence and endless rebirth of the injustices of this world.

Speech by President Michael D. Higgins at a Reception to launch Irish Young Philosopher Awards

Áras an Uachtaráin, 16 November 2017

We must ensure that our children learn to think and question from a young age, rejecting the easy option of ‘going with the flow’. They must not be afraid to be the person who asks the difficult questions, the person who changes the tenor of a discussion, while valuing the capacity to listen to alternative opinion.

Tá fíorchaoin fáilte romhaibh ar fad chuig Áras an Uachtaráin inniu, agus tá súil agam gur tráthnóna torthúil a bheidh ann daoibh.

[You are all most welcome here today to Áras an Uachtaráin, to take part in what I hope will be a most fruitful afternoon for all of you.]

Last year Sabina and I had the pleasure of hosting a reception to mark World Philosophy Day. On that occasion, I described the teaching of philosophy as one of the most powerful tools we might have at our disposal to enable our children into becoming and acting as free and responsible citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

I am delighted, therefore, that the focus of this event today is the launch of the Irish Young Philosopher Awards, aimed as they are at encouraging our primary and secondary school pupils to think creatively and humanely around the critical issues and challenges that face our society today.

The aspiration that motivates the awards is that they will help bring about a fundamental and profound change in how we understand the role of education in our society, and how the teaching of philosophy is important not only in itself but as a framework for other subjects as well.

Incidentally, it is my belief that an introduction to philosophy would find a welcome at all stages of the life-cycle. While today we concentrate on  young people, why not introduce enhanced extramural courses to active retirement, citizen action, and other groups? Widening the net of discourse should be our aim.

I am sure many of you here today are familiar with Jostein Gaarder’s novel Sophie’s World which explores the history of philosophy through the educational journey of one teenage girl, beginning with two enigmatic questions “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?”. In that wonderfully imaginative work Sophie comes to realise, early on, that

“philosophy was not something you can learn;
but perhaps you can learn to think philosophically.”

That is a greatly valuable sentence that merits some consideration.

We hear today much talk of a knowledge society, and of how we must educate our children to meet the needs of such a society. There have been many discussions around the importance of the STEM subjects which are, of course, important and influential disciplines that have a pivotal role to play as sources of information processes, technical literacy, the skills that are necessary to prepare us as citizens for the world of work. Yet in conditions of change it is surely important to have the capacity to generate the questions, listen to the suggestions as to how we might live together sustainably in an ethical way.

Recognising that creative thinking is a powerful and vital force in the creation of truly functioning societies, and indeed is a constituent in the field of science itself is important. Both philosophical and scientific thinking rely at their heart on the principle that it is the asking of questions to which there is, as yet, no definitive answer that defines the practice, sustains the wonderment, delivers findings, including serendipitous findings. We must recognise, too, the difference between learning to imitate and the capacity to create – the difference between the mimetic and the kinetic.

There has arisen, however, a false divide between creativity and science – a flawed view that they are two distinct entities, polar opposites almost. That is why I am so pleased that, following the recent introduction of philosophy, as a Junior Cert option, to the national curriculum, the Irish Young Philosopher Awards have been devised to complement the very well-known Young Scientist of the Year competition, which is held in January of each year.

Across the European Union as we read policy suggestions for the future there is evidence of an impatient drive for what will prove to be, I believe, a misguidedly utilitarian approach to education. Such short-term thinking is increasingly taking hold and thus the initiation of these awards is an important milestone. It is an endorsement of the real value of allowing young people to have access to an education that will equip them to think critically and creatively on the problems, dilemmas and decisions that they, and the society they will play a part in crafting, will face in future years. The fullness of life as a citizen should not be confined to the work setting. To do so would constitute a colonisation of the life world.

We have, in recent decades, come under pressure to reduce our education system to one which focuses on what is immediate and utilitarian, that is immediately applicable, that which it is perceived will prepare our young people for the labour market, at the cost of the development of life enhancing skills such as imaginative and analytical thinking. This involves more than the capacity to reason. It involves being able to imagine and deal with the contradictions between what is, what ought to be, what is possible, what can be negotiated with respect. It is important that we do not view our schools as places to educate our children solely as future workers, but not as future engaged and participative citizens. That would be a dangerous road and we must, as educators, parents and members of society ask ourselves how we wish our younger citizens to be educated, and what should be the essential and optional elements of that education.

At the end of the Eighteenth Century we had a discourse that posed such questions as what can we know, what do we not understand, what can we change. Why can we not have such a discourse now? We should be considering if in the late eighteenth century the oppression of Empire and Imperialism could be confronted, the case for Independence and freedom made, can we not ask such questions as what ‘are the consequences of defining freedom so narrowly, often as simply a freedom of the market’?

Worse than that, have we what I have called before ‘the necessary courtesies of and for a pluralist discourse’? While advances in the technology of communication have brought a welcome access to information, a distorted version of industrial freedom has led to what is perceived to be a licence to use not just fake news to distort discourse, but to use the anonymity of sources transmitting messages, messages that can destroy without requiring the authors of such to take any responsibility for the consequences of what they inflict on others.

It might put a question to all of us here - would it be possible for concerned citizens to produce a short guide for our children or schools on the principles of fair argument, respect for difference and the principles allowing the space for opposing views? It is a conversation we urgently need.

Do we not want to inspire our students to become engaged citizens, unafraid to question the status quo, to look beyond the barriers of perceived wisdom, to resist the easy but dangerous group think which is responsible for so many of the injustices in our society?

Do we not wish them to grow up to be citizens who place humanity and solidarity at the heart of what they do, or alternatively are we willing to settle for them to be citizens who simply seek survival in a society/economy relationship poorly understood and for which where we have lost the capacity to critically evaluate?

If we wish for the former we must ensure that our children learn to think and question from a young age, rejecting the easy option of ‘going with the flow’. They must not be afraid to be the person who asks the difficult questions, the person who changes the tenor of a discussion, while valuing the capacity to listen to alternative opinion.

From so much of our public discourse and behaviour is it not clear that we have helped create a subculture of polemical abuse, aggression and anger that serves to block access to truth, wisdom or compassion, not to speak of being an obstacle to our achieving justice.

We are a Republic and, and surely at the very heart of republicanism lies the principle of participative citizenship, and the right of all citizens to be represented and to have their voice heard. Indeed, dissenting voices are essential to any ethical and functioning society. We have seen, in recent years, how the constant reinforcement of an unquestioned culture of inevitability, by like- minded people often in hierarchal and patriarchal settings, of what are presented as inevitable and unknowable forces of economy and society, of the prevalent view as to performance and career advancement, can so badly impair the performance of those individuals and institutions in whom we, as a society, place our trust.

Regaining, earning and restoring trust is one of the greatest challenges of our times. We were let down by our professional safeguards. Notions of voluntary self-regulation have lost credibility with publics across the world. In too many instances across the world corporate ethics has become an oxymoron.

There can be no doubt that a major cause of our recent economic crisis was a failure to question, to scrutinise and to challenge the highly individualised projects of accumulation, and self-centred ideals of consumption, which over time had come to be substituted for models of public welfare shared in the public space and enjoyed in the public world.

Our loss of authenticity brought a terrible alienation into being. Zygmunt Bauman has put it in terms of our being ‘consumed in our consumption.’ It has been easy to confront those holding or seeking public office. What has to be realised is that the complicity among our publics with what came to be painful for so many was not confronted as to the assumptions upon which it was based.

It was a global financial crisis that threw a spotlight on the domination across Europe of the consequences of the discipline of economics being dictated by a single methodology, and the urgent need to revisit the relationship between economic and social policy in a fundamental way. The neo-liberal position in economic theory is a known and knowable position. To question its assumptions did not draw debate, it drew abuse. Some of who did so were told that it was simply a term of abuse by left wing theorists. Yet neo-liberalism was and is in so many economies a discernible source of policy.

Some change has begun in research and economic indicators. We may take some hope in the fact that some international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, have now begun to question what were once sacrosanct policy positions, and the assumptions which underlay them. Scholars and policymakers are now beginning to recognise that the discipline of economics is not diminished by encompassing the concerns of sociology, of history, and of culture, but is made stronger.

Such a welcome critique can be made stronger still by the application of philosophy to interrogate the foundational assumptions of a discipline that so often, in our own times, go unquestioned. Surely it is necessary to know, and to understand, the ontology and epistemology which underpin the economic models and methodologies which have been so influential over the past thirty years. How can the silence from the academy be explained? Does it not reveal a disconnect between sections of what is structured to be an academic community?

Where philosophy is neglected it is not only philosophy as a subject which suffers. It is many subjects that are deprived. There is now an urgency to contest what remains residual of unhelpful, entrenched ideas of a failing paradigm of thought. The challenges of the next decade simply cannot be met with the old orthodoxies. We need mind work.

We are contronted with great challenges, challenges to democracy itself. Social cohesion is fracturing, fading, as inequalities in wealth, power and income are deepening. Within the European Union, cohesion between the Member States has declined 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. 

If we are to meet the challenges we now face, we require a real change in consciousness, reform in institutional thinking and, at a time when the masses of citizens are deemed by some to be too economically illiterate to understand or have a say in, complex fiscal matters, a new contemporary form of literacy.

Indeed, I would 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.

