Saturday 1 October 2016

Lise Hand: Standing ovation for President Higgins after UNESCO speech

Published 19/02/2013 | 12:06

Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO and President Higgins.
Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO and President Higgins.

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins received a rapturous reception for his speech at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris earlier today.

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His 35-minute address - which ran for ten minutes longer than scheduled - went down a storm with the delegates from the 195 member states of the organisation, and was met with cheering and a prolonged standing ovation.

It was the first engagement of day two of the President's official visit to France, and Michael D spoke on a theme close to his heart - the recognition of the power and importance of culture in global society.

Towards the end of his address, he spoke about the urgent need for dialogue between different belief systems.

"A dialogue between what is called the Western world and moderate Islam. If we are threatened by the extremes of any distorted faith system, it is often because we have not had the conversation we need with those who see the truth, the beauty, the belief that is at the heart of some of these beliefs. The western world has neglected its conversation with modern Islam," he said.

After the speech, the president was approached by the Saudi Arabian ambassador who was so taken with his words that he wanted to put up the cost of having the entire address translated into the remaining five languages not covered by the UNESCO translations - but in fact the whole speech would have to be translated into all the relevant languages anyway, as true to form, Michael D strayed far from the official script.

And UNESCO Director, Dr Jennifer Pearson was little short of starry-eyed. "I have never seen a reaction like the reaction. Normally when a president comes to speak, we listen with attention, but today people listened with passion, and almost as one they all got up and gave him a standing ovation," she explained.

Michael D - big in Paris...

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