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Speech by Sabina Higgins at the Roma Holocaust Memorial

Mansion House, Dublin, 2 August 2017

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dhaoiní chóir,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I went on to suggest that: -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would Eugene O’Neill be pleased?

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

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

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

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

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

Míle buíochas.

Speech at a Community Garden Party

Áras an Uachtaráin, 6 July 2017

A Dhaoine Cóir, A Cáirde Dílis,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to conclude by thanking all those who have worked so hard on behalf of the Áras to make this a wonderful occasion for you.  A big thank you to our MC Maura Derrane and to the talented performers who have provided such magnificent entertainment throughout the afternoon:   Arthur Greene (on piano);   The Irish Prison Service Pipe Band;    Colm Fahy, Ruairí Ó hArgáin, Aoife Ní hArgáin (Trad. Group);  Terry Moylan (Piper);    Síofra Ní Dhughaill (Harpist);  Naoise Ó Briain (Flautist);  the Havana Club Trio;  In the Marqee -  the Keltic Kats;   Ryan Sheridan;  Music Generation Laois,  and Walking on Cars. Sabina and I are greatly looking forward to seeing more performances in a few minutes.

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

On your behalf and my own, I salute the hard work, unfailing good humour and – not least – culinary skills of the staff here in Áras an Uachtaráin. 

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

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

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

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

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

Belfast, Assembly Building Conference Centre, Tuesday 4 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me quote the final paragraph of her book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beir Beannacht d’on todchaí. 

Speech at “Fáilte” Garden Party

Áras an Uachtaráin, 3 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Áras an Uachtaráin, 30 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech at a Garden Party to celebrate Creative Arts and Craft

Áras an Uachtaráin, 27 January 2017

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

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

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

The garden party season is a special time of the year here in the Áras when Sabina and I welcome to áras an Uachtaráin many citizens who have contributed in a special way through their talents, work and indeed genius to Irish society.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to conclude by thanking all those who have worked so hard on behalf of the Áras to make this a wonderful occasion for you.  A big thank you to our MC John Kelly, a legend – who knows more about world, classical, contemporary music, who has more courage in moving us to appreciation of the eclectic than John Kelly; and to our talented entertainers David O'Connor, Cian McBride, Ruairí Ó hArgáin, Barry Ryan, Cormac Keegan, Tara Viscardi, Meadhbh O'Rourke, Setanta Strings, Randolf and the Crokers, Beoga, Duke Special and The Strypes.

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

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

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

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech at a Family Day Garden Party

Áras an Uachtaráin, 25 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Áras an Uachtaráin, 20 June 2017

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

A chairde,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Áras an Uachtaráin, 20th June 2017

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

Áras an Uachtaráin, Monday 19 June 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech at a Garden Party to mark Bloomsday

Áras an Uachtaráin, 17 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to conclude by thanking all those who have worked so hard on behalf of the Áras to make this a wonderful occasion for you.  A big thank you to our MC Mary Kennedy; and to The Stunning, Eleanor McEvoy, the Trieste Ensemble, Brenda and Noel, Little John Nee, the Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band, and the Dublin Male Welsh Voice Choir who have provided such magnificent entertainment throughout the afternoon.

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

On your behalf and my own, I salute the hard work, unfailing good humour and – not least – culinary skills of the staff here in Áras an Uachtaráin. 

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

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


Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech at a Reception for the European Association of Former Members of Parliament

Áras an Uachtaráin, 9th June 2017

Let us acknowledge the current loss of trust on the European street by rebuilding the democratic pact between European citizens and their institutions

Dear friends,

A chairde,

Is mór an pléisiúir dom é fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh go hÁras an Uachtaráin, agus daoibhse atá tar éis taisteal ón iasacht, fáilte go hÉireann. Mar iar-Theachta Dála, a raibh sé de phribhléid agam tríocha bliain a chaitheamh i nDáil Éireann, is mór an meas atá agam ar obair pharlaiminteoirí, dá gcuid scileanna díospóireachta, difrithe agus comhréitigh ar na ceisteanna móra a chuireann cruth ar an domhain mórthimpeall orainn. Mar sin, tá áthas orm an deis seo a bheith agam bualadh libh.

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to Áras an Uachtaráin and, for those of you who have travelled from abroad, to Ireland. May I thank Jim Doolan and Olga Bennett, of the Irish Association of Former Parliamentarians, for facilitating your visit here this afternoon. As a former parliamentarian myself, honoured to have spent over three decades serving in the Irish National Parliament, I have the greatest respect for the work that parliamentarians perform, for their practice of debating, differing, and reaching accommodation on the important issues that shape our public world. I am delighted, therefore, to have this opportunity to meet you.

I understand that this is the first biannual meeting of the Bureau of the European Association of Former Members of Parliament to be held in Ireland, and the theme you discussed this morning in the Seanad Chamber – i.e., the Future of Europe – is one that is of fundamental importance to the shared future of all the countries you represent. Indeed it is one of the central political questions of our time.

Your visit to Ireland comes, of course, at a moment of unprecedented internal and external challenges for Europe. That which seemed inconceivable only yesterday, the unravelling of the European Union, has become thinkable, brought home to us by the thunderbolt of the British decision to exit the Union. Communication, and more alarmingly still, trust, between the peoples of Europe and their institutions is endangered.

We know that, unless decisive political action is taken, unless we create the conditions for a thorough moral and intellectual awakening, the European Union might well perish, and with it a certain idea of Europe – one that is rooted in a spirit of peace, cooperation and solidarity beyond national borders.

For all the gravity of the multiple crises currently facing our Union, it remains my profound conviction, however, that, provided it recaptures the affection and trust of its peoples, a strong and united Europe continues to be the best answer we have to offer to the great challenges of this century, from unfettered financial speculation to climate change or indeed security threats, of which the horrendous attack on London Bridge last week was but the latest demonstration.

Yes indeed, European unity is the best chance we have of shaping the global agenda on all of those new realities that touch and disrupt the daily lives of our citizens. That is the demonstration which all of us who call ourselves Europeans need to make, in practice and in public discourse. That is the great collective task we must tackle, without delay, without getting bogged down in political and economic  fire-fighting, but with long-term vision, and having at heart, throughout, the hopes, the fears, the vulnerabilities and the immense potential of the millions of women, men and children whom our Union of European nations is here to serve.

Parliamentarians, as the elected representatives of those women, men and children, have a crucial role to play in that process. I would go so far as saying that the challenges we face call for a reassertion of the relevance of parliaments, their discourse, and their role in policy formation. This holds true in all matters of public interest, from foreign policy to economic and fiscal policy.

As for the first realm, I strongly believe, as I argued in my Address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, two years ago, that parliaments can and must hold governments accountable for what is said and done, or not said and not done, in the wider world, in the name of their citizens.

Economic and social matters must, similarly, be reclaimed as another essential area for proactive parliamentary activity and discourse. It is not enough to respond to the contemporary crisis of democracy, in Europe and beyond, by resorting simply to formal measures and procedures aimed at increasing transparency and the probity of the political personnel. Those issues of transparency and probity are very important of course, but we must go further. Genuine accountability can never be reduced to a procedural matter; it also has to do with power, its distribution and the effectivity of its exercise by the people and their elected representatives.

Is European democracy not endangered when, for example, that power is leeched from parliaments to unaccountable global financial markets and rating agencies, whose orthodoxy and modes of action are predicated on abstract, de-peopled principles? In the highly complex, fast-changing and globalised world of this early twenty-first century, the challenge facing our national and European parliaments is, I believe, that of finding new ways of claiming back competence, legitimacy and political traction over realities that largely exceed national boundaries and jurisdictions. That is, indeed, a highly complex, if not daunting, challenge. Yet, it is an ambition that cannot be surrendered.

Parliaments matter hugely and they must continue to matter. Centuries of effort have been invested by European citizens in securing the vote. It is to their elected representatives that citizens look for accountability, for opening up new collective possibilities lodged in a variety of policy options, and for connecting them to wider horizons through their work in regional fora such as the European Parliament, or in international, multilateral institutions. Can we let go these hard-won advances? Have we considered the consequences?

As Jürgen Habermas, the eminent German philosopher, has reminded us, without the constant exercise of public deliberation, and without citizens being enabled to submit their arguments to rational disputation, democracy itself will not survive. Parliaments must continue to play a central role in preserving and enlivening the public world that lies at the heart of European democracy - that essential space shared by citizens who must be free to debate in an open and pluralist manner, whose children must be enabled to imagine alternatives to the ideas and practices that govern our present circumstances, in Europe and in the wider world.

