In his first speech as the ninth President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins addressed involuntary emigration and reaching out to Ireland’s Diaspora.
He said, “It is my wish to be a President for all of the Irish at home and abroad. We Irish have been a diasporic people for a great part of our history. The circumstances that have impelled - and that continue to impel - many citizens to seek employment and a better life elsewhere, are not ordained by some mysterious hand of fate. They challenge our capacity to create a sustainable and prosperous economy and an inspiring model of the good society."
The veteran campaigner also spoke about bringing emigrants home and how he hope to build an Ireland to which they could “return to work and live in dignity and prosperity”
Higgins said, “We, in our time, must address the real circumstances that generate involuntary emigration, and resolve that in the years ahead we will strive with all our energy and intellect, with mind and heart to create an Ireland which our young people do not feel they have to leave and to which our emigrants, or their children, may wish, in time, to return to work and live in dignity and prosperity. I invite all of the Irish, wherever they may be across the world, to become involved with us in that task of remaking our economy and society.”
The new President also said he plans to hold “presidency seminars which may reflect and explore themes important to our shared life yet separate and wider than legislative demand, themes such as the restoration of trust in our institutions, the ethical connection between our economy and society.”
He said, “The first of these seminars will focus on being young in Ireland. It will address issues of participation, education, employment, emigration and mental health. I hope also that the seminars during the next seven years might encompass consideration of global issues, stressing the importance of the ethical connection between politics, economy, development and society.”
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The president commented on the weighty tasks to hand in his position, saying: “I also realize the challenges that I face, that we face together, in closing a chapter that has left us fragile as an economy, but most of all wounded as a society, with unacceptable levels of unemployment, mortgage insecurity, collapsing property values and many broken expectations.”
However, he also spoke of hope for the future of Ireland and using the people of Ireland to rebuild the country.
He commented on how the Irish had changed over during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ period on commented on the positive changes in the community he had witnessed since the collapse of the economy.
“In more recent years, we saw the rise of a different kind of individualism - closer to an egotism based on purely material considerations - that tended to value the worth of a person in terms of the accumulation of wealth rather then their fundamental dignity. That was our loss, the source in part, of our present difficulties.”
However, he continued: ”Now it is time to turn to an older wisdom that, while respecting material comfort and security as a basic right of all, also recognizes that many of the most valuable things in life cannot be measured.
“Our successes after all in the eyes of so many in the world have been in the cultural and spiritual areas - in our humanitarian, peace-building and human rights work - in our literature, art, drama and song - and in how that drama and song have helped us cope with adversity, soothed the very pain which they describe so well, and opened the space for new possibilities.
“Our arts celebrate the people talking, singing, dancing and ultimately communing with each other. This is what James Connolly meant when he said that: "Ireland without her people means nothing to me.”
For the full text of his speech – click here.