It is critical, therefore, that we facilitate our young citizens to be educated as engaged, informed and participative citizens, respectful of difference, informed of the necessary courtesies of discourse, equipped with the skills to question and challenge decisions made by individuals and institutions in positions of power and authority, ensuring such decisions are ethical, and based on the common good.

If we, as a society, are to achieve a truly ethical and active citizenship it is vital that we acknowledge the need for an education of character and desires, as well as reason and accept, at every level, the need to encourage and support critical reflection and a more holistic approach to knowledge.

There can be no doubt that the teaching of philosophy in our schools can facilitate the fostering of an ethical consciousness in our young people, a consciousness that will enable them to think more critically and to challenge the inevitability of that which is too often presented as given and unchangeable – that will enable them, in the words of Jostein Gaarder, to think philosophically.

Mar sin, táim thar a bheith buíoch dóibh siúd atá ag obair go tréan le go mbeidh an fealsúnacht á theagasc inár scoileanna. Is mian liom mo bhuíochas a chur in iúl don uile duine a d'fhorbair Gradaim Fealsúna Óga na hÉireann, atá á sheoladh againn inniu.

[I am deeply grateful therefore, to all those who work with such commitment to encourage the teaching of philosophy in our schools. I would also like to thank all those involved in the development of the Irish Young Philosopher Awards, which we launch today.]

I am aware that this initiative forms part of a collaborative project dedicated to fostering philosophy in schools developed by Dr Charlotte Blease, Dr Áine Mahon and Dr Danielle Petherbridge. I understand that the idea for the Irish Young Philosopher Awards was created by Dr Petherbridge and developed with Dr Mahon and Elizabeth O’Brien. I have also been informed that much valuable feedback and advice has been received from teachers and students, particularly from Susan Andrews and Elizabeth O’Brien and their students from Temple Carrig School in Greystones and Our Lady’s School in Terenure. I look forward to hearing some of your experiences and views.

In conclusion may I thank you all for joining us here this afternoon.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech at St. Patrick’s National School, installing Camara’s 100,000th computer

St. Patrick's Primary School, Chapelizod, 14 November 2017

Today we have witnessed a remarkable example of how a valuable idea can lead to a very real positive social change.

Is mór an sásamh a thugann se dom a bheith libh inniu sa scoil álainn seo agus chun an deis seo a thapa an éacht suntasacht atá bainte amach ag Camara Education a chéiliúradh libh. Táimid tar éis braithniú le chéile ar lasadh ríomhaire amháin anseo i mBunscoil Naomh Phádraig, i Séipéil Iosóid. Tá a fhios agam go mbainfear an-úsáid as sa scoil seo chun cabhrú libh, a pháistí, in bhur ranganna éagsúla. Ach smaoinigh go bhfuil Nocha Naoi Míle, Naoi gCéad is a Nocha Naoi ríomhairí eile curtha ar fáil ag Camara do scoileanna  in Eireann, san Aifric agus tíortha sa mhuir Chairib cheanna féín. Nach bhfuil sé sin go híontach? 

It is a great pleasure to be here today, and to receive the opportunity to share such an important milestone in the story of Camara Education. We have just witnessed the ‘turning on’ of Camara’s one hundred thousandth computer, and I am sure that the pupils in St Patrick’s National School in Chapelizod are very excited to be taking part in this significant event.

The work of Camara has, so far, changed the lives of over 2 million people in Africa, the Carribbean and Ireland by making available to them the technology that has become such a necessary part of modern life and such an important tool in contemporary education.

As President of Ireland I visit many different places and speak to many different groups of people. Something I constantly urge people to do is to share their ideas for making our country and our world a better place.

It is remarkable to think that so much positive change, stretching from Ireland to  Sub-Saharan Africa, to Jamaica, to Haiti grew and developed because of the creative thinking of one man, who not only had a great idea, but the commitment to turn that idea into something good and positive that would improve the lives of so many children around the world.

Twelve years ago, Cormac Lynch was in Ethiopia and was shocked at the poor conditions in the schools he saw there. He was told by teachers in those schools that one of the things they most badly needed, and would open up a whole new world of learning for their pupils, was computers.

When he came back home to Ireland he made the connection between the many unwanted and outdated computers that are discarded here, and the very real need for those items in some of the poorest places in the world. Cormac Lynch realized that by recycling and updating those computers, we could give something very precious to those school children in Ethiopia – opportunities, hope and a better future.

From that simple, but very important idea, Camara grew and developed and today they bring computers to schools in towns and communities in many parts of the world. Today, as we stand here in this school hall to celebrate this significant chapter in Camara’s story, the children here can be proud to be part of such a story, which connects them across oceans and miles to the many children who have benefitted from the work of Camara.

While none of the children here will remember a time before computers had become a normal part of everyday life, some of the adults may. It was a time when the world felt like a much smaller place; a time when we didn’t have a world wide web that could connect us to other people in homes and schools and workplaces in every part of the globe. In those days not being able to read or write was considered one of the main obstacles to being able to participate fully in society. That is still the case, but in a global and technological age, the definition of ‘literacy’ cannot be confined to reading and writing, but must also encompass the ability to understand and engage in many means of communication including digital media.

Where children are denied the right to do so they are immediately placed in a position of disadvantage and begin life already deprived of the opportunity to achieve their full potential. It is critical therefore that we strive to ensure that young people across the globe are introduced to the world of technology as early as possible. That is, of course, what Camara does and it is in celebration of their great work that we are gathered here today. We know that by the year 2050 forty percent of the world’s children will be living in Africa, a figure which reminds us of how very grateful we can be to Camara for their focus on that part of the world and for opening up a critical gateway to a broader world for so many of its younger citizens.

Before I conclude I wish to say, and I say this in all schools that I visit, that while modern technology has benefitted and continues to benefit our world in many ways, it also has the potential to do great harm if it is used in a manner that is cruel or disrespectful or deliberately unkind. It can be very shocking to see what some people are prepared to say to others when they do not have to do it to their face, how they can be prepared to use their phone or their tablet in a way that causes deep hurt and upset to others. So it is important to always remember that new technology should be celebrated for all the good and wonderful opportunities it can bring to our lives, but must never be used in a way that can bring darkness or hurt into the lives of our fellow human beings.

In conclusion, may I thank all of you here for welcoming me so warmly to St Patrick’s. Today we have witnessed a remarkable example of how a valuable idea can lead to a very real positive social change. My hope for the children here today is that they, too, will be participative and imaginative citizens, with the dedication and drive to turn good ideas into living reality.

Is mór an tairbhe a bhaineann páistí ó shaothair Camara i dtaobh a gcuid oideachais agus is mór an tacaíoch a thugann sé dóibh a bhféidireachtaí a bhaint amach. Tréaslaím libh as ucht an méid atá bainte amach agaibh go dtí seo agus guím gach rath oraibh in bhur gcuid obair don todhchaí.

Camara’s work directly improves the quality of childrens’ lives and gives them hope in their future.  I wish you well as you continue with your important work. 

Thank You.

Speech by President Michael D. Higgins on the occasion of a Reception for Skibbereen Rowing Club

Áras an Uachtaráin, 4 November 2017

A chairde,

Tá áthas orm fáilte a fhearadh roimh chuig Áras an Uachtaráin.

Dear friends,

It is an immense pleasure for me to welcome members, supporters, distinguished Olympians, and community neighbours of Skibbereen Rowing Club to Áras an Uachtaráin, and in particular as it gives Sabina and I the opportunity to celebrate with you all today the historic achievements of an extraordinary club that, since its foundation has achieved so much, and which includes in the most recent period the great achievements of Paul and Gary O’Donovan at the 2016 Summer. The very fact that it is today that we are celebrating has an easy explanation. 

It is a testament to their commitment and dedication, that the O’Donovan brothers were unable to attend the reception for Team Ireland which we held here in August 2016 as they were joining their club colleagues Aoife Casey, Emily O’Hegarty, Mark O’Donovan, Shane O’Driscoll and Fintan McCarthy at the World Rowing Championships.

While today provides me, as President of Ireland, the opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary success of Irish rowing, and the vital contribution of the Skibbereen Rowing Club which has been so evident in the performance of the Irish team at every major regatta. Deserving of a special mention is a parish which was famous for generations among all parishes for its butter, is now even more famous as a producer of rowing champions – the parish of Aughadown.

Today let us honour all athletes, and those who support them, but in particular our rowers.  Mark and Shane have led the way by winning gold at all three World Rowing Cup regattas, the European Championships and, only six weeks ago, in the sweltering heat, at the World Championships in Florida.

Let us pay tribute to Denise Walsh for her inspirational performances this year, in particular at the European Championships in Czechia.  Denise, the grit and determination you showed in the final quarter of the race was truly formidable. 

Over one year ago in Rio de Janeiro, the O’Donovan brothers brought Irish rowing to the attention of the world, and to see them on the podium collecting their medals was an enormously proud, uplifting moment for the whole country. The authenticity of their commitment, their good humour, and the pleasure they so clearly took in their sport lifted the spirits of people not only here at home, but also around the world.  There was something very special, human and authentic about their account of their effort, their preparation for it, and the honest pleasure of having achieved an excellence that put them together with the best in the world.

History records that the first rowing club on this island was founded in 1836 by students of Trinity College, Dublin. History also records that the Skibbereen Rowing Club was founded in 1970, and joined what is now Rowing Ireland in 1971. In a short period of time, you have amassed more national rowing championships than any other club, including some who have existed for over a century and half. You haven’t been wasting your time!