Parliamentarians have a most valuable perspective to offer to any holistic response to the contemporary crisis of democracy. Everyday, on the streets, in their clinics, they encounter the hopes, the achievements, but also the feelings of insecurity and precariousness experienced by their fellow citizens. Those are the voices, dear friends, that must be at the centre of any discussion on the future of Europe. And your voices, too, your experience and your perspective, as former parliamentarians, must be a part of that debate.

The voices of the European street are loud. We must listen to them, and respond not by adjusting what is failing, but by offering a vision based on the solidarity of all citizens in all Member-States going forward together. Let us, then, approach the multiples crises currently facing our European Union with creativity, political courage and a renewed commitment to the demands of representative democracy. Let us acknowledge the current loss of trust on the European street by rebuilding the democratic pact between European citizens and their institutions, with a positive regional invitation that is in fit with future global realities and necessary reforms.

Indeed what better solution than a united Europe do we have to offer in responding to the great collective issues currently facing us? Which alternative means of cooperation do we have at our disposal that would enable us to meet effectively the global environmental challenge, the challenge of development, the challenge of demography and large-scale migration and, also, yes, the challenge of democracy, in a context where we are witnessing the rise of so-called "illiberal democracies" and increasingly emboldened transgressions of the rule of law both inside and outside the EU? What better response do we have to offer than a stronger European Parliament, and closer coordination between our national parliaments, to voice the aspirations of the peoples of Europe and give shape to our shared future?

We are, dear guests, at a moment when a new departure is required for our European Union – when a new departure is possible. The time has come to craft new policies, grounded in new connections between ethics, ecology and economy. The time has come to gather our strength and unite our efforts, not to break up the edifice painstakingly built by generations before us. The uncertainty of our global environment will not disappear through the wave of a magic retreat behind national borders. No border, no great wall, has ever stopped the spread of pandemics, the flow of migrations, or indeed global warming. Neither should we, Europeans – who represented a quarter of the world population in 1900, and will account for a mere 5% of it by 2060 – mistake the end of our world for the end of the world.

Let us, if I may invert the words used by Pope Francis in his address to European leaders, in Rome last March, learn to use our wings again and elevate our gaze. Let us recognise those new realities that will shape our future and respond to them in concert, in a spirit of intellectual honesty and openness to contradictory debate. Let us continue to build on the shared experience we have garnered through decades of shared institutional and legislative practice, let us take further the tools of cooperation and solidarity we have created together, and the ability we have developed, in the transnational forum that is the European Parliament, to look at any issue of common interest from different angles, through the eyes of other nations.

Caithfimid comhoibriú seachas scoilteadh. An bealach is fearr atá againn leis an clár oibre domhanda a mhúnlú ná trí Eoraip aontaithe, seachas trí míbhinneas guthanna éagsúla in iomaíocht le chéile, le go mbeidh muid in ann na luachanna gur mór againn a fhuáil tríd, agus cearta agus dínit an duine a chothú, agus don saol domhanda.

[Cooperation is the key, not fragmentation. A united Europe, and not a cacophony of competing voices, is our best chance to shape the global agenda, to infuse it with the values we cherish, to make it more hospitable to dignified human life, and to life in all its form.]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech at the Opening of Shekina Exhibition

Shekina Sculpture Garden, Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow, 9th June 2017

For nature and art are, after all, what make our world truly hospitable – truly habitable.

Dear friends,

A chairde,

Is mór an pléisiúir é dom a bheith anseo ar maidin sa ghairdín dealbh draíochtúil seo "Shekina", áit a bhfuil áilleacht ealaíonta agus nádúrtha ag baint léi agus a bhfuil ina tearmann síochánta athchuimhne agus inspioráide. Is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le Catherine McCann agus leis an Roinn Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gnóthaí Réigiúnacha, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta dá gcuireadh dom an taispeántas dealbhóireachta seo a oscailt.

It is my pleasure to be here with you all this morning, in this enchanting sculpture garden, Shekina, a place of artistic and natural beauty, and an oasis of peace, recollection and inspiration. May I thank Catherine McCann and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for their kind invitation to open the Shekina sculpture exhibition. Catherine McCann has been at once the architect, the patient carer and the guardian spirit of this exquisite garden for more than three decades, and I would like to avail of this opportunity to thank her for the all work and the attention she has given to this place, day after day, for the delight of all.

I am particularly delighted to be able to come back to Shekina after twenty years, and to see the new sculptures that have been added to the garden’s collection. I was Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht when Catherine McCann gifted the Shekina Garden to the State, a transfer which I formalised on the occasion of a visit to this place in 1997. This visit was, in fact, one of the last duties I performed on my final day as a member of cabinet.

Shekina is the quintessence of what a garden represents for us human: a space within which the living nature, artistic aspirations and the imagination meet, a place which convokes ideals of beauty and pleasure – of paradise even. Illustrations of this are to be found throughout history and across cultures. In the Middle Ages, for example, many European gardens were enclosed within walls and they harboured a multitude of symbols alluding to a lost Eden. Conceptions of heaven are also at the heart of the magnificent Arabic gardens, with their fountains and shady archways. We can think, too, of the rich symbolism of the idealised “dried landscape” of the so-called zen gardens which flourished around Japan’s zen Buddhist temples in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The concept of the garden, then, in both its history and its etymology, suggests a bounded space, separated from the untamed wildness of nature, and yet expressing a dialogue – both spiritual and physical, between man and nature. The Shekina garden, located as it is at the threshold of the wild Glenmalure Valley, thus offers itself as a sort of templum, opening onto wide vistas of the rugged Fananieran Mountain sides, while at the same time concentrating and exalting the great possibilities of human work, imagination and creativity, in the fullness of their relation to the natural world.

Here is a place – a small place, of no more than one acre – that invites us to a vast meditation on the joys, but also the mysteries, of creation, in every sense of the word. We are invited to become mindful of an order of life greater than us, as well as being enticed to marvel at a form of artistic creation which draws both its inspiration and its texture from that magnificent, nurturing and immensely generous nature in which we dwell. The twenty sculptures contained in this exhibition, all of them by modern Irish artists, strike us by the very matter of which they are made, whether it is raw natural material, such as wood and stone, or alloys such as bronze, cast iron, and steel, or mixtures such as glass and enamel, all of them transformed, transfigured and transubstantiated, by the work of the human hand and imagination.

These works of art we are celebrating today do not merely belong to the realm of representation and artifice. All of them also evoke and embody a harmonious relationship between the artist's creative endeavour and nature's beauty. That deep sense of harmony stems, as I have just said, from the shape and texture of the sculptures in the Shekina collection, but also from their position in the garden. As the excellent catalogue published for this exhibition puts it, each sculpture has, over time, "grown into the garden, just as the garden has embraced each sculpture.”

Such fascinating – and, let us not forget, age-old – dialogue between art, nature and the invisible powers of the spiritual is splendidly incarnated in the work of Fred Conlon, and in the three pieces of his work on display in this exhibition. I am very pleased to see that one of these sculptures, which was generously made available on loan by Kathleen Conlon, has been placed in the community, in a position to be seen by the many walkers, hikers, cyclists and motorists who take the nearby road to the valley of Glenmalure.

Fred Conlon, as some of you may know, spent his childhood in the townland of Killeenduff, near Easky, in County Sligo. The son of a landless farmer, he experienced the hard world of subsistence living but also the joys of a life lived in close proximity to the natural world. His early and exceptional talent owed him a scholarship to the National College of Arts, a rare achievement for a young man of modest rural extraction in the Ireland of the late 1950s.

According to Fred Conlon’s cousin and biographer, Jack Harte, it was his attendance of a lecture by Françoise Henry on early Irish stone sculpture, from elementary megalithic carvings to the complex patterning of high crosses, which influenced Fred’s artistic direction and his passion for stone carving. Fred Conlon’s artistic practice was one that was intensely physical and committed; indeed the hard labour of carving, cutting, chiselling, drilling, incising, pitching, polishing and carrying did in time take its toll on his muscles and joints, and on his general state of health.

The art of making in granite or bronze or oak is, surely, one that demands a particular cast of mind and body. One cannot easily trifle in such stern materials. The act of sculpting, the process of creation and the unfolding vision of the artist from a block of rough material indeed calls for exceptional aesthetic spirit and courage.

Fred Conlon’s work offers a remarkable illustration, may I suggest, of the encounter between the sensible and the invisible which has been at the heart of the art of sculpture since ancient times, from Egypt and Greece, to India and indeed to ancient Ireland. Inspired by pre-Christians and early Christian stone carvings, Fred Conlon’s work is one in which spiral and curvilinear forms recur. As he himself said:

“My work has been in conjunction with the spiral. The centre is everything. There is nothing without a point of energy. There is in nature and man a great centre of force.”

