Tuesday 22 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Higgins's next seven years must focus on the global rather than the local'

President Michael D Higgins inspects the Guard after his inauguration at Dublin Castle. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
President Michael D Higgins inspects the Guard after his inauguration at Dublin Castle. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

In a strange way, it was fitting that Michael D Higgins should be inaugurated as President for the second time on Armistice Day.

His marshalling of our decade of commemorations to date has been commendable - so he was best placed to find the correct words to summarise our confused history on World War One.

Likewise, we can expect our newly re-elected President to confidently oversee events marking the centenary of the Dáil's first sitting and, ultimately, Irish Independence.

Over the past seven years, this country has faced many struggles from within as we deal with our history.

But ordinary citizens who Mr Higgins represents were, for the most part, more concerned about economic and social issues.

He often spoke to those concerns and on occasion challenged the Government with thinly veiled references to budgetary policies.

However, his second term will be very different, as the threats come from outside rather than within.

Memories of the recession may not be gone but the country is approaching full employment again. And while housing and health remain intractable problems for the politicians, the President's inaugural speech suggests he is looking at a global picture.

Seven years ago, the idea of Donald Trump being in charge of the free world was laughed at.

Few were predicting the rise of right-wing populism and nationalism on a major scale, infecting countries like Austria and Italy.

David Cameron was still two years away from promising an ill-fated referendum on Brexit.

We were largely uneducated on climate change, nor were we feeling its real impacts.

At Dublin Castle last night, Mr Higgins warned that we cannot "afford to be complacent as to how we are living our lives and planning our future at local, national, European or global level".

He added: "Ideas matter and history tells us that anti-intellectualism has been, and remains, the weapon of authoritarian and anti-democratic forces in so many parts of our shared, vulnerable planet."

He talked repeatedly about "a real republic" that embraces everybody, including our neighbours.

"Empathy can and must inform our relations with neighbours near and far.

"One of our deepest and most complex relationships is that with our closest neighbour... This is something which will remain true, whatever political changes the near future might bring...," Mr Higgins said.

And on climate change, he proposed that the "very existence of our planet in its bio-diversity" is under threat "but we have not yet slowed the pace of that destruction".

Strong words that make for a good start to a term where Ireland needs to think global, rather than local.

Irish Independent

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