Thinking of comparisons, I had occasion very recently to reflect on this extraordinary record on my recent State Visit to Australia and New Zealand. While I was in Melbourne, a city of nearly 4 million people, I had view on a section of the banks of the Yarra, a 150-mile long river, which contained not less than six rowing clubhouses, all very well appointed, while the river itself was crowded with racing shells in singles, doubles and quads. Compare this to Skibbereen and its surrounding townlands, an area of 11,000 people, and the 21-mile length of the Ilen.

And yet, for all their advantages, the rowing clubs of Melbourne returned the same number of medals as Skibbereen for its country in the recent Olympic Games, an observation quick to the lips of my Executive Assistant, Kevin McCarthy, who was very well informed on such comparisions!

Skibbereen is probably best known, in places abroad, that is until now, as the site of events that are immortalised in a famous but poignant song.  I had occasion to reflect on that more tragic, part of our history when I learned that we would be hearing a performance by Seanie O’Brien of ‘Dear Old Skibbereen’ here today. 

We now know that song was written by Patrick Carpenter, a poet and native of Skibbereen, who emigrated to the United States, where his works appeared in those great journals of Irish-America The Pilot and the Irish World. The quiet grave the lamenting father speaks of in the song sits in the Abbey Cemetery across the River Ilen from your clubhouse. The Cemetery, with the Famine dead buried beneath it stands as a stark reminder of blianta an droch shaoil, the years of the bad life, which Ireland suffered during an Gorta Mór.

As to rowing itself, it has of course an older history than the establishment of formal rowing clubs in our country.  As the wonderful volume edited by Críostóir MacCárthaigh, the Traditional Boats of Ireland – History, Folklore and Construction, reminds us, the use of the rowing currach and naomhóg long predates the establishment of any formal clubs.

Our ancestors may well have tested themselves against the elements and each other, braving the open oceans in boats carefully made with animal hides and frames of willow and hazel to race along the coasts of Cork, Kerry, Clare, Galway, Mayo and Donegal. We were people of the sea and all of our beginnings, I once wrote in a poem, were ‘sea beginnings’. This ancient lineage and heritage may perhaps play some role in a rediscovered native genius for competitive international rowing, given the contemporary expression by not only your club and the athletes assembled here today, but by the influence you have and and the example you have set for clubs across this island.

But our heritage could never but only explain a small part of the achievements of your club and of Irish rowing.  The success of your athletes the whole of Ireland, and the wider world, must now know is above all else the result of dedication, discipline, resolve, relentless work on the River Ilen, possessing a certain disposition of the mind which is capable of impelling the body to do extraordinary things, even when it is exerted to its very limits, and for those who row in teams of two, four and eight, the capacity to work together towards a common goal.

Such success is also a tribute to those who coach, who instruct, who encourage, who train, who prepare, who counsel, and who, perhaps most importantly, impart a certain persistence in athletes for demanding competitions in sometimes difficult conditions.

Skibbereen and indeed Ireland have been fortunate that Dominic Casey has fulfilled that role over many years, shaping generations of rowers and producing – to date – five Olympians and numerous international athletes. I am told that the defining characteristics of the Skibbereen rower that we have seen in international competitions – perseverance in the face of setbacks, a steady faith in their own ability, and a confidence that through hard work they can overcome any obstacle – have been instilled by Dominic over the years.

I know that the nurturing, support and encouragement of friends and family is also crucial to undertaking what can be a grueling process of training and preparation. It is so often parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters who provide that first interest in a sport, and who sustain that engagement throughout an athlete’s life.

It is surely also the case that a club like yours can only continue through the tireless work of volunteers, so many of whom are friends and family.  Whether it be organising and stewarding regattas and other events, maintaining buildings, and fundraising - often at carried out weekends and through long winter evenings, the dedicated work of volunteers is vital.  The success of this club, and its contribution to the country’s sporting success, is a tribute to your efforts, for which I commend and salute you.

In this new golden era of Irish rowing, many of your athletes have now become role models to a new generation of young rowers. The importance of this cannot be understated, as the examples of Timmy Harnedy, and Eugene and Richard Coakley – Irish rowing Olympians all, and Skibbereen rowers all – still inspire this generation of rowers.

Elite athletes give rise not only to other elite athletes but also play a significant role in encouraging the participation of young people in sports. We know that participation in sport tends to decline in the teenage years, and that efforts must be made to ensure that children participate in sport from an early age, throughout their education and in their adult life.

I want to acknowledge, as President, the role your athletes, by their example and by their conduct, have played in inspiring young people to join not only rowing clubs, but also to participate in sport at all levels.

I also want to acknowledge and commend the innovative ‘Get Rowing… Get Going’ initiative being implemented by Rowing Ireland and Sports Ireland, which is integrating rowing into Physical Education classes in schools. I have no doubt that the continuing success of Sanita Puspure and Denise Walsh will encourage young women to participate in this programme.

Finally, I wish to thank you all for the example your club has given to the country of what can be achieved when communities work together towards a common good. You have shown that when we come together with dedication to a common purpose we can, all of us, accomplish great and remarkable feats.  The Community of Skibbereen now becomes known not only as ‘fierce friendly’ but ‘fiercely athletic’ as well.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

We look forward now to listening to the Riptide Movement, and I look forward, in particular, to hearing the performance of Pat Good and Liam Kennedy.

Speech at a reception for the Irish community [AUDIO ONLY]

Auckland, New Zealand, 29th October 2017

‘Ireland and New Zealand - Of some origins and prospects of two nations who share so many who share so many experiences and interests’

University of Auckland, 27th October 2017

For citizens of Ireland and citizens of New Zealand, given our shared characteristics and our shared values, I believe there is so much we can continue to achieve together.

 A Sheansailéir,

A Leas-Sheansailéir,

A Mhic Léinn,

A Dhaoine Uaisle,




Distinguished guests,


Ar an gcéad dul síos is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leat, a Leas-Sheansailéir, as d’fhocail deasa. Is mór an onóir dom é an deis seo a ghlacadh chun cainte libh san ollscoil uasal seo.

May I thank you Vice-Chancellor, for your kind introduction this evening.

It is an honour for me to address this august institution, which has contributed so much to the social, cultural and intellectual life of New Zealand.

As a former University teacher, it is a pleasure at any time to return and speak at a university, but today it is a particular pleasure to have been asked to address a university from which one of the great literary movements of New Zealand emerged.  It had as its image one that many literary revivers or renaissance share.  Indeed it is an image that sits on top of a monument outside the gates of Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of the President of Ireland. I refer to the publication of that short-lived but seminal literary journal, Phoenix, in whose pages were first published the words of Allen Curnow, Rex Fairburn, Ronald Mason and Charles Brasch.  The words of their ambitious declaration were inclusive and must surely ring from the thirties through the decades to us today:

“We are hungry for the words that shall show us these islands and ourselves; that shall give us a home in thought.”


I recall reflecting on these powerful words, their demand for a public culture and a space for culture as I prepared for my first visit to New Zealand in 1999. 

As a former Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in Ireland and President of the Council of Culture Ministers of the European Union in 1996 during the Irish Presidency of the European Union I had been invited to address a symposium organised by the Broadcasting Commission and the Institute of Policy Studies in Wellington, to speak on the importance of creativity, and in particular, the future of public broadcasting. 

On that occasion I spoke, based on my experiences in Ireland, of the crucial importance and the democratic potential of public broadcasting, as invitation to the citizen to experience the timeless, the universal, the unimagined, and in providing a rich source of creativity.  I spoke too, of the dangers of what was then an emerging, or indeed strengthening, perspective, which saw broadcasting as something lesser – as merely a production space for a commodified and homogenised entertainment. 

I reminded my audience of the title of Raymond Williams last public lecture “Be the arrow, not the target” with its powerful advocacy for active, participatory culture as alternative to the mass consumption of homogenised and monopolistic product.

It is a privilege for me to return to this great country now as President of Ireland, and I am grateful for the invitation to address you this afternoon. 

I was fascinated to learn of the early influence of Irish migrants on the development of this university. Its establishment in 1882 owed much to the efforts of George Maurice O’Rorke, the son of an Irish Anglican parson from County Galway, who rose to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chairman of the Council of this University.

As is the case with many Antipodean universities, migrant Irish scholars exerted a significant intellectual influence in those early years. If I were, as a former teacher of sociology, to single out one here today, it would be Hutcheson Macaulay Posnett, author of what is considered by many as one of the foundational texts in the sociology of literature. He was, like many Irish lawyers of his generation, schooled in the comparative jurisprudence of Henry Maine, a method which he extended to the study of literature and political economy. His first work, The Historical Method in Ethics, Jurisprudence, and Political Economy, encompassed a critique of the classical political economy of his day, a matter which remains of enduring interest to me.

The influence of Irish scholars and politicians is but one small strand of a longer and enduring connection between New Zealand and Ireland. In the decade prior and immediately following the Treaty of Waitangi many of the Irish who came to these shores were migrants, sometimes escaped or time-expired convicts from the penal colonies across the Tasman, seeking to make, very often in this city, a new life in the rough and tumble trades of whaling, sealing, and timber-cutting. It was from this milieu, for example, that the Sydney-born Irish father of the Māori politician and government minister, James Carroll, emerged.

