Saturday 24 March 2018

President says homelessness is starkest sign of Ireland’s inequality

President Michael D Higgins
President Michael D Higgins

Group Political Correspondent

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has said homelessness is the starkest sign of Ireland’s inequality today.

Speaking at the beginning of his National Ethics Seminar at Aras an Uachtarain, the President said the current levels of inequality in Ireland “pose nothing less than a fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of institutions and the morality of the State.”

The one-day seminar is the culmination of President Higgins’ initiative which he launched in September 2013 which he hoped would spark a national conversation about ethics.

He said the financial crisis starkly requires us as a society to interrogate our vision of social bonds and human relations, and our conceptions of prosperity and the good life.

In his key-note address, the President said: “We cannot effectively, or even meaningfully, address poverty in our communities without reflecting on the ethical questions that are posed to all of us and to our institutions, by the unacceptable current levels of inequality – inequalities that threaten to be transmitted from generation to generation, with very serious consequences for our peaceful co-existence.”

He added: “Homelessness is just one of the manifestations of this inequality – perhaps the most pressing of all in Ireland today.”

He said ethical dimensions of such a social plight as homelessness are complex. “They call for, at both individual and collective level, not just the impulse for charity as an immediate response, but also a recognition of the requirements of social justice in terms of policy design and political choices,” he said.

In his address, he posed the question as to how property ownership and the individualism on which it is based influence our views on the ethical quality or the social equity of policy.

The President said it is not possible to change economics or politics without addressing the values and assumptions that underpin them. He said the current crisis in confidence in key State institutions has moral and intellectual impacts that run very deep.

He said the Irish people have shown a great desire to examine the root causes of what happened and to reconnect what has been sundered in our society and in the public discourse.

President Higgins added that it would be easy, too, to diagnose the cause of our difficulties as being merely rooted in failures of compliance, individual failures or misdeeds which could be named and punished before we continue as before.

“ Indeed it is not enough to say, for example, that the upheavals caused by an unprecedented banking collapse and property bubble can be fixed if the right supervision and regulatory mechanisms are put in place,” he said.

The former Labour minister, who was elected by more than 1 million people into the Aras in 2011, said there is a “crisis of legitimacy in our politics” which requires the Irish people to claim and build a space for discussion in which everyone can participate.

He said that the country has been through a “moment of great loss” when trusted institutions have failed the citizenry of the country.

He said his Ethics Initiative and Seminar has an “unashamedly intellectual” dimension and the countries universities as a result have been drafted in to play a leading role in the national discussion.

The Seminar will today a panel discussion from leading members of the university sector.

Involved in the discussion, chaired by journalist Olivia O’Leary will be  Dr. Allyn Fives, of NUI Galway,  Professor Maureen Junker Kelly, of TCD, Dr. Kieran Keohane, of UCC and Jennifer Schweppe, UL.

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