Echoes of de Valera in call for solidarity

Sat, Nov 12, 2011, 00:00

ANALYSIS: The President was not shy about criticising recent failures when outlining his vision, saying people wanted a new chapter requiring a major change in political thinking

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has set himself the ambitious goal of making his term of office a transformational one that will enable the Irish people to realise their “limitless possibilities”.

In a warmly greeted inauguration speech in Dublin Castle yesterday, he made no bones about his vision of a country motivated not by the material desire of individuals but by deeper, enduring values that could not be measured.

He referred to a programme of action he intended to initiate through a series of presidential seminars in the years ahead.

President Higgins was not shy about criticising the failures of the recent past, saying people wanted “to close the chapter on that which has failed, that which was not the best version of ourselves as a people”, and begin a new chapter that would require a transition in political thinking, in our institutions and our consciousness.

“In making that transformation, it is necessary to move past the assumptions which have failed us and to work together for such a different set of values as will enable us to build a sustainable social economy and a society which is profoundly ethical and inclusive. A society and a State which will restore trust and confidence at home and act as a worthy symbol of Irishness abroad, inviting relationships of respect and co-operation across the world.”

The Irish people, he said, must seek to build an active, inclusive citizenship based on participation, equality, respect for all and the flowering of creativity in all its forms. “A confident people is our hope, a people at ease with itself, a people that grasps the deep meaning of the proverb ‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’ – our strength lies in our common weal – our social solidarity.” Later in the speech he praised the kind of individualism that had led to Irish independence, but warned about a different kind of individualism “closer to an egotism based on purely material considerations – that tended to value the worth of a person in terms of the accumulation of wealth, rather than their fundamental dignity”.

“That was our loss, the source in part, of our present difficulties. Now it is time to turn to an older wisdom that, while respecting material comfort and security as a basic right of all, also recognises that many of the most valuable things in life cannot be measured.”

There were uncanny echoes of Eamon de Valera’s famous “comely maidens” address of St Patrick’s Day, 1943, in which the then taoiseach outlined his vision of the country as follows: “The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit.”

Like de Valera, President Higgins moved fluently between Irish and English in the course of his address.

He pledged that his presidency would be one of transformation, recognising and building on the many positive initiatives already under way in communities, in the economy, and in individual and collective efforts throughout the land.

“It will be a presidency that celebrates all of our possibilities. It will seek to be of assistance and encouragement to investment and job creation, to innovation and original thinking – a presidency of ideas – recognising and open to new paradigms of thought and action. It will aspire to turn the best of ideas into living realities for all of our people, realising our limitless possibilities – ár feidireachtaí gan teorainn.”

He pointed out that next year Bunreacht na hÉireann would be 75 years old and a constitutional convention was being planned by Government. He urged citizens of all ages at home and abroad to take the opportunity of engaging with this important review as an opportunity to reflect on where we have come from, and how we might see ourselves into the future.

“During my presidency, I also intend to hold a number of presidency seminars which may reflect and explore themes important to our shared life, yet separate and wider than legislative demand, themes such as the restoration of trust in our institutions, the ethical connection between our economy and society, the future of a Europe built on peace, social solidarity and sustainability.”

He also pointed to the fact that a decade of commemorations lay ahead and it would require us to “honestly explore and reflect on key episodes in our modern history as a nation; that will require us to draw on the ethics and politics of memory in such a way as will enable us not only to be sensitive to differing and incomplete versions of that history, but also to remain open to the making of reconciliation or to the acceptance of different versions of aspects and events of memory if required.”