Others were colonial administrators and soldiers, who came to serve here during the New Zealand Wars. The best known of the Irish administrators may be William Hobson, the naval commander from County Waterford and first governor of New Zealand who gave this city its name and drafted the Treaty of Waitangi.

In those early years, the pattern of Irish settlement was concentred here on the North Island rather than the South Island, which was then developing according to the template of that champion of systemic colonisation’, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, for despite the involvement of John Robert Godley and James Edward Fitzgerald, both Anglo-Irish colonial enthusiasts, the enterprise of the New Zealand Company had few places for Irish migrants.

It was the Otago gold rush of 1861 that brought the first large influx of Irish migrants, miners who had first sought their fortune in Ballarat and Bendigo, where alluvial deposits were now exhausted, and 49ers came too from across the Pacific Ocean, where ‘gold-fever’ had slowly given way to the imposition of the rule of law by the new state of California.

The impact of this wave is clearly visible when one compares census returns: in 1861, on the cusp of discoveries at the Tuapeka and Waipori fields, the Irish-born population numbered 8,831. Just three years later, there were 20,317 Irish-born living in New Zealand.  The Irish population in New Zealand had doubled.

As Angela MacCarthy, Jock Phillips and Terry Hearn have shown in their research, new arrivals from Ireland followed through what scholars of migration refer to as a process of ‘chain migration’, as Irish people in New Zealand persuaded and, through nomination schemes established by the provinces of the young colony, secured the subsidised passage of their friends and family members. 

This process accelerated rapidly in the 1870s, under the influence of the ambitious assisted passage scheme championed by Jules Vogel. This vast project of the early entrepreneurial state dramatically expanded the possibility for nomination and extended the potential of direct recruitment of new colonists from Ireland – a hitherto underexplored possibility – in some provinces still beholden to the legacies of colonial companies such as the Canterbury Association.

Indeed, it was George Maurice O’Rorke who, as minister for immigration, ensured an increase in the number of recruiting agencies despatched to Ireland. The Irish-born population peaked at 51,406 on the cusp of the Long Depression in 1886, and would slowly decline thereafter as those with Irish ancestries gradually integrated into what would become pakeha society.

The new Irish arrivals of the 1860s and 1870s were predominantly small farmers and rural labourers – men and women who had grown up in an agrarian society - as the historian Donald Akenson has noted. 

They also, for example, shifted the fulcrum of the Irish presence to the South Island. To Canterbury, where Irish men fulfilled the same role as the Irish Navvies of the United States in building the roads, bridges and railways of the rapidly expanding province, and where Irish women were often engaged as domestic servants. On the West Coast, towns like Hokitika, a booming gold rush town, developed, for a time, a distinctive Irish identity, with pubs and taverns named after familiar Irish heroes and patriots. 

The Irish arrivals participated too, with other migrants who came to this land, in the creation of that ‘laboratory of social experiment’ for which the new democracy of New Zealand would become noted. 

If there was a distinctive Irish contribution to a country famed for its progressive legislation, it was perhaps a certain sense of a recoil, an ambition to transcend, from what was perceived to be an oppressive colonial mindset. 

This was deeply understandable given the Irish experience of the effects of oppression and injustice, of opportunity foreclosed by cultural assumptions as to their inferiority, exclusion on religious grounds, and an unjust political economy.  They were, however, perhaps moved too by an impulse to imagine a new world that could be created, with freer institutional possibilities in the southern oceans. 

In the imperial world of the nineteenth century, this was demonstrated by an unusual parallel, indeed a contradiction, as the matter of land reform and land redistribution in New Zealand became inextricably linked, in the eyes of the colonists, with the importance of learning from the failures of landlordism in Ireland.

In 1881, Robert Stout, a Scottish immigrant born on the Shetland Islands and a future Premier, published The Irish Question and its Lessons for Colonists, advocating the use of the then novel land tax as a mechanism to provide land to the small proprietor and prevent New Zealand from becoming an Antipodean replica of the Irish social structure, a country of great landed estates and numerous toiling tenant farmers, and an expanding, grinding poverty.

In the same year, 1881, John Ballance, the eldest son of an Irish tenant farmer and another future premier, attended a mass meeting in Wellington in support of the Irish National Land League, which had been established in Ireland three years earlier to ensure, in the words of its founding resolutions, ‘the obtaining of the ownership of the soil by the occupiers’.

When the leader of the Irish National Land League, Michael Davitt, toured New Zealand in 1896, he found here a reflection of what he felt were the most advanced ideas of his age, many which he had advocated in Ireland: a progressive land tax, land redistribution, a determination to ensure that older people were ensured an income in old age, a faith in the pursuit of the public good, and legislation to ensure labour secured a fairer share of proceeds of growth.  He saw it as a recognition and vindication of a public world that was possible, uniting the efforts of land and labour.

He attributed these policies, he saw as successful, to the influence of Ballance and his lieutenant, John MacKenzie, who of course had witnessed the Highland clearances as a young boy. Davitt wrote of        

“an Irish Premier of New Zealand, aided chiefly by a Celtic Highlander - both of whom knew something of Irish and Scottish landlordism - instrumental a few years ago in moulding the present land laws of the colony on the broad, just and rational principle of ‘the land of a country for the people of the country, and not for any class’”.

We are reminded by such words that it is impossible to ignore the role that ‘the clearances’, ‘the enclosures’ had in creating the huge numbers of vagrants whose crimes would be used to fill the colonies with those transported in humiliating and degrading conditions.

As to dispossession in the country he was visiting, Michael Davitt would also write of the ‘Māori Land Leaguers’ and of Te Whiti, and of how they, as he put it, ‘were beaten by overwhelming forces, but the principle underlying their brave struggle was not crushed’.

If Ireland demonstrated to New Zealanders an imposed destiny that was to be averted, for Irish observers such as Davitt, New Zealand in its turn showed, by its willingness to experiment, to engage in quite new forms of thought and action, and to challenge and overturn the failing orthodoxies of the old world, an alternative pathway to the future.  According parity of esteem, going beyond simply recognizing differences of culture, is a real achievement, to be celebrated in the political space.

Such values and impulses are surely needed now more than ever. We need at a global, national, and international level, a morally informed sense of the importance of human dignity, a scholarship that is able to absorb the impulses of the human street and the human spirit. 

Good scholarship is inclusive scholarship.  We need to reframe  economics, as political economy, in such a fashion as will generate responsible, transparent, responsible policy formation with the capacity to reconnect with our publics.

There is much that we in Ireland can continue to learn from New Zealand, and perhaps much we may learn anew and re-discover together, as we face the great challenges of coming decades, from which we must not shirk our responsibilities: the urgency for just and sustainable development; the necessity to address the causes and consequences of climate change; the resolution of conflicts; both ancient and new; the imperative to welcome those fleeing war, persecution and famine; the ever-present threat of nuclear weapons; and growing inequalities in wealth, income and opportunity.

For citizens of Ireland and citizens of New Zealand, given our shared characteristics and our shared values, I believe there is so much we can continue to achieve together.  We are both small countries who value our democratic traditions and who are authentic in our commitment to international institutions – a commitment expressed best, perhaps, by our shared abhorrence of the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

It was the Irish representative at the General Assembly of the United Nations who first proposed, in 1959, a resolution that would lead to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which has been, from 1968 up to this year, the primary international legal instrument designed to prevent the dissemination of nuclear weapons and to achieve their disarmament.

The virtues required for this achievement were tact, tenacity, and a quiet and stubborn persistence.  As we look forward, what a great gift to humanity and to present and future generations it would be if, as was originally committed, a reduction in nuclear missiles and their eventual elimination was achieved.

New Zealanders can be proud too of those virtues of a steadfast and courageous kind that were required to refuse the presence of the USS Buchanan and secure New Zealand’s status as a nuclear-free nation – namely courage and bravery in the face of the oblique and sometimes the open hostility of the two nuclear-armed states of the day. 

Fortitude was needed and was shown. Fortitude is surely the word that comes to mind, when one thinks, and recalls, the shocking bombing, in July 1985, of the Rainbow Warrior not far from here in Auckland Harbour.  I think that many small nations, in the face of such intimidation might have sought a discrete compromise.  It is rare in international relations to find such an inspiring display of moral clarity.

In June of this year, our two countries, in co-operation with many others, co-sponsored the General Assembly Resolution mandating the convention of a new United Nations conference to negotiate a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This Treaty, adopted in June and opened for formal signature last month, prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. It represents the most widespread acceptance of the threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons.

Some have decried this recent Treaty, signed by so many members of the United Nations, as being without merit.  They have suggested that it lacks force because it does not carry the approval of those who insist on continuing to possess nuclear weapons.  Let us be clear as to what these critics are suggesting.  It is no more and no less than claiming the right to hold what is a veto for the existing nuclear-armed states on policy-making in this area.  Such a view simply echoes the abuse of veto-holding permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations.

Our mutual faith and trust in multilateral institutions and co-operation between nation-states also finds expression in our long-standing commitment to the contribution of personnel to United Nations peacekeeping operations.  Indeed, may I suggest that the principles that have underpinned peacekeeping for six decades – the requirement for the consent of the main parties to the conflict, to implement the United Nations mandate without fear or favour, and the non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate – are more apposite to the sensibility of smaller nations such as ours. 

As to some current challenges, our two island nations have been endowed by nature with a temperate climate, enabling a kind of pastoral agriculture that is to some degree a product of path dependency, reflecting our history as suppliers of primary products to Britain. The entry of Britain and Ireland into the European Economic Community and its common agricultural policy was a significant change for both of us, with differing consequences.