The presence of such rich symbolism of the heart of this small garden resonates with the promise held in the beautiful name Catherine McCann has chosen for it: Shekina, a Hebrew word pointing to the dwelling of the divine in a place. In the commentary she wrote for the exhibition catalogue, the eminent art historian Paula Murphy describes how Shekina has the theme of creation as the underlying source of its inspiration, and how the attention of the visitor is drawn to a symbolism which is sometimes religious in content, but not necessarily, and never exclusively.

The word that matters here, may I suggest, is that of “attention”. Shekina is a place which calls upon us to pay attention to the world around us, to be attentive to its beauty and also, perhaps, to the webs of meanings that hold it together, for us, humans. Here, we are invited, even more primarily, to slow down, to sit on one of the small benches placed in the nooks of the garden, and recover a capacity for silence and full attention.

Mar fhocal scoir, may I thank all those who tend to this garden – Catherine McCann, of course, but also those in our National Parks and Wildlife Service, who play such a crucially important role in preserving and enhancing Ireland’s natural heritage for the benefit of this and future generations. May the coalescing forces at play here at Shekina continue to enable as many visitors as is possible, or reasonable, to be exposed to the unique experience of the eye of the artist interpreting, re-presenting and animating the wonder of nature. Ours are times when that instinctual alliance between the artist and the cause of nature is, indeed, more needed than ever.

For nature and art are, after all, what make our world truly hospitable – truly habitable. 

I ndeireadh na dála is iad an nádúr agus an ealaíon a dhéanann an domhain mórthimpeall orainn fáilteach agus ináitrithe.

Speech by Sabina Higgins at the Launch of Anne Madden’s new Exhibition; Colours of the Wind – Ariadne’s Thread.

Hugh Lane Gallery, 31st May 2017

This is the work of the artist who must also be a spiritual person, a mystic, an alchemist or at least a scientist

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening to launch this beautifully entitled exhibition – Colours of the Wind – Ariadne’s Thread.

A new exhibition by Anne Madden is always an exciting event on Ireland’s artistic and cultural calendar. Hers is an artistic career stretching back over many decades to when she first began to exhibit paintings inspired by the limestone landscape and kaleidoscopic flora of the Burren in County Clare.

Since then, Anne has become one of Ireland’s most highly regarded painters. She is also an artist whom we are proud to have represent us on the international stage, her work displayed in Irish art museums and modern art collections worldwide.

I remember when I first met Anne in 1996, all of us Irish were grateful to her and Louis le Brocquy to have their assistance and the benefit of the high esteem they were held in internationally when we brought the so successful Imaginer d’Irelandese to Paris to showcase Irish Culture.

I have always loved Anne Maddens work for its celebration of colour. When I think of Anne I think of beautiful amazing blue – I remember so vividly her blue paintings.

This is a wonderful exhibition. The achievement in the creation of the glorious colour in each painting is truly exciting and remarkable. The colour is so vivid, luminous and vibrating.  Anne’s paintings give joy and hope and encouragement but also warn of the threats, and the obstacles that must be overcome.

When viewing Anne’s work, we are inspired to think, and reflect on the enigmatic nature of existence and the complexities inherent in the natural order of things.

This is to me essentially about who and what we are, about our involvement in nature and being a conscious part of that nature, the seen and the usually unseen. The visible and the normally invisible.  The unseen affects us and has influence over us at all times. The elements are very powerful. The exhibition seems to me to be about making the normally invisible visible to help us to understand and more fully appreciate the wonder and preciousness of nature – of life. It is also about our vulnerability.

The story of Ariadne’s thread is, of course, focussed on a greatly complicated journey of discovery – a journey which reminds us that life is a byzantine adventure, presenting us with multiple choices and decisions as we walk our own individual path in search of meaning and purpose.

It is about consciousness and our task of becoming conscious individually and globally so we find and hold on to that golden thread, that Ariadne found, and letting it help guide us through all the positive and negative developments in our journey through life.  The paintings express the usually invisible nature that is our world and makes it available for our perception and understanding. It is made manifest as vibrating and radiating colours. They are beautiful. The vivid colours are of the whole spectrum of light from flowing hot red and oranges to luminous pink and violet.  There is also one with pure blinding white light.

In remarkable painting’s such as the Aurora Borealis Anne captures the auras of the emanations of nature as it is undergoing its ephemeral existence.  We see the gold thread weave through the plasmas as it flares through the spectrum, through true blue and orange and red and indigo.

I find it exciting that an artist will set out to translate the wind into colour. It entails first of all being able to see the wind and interpret its vibrations and the sensations into the corresponding colour in the light colour spectrum. This is the work of the artist who must also be a spiritual person, a mystic, an alchemist or at least a scientist.  Someone who journeys into the unknown and brings back the gold and translates it into treasure that will give off its vibration to all.  What a great artist experience when they are in the zone is known only by what they produce. 

I seem to remember that in St. Matthew’s gospel – I think it was Jesus asked the preachers “where does the wind come from” and they answered they did not know and he said “if you do not know about the things you can see how can you speak about the things you cannot see”.

I think the golden thread of Ariadne, weaving its way across the canvas, curling around and about her, speaking of the need to find our own thread to guide us through that maze of life, suggests it is a thread that will often coil back on itself, enabling us to constantly renew our journey with different perspectives and new visions.

This exhibition is an important one, and an inspiring one, reminding us that art is a powerful vehicle for addressing the anxieties and complexities of our day.

As a society, we can be deeply grateful to artists like Anne, whose lifelong commitment to her art has made, and continues to make, such a profound contribution to our society.

I am delighted, therefore, to have had the opportunity to come here today to be in the presence of these paintings and to pay tribute to Anne, and to officially launch this wonderful and exciting exhibition.

Thank you very much.

Speech at the Celebration of the Bicentenary of Dún Laoghaire Harbour

King George IV Monument, Dún Laoghaire, 31 May 2017

Tá áthas orm bheith anseo i nDún Laoghaire inniu le bheith páirteach libh chun dhá chéad bliain de Chuan Dhún Laoghaire a cheiliúradh. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le Gerry Dunne, Príomhoifigeach Feidhmiúcháin agus le, Eithne Scott Lennon Cathaoirleach Chomhlacht Chuan Dhún Laoghaire, as a gcuireadh fial flaithiúil agus leis an gCathaoirleach an tUasal Cormac Devin as ucht na fáilte a chuir sé romham anseo inniu le feidhmiú ag an searmanas seo.

[I am delighted to be here in Dún Laoghaire today to join you in celebrating 200 years of Dún Laoghaire Harbour. May I thank Gerry Dunne, Chief Executive Officer of the Harbour Company and Eithne Scott Lennon, Chairperson for their kind invitation and An Cathaoirleach Mr Cormac Devin for welcoming me here today to officiate at this ceremony.]

Dún Laoghaire Harbour is a place deeply embedded into Irish history, and has played a profound role in the lives of generations of our people. Two hundred years ago, when the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl Whitworth laid its foundation stone it was envisaged that the harbour would principally be a refuge for ships from bad weather. On the night of 18-19 November 1807, two troopships, the Prince of Wales, and the Rochdale, which had departed from Dublin, were driven onto the rocks between Blackrock and Dún Laoghaire with the loss of over 400 lives. This disaster gave new impetus to an existing campaign for a harbour to be constructed near Dublin, and by 1816, the legislation was passed authorising the construction of what is now called the "West Pier".

Across those two centuries, the harbour has evolved, adapted and adjusted and is today very much a place of community, leisure and enjoyment, contributing greatly to the vibrancy and popularity of Dún Laoghaire.

Today is a joyful celebration of Dún Laoghaire Harbour and the significant role it has played, and continues to play, in the life of our nation and our people. Although this is a celebratory commemoration, let us not forget the workers who laboured over a period of approximately twenty-five years, in dangerous conditions, to construct this harbour. There was enormous complexity and risk involved in the blasting and moving the stone which was quarried in Dalkey, Glasthule and Dun Laoghaire, to construct the two fine granite piers we see today. Of the thousand or so workers who took part in that dangerous work, many lost limbs, their sight and even their lives.

So, let us today remember those workers, and reflect on the importance of promoting and achieving decent and dignified standards for human work, and of upholding the principles and legal instruments that we, today, are fortunate to have had bequeathed to us by generations of committed men and women who sought to establish the rights of workers.

Indeed, it is remarkable, as we stand here today, to remember the very different Ireland in which this Harbour was conceived and constructed, and the long and eventful journey our nation has travelled since the foundation stone for Dun Laoghaire Harbour was laid in 1817. Just as the harbour has witnessed the rise and fall of sea levels here in Dun Laoghaire across the years and decades and centuries, so too has it observed the tides of history in our constantly evolving nation.

