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Remarks by President Mary McAleese at Kairos Communications, Maynooth On Friday, 11 December, 1998

Remarks by President Mary McAleese at Kairos Communications, Maynooth On Friday, 11 December, 1998

I am delighted to have this opportunity to perform the official opening of the new facilities for Kairos Communications today - and I want to thank you for inviting me to be with you on this very important day for your organisation - and in a year which also marks the 25th anniversary of the setting up of the original Kairos magazine for Leaving Certificate students.

Over the last quarter of a century, Kairos Communications has grown to include radio, television, video and multimedia production – all with the ‘mission’ of promoting a society in which people are treated with compassion, dignity and respect. That mission is very much in keeping with the original Christian ethos that inspired the magazine – as reflected in the name Kairos – “taking the opportunity”. Indeed, when I moved to Northern Ireland in 1987, I borrowed your name, ‘Kairos’, and made it the name of my home, because I wanted to make a place and time of opportunity.

If ever a name was timely, it was the prophetic name ‘Kairos’ because it heralded 25 years of untrammeled opportunity in Ireland. One by one we have taken these opportunities – and in taking them have transformed the landscape of Ireland. The growth of Kairos Communications into what it is today has paralleled with the profound changes that have taken place in Irish society in that same period. Closer ties with Europe have opened up whole new markets and have given us access to the kinds of financial support which were essential to building up a modern infrastructure.

The massive inward flow of foreign investment has spawned an enormous growth in industrial employment. The very successful social partnerships have brought all sectors of the economy together to build one of the most progressive economies in the world today. Greater access to education has ‘liberated’ a new generation of self-confident believers in themselves who are ready and eager to take on the world.

Recent developments in Northern Ireland with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the eagerness on all sides to move forward in a new context – come at the end of over a quarter of a century of turmoil and conflict where, paradoxically, opposite sides seemed to use their religious, ‘Christian’, ethos as a tool of conflict rather than an implement of peace. But we now live in a mature Ireland that is able to deal with so many of the things that we have had difficulty dealing with. We are seeing the end of the culture of conflict.

In parallel with these economic and political developments, the pace of technological change has continued to open up new avenues of communication. At the end of the century that has seen tremendous revolutions in the media - with the arrival of radio and television and, in more recent years, the advent of the information society - we are on the brink of a whole new world of instant information right in our living rooms. With the prospect of even greater exposure to the media with digital technology, nobody can isolate themselves from what goes on in the world today.

We now live very much in the ‘information society’ - with access over the Internet to a whole world of cultural influences – and with digital television bringing a perplexing number of TV channels right into our sitting rooms.

With the development of digital broadcasting and the explosion in the numbers of the services becoming available, the challenge is to ensure that programmes of quality and relevance are available to audiences - with the ever increasing number of English language services which have no particular connection to our culture or our community.

While the technology can be fascinating, it is the information and images that are conveyed via this technology which is most important. It is important to remember that language can be misinterpreted and misread – and that people who are in the business of communicating should use language and image with sensitivity and care.

Quality should not be sacrificed to the all-consuming audience race – nor should the very real moral and social responsibilities which broadcasters have.

These responsibilities - for which no legislator in the world could possibly hope to fully legislate without stifling energy and creativity - are probably best guided by a recognition firstly that they exist, and secondly by a maturity to take on the challenge of responding to them. In a situation where the power of media has an ever-increasing impact and influence on peoples’ lives, an organisation like Kairos assumes a greater significance in providing a balance.

While there are enormous and exciting benefits to be gained in terms of education and expansion of the mind through these new technologies – it is important that with all these channels of communication, we keep open the channels that provide for our spiritual needs. Material affluence is very much a two-dimensional achievement and is ultimately empty without that third dimension of understanding the purposiveness of life personal, and the spiritual contentment and peace that we derive from our religious ethos. Kairos, through you work, causes us to ponder the kind of people and society that we want.

While we want them to be technologically sophisticated, to be able to embrace the opportunities that are there – but we also want them to be people of some profundity. My cousin tells of listening to my grandfather and his father talking in the bog while they were footing turf – two simple “Irish peasants” to those who passed by. But my cousin, who later became a professor of theology, described them as two metaphysicians. With all the progress, prosperity and sophistication that we have attained, we still want people who don’t just do the modern equivalent of footing turf – be it dancing over the keyboards or whatever.

Describing my grandparents as metaphysicians for me meant very simply but clearly that they and all of humanity were the work of God’s hands – and more importantly, they were the hands of his work. That is what Kairos is – the hands of his work. We want people to be metaphysicians, and we need organisations like Kairos to keep re-directing our questioning.

I congratulate you on your achievements over the last twenty-five years in providing that essential balance in the media – and in meeting the many challenges that the changes in society have brought to you. This new facility is itself a testament to what you have accomplished, and I wish you well in the years ahead as the pace of change brings many more challenges to each and every one of us.