The structure and success of our agricultural industries brings with it a unique challenge for both our countries in the battle against climate change. Agriculture accounts for nearly a third of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, and I understand somewhat more here in New Zealand, which makes both of us outliers when compared to the other industrialised countries who participated in the first commitment period under the Kyoto protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

We have both adopted emissions trading schemes as a policy measure to reduce fossil fuel emissions. These schemes exclude the emissions generated by pastoral farming, which due to our unique emissions profile, will require distinctive, novel, and sometimes difficult policy measures to be directed to dairy and beef farming, even as the temptation is now to increase our national herds to meet rising world demand.

We should not, and must not, underestimate the depth or nature of this task.  The recalibration of our agricultural industry to meet obligations we have accepted by international treaty is an obligation we must, and which we can meet.  We can enlist the benefits of science and technology, but it will also require being resolute in the tough decisions we may need to take, and for which we must educate our publics. 

The agreement signed at the Paris Climate Conference in the December of 2015 was an enormous achievement, representing an important moral milestone, as imperfect as it may be, in recognising the demands of climate justice, and what is the imperative for survival for so many people in this century, particularly in the developing world. The decarbonisation of our societies demanded by the pledge to pursue efforts to limit the global temperature increase to one and a half degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will not be easy, nor can it be made without sacrifice.

It will require the mobilisation of all members of our society engaged in the production, distribution, consumption and exchange of agricultural products to ensure that our countries can contribute to the effort truly required under the Paris climate accord. It will require new ideas, skills and methods, the opening of new frontiers of science and technology, a renewed commitment to the exchange of technical expertise, and, may I suggest, the recollection too of the wisdom of ancient methods, balances and symmetries of ecological management.

The agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals in New York in September of 2015, constitutes what has the potential to be as important an achievement as the Paris climate accord. Over 193 states resolved to end poverty and hunger, combat inequalities in income and opportunity, to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies, and to create conditions for a shared prosperity.

We must not be dislodged or dissuaded from these objectives by any nation, no matter how powerful, that seek to eschew the global common good in the service of narrow sectional interests.

Tomorrow, I will have the great honour to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. I could not help but be put in mind of our own Good Friday Agreement in Ireland, the cornerstone of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland.  In both cases, it is when we see these treaties as ‘living treaties’ as processes towards the achievement of a shared dignity of recognized difference that they can deliver most for us. 

The suggestion that indivisibility may not be the defining characteristic of sovereignty imagined by Thomas Hobbes and Jean Bodin, but that sovereignty may be, instead, a matter of perpetual renegotiation and debate, something shared, carried out in a democratic, respectful and inclusive spirit, is both profound and liberating, especially when it is imagined in practice. The complex and intricate relationships between peoples embodied in these respective agreements require a constant commitment to ensure that they remain living documents capable of achieving the full promise of their possibilities.

Both our nations are small open economies, highly open to world markets, yet also, because of that very openness, vulnerable to changes to international commodity prices, the structure of global value chains, and sudden shifts and shocks to capital and financial flows. The forms of both capital and the nature of their flows have changed radically in the most recent decades of de-regulation. They have created what I suggest is a dystopia.

These economic forces are not natural phenomena nor are they inevitabilities - they are the product of negotiated institutional design and public policy.  Concerted action by states acting in co-operation with each other can, as it has in the past, constrain, control and bind such forces in service of the common good. 

This requires regulation.  It is in the capital flows that are outside regulation, that are not, and never were, available for productive use, that the greatest uncertainties in global conditions, for economies large and small, are sowed. 

The economics of the future will inevitably deal with the challenges of building social cohesion. More equal societies are healthier societies.  Societies with deep inequalities are not viable in terms of a stable, cohesive citizenship.  Wild capital can yield short-term benefits for the few but be destructive for the many.  The forms of capital which prevail within an economy are not the same as each other in terms of consequences.  

We need to privilege productive capital flows that lead to investment strategies that are socially accountable, job-creating, and sustainable.  This requires allowing economies, and the societies which they serve, to level up to, and may I repeat, to reject the suggestion that there is anything inevitable about a dominating hegemon in terms of international trade.  

This has been manifested most recently in the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, to which New Zealand has already subscribed and of which Ireland is now a member.  If these measures are to be at their best, such institutions must channel flows of capital that will enhance the long-run economic growth potential of developing countries and finance sustainable, and sustained, development.

And yet, in this, the tenth year since the Global Financial Crisis, the broader international financial architecture has yielded only most painfully and gradually to change. We should question whether the institutions charged with regulating global flows of capital and finance have the sufficient resources, the appropriate capacity, and, most importantly, the agreed mandate, necessary to achieve the economic and social objectives to which we are committed.

There have been small, revelatory but welcome changes in the advice of the International Monetary Fund on matters of fiscal policy and the control of movements of capital, and the report of the Commission on Global Poverty established by the World Bank, which recommended broadening the conception of poverty to include non-monetary measures of deprivation.

We must ask, as many in the global street are ever more vociferously asking, and most painfully experiencing, as to whether some of the ideas which led to the Global Financial Crisis still underpin global policy?  Those who still believe that private financial markets will allocate resources to their best, most efficient use, and must be allowed to do so without regulation have not gone away. Taking into account the necessity for sustainable and just development, we may well ask on behalf of whose and which interests do they speak and act?

May I suggest that the great matters before us in the coming decade cannot be met with the ideas or assumptions of what are the failing and failed paradigms of a less than democratic, often authoritarian, frequently patriarchal, past.  Our new challenges, in new circumstances, must be addressed, drawing on the best of the new morally-engaged scholarship that values social cohesion.  This is something we must pursue collectively at a global level, with the same vigour and spirit with which our two countries have addressed the threat of nuclear Armageddon.

Can we, in these difficult times, summon again the same openness to new ideas and willingness to break with old orthodoxies that Michael Davitt found here in this country a century ago? Can we bring the same determination to share, to debate, to contest, and to constantly renegotiate sovereignty in a democratic manner shown by the peoples of Ireland and New Zealand have shown in these recent years? Can we bring the same moral clarity and ethical vision, the same courage and fortitude, the same willingness to confront unaccountable power that has been shown by the peoples of this country in declaring and enforcing a nuclear free-zone?

How we answer such questions will determine whether we can confront and overcome the challenges of this new century. It is essential that we retain our optimism, our will, but a good beginning might be to combine our efforts in achieving for our peoples a new literacy on economic and fiscal matters. This brings me back to my first paper in New Zealand in 1999 which was to a conference debating how we might, by defending public service broadcasting, secure and deepen the public world.  That struggle continues in new conditions.  We must not merely hope.  We must imagine, we must change and we must achieve.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh as bhur bhfoighne. Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann is mian liom gach rath agus beannacht a ghuí oraibh don todhchaí. Go dté sibh slán.

President Addresses The Irish Community [AUDIO ONLY]

Christchurch, New Zealand, 26th October 2017

Speech at a reception for the Irish community

Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand, Wellington, 25th October 2017

Speech to Irish diaspora [AUDIO ONLY]

Warwick, Queensland, 22nd October 2017

Speech at an event hosted by Tourism Ireland [AUDIO ONLY]

Sydney Botanic Gardens, Australia

“Sharing the Tasks of Ethical Remembering – Ireland and Australia”

University of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 October 2017

Our words matter and in our present circumstances when anger is the temper of our times, we need to use our words for healing rather than wounding.

A Leas-Sheansailéir, a mhic léinn agus a chairde Gael,

Vice Chancellor, students, friends,

I would first like to acknowledge that we meet today on the traditional lands of the Bedegal people, and to pay my respect to their Elders both past and present.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leatsa, a Leas-Sheansailéir, as d’fhocail deasa réamhráiteacha.

[May I thank you, Vice Chancellor, for your kind introduction to me this evening.]

It is a great honour for me to be here to address you in this University, whose foundation in 1949 represented such an important egalitarian moment in the expansion of university education in Australia and New South Wales. Your on-going success is a tribute to the enduring wisdom of that decision.

This University has contributed so much to writing the history of the Irish experience in Australia, from the seminal scholarship of the late Professor Patrick O’Farrell to the establishment of the Australian Ireland Fund Chair in Modern Irish Studies and the John Hume Institute in Global Irish Studies.

Through its partnership with its namesake, the John Hume Institute in University College Dublin, the Institute is an expression of the closeness of the relationship between Ireland and Australia, and provides an example of the kind of scholarly co-operation across national borders that is to the benefit of all mankind.

The distinguished history of Irish studies makes this University such an appropriate place for me, as President of Ireland, to make a reflection on the depth of the connection of Ireland and Australia, including the heterogeneity the complexity of the Irish contribution in the making and shaping of this country, and it gives me the opportunity of engaging with the challenge of what might be the appropriate remembering and reconstructing of that history.

I am conscious that to mention a phrase such as ‘the Irish contribution’ brings to mind a certain historiographical tradition. This is a trope evident early in the decades before Federation in particular, which Professor Robert Reece has termed ‘contribution history’, that celebrates the accomplishment of political and economic success as the apotheosis of the Irish achievement in Australia.