The beginnings of this harbour are rooted in an Ireland under British rule, and an Ireland that in 1817 was experiencing a famine that was to claim 65,000 lives within two years. This tragedy, of course, was to be dwarfed thirty years later by the cataclysm of An Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, whose legacy is so deeply embedded in our national psyche.

Across the lifetime of the harbour the ever-changing tide of Ireland’s history has seen us undertake the long and difficult journey which would culminate in a newly independent State. It has seen us, along with the rest of Europe witness the devastation wrought by two World Wars. On the 10th of October 1918, shortly after leaving the harbour, the RMV Leinster was torpedoed by a German u-boat, bringing a taste of the carnage of the First World War close to home. Over 500 lives were lost off the Kish bank that day, 99 years ago.

The harbour has been witness to how our nation, once divided against itself, has made such significant progress towards full peace and reconciliation. And it has, of course, seen us become a vibrant and multi-cultural nation adapting to a greatly changing demographic.

Today, the life of the harbour and its surrounds continue to adapt and change as part of a modern Ireland that faces new and complex challenges in this global and interconnected age. Indeed, an important part of this bicentenary celebration will be the capturing of this contemporary moment through the placing in a few minutes of a time capsule beside the monument of King George IV, which has been here since 1823, I understand. The capsule will contain letters from local school children, photographs of the Harbour taken during this bicentenary year, messages from some of those who use the harbour, a copy of today’s newspaper and a letter from An Cathaoirleach.

All of these items, which speak of the everyday life of our citizens, form an important preservation of the present for a generation yet to come; a generation whose lives and society will be so much shaped by what has gone before. Just as we are all custodians of history, recipients of stories, anecdotes and accounts of the past, handed on to us by previous generations, so also we are recorders of the present moment which will craft what is yet to come. We do not yet know the full shape of the society that will exist when this time capsule is opened, but I have no doubt that its contents will provide interesting and informative reading for those who inhabit that society.

Dún Laoghaire Town and Harbour have undertaken their own interesting odyssey throughout the last two hundred years. The transfer of the mail boat service to Dún Laoghaire from Howth harbour in 1826 and the extension of the railway from Dublin city in 1834 to service it, transformed what was then a small fishing village into a suburban town of considerable scale and significance.

With the combined growth in efficiency and speed of both the railway and steam packet ships, the harbour became an important centre for travel between Ireland and Britain. Indeed, it became a point of departure for many of those who emigrated from Ireland and is etched into many individual family histories as a place of sad farewells and new beginnings of hope and optimism. Most of the emigrants who left through Dún Laoghaire landed at Liverpool, many settling there and in other parts of Britain, and many others finding further passage on ships going to America or Canada, their descendants now proud members of Ireland’s global family.

Today, of course, Dún Laoghaire Harbour is very much focussed on marine leisure activities and of course, the harbour is synonymous with sailing. While it no longer provides commercial port activity, the amenity value of the harbour continues to grow, as can be seen from the array of yachts and sail boats which are docked here.

Indeed, over the past number of years Dún Laoghaire has played host to some of the most prestigious European and World Sailing Championships and will, next year, host the World Laser Masters Championship - the first time this prestigious annual world championship will be sailed in Irish waters. It is indeed a testament to the sailing community in the harbour that it has produced such fine ambassadors for sailing, including more recently Annalise Murphy, our wonderful Olympic silver medallist.

Níl aon amhras ann faoi thábhacht leanúnach Chuan Dhún Laoghaire ná an cion leanúnach atá ag daoine air, ní amháín ag saoránaigh na háite féin ach ag an iomad daoine a thagann anseo chuile lá. Ba thógáil croí dom an deis a bheith agam teact anseo inniu agus an slua mór daoine a fheiceáil a bhailigh le chéile chun an comóradh tábhachtach seo a cheiliúradh. Is comhartha suntasach é sin de ról bunúsach Dhún Laoghaire san aonú haois is fiche.

[There can be no doubting the continued relevance of Dún Laoghaire Harbour, and the ongoing affection in which it is held, not only by local citizens but by the many people who visit here every day. It has been most uplifting to have the opportunity to come here today and witness the large crowd gathered to celebrate this important anniversary. That is a great testament to the integral role of Dún Laoghaire Harbour in 21st century Ireland.]

May I conclude by thanking all those individuals and organisations involved in the ongoing commemorations here in Dún Laoghaire. I would like to mention, in particular, all those who have worked tirelessly to organise the numerous events around the harbour and the town to celebrate this historic initiative, the bicentenary of the harbour. I would encourage everyone to get involved in the celebrations and to continue to enjoy and treasure this wonderful amenity.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech at a reception for members of the Inter-Action Council

Áras an Uachtaráin, Tuesday 30 May 2017

At a juncture when the voices of fear and entrenchment are, everywhere, becoming louder, let us not relent either in our efforts to affirm that ours is a world that requires more, not less, solidarity, more, not less, understanding of complexity, and more, not less, cooperation on the common issues facing humanity.

A Chairde Gael,
Distinguished Guests,

Tá áthas orm fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh go dtí Áras an Uachtaráin agus go hÉireann. Tá súil agam go raibh lá tairbheach agaibh ag an chéad cruinniú iomlánach den Chomhairle Idirghníomhaíochta a reachtaíodh in Éirinn. Daoibhse atá ar bhur gcéad turas go hÉireann, tá súil agam go spreagfaidh an chuairt seo sibh le filleadh ar feadh cuairte níos faide!

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to Áras an Uachtaráin and to Ireland. I hope that you have had a fruitful first day of discussions on this first plenary meeting of the Inter-Action Council to be held on Irish soil. I am particularly pleased to welcome your Co-Chairs, Bertie Ahern and Mr Olusegun Obasanjo. Bertie Ahern is a former colleague of mine in Parliament and Cabinet, a member of our Council of State, and an architect of peace and inclusive governance at home and abroad. 

For those of you who are seeing Ireland for the first time, I also hope that this initial visit will inspire you to come back and explore further the many human and natural riches this island harbours, a land where an ancient Celtic civilisation was infused and reshaped by Viking and later Anglo-Norman influences, and then by the harsh stamp of centuries of colonisation by our nearest neighbour, with whom we now have forged strong bonds of friendship, symbolised by, for example, the exchanged visits by our Heads of State, and put into practice every day in the social, cultural, economic and political realms. This is what has created the unique social and cultural tapestry that is contemporary Ireland.

I am glad to have this opportunity to meet you, and to reflect with you on some of the shared challenges, but also the possibilities for cooperation and renewal, that lie ahead of us in this new century. Your experience as former statesmen and women, and the freedom you now have to think, reflect, suggest and act with the wisdom that a long-term view allows, emancipated from the too often insatiable and impatient pace of active political life, are precious assets which you bring to the great collective tasks of this generation.

The foundation of The Inter-Action Council in 1983, and the particular contributions of Helmut Schmidt, Takeo Fukuda, and Pierre Trudeau had the aim of combining the wisdom of experience in Government with the most rigorous analytical scholarship from the academy.

The International Declaration on Human Responsibilities in 1997 carried this spirit forward. Now, twenty years later and on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights adopted by the United Nations, it has a renewed importance.

We are in possession of two international agreements, the great achievement of 2015 in Paris and New York – An agreement to tackle the impact of Climate Change and a call to replace exploitative development with sustainable development. 

Our world is a world of multilayered structural, political and technological changes. These changes however, are both understandable and amenable to an ethical response if we can create a global consciousness that is respectful of diversity, and committed to inter-generational justice. We are, as you so well know, faced with challenges that are now interacting on a global scale: population expansion, migration, climate change, desertification and deforestation, water shortages, dramatic situations of conflict and war, changing trade conditions with a possibility of a resile to a narrow assertion of special interests on the part of the most powerful. These are all issues that remind us of the web of interdependencies that weaves all of our nations together, as well as weaving us all, humans and non-humans, to Mother Earth. They are also, crucially, issues that have yet to be met with an adequacy of mind and heart translated into policy.

You are so right in identifying the significance of water as a source of international conflict. The delivery of science and technology within a sustainable and inclusive framework is also a theme you are discussing. We must have the courage to enable science and technology to leap over borders and create new options of application in the most populated parts of the planet.

