Higgins: 'It is necessary to move past the assumptions which have failed us'
In his inauguration speech this afternoon, Michael D. Higgins spoke of "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." Read the full text of his speech below.
Muintir na hÉireann and friends of Ireland at home and abroad, there can be no greater honour than to have been elected Uachtarán na hÉireann – President of Ireland. I thank you the people of Ireland for the honour you have bestowed upon me and I accept and appreciate the great responsibilities of that office.
Citizens of Ireland, you have chosen me to be your ninth President, to represent you at home and abroad, and to serve as a symbol of an Irishness of which we can all be proud.
An Irishness which is carried by every citizen and which we must recall and forge anew together.
I enter the ninth Presidency with a sense of humility, but also with confidence in the great capacity of our people, the people of Ireland, not only to transcend present difficulties but to realise all of the wonderful possibilities that I believe await us in the years ahead.
I wish to acknowledge the immense contribution of those who have previously served in this office, particularly the two great women who have immediately preceded me.
They have made contributions that developed our consciousness of human rights, inclusion, and the important task of deepening and sustaining peace within and between communities in every part of our Island. It is work I will endeavour to continue and build upon.
As your President, I am grateful for the extent of the support, the strong mandate, you have given me. I also realise 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. During my campaign for the Presidency, I encountered that pain particularly among the most vulnerable of our people. However, I also recognise the will of all of our people to move beyond anger, frustration or cynicism and to draw on our shared strengths. To close the chapter on that which has failed, that which was not the best version of ourselves as a people, and open a new chapter based on a different version of our Irishness - will require a transition in our political thinking, in our view of the public world, in our institutions, and, most difficult of all, in our consciousness.
In making that transformation, it is necessary to move past the assumptions which have failed us and to work together for such a different set of values as will enable us to build a sustainable social economy and a society which is profoundly ethical and inclusive. A society and a state which will restore trust and confidence at home and act as a worthy symbol of Irishness abroad, inviting relationships of respect and co-operation across the world.
We must seek to build together an active, inclusive citizenship; based on participation, equality, respect for all and the flowering of creativity in all its forms. A confident people is our hope, a people at ease with itself, a people that grasps the deep meaning of the proverb ‘ní neart go cur le chéile’ – our strength lies in our common weal – our social solidarity.
Sin iad mór-théamaí na hUachtaránachta atá curtha romham agam, agus mé lán-dóchasach go bhfuilimid ar tháirseach ré nua d’Éirinn agus d’Éireannaigh, sa bhaile agus i gcéin. Ré nua ina mbeidh bunluacha na cothroime agus an chirt, agus spiorad na cruthaíochta, faoi bhláth: poblacht, a mbeidh Éireannaigh de gach aicme agus traidisiún bródúil aisti.
My Presidency will be a Presidency of transformation, recognising and building on the many positive initiatives already under way in communities, in the economy, and in individual and collective efforts throughout our land. It will be a Presidency that celebrates all of our possibilities. It will seek to be of assistance and encouragement to investment and job creation, to innovation and original thinking – a Presidency of ideas – recognising and open to new paradigms of thought and action. It will aspire to turn the best of ideas into living realities for all of our people, realising our limitless possibilities – ár feidireachtaí gan teorainn.
In implementing the mandate you have given me, I will seek to achieve an inclusive citizenship where every citizen participates and everyone is treated with respect. I will highlight and support initiatives for inclusion across Ireland and also make it a priority to visit and to support the participation of the most excluded in our society, including those in institutional care.
I will champion creative communities who are bringing about positive change at local level by giving recognition to their achievements on the national stage. I believe that when we encourage the seedbed of creativity in our communities and ensure that each child and adult has the opportunity for creative expression, we also lay the groundwork for sustainable employment in creative industries and enrich our social, cultural and economic development.
In promoting inclusion and creativity, I will be inviting all citizens, of all ages, to make their own imaginative and practical contribution to the shaping of our shared future.
Active citizenship requires the will and the opportunity to participate at every level and in every way – to be the arrow; not the target.
Next year Bunreacht na hÉireann is 75 years old and a Constitutional Convention is planned by Government. As President, I encourage all citizens, of all ages, at home and abroad to take the opportunity of engaging with this important review as an opportunity to reflect on where we have come from and on how we might see ourselves into the future.
During my Presidency, I also intend to hold a number of 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, the future of a Europe built on peace,social solidarity and sustainability.
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.
In preparing for my Presidency, I recognise that our long struggle for freedom has produced a people who believe in the right of the individual mind to see the world in its own way and indeed that individual innovation and independence of mind has given Ireland many distinguished contributors in culture and science, often insufficiently celebrated.
However, 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. Now it is time to turn to an older wisdom that, while respecting material comfort and security as a basic right of all, also recognises 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”. Connolly took pride in the past but, of course, felt that those who excessively worshipped that past were sometimes seeking to escape from the struggle and challenge of the present. He believed that Ireland was a work in progress, a country still to be fully imagined and invented – and that the future was exhilarating precisely in the sense that it was not fully knowable, measurable.
The demands and the rewards of building a real and inclusive Republic in its fullest sense remains as a challenge for us all, but it is one we should embrace together.
A decade of commemorations lies ahead – a decade that will require us to honestly explore and reflect on key episodes in our modern history as a nation; that will require us to draw on the ethics and politics of memory in such a way as will enable us not only to be sensitive to differing and incomplete versions of that history, but also to remain open to the making of reconciliation or to the acceptance of different versions of aspects and events of memory if required.
A common shared future built on the spirit of co-operation, the collective will and real participation in every aspect of the public world is achievable and I believe we can achieve it together. In our rich heritage some of our richest moments have been those that turned towards the future and a sense of what might be possible. It is that which brought us to independence. It is that which has enabled us to overcome adversity and it is that which will enable us to transcend our present difficulties and celebrate the real Republic which is ours for the making.
Every age, after all, must have its own Aisling and dream of a better, kinder, happier, shared world.
Ní díomas ach dóchas a bheidh ag teastáil uainn ins na blianta dúshlánacha atá amach romhainn. Dóchas as ár n-oighreacht shaibhir, as ár ndúchas iolrach; dóchas as ár n-acmhainn samhlaíochta agus cruthaíochta; as an daonnacht choiteann a fáisceadh as stair chasta ár muintire i ngach cúinne d’Éirinn.
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. 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.
Agus, ár muintir atá lonnaithe i dtíortha ar fuaid an domhain mhóir, bíodh a gcás, a gcearta agus a ngaiscí siúd ar ár n-aire againn. Tá rian a saothair agus a ndíograis fágtha acu ar gach tír inar lonnaigh siad: ar an gcultúr polaitíochta agus creidimh, sna réimsí oideachais agus sláinte, san eolaíocht, san saol gnó agus sna h-ealaíona ar fad: agus i ngluaiseachtaí éagsúla ar son chearta daonna agus dínit an duine. Ní suarach iad na gaiscí seo mar thaisce inspioráide dúinne sa bhaile.
Let these, then, be our shared hopes, our common purpose, as we face the future.
We Irish are a creative, resourceful, talented and warm people, with a firm sense of common decency and justice. Let us address the next seven years with hope and courage as we work together to build the future for our country –an Ireland we all feel part of an Ireland we all feel proud of.
Muintir na hÉireann, ar aghaidh linn le chéile leis an dóchas agus an misneach sin a bhí is ba choir a bheith i gcónaí in ár gcroí.
Image top: René Slaats.