This tradition has had its moments.  It played an important polemical role in its time and with various intent -: James Francis Hogan’s The Irish in Australia, published in 1887, emphasised the facility with which the Irish in Australia had adopted themselves to legislative affairs in the self-governing colonies of the Antipodes, and thus offered a shrewd rebuke to those who wished to deny Home Rule to Ireland.

Cardinal Patrick Moran’s History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (1895) recast the Irish convicts as martyrs for religious freedom, virtuous forbearers of a Catholic civilisation being constructed between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

P.S. Cleary’s Australia’s Debt to Irish Nation-Builders, published a decade and a half after the bruising conscription referenda of 1916 and 1917, called up the names of no less than twenty-three Irish-Australian State premiers for the purpose of exemplifying the patriotic bone fides of the Irish and to emphasise their contribution in Australia.

This ‘historiography of the contribution’, which articulates the historical experience of a particular cultural or ethnic group, however narrowly or widely defined, as a succession of individual contributions to a singular, but shared, series of national achievements, was aimed at integrating what had been perceived at times as what might be called a specifically Irish-Catholic ‘Other’ into colonial Australian society.

It would not be possible for me today, even if I desired, to simply recapitulate this approach.

It always was, I feel, insufficient as historiographical method and, in that insufficiency, tendentious.  It requires the regret of too much of that which has passed – for example the nature of the arrival experience from the perspective of those arriving, and the response to it from the perspective of the first occupants.

Then too it does not deal with the operation of ‘the System’, that immense apparatus of imperial crime and punishment - and it ignores too, the differing nuanced forms and consequences of settler capitalism, a venture which displaced so many.

It is thus a relatively recent historiography that attempts to deal with the collision of those projects of ‘discovery’, ‘place of banishment’, ‘settlement’, ‘domination’ and above all the subject of the treatment of the first occupants, for, let us never forget, Australia was never, except in the ideological hubris of imperialism, a terra nullius (nobody’s land), ‘an empty land’.

The problem of historiography is a moral one as well as one of adequacy of scholarship. This should not surprise us, as any historiography and particularly one dealing with such a convention as this is likely to be influenced by the dominant popular historical narrative of the time, a narrative which was often, in the times under consideration, narrowly national in its scope, limited in its inclusivity, and increasingly, being used to provide material for the tracts of polemicists rather than historians, whether professional or dedicated amateurs. 

We have moved on and we are very fortunate that much new historical work has been carried out on the experience of the Irish in Australia, particularly the writing since the 1980s, by Irish and Australian historians, many of course with Irish ancestry. Many of these writers have been working too from the Centres for Irish Studies established in the past twenty years, here at the University of New South Wales, at Murdoch University in Perth and at the University of Melbourne.

We are all surely indebted to this recent generation of scholars who have given us such carefully researched and well-presented volumes as Thomas Kenneally’s The Great Shame, The Playmaker, and The Commonwealth of Thieves; Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore; Stuart Macintyre’s Concise History of Australia, which has a relatively recent edition, and a number of specialist studies such as Mark Tedeschi’s Murder at Myall Creek and Claire Dunne’s People Under the Skin.

This scholarship provides a richer and ever more inclusive basis on which to reflect on the Irish experience in Australia.

As I address the challenge of interpreting history as it affected the Irish who came to Australia, I have an impulse, and it is an advantage,  reflecting on the experience of my own ancestor, my grandfather’s brother, Patrick Higgins, born only a few years before the Great Famine – An Gorta Mór – which would leave a million dead and two million fleeing Ireland between 1845 and 1852.

Patrick Higgins and his sister, Mary Ann, arrived in Moreton Bay in 1862 aboard the Montmorency, one of the first ships chartered by the land and emigration commission of the government of Queensland. They ultimately established themselves in Warwick, one hundred and sixty kilometres south-west of Brisbane.

Patrick was a ploughman, atypical in that he had undertaken a year of study in the Royal Agricultural Society in Dublin. In Queensland, he would become a ploughman, manager of a farm, and a landholder. Both he and Mary Ann, who was a laundress, would go on to find spouses and both made a living from the land.

Only months before their arrival, the ‘Erin-go-bragh’ and ‘Chatsworth’ had dropped anchor off Moreton Bay, carrying with them the first Irish colonists recruited by the Queensland Immigration Society, established by Dr. James Quinn, Bishop of Brisbane for the purpose of carrying and supporting immigrants directly from Ireland.

I do not know whether these ancestors of mine were aware of

Father Patrick Dunne’s promise of a ‘tropical, Hibernian paradise’,

or his boast that ‘our people are to be the founders of a great nation’, but I imagine that they and many others saw this land as a new world, free of the oppressions, poverty and suffering of the old, in which they might build a new life. Their accounts of their experience was in terms of engaging with a frontier. This immediately provokes questions.

When I think of my ancestors’ arrival, I cannot help thinking also of those who were there before them on this land and who had a culture that scholars put as old as 65,000 years. The words of that great poet and champion of the rights of her people, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), and her description of the desolation and loss engendered by expanding European influence over what would become the colony of Queensland come to mind. Her words on what was an ancient but now broken symmetry with nature are deeply moving:-

                       ‘The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.

                       The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from                       

                      this place.

                     The bora ring is gone.

                    The corroboree is gone.

                     And we are going.’


What was the character of the Ireland my ancestors’ left?

Those fleeing from conditions of Famine, lucky to survive, survivors of evictions, involuntary exiles anxious to escape, who had been offered a new life were nevertheless entering the lands of people who could foresee their own dispossession.

That was the nature of the land to which they journeyed. It was not a terra nullius.  What was to be made of such an arrival?

These are profound, complex and troubling questions, captured by Judith Wright’s description of walking the beach at Lake Cooloolah:

‘And walking on clean sand among the prints

of bird and animal, I am challenged by a driftwood spear

thrust from the water; and, like my grandfather,

must quiet a heart accused of its own fear’.

Affecting an amnesia towards this period of history, avoiding contradictions upon which I must reflect is not an option. It would be insufficient for me to simply re-iterate a historiography of the Irish contribution to Australia. Instead, I wish to advance here, in this university, the case for what I dare to call an ethic of remembrance.

The construction and contribution of a strategy for an ethic of remembrance has been a project I have been attempting in my Presidency, as a response, partly,  to the commemoration of the formative events that took place in Ireland between 1912 and 1922 - which include foundational acts such as the Ulster Covenant, the establishment of the Irish Volunteers, the 1913 Strike and Lock-Out, the 1916 Easter Rising, the First World War, the Suffrage Movement, the Irish War of Independence and our Civil War.

Remembering, commemorating these foundational acts of 100 years ago in Ireland, might perhaps be viewed as challenges and compared with similar challenges facing Australians reflecting on the first occupants of Australia sixty-five thousand years ago, or the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, or the declaration of terra nullius (nobody’s land), or the long conflict between the Europeans and the Indigenous peoples of this land, or the Eureka Rebellion, or the achievement of Federation, or the Maritime and Shearer’s strikes of the 1890s, or the first landing at Gallipoli on the 25th of April 1915, in that these are all important events in the national consciousness and collective memory of Australia, bearing in mind the rigours that are demanded by the very concept of ‘collective memory’.

The exercise of scrutinising what comprises collective memory is a worthwhile one. It has the capacity to unleash that healing that may come from the journey of remembering, through understanding to what may in time, make possible forgiving.

The challenge of being open to revisiting anew some formative events of the past that we had, as it were, put on a shelf in our mind, is one that could best be expressed as a challenge we all face in all cultures and that includes both Ireland and Australia. 

The purpose of forgiving, for example, as Hannah Arendt saw it was to rob an event of the past of its capacity to deprive one of the realistic possibilities of the present or the imaginative possibilities of the future. There is nothing truly to be gained from amnesia, as comforting as it may be, and everything to be lost, for it is only by acknowledging, questioning, sometimes revising, but always remembering, in an ever more inclusive way, the events of our collective past that we can begin to build a collective future.

That is why, for example, in Ireland, during what we have termed the

Decade of Centenaries, we sought, for example, to restore to our national memory those men and women from the South of Ireland, two hundred and fifty thousand in number, who served in British Forces in the First World War, of whom thirty-five thousand may never have come home.

They shared the terrible experience of war in Europe, at Gallipoli, and in the Middle East, but the Irish returnees were remembered and treated quite differently when they returned to the south of Ireland than the Irish men who fought in the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps when they returned to their new homes.

In remembering them in our narrative so, we seek not to minimise what remain as important, legitimate and crucial debates regarding the causes and consequences of what was, after all, a collision of competing empires that lost a generation in war. What we seek is to recognise the lives of those Irish soldiers lost, and those whose potential and promise were extinguished.

The same instinct of seeking a more comprehensive memory of our past led to a focus on the central role of women in that revolutionary generation of a century ago. A role that had been underemphasised in previous commemorations.

Yet as the most difficult commemorations for us in Ireland still lie before us, for over the next six years we enter the centenary of the crucible of Irish history, our Irish Revolution, our independence struggle, our Civil War and the foundation of the new Independent State. 

The 1918 General Election, in which the plurality of Irish people, newly enfranchised through the introduction of universal suffrage, following the culmination of a long struggle by women and

working-class people in Ireland, voted for a nationalist movement committed to achieving a separate and independent Irish republic which was to be achieved by withdrawing from the British Parliament and

 ‘establishing a constituent assembly comprising persons chosen by the Irish constituencies as the supreme national authority to speak and act in the name of the Irish people’.

