Tuesday 20 March 2018

President warns of 'politics of fear in a fractured world'

‘Irish Independent’ columnist David McWilliams with President Michael D Higgins on the set of his new TV show. Picture:Brian McEvoy
‘Irish Independent’ columnist David McWilliams with President Michael D Higgins on the set of his new TV show. Picture:Brian McEvoy
Luke Byrne

Luke Byrne

President Michael D Higgins has warned it is "quite possible" that the world is about to shift in a very dangerous direction.

Mr Higgins, discussing themes such as the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit, has spoken about exploitation of "the politics of fear" during times of economic hardship.

"I think, between 2008 and 2011, the number in poverty in the United States went from 11pc to just under 15pc. So you either lift them out of that, or you do the other thing - and that is you seek to exploit it in politics of fear," he said yesterday as the first guest on 'Agenda', TV3's new show with Irish Independent columnist David McWilliams.

"We see the politics of fear in the demagoguery of the United States. We see the politics of fear equally in relation to the anti-immigrant, the anti-refugee thinking that is going on in so many European countries," he added.

"The choice is between the politics of fear and the politics of integration, in very much a fractured world," he said.

Mr Higgins was on the programme to discuss some of the big themes in his new book 'When Ideas Matter', including the plight of refugees.

He said he remained optimistic that people were open to new ideas about economies which are logical and measurable, but warned there was a danger of the world going the other way.

"It's capable of giving us the nightmare that we had, that gave us fascism and racism," he said.

Asked by Mr McWilliams if he was worried the world would shift in a very dangerous direction in the next few years, Mr Higgins said: "I think it is quite possible."

Speaking to the Irish Independent last month, the President spoke about the "huge ethical questions" about the activity of vulture funds.

Raising topics that are addressed in his book, he said people should be better informed about major policy decisions.

He spoke in particular about banks and investing in what's good for the public - such as education and housing.

"How can you say it is good policy for the European Investment Bank to be overflowing with funds and interest rates to be negative - they're not 1pc anywhere - that you wouldn't be investing in all these issues," he said.

"A country that is able to house, feed and look after the health of its people, that seeks to reduce the drudgery of work, that seeks to deliver technology for the people - we're not out of the ark, those of us who believe in that.

"What's so sophisticated about wanting personal benefit at the cost of widespread social misery?"

The President, who has been criticised in the past for straying into matters of public policy, refused to comment on any plans to run for office again in 2018, but he doesn't rule it out.

His book includes 36 speeches given at home and abroad, covering a diverse range of matters - from what it means to be an Irish migrant to how we remember the men and women of Easter 1916.

Irish Independent

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