Saturday 22 October 2016

Political parties must offer long-term vision for an ethical society

In a timely intervention ahead of the election, President Michael D Higgins warns Ireland is not an equal society, says Paul Melia

Published 02/02/2016 | 02:30

President Michael D Higgins at the launch of ‘On the Importance of Ethics’ at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Mark Condren
President Michael D Higgins at the launch of ‘On the Importance of Ethics’ at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Mark Condren

Political parties must engage in long-term planning to create a more ethical society and a "better Ireland" which gives citizens a real role in decision-making, President Michael D Higgins has said.

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In a timely intervention in the run-up to the General Election, the president has warned that Ireland is not an equal society, that the financial and business sectors are overly concerned with regulation instead of doing the right thing and that citizens are being denied the opportunity to engage in real decision-making.

Speaking to the Irish Independent following the publication of a report on his ethics initiative, President Higgins said the anniversary of the Rising provided an opportunity to conduct a "systematic reflection" of ethics across society, including a "declaration of Irish citizens' values".

He said Ireland was at a "critical time" and suggested that economic theory should be taught in schools to help students develop the skills needed to fully participate in an open democracy.

Future governments must also address the fact that Ireland is not an equal society, despite this being a key promise of the Proclamation of Independence, he said.

One suggestion should be a 2016 proclamation of "an ethical code for modern Ireland", where a "rebalancing" of the ideals of the Easter 1916 leaders was developed.

"When you take a text like the proclamation, which is a statement of hope . . . I look at it and see intertwined in it are themes of separatism, independence and equality," he said.

"You now have the benefit 100 years on of looking at the balance of these themes within the proclamation, and you realise the State that came into existence hasn't delivered equality.

"You really must look at the rebalancing of what you want. I think myself it should reflect our new responsibilities internationally and reflects our interdependency. I like to call it our shared vulnerability. That's not a negative, because acknowledgment of our vulnerability is an empowering phenomenon and is at the root of the best modern philosophy."

His comments came at the publication of a report 'On the Importance of Ethics' which set out the main themes highlighted during his ethics initiative, launched in November 2013. Since then, more than 60 events have taken place across the country and the report outlines the main concerns highlighted during that process.

They include a perceived disconnect between citizens and politicians, especially between elections, and the need to reform the structures of government that allow people become involved in decision-making.

He said communities were often offered only a "single option for assent" rather than allowing them help shape proposals. Unless there was more transparency, and accountability among the business community, social cohesion would suffer.

In particular, he highlighted discussions taking place about a new EU/US trade agreement called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which has been criticised for being negotiated in secret.

He said the lack of discussion among ordinary people was a "great mistake".

"You should be able to participate in the forming of options for a decision, in the decision-making rather than the decision-taking," he said. "There is nothing so technical it cannot be explained to people."

He also said that two immediate priorities for politicians should be creating a culture of inclusion around debate, instead of treating opponents as enemies, and to engage in long-term planning. "It is so important to think and plan long," he said.

"The most disastrous set of responses would be short-term responses, to assume that there are a set of inevitabilities - a cage - that preclude you from thinking long, in thinking ethically, thinking inclusively and thinking with patience and acknowledging a common vulnerability."

He added that a third and final initiative to be launched later this year would introduce themes on how these goals might be accomplished on a practical level, and at the "level of consciousness and policy" which would help create a "real" Republic founded on "freedom, inclusion and equality".

Irish Independent

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