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Sunday 18 March 2018

President stresses importance of learning from history

Fionnan Sheahan and Michael Brennan

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has emphasised the importance of understanding history – at a time when the future of the teaching of the subject is in doubt.

Mr Higgins's timely comments are likely to be seized upon by campaigners against a plan to allegedly downgrade history as a subject in secondary school.

Teachers claim Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's planned reforms of the Junior Cert will result in history being dropped.

In an interview to be broadcast on this morning's RTE Radio 1 'Today with Pat Kenny' programme, Mr Higgins says he is not intervening in the row – but he still gives teaching history a ringing endorsement.

"Well I can't comment specifically on state examinations as it's not in my remit.

"But I want to say very strongly that we can now access the census etc so history is more important and accessible now and its understanding and continual revision is crucial to participatory citizenship," he said.

Mr Quinn says the plans he has for the radical overhaul of the first three years of secondary school will not see the end of the subject.

But campaigners say it will mean certain core subjects, such as history and geography, will be made optional.


As Mr Higgins delivered a lecture in RTE last night on the 1913 Lockout, he said it was "vital that a new generation have a deep and textured understanding" of the event.

"Without good history teaching, there is no shared idea of a public past. Now, more than ever, with a contemporary crisis and a decade's commemoration of a fascinating and difficult past, we need to empower all our citizens with an appreciation of how we got to where we are.

"This is not invoking the cliche about learning the lessons of history; rather, it is about seeing history as essential to understanding who we are today and who we might be, in co-operation with others, in the future," he said.

Mr Higgins delivered a lengthy and detailed account of the key events of the Lockout as part of the annual "Michael Littleton" lecture, named after the former RTE head of current affairs.

Mr Higgins recalled how the Lockout had led to Ireland's first Bloody Sunday on August 31, 1913, when the Dublin Metropolitan Police had attacked locked-out workers on O'Connell Street.

Mr Higgins also noted the opposition of the Catholic Church to plans to s end the starving children of workers to families in Britain, due to fears of them coming into contact with Protestants.

Irish Independent

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