Indeed, we must never allow ourselves to forget that the unresolved issues of global poverty, food insecurity, environmental degradation, unsustainable levels of debt, abuses of power, by commission and omission, are the legacy of paradigms of thought and practice that are insufficient and are failing, and in their failure presenting us with challenges as a global community. Yours are voices that can call, usher in the new paradigms of thought, policy and practice we need. We must have the courage of course, not just to identify the crippling contradictions of our age, but also to encourage our citizens to empower themselves with the necessary information and intellectual skills to challenge the assumptions that sustain those contradictions. 

Is it not the case, for example, that the narrow theory of interests that motivates the foreign policy of too many nations is the source of some of our greatest collective problems, be it from unfair trade to a reluctance to decisively tackle global warming? Is it not the case that an uncritical theory of growth, not submitted to the tests of sustainability and inclusiveness, has made us blind to the destruction of the natural systems upon which human life, and all forms of life, ultimately depend? 

Is it not also the case that a focus on a bureaucratic efficiency, a limited form of utility and performance, has too often led us to ascribe value – understood primarily as market value – to some spheres of human life at the expense of others?

In that regard, I was delighted to learn that work and its future was one of the themes you examined in your opening session this morning. Indeed a wide-ranging debate on the connections between market competition, social cohesion, ecology and work in conditions of change, globally, regionally, and locally, is as necessary as it is pressing. Our times are ones that invite us to revisit the definitions of work with which we have lived for decades, so as celebrate work in all of its aspects and forms: producing and caring, work of the hand, work of the heart and work of the imagination, work within the market, and work outside it. Re-defining work goes far beyond saving the demand centre of our economies. We are called upon to return to issues of distribution, the role of the State, the balance of work and life, the transition from sufficiency to insatiability and all the consequences of that transition. 

The possibilities opened by the universal Basic Income approach, which, I understand, you discussed earlier today, are among the proposals that acknowledge the issue of distribution and that are promising, in a context where policy-makers are challenged to craft new policy tools and measures adequate to the fundamental objectives of human development, security and dignity. This perspective demands that we move beyond any reduction of the citizen to a unit of labour, it is assumed, ever in readiness for reallocation across sectors and boundaries of societies and economies – a reductive fallacy of inadequate abstract economic fantasy. We need good economies within an ethical and cultural framework.

My conviction, dear friends, is that the invention of new connections between ethics, economy and ecology must be at the core of all work of political and intellectual reconstruction in this century. This was a central point of the conversation I had last week in Rome with Pope Francis. I am aware, too, that the need to anchor ethics firmly at the heart of public action has been a pillar of the activities of the Inter-Action Council over the years.

Indeed, a revived ethic of care and solidarity, a holistic approach to human inter-dependency and vulnerability is what must be established as the informing principle of a renewed political practice if we are to respond adequately to the challenges of our age, in the spheres of peace building, international development, trade, finance, agriculture and food production, and, of course, environmental protection.

If I may take up but the last item in this list, it is obvious that the challenge posed to us by climate change is not just of a scientific or economic kind; it is above all else an ethical challenge, calling for a revolution in consciousness and modes of thinking. The fight against global warming invites us, I repeat, to accept the responsibility of intergenerational justice, as the Prime Minister of India said in his address to the 2015 Paris Conference, to “care for the world we shall not see.” 

Are we ready to depart from economic models that encourage trade-offs in favour of the present, to the detriment of the future? Are we ready for a moral leap such as will enable us to construct our policies transnationally on a normative basis? Can we abdicate from some of the hubris we inherited from those such as Francis Bacon in an Enlightenment gone wrong, and embrace instead a new ethic of responsibility, one of symmetry with nature? Can we leave behind the old hegemonic tropes of industrial and technical mastery, the “dominion” of man over nature, and, instead, return the human being to a meaningful place within nature, seen as dwelling place, a wellspring of nourishment and inspiration?

In our seeking of an adequate ethic for the challenges of our times – an ethic which would heal the separation with nature, address the global reach of our actions, and protect the right of future generations to dwell in harmony on our shared planet – I believe that we can draw from a variety of philosophical and cultural sources, as well as from those old patterns of wisdom and ancient mythic systems of which all of our respective cultures have kept the memory. Our use of science and technology will only better serve humanity, may I suggest, if it is ethically and culturally framed.

Let us, dear friends, recognise the new realities – demographic, cultural, environmental – that will shape our future, and respond to them with political ambition, intellectual courage and creative innovation, but also with respect for the ethic of memory and cultural sensitivity, so that we might explore more fully the unchartered and fruitful intersections between science, technology, economy, and, yes, ethics and vernacular knowledge too. At a juncture when the voices of fear and entrenchment are, everywhere, becoming louder, let us not relent either in our efforts to affirm that ours is a world that requires more, not less, solidarity, more, not less, understanding of complexity, and more, not less, cooperation on the common issues facing humanity.

I know that those principles are at the core of your actions as members of the Inter-Action Council. May I, then, wish you all the best in your future endeavours, fruitful discussions tomorrow, and an enjoyable few days in Dublin City.

Guím gach rath ar bhur gcruinniú amárach agus ar obair na Comhairle Idirghníomhaíochta sa todhchaí, agus tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh sult as bhur gcuid ama i mBaile Átha Cliath.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

Speech at an event celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Royal Canal

Richmond Harbour, Clondra, Co. Longford, Saturday 27th May 2017

It is my hope that here in Ireland we can also encourage more of our citizens to become engaged in supporting the ongoing maintenance and preservation of our Royal Canal, to understand its value as a portal to our past and to treasure this important connection with a past that has shaped and formed our nation.

A Dhaoine Uaisle,
A Chairde,

Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas chroíúil a ghabháil le hUiscebhealaí Éireann,  le Grúpa Conláiste an Chanál Ríoga agus le Múseám Náisiúnta an Ghorta Mhóir, as ucht an cuireadh a thug sibh dom a bheith libh don chéiliúradh agus comóradh suntasach seo. Táim bhuíoch daoibhse chomh maith, a chairde, as ucht an fíorchaoin fáilte a d’fhearadh sibh romhaim féin agus roimh mo bhean chéile Saidhbhín.

Dear friends, 

I am delighted to be with you today to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Royal Canal which took place here at Richmond Harbour, Clondara, Co. Longford on May 26th 1817.

I would like to thank Waterways Ireland, the Royal Canal Amenity Group and the National Famine Museum for their kind invitation to join you and, of course, let me thank all of you for that generous welcome. 

May I also say how happy I am to see here today the Cathaoirleach of Longford County Council, representatives of the local authority, local community groups and especially the school children who have contributed such beautiful art work to this celebration of the Royal Canal.

I can recall, as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in June 1993 arriving on a barge to officially open the Waterways Ireland Visitor Centre which celebrates the history and use of Ireland's waterways. It was, at the time, an inspiring reminder of how deeply embedded the canal has become in the history of Ireland and in the lives of generations of our people, and of the many changes which the Canal has been witness to since its inception in the early 19th century.

Indeed, coming here today, I was thinking of Dick Warner’s wonderful series of programmes for RTE which celebrated our Waterways, and in particular those which focussed on the re-opening of the Canal after many years of dereliction. It was an uplifting confirmation of the enriching possibilities of this great part of our heritage; reminding us of the lives lived quietly on the banks of the canal, of the great dedication and skill of those who ensure its preservation, and of the wealth of heritage, history and wildlife the Royal Canal has gifted to us.

The construction of the Canal, designed to provide a more efficient means of transporting goods than that provided by a poor road system, commenced in 1790 and proved to be a difficult and expensive process. It was not until the 26th of May 1817, 27 years later, that the Royal Canal from Dublin to the Shannon was officially opened.
The Canal was a radical and innovative change, part of a significant improvement in Ireland’s infrastructure. Ironically, it also fell victim to that spirit of innovative change and improvement. A new and dynamic technology had emerged and the railway age of the mid to late 1800s gradually eroded the canal’s business and, despite a brief revival of trade during the Emergency Years of the Second World War, its condition slowly deteriorated.  Ireland’s last commercial barge-trader, James Leech of Killucan, ceased to operate in 1951, the last officially recorded passage took place in 1955 and, by 1961, the Royal Canal was closed to navigation.

Across that time our nation had, of course, undertaken its own long and eventful journey.  Indeed, it is remarkable, as we stand here today, to remember the very different Ireland in which the canal was conceived and constructed and the long journey we have travelled since the early 19th century. We were of course an Ireland under British rule, and also an Ireland that was shortly to face the devastating famine, An Gorta Mór, whose legacy has remained so deeply embedded in our national psyche. 

