Tuesday 22 January 2019

President uses UN speech to say young people 'appalled' at 'strut of the powerful'

President Michael D Higgins arrives at UN headquarters in New York
President Michael D Higgins arrives at UN headquarters in New York

Cormac McQuinn Political Correspondent in New York

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has said that young people are "appalled" at the apparent "strut" of the powerful on the international stage.

In a major speech at the United Nations General Assembly Mr Higgins also delivered a rallying call for a renewed commitment to peacebuilding and for member states to live up to the founding ideals of the organisation.

The President said that if the international community is to "truly commit" to the objective of sustaining peace, it must discard "easy" and "lazy" cynicism.

And he said: "The young of the world are appalled by any suggestion... that the strut of the powerful and the wielders of power can prevail in the UN Security Council".

Mr Higgins added: "That is what is losing the young".

The President’s speech at UN Headquarters comes at a time when the organisation has been at the centre of rows between the United States and Russia over the Syrian conflict, most recently over the suspected chemical attack in Douma.

The use of Security Council vetoes has hampered action on the issue.

Mr Higgins was speaking as part of a high level meeting on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace, called by the Slovak President of the UN General Assembly Miroslav Lajčák.

The President lamented the prevalence of war around the world and how they "absorb the finest minds in science and technology".

He said: "It is an affront to humanity that, in these first decades of the twenty-first century with all its promise, at a time when we have the capacity to abolish all forms of human poverty, we share a planet with hundreds of millions who are, even as we speak here today, deprived of their most fundamental rights."

"It is not nothing less than a moral outrage that our boundless capacity for creativity and innovation, and the fruits of new science and technology, are turned, not to the promotion and preservation of peace, but to the pursuit and prosecution of war?," he added.

Mr Higgins cited Northern Ireland and the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement as an example of conflict resolution, but also the challenges of sustaining peace.

He said it involved engagement by the Irish and UK governments, financing of peacebuilding activities and strong support from the European Union and other UN members, particularly the United States.

"Our peace could not have been achieved without the steady and courageous activism of civic organisations campaigning for a more just and peaceful society, many of which were led by the women of Ireland, North and South," Mr Higgins said.

He added: "Yet while we celebrate the end of violence, the lives saved and the futures transformed, we are also reminded daily of the challenges of sustaining peace."

Mr Higgins said the UN will only be successful in sustaining peace if member states re-commit themselves to the founding principles of the organisation set out after the horror of the two world wars.

Mr Higgins made the argument that preventing conflict is not only a moral duty, but is in the financial interests of countries as well.

He warned that humanitarian action is not a substitute for political dialogue but also saluted the work of Irish peacekeepers over the last 60 years.

The President closed his speech saying: "Let us once again, in this Hall, recall the energy and bravery which animated our forebears in their best moments and devote ourselves to the cause of a universal peace, one that encompasses all of the people of our shared and vulnerable planet."

The President, accompanied by his wife Sabina, is today beginning five days of engagements in New York.

He will use meetings with other world leaders to seek support for Ireland’s bid to win a seat on the Security Council for the 2021-2022 term.

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