At the inaugural meeting of that constituent assembly, the First Dáil Éireann, the newly elected representatives of the people ratified the establishment of the Irish Republic proclaimed in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916. They did this through a Declaration of Independence, and approved a Democratic Programme which outlined economic and social principles, including a declaration of the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the Nation’s labour.

The refusal of the British Government to recognise the very existence of this First Dáil Éireann, which was after all the outcome of national consultation, led inexorably to our War of Independence.

The war was brought formally to a close by the Anglo-Irish Treaty – one of the Irish negotiators was George Gavan Duffy, son of Charles Gavan Duffy, a former premier of the State of Victoria.

Many of those elected to the Second Dáil refused to abide by the terms of a Treaty they claimed was signed under duress. They claimed that they were being asked to accept the status of Ireland as a dominion of the British Empire, which maintained the King as Head of State of the new 26 county jurisdiction.

The election which took place in 1922 was fought on the subject of the Treaty, and the pro-Treaty participants in the election prevailed, securing the majority of votes. Divisions that would be destructive for generations then emerged.

These divisions led to a Civil War, more terrible and devastating in its consequences than the War of Independence, as former comrades and friends found themselves on opposite sides, divided by their ideals, ambitions, and in some cases in their evaluation of the feasibility of a continuing struggle against the British Empire.

We must acknowledge the brutality of that struggle, the viciousness that was unleashed and the brutal tactics that were employed by both sides:

Fifty-three thousand men, many of whom had experienced the War of Independence or the First World War, joined the National Army of the Free State, which supported the Treaty.  My uncle was among them.

Thirteen thousand of those who opposed the Treaty were interned by the Free State. They included my father.

Thus, families and communities were cleaved apart in a bitter war that was to cast a shadow for generations and hamper our efforts to meet the republican ideals set out in 1916.

It is important too to note that in the years leading up to independence, the nationalist movement represented a plurality of opinion, for many nationalists voted for the Irish Parliamentary Party and the policy of Home Rule for Ireland within the Union.

Those from the Unionist tradition, predominantly but not wholly located within the North-East of Ireland, voted for the Irish Unionist Party, which sought to maintain the island of Ireland within a unitary State of Britain and Ireland. For many southern Unionists the partition of Ireland was a bitter disappointment and betrayal.

The Democratic Programme of that First Dáil to which I have referred, whose egalitarian promise represented the emancipatory tradition of Irish labour, was viewed by conservative nationalists with apprehension. Tom Johnson, the drafter of the Programme, sought to follow in the tradition of Wolfe Tone and Michael Davitt – which had sought independence not simply to replace flags or substitute personnel, as important as that may be, but to ensure a more equal and more just distribution of wealth, power and opportunity in Ireland.

These are some of the grave and difficult matters which we in Ireland will be confronting in the coming years. They concern not only personal memories of consequences of the War of Independence and the Civil War, but also profound questions regarding the economic and social trajectory of the new Irish state.

Conscious of my role as President of Ireland during this time of intense public remembering, I argued that the activity should be placed in an ethical framework. In doing so, I was influenced by the works of Paul Ricoeur, Richard Kearney and Hannah Arendt. I believe their work has a relevance for Australian historiographers as much as it has for ours.

There are some principles to such an approach.

First, an imperative to include and recognise those voices in the past marginalised or disenfranchised, whether through the distorted lens of that historiography which E.P. Thompson termed the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’, or by the simple exclusion of certain groups as subjects of history on the grounds of class, race or gender or indeed as indigenous people with an ancient culture.

I think we have succeeded somewhat in fulfilling this principal to some degree in the case of more fully recognising and remembering the vital role of women in the revolutionary movement that culminated in an independent Irish State

Second, against historical amnesia Paul Ricoeur advocated a disposition of ‘narrative hospitality’, which involves being open to the perspectives, stories, memories, and pains of the stranger, the other, the enemy of yesterday, however dissonant they may be.

The process of ethical remembering invites us all to critically evaluate our often-competing foundational myths and beliefs which define and shape our national consciousness and our image of the nation, and to draw our attention from the national to the global, from high politics to the social and economic.

When I was at the University of Melbourne a week ago, I suggested that serious intellectual work must address questions of morality, and of ethics. In this light, I suggested that our publics would gain if economics were to be grounded again in both an ethical and cultural framework: ethical to take account of moral questions, and cultural, to take account of difference and diversity.

Eschewing amnesia then and with some trepidation as to meeting the standards of ethical remembering, I attempt to reflect on the Irish experience of migration – forced, impelled and voluntary in the century following the arrival of the first fleet.

The story of those who were displaced, dislocated, and relocated, sometimes directly by the state, sometimes due to the development of a precocious industrial capitalism, and sometimes of their own volition, that is perhaps most salient to a discussion of the Irish arrivals in Australia in the late eighteenth and through the nineteenth centuries.

The first European permanent arrival to this land occurred 65,000 years after humans first set foot in Australia. This was largely the consequence of a policy of transportation whose origins arose in late sixteenth-century England, at time of acute social crisis, harvest failures and widespread starvation when the English countryside was being slowly transformed by the enclosure of common land, as the public purpose yielded to private power.

Thomas More vividly described, in his Utopia, that sheep would

‘eat up and swallow down the very men themselves’ as tillage gave way to pasture leading in some places to rural depopulation. So-called ‘vagabonds’ and ‘sturdy beggars’ dislodged by this development roamed the land, frightening a governing class always fearful of social unrest. In response, the English Parliament declared, through legislation, that such

 ‘rogues… should be banished from out of this Realm… and shall be conveyed to such parts beyond the seas as shall be… assigned by the Privy Council’.[1]

Initially confined to England in the early seventeenth century, the use of convict transportation was extended to Ireland by the

English Commonwealth during the Cromwellian invasions, when prisoners of war, priests, and vagrants were sent to labour in Virginia and the Caribbean.

This represented both a tool of conquest, and an expression of the brutal political economy of primitive accumulation: the most turbulent opponents of Cromwellian rule were removed, and upon arrival were disposed of as unfree labourers, to serve sentences of seven or fourteen years, in the plantations of the New World.

The transportation system represented a quite different logic in eighteenth-century England, reflecting its origins as a mechanism for social control and, but for some, an instrument for reform and an alternative to the death penalty.

In England, it was driven not by the imperatives of conquest but by the remorseless expansion of the market economy, a process given a new life and new impetus by the Revolution of 1688, and the transformation of the relationship between the people and the land in which they lived and worked, as complex customary rights to the commons, established over many centuries, were extinguished by Parliamentary fiat.

To protect the newly acquired rights to this new private property, the statute book – for this was a Parliamentary process – was marked by a great expansion of criminal offences to which capital punishment applied. The great legal scholar Blackstone complained in the 1760s that there were 160 of such in force, as parliamentarians sought to maintain their faith in the deterrent effect of the hangman even as perceptions of criminality continued to rise.

Recourse to a system of transportation was not a peculiarly English or British phenomenon, but rather a universal expression of the fears and ambitions of empire, a way of disposing of, disciplining, and reforming troublesome, surplus peoples. It was seen as a strategy for dealing with overcrowded cities filled with vagrants considered to be subversive of good order.

In addition to its early period, transportation was used as a means of opening up new frontiers to cultivation and exploitation: Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese convicts were used as indentured agents of imperial expansion, circulating the Indian and Pacific Oceans, to the Americas, Cuba, the Philippines, Java, the Cape of Good Hope, Goa, São Tomé, Brazil, Mozambique and Angola; Russian convicts were shipped to Siberia and Sakhalin Island; and Qing China used convict labour to open up its western frontier after conquest.[2]

We must, then, situate the system of convict transportation within this broader context, and recognise that there is no monopoly on suffering or victimhood.

The Transportation Acts of the eighteenth-century British Parliament were faithfully followed by the Irish Parliament, but adapted for

Irish circumstances, so that by 1735, the judges and magistrates of Dublin were authorised to order transportation as a punishment for vagrancy, a measure which was used far more frequently than in England.   More than 13,000 Irish men and women were transported to North America in this way in the fifty years before the American Revolution of 1776.

We must recall that Ireland in the 1780s and 1790s was in state of intellectual, economic and social ferment. A Patriot party in the Irish parliament, inspired by the American Revolution and reinforced by an armed militia, the Irish Volunteers, agitated for an expansion of the suffrage, an enlargement of the powers of the Irish Parliament, and, though here there was some disagreement, the repeal of the Penal Laws which locked Catholics and Dissenters out of politics and the professions.

Inspired by Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, and disillusioned by the failure of the Patriot party, the Society of the United Irishmen was founded to create an independent Ireland based on, and ultimately with the assistance of, the French example.

Meanwhile in rural areas, secret oathbound societies such as the Whiteboys protested the payment of the tithe to establishment Anglican church, and sought, often violently, to defend the rights of tenant farmers. It was in these years that the term ‘Protestant Ascendancy’ came into common use to describe the precarious social, political and economic dominance of a landed, Anglican establishment, whose greatest threat came, as they saw it, not from any sectarian conflict of the structural contradictions of the society they occupied but from the ideas of the French Revolution.

In such an environment, the British-appointed executive in Dublin was eager to re-commence transportation. It was particularly needed, as they saw it, as nothing like the Hulks - those ageing, decrepit warships which held prisoners previously condemned to transportation off the coasts of England - could be, or were likely to be procured in Ireland. This placed increasing pressure on already overcrowded prisons. Despite this readiness, and several abortive attempts to transport Irish convicts to Newfoundland, the Caribbean, and North America, no vessels from Ireland joined the First Fleet.