The presence of the Irish Famine Walkers here today is a reminder, not only of that most tragic event, but of a very poignant connection that exists between the famine and the Royal Canal. In 1847, one of the worst years of suffering of the Great Irish Famine, 1,490 tenants from the Mahon estate at Strokestown Park took part in an assisted emigration scheme to Canada, funded by the Landlord Denis Mahon.  Their final journey on Irish soil, during which they walked the many miles from Strokestown to Dublin, was to culminate aboard a famine ship where they would join hundreds of other poor and destitute refugees desperately seeking a future. They were accompanied, on that walk, by the Bailiff of the Strokestown Estate who would ensure that they boarded that ship in Dublin and left Ireland forever.

Today the Strokestown Famine Emigrant Walk will commence their six day re-enactment of the event, as they retrace that heartbreaking journey along the entire length of the Royal Canal from Clondra all the way to Dublin city centre. I thank and commend them for that generous act of commemoration, which ensures that we do not forget that the bleakest of bleak episodes of our past was made up of so many individual stories of loss and suffering and pain endured by children, men and women just like us. 

The lifetime of the Royal Canal has also seen Ireland undertake its own long and difficult journey towards independence.  It has witnessed two devastating world wars and the emergence of a new and more united Europe. It has witnessed Ireland move from the periphery of that Europe and assume a place at its negotiating tables, where our voice has given us a global influence. It has also, of course, witnessed how a nation once divided against itself has made significant progress towards full peace and reconciliation. Today the Royal Canal flows through a vibrant and multi-cultural nation adapting to a greatly changing demographic.

Just as Ireland has constantly evolved and re-imagined itself as a nation of new thoughts and options, so too the Royal Canal has adapted to an everchanging society. At the time navigation ceased on the Canal, it seemed that its story had come to a natural conclusion.

It is inspiring, therefore, to witness the fruits of the extensive restoration that has seen the Canal re-invented as a recreational amenity to be enjoyed by all citizens. Indeed we owe a great debt of gratitude to the many waterways enthusiasts who demonstrated great foresight and dedication by volunteering for the initial restoration work as far back as 1974. Their great spirit of active citizenship, along with the commitment and skill of groups such as the Royal Canal Amenity Group, the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and the Heritage Boat Association has brought the Canal back from the brink of its demise, enabling it to remain an integral part of Ireland’s on-going journey. 

It is just seven years since yet another milestone in the canal’s history was completed as the Main Line of the Royal Canal from Dublin to the Shannon reopened to boat passage. Work however did not stop with the reopening of the canal to navigation, but has been ongoing in partnership with the communities and local authorities along the length of the canal. 

We have, in recent decades, ensured that the restoration of the Royal Canal was included in our use of EU Structural Funding, recognising its great potential to attract visitors to explore its corridor, visiting the many attractions in towns and villages along the way, and in the process creating jobs, securing businesses and bringing prosperity to rural Ireland.

However, proposals by the Heritage Council in 1999 on the Future of Ireland’s Inland Waterways highlighted the wider possibilities that could be achieved through the expansion of our waterways system. These included the conservation of our natural and built heritage, of which our waterways are an important part; and a recognition of the local and recreational amenity value of our waterways.

Today, a new generation of people enjoy the canal as a place to walk, cycle, fish, canoe or to simply sit and enjoy the serenity of our beautiful natural environment. At no time in its previous history has the Royal Canal and the canal network had more to offer the communities along its route, as places of recreation. 

And while created by humans, the canal has become a vibrant ecological asset, supporting a stunning variety of plants, animals, insects, birds and fish. The canal is now an important ecological corridor and is as precious as our rivers and our hedgerows in ensuring that Ireland’s biological diversity is maintained and strengthened. The Canal’s value for our native wildlife is and must be central to its management and its use. Indeed, it is fitting during this week, which is National Biodiversity Week, that we celebrate this role played by the Canal and by those involved in its use, its maintenance and its development, in safeguarding our ecological wealth for our own benefit and for that of future generations. 

As we look to the future of the Royal Canal, we might perhaps look across the water to our near neighbours in Britain. Their canals, running through the heart of many of their cities are, as in Ireland, an important and distinctive element of their national heritage. In recent years, the care of those canals has been handed over to a trust, emphasising the custodial role of all citizens in guarding and treasuring such an important part of their nation’s history. It is my hope that here in Ireland we can also encourage more of our citizens to become engaged in supporting the ongoing maintenance and preservation of our Royal Canal, to understand its value as a portal to our past and to treasure this important connection with a past that has shaped and formed our nation.
It has been a great pleasure to come here today and to see how many of you have gathered to celebrate this important anniversary.

Is mian liom, mar fhocal scoir, mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le na saineolaithe, le na hoibrithe deonacha agus le na baill pobal gníomhacha atá tar éis ról lárnach a imirt sa togra seo leis an Chanáil Ríoga a athfhorbairt le go mbeidh an sampla leithleach seo d'oidhreacht thógtha ann mar shampla d'ár stair choiteann do na glúin amach romhainn.

[May I conclude by thanking all those whose work, as experts, volunteers and active members of the community has played such an important role in the journey of the Royal Canal, restoring to us this unique piece of built Heritage which is such an important part of our shared history.]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir. 

Speech at Abbeyleix, Co. Laois during Biodiversity Week

Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, 25 May 2017

A chomhairleoirí, a phaistí, a chairde,

Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas chroíúil a ghabháil le Séamus Boland as ucht an cuireadh a thug sé dhom a bheith in bhur dteannta inniú chun bhur n-iarrachtaí mar ghrúpaí áitiúil, deonach agus fad-radharcach a aithint agus a chéiliúradh. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach dúinne, atá gafa le fada i gcúrsaí chomhshaoil teacht le chéile agus tá sé tráthúil go bhfuil an comhthionól seo ag tarlúint i rith seachtain na mbithéagsúlacht.

Councillors, children, distinguished guests, dear friends,

I was delighted to receive the invitation from Séamus Boland on behalf of the Community Wetlands Forum, in partnership with Irish Rural Link, to visit you here today during Biodiversity Week.

I look forward to taking a walk later in Abbeyleix Bog to see the fruits of the tremendous community initiative undertaken over the past number of years to restore and reanimate Abbeyleix Bog and its wetland habitat.

I am also conscious that Abbeyleix Bog is just one project that has brought together community activists, local authorities and state agencies in many locations around the country in a virtuous collaboration towards protecting and restoring natural wetland ecosystems.

Natural occurring wetlands have formed in Ireland over the period since the last ice-age. They have been moulded by humans over that time, and have been harnessed for many purposes. The wetlands weave a mosaic of beauty across the Irish landscape. They sit at the base of mountains in the west and they blanket our uplands. They flow around the undulating soil of the midlands and along our rivers and shores. They are a wild beauty. Wetland ecosystems though here for many millennia, are always in conditions of change and they hold a youthful vibrancy, ever evolving and adapting, yet they are places of serenity. Full of wonders above and below the water surface from the dragonfly larvae, the magnificent otter, the curlew amongst the grasses to the carnivorous bog plants and the hum from the beating of insect wings.

This is a precious resource, one that has been lost in much of Europe, particularly since the second half of the 18th Century and is under threat in some of the most important ecological spaces on our planet.

Ireland’s rich tapestry of wetlands is unique in a European and international context. The existence of such wonders bestows on the State, its agencies and its citizens a special responsibility to protect and conserve these natural assets.

Many organisations and local groups like those within the Community Wetlands Forum have wholly embraced this role of custodian and have not just protected but have restored and re-created valuable habitats. With their hands they have toiled to encourage flora and fauna to once again flourish and to introduce once more to achieve a symmetry between the surrounding human community and the natural wonders in their neighbourhood.

I have long been interested in the relationship that has developed in recent centuries between us humans and our natural environment. It is something that has occupied my thoughts for most of my life, including the period I was in Government and had responsibility for wildlife policy, and it is something that I have returned to since then on several occasions. In a book I wrote in 2006 which bears the title “Causes for Concern” I returned to an article I had written in 1975 reflecting on why it was that man, since the industrial revolution, had pitted himself against nature, in some deluded fantasy that we can hack away at the very ecosystems on which we depend without disastrous repercussions. I recall thinking that the marvellous symmetry of the patterns of simple natural arrangements were being destroyed with abandon, and I found much wisdom in  Gregory Bateson’s summary that the creature that wins against its environment destroys itself.[1] I have not changed my mind.

On Monday, I met with Pope Francis in the Vatican. He and I share a deep concern for how, at a global level, we are placing ourselves and each other at risk by treating the environment with such disdain. Pope Francis is a straight talker, and his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, reminds us of the urgency of rethinking drastically the destructive approach we have taken to our planet in modern times. I share Pope Francis’ conviction that we must forge new connections between ethics, economy and ecology.

