PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has warned that society is "sleepwalking into disaster" by failing to tackle youth unemployment and deep-rooted issues including inequality.
He believes the public has been "numbed" by "breaches of trust" arising from the role that institutions and professions played in the economic collapse.
Speaking as he launched a series of seminars to take place across the country this year on ethics, President Higgins told the Irish Independent there was a need to discuss how trust could be restored and what type of institutions were needed for the future.
He said the need for such a debate was "urgent", not only in Ireland but across Europe.
"I believe this discourse is not only urgent in Ireland, but essential in Europe if we are not going to abandon the European dream, and allow extremes to be built on top of an exploitation of youth unemployment," he said.
"We can't sleepwalk into a nightmare. I think 100 years on from 1914, you could say that Europe sleepwalked into a terrible disaster that was the carnage of World War I. In exactly the same way, if you have a crisis of an economic and social kind, you can't sleepwalk through that."
Repairing a system which had failed to deliver was not an option, he said.
"People now are a bit numbed, they're numbed by the breaches in trust," he said.
"We're in a space where people ask the immediate question of how trust can be restored, and they also ask what kind of institutions can serve us best now.
"We've seen the return of emigration which is deeply distressing for many, even with modern communications where people can Skype each other. All of this means there's a certain sense of numbness, of sleepwalking.
"It is simply not acceptable that we would drift on and attempt to repair something that has delivered such malignant results.
"I'd like when people go to speak of Ireland abroad, to be able to say that these are the people who are unique insofar as they are all discussing ethics. I believe it would be of enormous value.
"It's also very consistent with our literary tradition, our peacekeeping tradition, with the best of our Irishness and I think it's well worth it," he added.
The 'Shaping Ireland's Shared Future' initiative follows his commitment when elected to open a public debate where the core values and concerns of society could be expressed.
It will begin in universities, with public events to be held in the community including ones on what it means to be an "ethical hero" in sport and music.
Some 50 seminars will be held across the country over the course of the year, and a series of guest speakers will also deliver lectures. Seminars begin next month.
President Higgins said he believed it was important to challenge the notion that a "group of experts" should decide the "major decisions" to be taken in people's lives.
He said that experts had "no obligation to explain to you what their assumptions were, what their options are and how they have chosen one policy rather than another".