The first convicts sentenced to transportation in Ireland departed Cork City on 21 April 1791 aboard the Queen, an overcrowded American-built three-masted, square-sailed West Indiaman, and smallest vessel to participate in the Third Fleet. The contractors,

the slaving firm Camden, Calvert & King, to whom the Irish administration agreed to pay £17 for each convict on board, had been responsible for the infamous Second Fleet, which lost over a quarter of its passengers to disease and insufficient victualling, made all the worse by the use of slave shackles to restrain the prisoners.

The 133 male and 22 female convicts, four of whom travelled with young children, aboard the Queen were still treated cruelly. The second mate, whose duties including the dispensing of the convict rations, reportedly used short weights to serve out 60 pounds of beef in each sitting instead of the 132 pounds agreed as part of the terms of the contract.

The convicts who arrived on the Queen were the first of 36,000 Irish people sentenced to transportation to be sent to New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia between 1791 and 1868.

The transportation of non-political Irish convicts followed the general pattern outlined by Robert Hughes: i.e. a period of ‘primitive transportation’ from 1787 to 1810; the second period was from the terminus of the Napoleonic War and the fifteen years after its conclusion, as rapid demographic and economic transformations and an expansion of the capacity of the state drove an increase in transportations; the third phase, from 1831 to 1840, the height of the System; and the final phase, from 1840, when the introduction of the penitential system and the New Poor Law in England in the previous decade provided a carceral solution to social problems hitherto dealt with by transportation.[4]

A minority of those transported were political prisoners - this consisted of veterans of the 1798 Rebellion and the risings of 1803, 1848 and 1867, who were to be exiled from Ireland.

The arrival of four hundred United Irishmen and three hundred members of their allies the Defenders, including some experienced fighters, caused considerable alarm to the colonial authorities in Sydney, who pleaded with London ‘not to send any more of the Irish Republicans’ who ‘keep us in a constant state of suspicion’.[5] These fears were augmented by the presence of some of the leadership of the

United Irishmen, including ‘General’ Joseph Holt, and later, one his most able lieutenants, Michael Dwyer, whose grave now lies in Waverley Cemetery.

These fears were given substance and form in the Castle Hill Rebellion, as Irish political prisoners, led by Philip Cunningham, fired by news of Robert Emmet’s rebellion of 1803, uttered the familiar cry of ‘Death or Liberty’ and, it is said, the more unfamiliar ‘and a ship to take us home’, and planted the Tree of Liberty at Government House.

Following the death of Cunningham, the remaining ring-leaders were court-martialled and hung in chains at Paramatta, Castle Hill and Sydney.

Joseph Holt, despite his protestations that he was not involved, was sent to Norfolk Island, where he chronicled an experience that, in his words, ‘exceeds in cruelty anything that can be credited’.[6]

Dr. Anne-Maree Whitaker has traced the fates of many of the other United Irishman and found that some prospered under the rule of Governor Macquarie, which is unsurprising. The leadership of the United Irishmen tended to reflect the same social composition as did their French revolutionary comrades, as skilled tradesmen, professionals and merchants.[7] Schooled in radical democratic politics, a number became leaders of the emancipist faction - the eldest son of Richard Dry, a prominent anti-transportation advocate, became the first Australian-born Premier of Tasmania.

Integration into the new colonial society did not dissolve bonds of solidarity between political prisoners.  For example, James Meehan, the deputy surveyor general of New South Wales and most influential 1798 man during Macquerie’s term as Governor, befriended Edward Ryan, who was transported to Australia in 1816 for his participation in the Whiteboys, a secret agrarian society dedicated to defending tenant rights. Ryan, emancipated in 1830, established a pastoral empire at Boorowo, three hundred miles west of here.[8]

Thomas Kenneally, in his wonderful book The Great Shame, has recounted the sometimes tragic stories of the gentlemen revolutionaries and intellectuals of the Young Irelander Movement of 1848 – William Smith O’Brien, John Mitchel, Thomas Francis Meagher, Patrick O’Donoghue, Terrence Bellew McManus, Kevin Izod O’Doherty and John Martin.

Let us not ignore, however, that despite their romantic and generous vision of the Irish nation, profound ethical differences later, emerged between them: after escape to America John Mitchel supported the slave-owning Confederate States while Meagher served as the General of the Irish Brigade in the Union army.

The forces which influenced the free migration of a third of a million Irish people to Australia, like my ancestor, were more complex, for it was the rhythms of the new global capitalist economy of the long nineteenth century which structured their experience.

The Irish economy after the Famine was a small, poor, agricultural one and as such, extremely open to world markets. Fluctuations in agricultural prices and poor harvests could have devastating effects, against a general background of a long transition from arable to pastoral farming, enforced, at times, through evictions, leaving some with no option but to emigrate.  How free or voluntary was such a choice?

As David Fitzpatrick reminds us, Irish emigration to Australia was influenced more by the availability of assisted migration, the fortunes of the Australian economy, and phenomena of chain migration than conditions in Ireland, though they surely were important as to the decision to emigrate rather than the destination.My own ancestors made the journey in 1862, during a period of poor harvests in Ireland and at a time when the American Civil War was raging.

The number of Irish born living in Australia peaked in 1891 with 228,000. Since then numbers have reduced in overall terms and as has the proportion of Irish-born residents relative to the overall population.

One can discern a combination of push and full factors affecting rates of migration, with the relative health of both economies, and the ease of entry to alternative migration destinations having a clear influence on the numbers of Irish choosing to come to Australia.

When one thinks of a Diaspora it is inevitable that one engages with the circumstances of a scattering, the structure of a departure, the strangeness of arrival.  For the migrant, it involves a multitude of sensations that are called forth, the challenge of holding on to what had formed one’s mind and one’s life. 

Then too, what maybe near-overwhelming is the challenge and the magnitude of risks not anticipated, and the urgency that is attached to retaining, recovering, the fabric of friendships, too important as sustenance for the future, to be lost. 

If there is a suggestion that emerges from such an experience, one that is repeated again and again in conditions of migration, it is built around the importance of the construction one takes on of the first crucial encounters between those arriving and those who are receiving strangers.  These early assumptions are crucial, built as they are on pre-conceived ideas.  Is the Other a curiosity? Is the Other a threat? Is the Other a resource? How one interprets the behaviour that is offered by way of answer to such questions is inherently moral choice.

As to an ethical approach to commemoration they, as to making the act of remembering ethical be in in Ireland or Australia.  If we are to learn for the future, surely it seems that what is required is a necessary, radical hospitality of the Other which must be paralleled in the new circumstances by hospitality of discourse that is radical in its inclusiveness – a hospitality of narratives, courageous in restoring that which was elided, courageous in its offering of respect for complexity, above all courageous in defending the right of new futures impelled by the pursuit of moral worth, validated by good scholarly work, never dismissed by obsession with the tools of the inadequate present, or trammelled by a closed historiography.   

Re-engaging with the past in such a fashion releases us from the trap of being moulded by past errors, their justification, or our fear of revisiting circumstances.  Re-visiting our circumstances with an ethical regard for the importance of placing ourselves in the shoes of the Other enables us to be free to interpret our present circumstances and above all imagine alternative emancipatory futures that reach beyond ourselves, any narrow individualism, and that might offer hope to future generations of a symmetry recovered and a planet characterised by the pursuit of peace rather than the preparation of that aggression of thought that is always the preliminary of war. 

Our words matter and in our present circumstances, when anger is the temper of our times, we need to use our words for healing rather than wounding.  In doing so with ethical empathetic intent will I believe, be something that can enormously help our understanding of both our possibilities and our dangers.

Go raibh maith agaibh as ucht éisteacht liom agus guím gach rath agus beannacht oraibh don todhchaí.

Thank you all for your attention. 



[1] Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787 – 1868, Vintage Books: London, p.40.

[2]Clare Anderson, ‘All the world's a Prison’, History Today, April 2016, Vol. 66, Issue 4.

[3] Bob Reece, The Origins of Irish Convict Transportation to New South Wales, Basingstoke, Hampshire, and New York: Palgrave, 2001.

[4] Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787-1868, Vintage Books: London.

[5] H. McQueen, ‘Convicts and Rebels’, Labour History, No. 15 (Nov., 1968, pp. 3 – 30).

[6] Joseph Holt, Memoirs of Joseph Holt: General of the Irish Rebels, in 1798, Volume 2, Harry Colburn: London, 1838, p228

[7] Anne-Maree Whitaker, ‘Swords to Ploughshares? The 1798 Irish Rebels in New South Wales’, Labour History, No. 75 (Nov., 1998), pp. 9-21.

[8] Malcolm Campbell, Kingdom of the Ryans: The Irish in Southwest New South Wales 1816-1890, University of New South Wales Press: Sydney, 1997.

[9] David Fitzpatrick, Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia, Cork University Press: Cork, 1994.

Speech at the Australian Rugby Union High Performance Centre [AUDIO ONLY]

Sydney, Australia, 18th October 2017

Address at an event for Australian and Irish business leaders [AUDIO ONLY]

Sydney Opera House, Australia,

Address To The Irish Community [AUDIO ONLY]

Canberra, Australia, 16th October 2017