His message is as relevant and as urgent for us here in Ireland, as it is for China or Brazil or the US. As you who are involved in local initiatives have done, all of us must reflect on where we can make a positive difference and how we can influence our communities and our society to bring about the change in thinking and in action that is required to meet the great ecological and climate challenges that we face.

It is for community leaders, politicians and policy makers to ensure that we are all encouraged to make the changes that are required. We can no longer tolerate the type of thinking that sees short-term individual profit trump longer-term community wealth.

Nor can we continue to tolerate people causing gratuitous environmental damage, such as the recent setting of fires causing widespread ecological and economic carnage. It is somewhat dispiriting to note that such fires have become a regular feature of the agricultural calendar, without, perhaps, adequate dissuasive consequences for those who are flagrantly breaking the law.

In recent centuries, Ireland has taken a utilitarian view of our wetlands. It is something we can understand. For perhaps very understandable historic reasons, there has been a fervour to drain, re-claim, harvest or plant our marshes, mires, callows, fens and bogs. An over-riding desire to bring land into what was defined as “productive” use, agricultural or otherwise. This often drowned out any consideration of the value of such places in their natural state. Today, to a considerable extent, but not sufficiently, we understand more of the value of preserving what remains of these special places. We still have work to do in ensuring that such understanding is translated into meaningful supports, and effective deterrents, for land-owners and local communities to redress the imbalance that we have created.

In this regard, there is a vital role for public authorities at local and national level to provide meaningful supports and coherent structures to allow groups such as yours to emerge and to thrive. This is a tangible way to help us to deliver together the commitments that we have made to achieve a model of genuine sustainable development. I am pleased to note that the NPWS, the EPA and Bord na Móna have been supportive of the emergence of the Community Wetlands Forum and I hope that this will lead to ever deeper levels of collaboration.

Speaking of Bord na Móna, bogs, in particular, have been and continue to be central to industries which have met the needs of people and have provided economic value.

We should remember that Bord na Móna was created in 1946 to exploit the great raised bogs of the midlands and it has done so very effectively, providing employment and a degree of energy independence over the past 70 years. But this came at a cost, most notably in the almost complete destruction of Ireland’s raised bogs. To its credit, Bord na Móna recognises its mixed legacy, and I am glad to note that in recent years it has been working constructively with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and with groups such as the Abbeyleix Bog Project to help conserve the remnants of our raised bogs.

It has also helped to relocate domestic turf-cutters from protected areas (SACs and NHAs) to less ecologically important Bord na Móna sites. It is to be welcomed that Bord na Móna is now focussing on a more sustainable future and on renewable forms of energy production.

This is timely. We now understand the urgency of coming to grips with climate change and we have pledged to take action to drastically reduce our emissions, as part of a global effort. We know that the world’s peatlands, while only covering three per cent of the Earth’s land mass, contain twice the sequestered carbon of all of the world’s forests combined.[2]

This carbon, gathered from the atmosphere over millennia, starts to be released when the bogs are drained, as has happened to most of Ireland’s peatlands. But this process can be reversed, even on industrial cutaway bogs, with appropriate restoration. Land that is a source of emissions can be returned to sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. With 20% of Ireland’s land being comprised of peat soils, there is undoubtedly potential to look at the management of such land as just one contribution to climate change mitigation purposes. I note that the EPA[3] has undertaken some very interesting research to this end as part of its climate change research programme.

As you all know more than most, apart from hosting a myriad of plants and animals, wetlands play an important role in the provision of direct and indirect benefits to us humans, including food and fuel. Wetlands can also assist in water purification by filtering contaminants and they can also regulate flooding by acting as a natural reservoir, absorbing, storing and slowly releasing water within a catchment. The unique setting of wetlands provides many valuable opportunities for recreation, cultural inspiration and even as a spiritual resource. Many are drawn to the tranquillity of water, the close link with wildlife and the sharing of a place where communities can come together.

Our wetlands have potential to return great community dividends. Walking trails at wetland sites, boardwalks and bog bridges, such as installed here at Abbeyleix Bog and also at Clara Bog in Offaly, serve many vital purposes. Hand-made over many dedicated hours, these are a wonderful example of active citizenship – of participating in a shared community vision and of re-connecting people to their natural environment. They create access to open natural spaces, provide a recreational amenity for the local and wider community, promote well-being and act as routes to some of the best examples of wetland habitat globally.

Local communities and volunteer organisations like the Community Wetlands Forum, with the support of other organisations, are voluntary stewards of our wetland resources. The model of community engagement adopted by the Forum promotes positive relationships, implementing local solutions and is a link between public authorities and individuals in the on-going sustainable management of natural heritage sites.

It is a powerful model with the ability to change perceptions, educate and inform others of the many benefits that conservation can bring. I therefore commend the forum for adopting a Strategic Plan for the coming years.

This is a sign of the Forum maturing, inviting ever new and increasing membership to discourse, and putting itself in a position to seize the opportunities that lie ahead.

The groups that compose the Community Wetlands Forum understand that biodiversity is the support system that has allowed humans to develop, and that allows humans to exist. It is at our peril that we undermine the very ecosystems on which we rely. All member states of the European Union recognise that biodiversity - the variety of ecosystems, species and genes that surround us - is under threat globally and in the EU itself[4], with extinction rates for species at alarming levels. This loss of biodiversity and the many benefits that derive from it affects us all.

Ireland has signed up to important international commitments under the UN convention on biological diversity, including a set of global targets for 2020 to avert further biodiversity loss, to promote its restoration and to improve the conservation status of habitats and species. It will require a considerable step-up in efforts to halt further losses. What is truly inspirational are the local communities that are ‘stepping up’ to help Ireland achieve its conservation objectives. In many ways, it is these voluntary, community groups, such as those represented in the Communities Wetlands Forum, that are showing the way.

National Biodiversity Week is about connecting people with nature and reminding us of the importance of biodiversity to our everyday lives. Biodiversity is the basis of human existence and this week is an opportunity to raise public awareness of its importance for sustainable development, and for our own interests as one species relying on complex eco-systems for our own future survival.

On Saturday I will be in Longford to celebrate 200 years since the Royal Canal was opened. The Canal, though man-made, has become a vital corridor for wildlife and is a thriving refuge for birds, insects, fish and mammals. Similarly, our hedgerows have been formed and maintained by land-owners and farmers over millennia and they are now a crucial component of Ireland’s ecological infrastructure, with particular importance for nesting birds and pollinating insects, which have been under such pressure in recent decades. This is a week for reflecting on how to support nature and thereby secure our own futures.

Ireland’s first National Biodiversity Week took place in 2007 with 20 events. Ten years later, over 50 events will be held across Ireland during this week. Events such as this aim to increase understanding and awareness around biodiversity issues, both at the local level and on a global scale. These events which are free to the public will celebrate Ireland's diverse species and habitats and encourage people from all walks of life to engage with our natural world.

The theme for this year is ‘Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism’ which coincides with 2017 being the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. Sustainable tourism can provide a positive contribution to biodiversity awareness and economic growth.

I am delighted to see the children here today play such an active role in this event. There are many environmental challenges facing the world today with biodiversity loss being a major concern. The work that you and your parents, teachers, family, community and friends are doing in supporting the protection of wetland habitats is to be commended. These efforts today will ensure that as you grow, you and the next generations to come will get to experience the beauty and serenity of healthy wetlands ecosystems.

Successful community led conservation demonstrates how land use can sit in harmony with nature and the needs of its people. It is a platform to share knowledge, ideas and engage with experts. Wetlands in Ireland are complex systems and have been the subject of much research and study. Community led conservation now offers more opportunities for citizens to engage in science and research that will inform future policies.

As communities, you have taken the lead by assuming control of your own local resources in partnership with public authorities. That has required self-determination and has not been without its challenges. I appreciate that volunteering for such conservation work is a large commitment, time away from loved ones, even from your job on occasion, putting in the long hours year after year. Some would question why, what is to gain? To me - as I travel the country, I can see why. I feel the sense of pride in towns and villages, the importance of knitting communities together, a shared purpose, a noble cause and a common good for the generations to come. A shared vision of living an ethical life in harmony with each other and with our surroundings.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the opening of the new Amphitheatre in Cloughjordan Eco-village and I see those same shared community values and spirit here today embodied within the Communities Wetland Forum, organisations and individuals with a shared vision. The experiences of such community groups in making a positive, tangible contribution to this earth will hopefully inspire others to support biodiversity and contribute to a low-carbon society.

May I conclude by thanking all those who have put so much effort, valuable time and energy in protecting and promoting Ireland’s natural assets, encouraging biodiversity and being an outstanding example of how communities can come together for a shared purpose.

