Tuesday 20 March 2018

President intervenes ahead of election to warn voters against 'cynicism and nihilism'

President Higgins is pictured with George Soros in New York
Picture by Shane O'Neill / Fennell Photography 2015.
President Higgins is pictured with George Soros in New York Picture by Shane O'Neill / Fennell Photography 2015.

Philip Ryan in New York

President Michael D Higgins has intervened ahead of the forthcoming general election to warn voters against “cynicism and nihilism”.

In his first comments on the election, Mr Higgins called on people to go to the polls on election day and  “participate in the democratic process”.

Speaking to reporters in the residence of the Irish consulate in New York, he said: “It is not a time for cynicism or nihilism.”

“It’s a time for engaging with practical options that address our problems and prospects and our great opportunities both at home and abroad,” he added.

Ask about the Labour Party’s prospects in the general election, Mr Higgins said it was not for him to comment on his former party.

“I think there are others you should ask that question,” he said.

Mr Higgins intervention came as he prepared to address a United Nations summit on poverty, inequality and climate change.

World leaders this week signed off on a landmark programme of objectives aimed at combatting poverty in third world countries and tackling global warming.

Mr Higgins praised the role Irish Ambassador to the United Nations David Donoghue who played a key role in drafting the agreement with his Kenyan counterpart.

“I think it is one of greatest achievements for Ireland,” he said.

Mr Higgins said objectives on gender equality agreed between UN member states will empower those campaigning for women’s rights.

“Those who are advocating in this area will now be able to say we are not giving any gift but we are in fact applying a universal standard to which we subscribed,” he said.

He added: “If in fact all has to be achieved within national systems the existence of a universal commitment should be a great force and power behind those who are trying to make changes within their own restricting circumstances.”

Mr Higgins said, despite the lack of gender equality in some of the countries that agreed to the UN objectives, no state succeeded in using “culture as a screen to stand between women’s right”.

He said he hoped the agreement would also begin a process were other issues such as the “illicit flows” of finance, tax reform and the debt burden on some countries would be examined by world leaders.

He also said the process of ending the direct provision system for refuges should be quickened in Ireland as the country prepares to accommodate thousands of migrants fleeing war zones in the Middle East.

“I think there is a general consensus that we need a better system and the quicker we have it the better,” he said.

Mr Higgins will speak at two high-level UN meetings in New York today.

The first meeting is on the theme of economic growth and consumptions. The second will focus on world hunger and the President will share the floor with Brazilian footballer Kaka.

Mr Higgins also used his New York visit to meet billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros.

At the hour-long meeting, Mr Soros and the President spoke about, the current migrant crisis, globalisation and links between economics and philosophy.

“I was very pleased to have the conversation and it is a conversation that could be resumed,” Mr Higgins said.

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