I commend the Community Wetlands Forum for its initiative and role in wetland conservation, undertaken in partnership with Irish Rural Link, and wish it the very best with the Strategic Plan. It has been a great pleasure to come here today.

Go raibh maith agaibh ar fad as ucht éisteacht liom. Tréaslaím libh as uch an méid atá bainte amach agaibh le bhur dtionscnamh áitiúil ar mhaitheas an nádúr agus bhur bpobal. Guím gach rath oraibh in bhur n-iarrachtaí le chéile agus in bhur dtacaíocht dá chéile mar chuid den Forum.

Beir bua agus beannacht.


[1] Michael D. Higgins - Causes for Concern, 2006, Ch.


[3] EPA Climate Change Research Programme 2007–2013 Carbon Restore – The Potential of Restored Irish Peatlands for Carbon Uptake and Storage. The Potential of Peatlands for Carbon Sequestration (2007-CCRP-1.6)

[4] European Commission. 2011. Citizens Summary, EU biodiversity strategy up to 2020. Brussels.

Speech at the Pontifical Irish College, Rome

Pontifical Irish College, Rome, Monday 22 May 2017

Pope Francis has been, since his elevation, a compelling voice tirelessly awakening us to the web of interdependencies that weaves humanity together, as well as weaving us all, humans and non-humans, to our shared and fragile planet.

A Reachtaire,
A Chairde Gael,


Go raibh maith agaibh as ucht an fáilte chineálta. Is mór an pléisiúr agus pribhléid domsa filleadh ar an gColáiste Éireannach agus a bheith i measc a bhfoireann agus mic léinn arís. Tar éis beagnach ceithre chéad bliain sa Róimh, leanann sé ar aghaidh mar bhaile an-speisialta d’Éire agus áit de scoláireacht den scoth agus fáilte chroíúil araon.

[May I thank you all for your warm welcome. It is my great pleasure to visit again the Pontifical Irish College and to have this opportunity to meet with its staff and students, alongside other members of the Irish community in Rome.]

The hospitality that generates our gathering here today reflects that which has been the role of this venerable institution over the centuries of its existence: the Irish College is not just a distinguished place of teaching and scholarship; it is also, for Irish visitors and for Irish people in Rome, a house of welcome and conviviality, an open door – a home from home.

Next year it will be exactly four hundred years since the founder of this College, the distinguished Franciscan friar and scholar, Luke Wadding, arrived in Rome at the age of 30. Like so many others before and after him, he left the shores of Ireland in the hope of contributing something to the wider world and to the great conversations of his time, driven by a deep-seated sense of his spiritual mission.

This morning, I had the great honour of meeting with a man who exemplifies in the most striking and moving of manners this extraordinary importance of the spiritual as a powerful wellspring of global ethics, coupled with an ardent commitment to placing what is the essence of humanity at the heart and centre of the global conversations of our time. Pope Francis is a man who touches us all by his unique courage in identifying the crippling contradictions of our age and the need to engage with the assumptions that sustain them. He does this with words that are infused with both humility and passion. He has been, since his elevation, a compelling voice tirelessly awakening us to the web of interdependencies that weaves humanity together, as well as weaving us all, humans and non-humans, to our shared and fragile planet.

Indeed from the first moments of his Papacy, Pope Francis has been an indispensable voice of humanity and clarity. He has journeyed to places of discord, where he has sought to sow the seeds of peace. He has been a voice for those most vulnerable – calling for housing for the homeless, land for the landless and the native peoples, dignified employment for those excluded from the labour market, and the fundamental right that all of them have to question “macro-relations” of power and inequality.[1] He has called upon us all to respond with compassion and justice to the people and families across the globe who are migrating in desperation and hope. He has spoken up for “Mother Earth” itself, not just in his Encyclical letter, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, but in many of his public speeches, including, and most memorably, in his gripping address to the Third World Meeting of Popular Movements, last November.

I was delighted, this morning, to have the opportunity to discuss some of these themes with Pope Francis. Both of us share a conviction that new connections between ethics, economy and ecology must be at the core of all work of social and intellectual reconstruction in this new century. This is indeed a discussion to which I have sought to bring my own contribution, using the medium of the Presidency of Ireland to encourage a debate on ethics across all sectors of Irish society.

I fully share Pope Francis’s observation that, I quote:

Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person.[2]

I believe that an ethic of human dignity, a holistic approach to human life, is precisely what must be established as the informing principle and practice of the new, integral, approach to development that our times demand – a conception of development that would serve the human person in his or her integrity, never reducible to criteria of efficiency, or production, or indeed self-absorbed consumption.

This is a challenge, dear friends, shared by all of us, from North and South, East and West, and not just a challenge that concerns primarily the poorer nations of the world. Indeed it is a challenge that must be at the heart of our collective efforts at rebuilding a positive and ambitious vision for the future of the European Union.

In my conversations this morning with Pope Francis, and with Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Gallagher, we spoke of the challenges posed to Europe as a whole, and of course to Ireland and Northern Ireland more particularly, by the decision of Britain to leave the European Union, but we also spoke of the need to tackle the urgent and wider task of building new paths of hope and renewal for European citizens.

That is the great collective task which all of us Europeans must undertake in concert, without delay, addressing issues of reconnection between the citizens on the European street, their governments and their institutions. We need to do so with clarity of mind, vision, and having at heart, throughout, the hopes, the fears, the vulnerabilities and the immense potential of the millions of women, men and children whom our Union of European nations is here to serve. The particularities of the Brexit negotiations are very important, but a concentration on a part of what challenges us must not be at the cost of the greater issues which we cannot neglect – issues of democratic reengagement, redefined subsidiarity, and a re-articulation of solidarity and cohesion.

As with the great task of building peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, there are those who will say that the challenges currently facing Europe are too deep and complex to solve. And as with Northern Ireland, it is important that we do not evade difficulties, that we face them in a spirit of truth and honesty, while keeping our eyes firmly set on the ideal and the greater human values guiding our actions.

In this, all of us are invited to act together, in our different capacities, and according to our own means. The project of building peace in Northern Ireland offers us an example. It involved governments, diplomats, political parties, community groups, as well as spiritual leaders and ordinary members of all religious denominations. It was local and personal and international all at once. It was both urgent and generational in its nature. Defining the future of our European Union must similarly be an exercise in inclusion.

All of us – elected representatives, diplomats, members of the laity and of the clergy, and simply concerned citizens – are called upon to play our part in the construction of that future. We are invited to contribute to building a European Union where new connections between ethics, economy, society and ecology will have been established, new policies been forged that will preserve social cohesion and environmental harmony. That is the vision of the European Union we need to offer as exemplar to the global community, as we face together a world of rapid change and inescapable interdependency.

We Europeans are challenged, in other words, to rebuild a socially accountable and sustainable version of the productive economy. We are challenged to restore a hierarchy of purpose, whereby economic objectives, tools and measures are designed to serve the fundamental objective of human development – challenged to restore an ethical vision of the social as the foundation of our Union of European peoples. My view is that we must accept, too, the implications of regarding work as a fundamental human experience – work in all its aspects: producing, caring, work of the hand, work of the heart and work of the imagination, beyond and above any reification. The worker should never be stripped of this essential dignity; her dreams, energy and toil never reduced to an adjustable unit of labour.

We must prepare the future, dear friends, not await it in fear. Let us, if I may invert the words used by Pope Francis in his address to European leaders gathered in Rome last March, learn to use our wings again and elevate our gaze. Let us recognise the new realities – demographic, cultural, environmental – that will shape our future and respond to them with wisdom, openness, creative innovation, and with confidence, exploring the connections of science, technology, and yes ethics and philosophy too. The simplistic solutions put forward by the voices of fear and cultural entrenchment are ones that are not fit for a world that requires more, not less, understanding of complexity, more, not less, cooperation, and more, not less, concerted action on the common issues that concern all those who dwell on this Earth.

Is it not the case that our own reluctance to critique models of connection between economy and society that are failing our people has allowed the space of discourse to be dominated by such predators of anxiety?

I look forward, dear friends, to joining with others in welcoming Pope Francis to Ireland next year. As you all know, it is his hope and intention to attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August 2018. For him as well, it will be a return visit. I know that for a great many people in Ireland, Pope Francis’s visit will be a moment when they will be inspired, and strengthened, and indeed challenged. It will be another important moment in the global dialogue we so pressingly need about the kind of society we want to build for this and for future generations.

It will also be a demonstration of that very special gesture of warmth and hospitality that is an Irish welcome to a visitor - just as the one this College has extended to so many people over the years, and to myself and Sabina today.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.



[1] Address to Participants in the 3rd World Meeting of Popular Movements, 5 November 2016.

[2] Evangelii Gaudium