Higgins urges debate on issues at heart of society


President Michael D Higgins last night said Ireland had paid “a high price” for its “recent relationship with anti-intellectualism” and called on public figures to engage in debate about issues at the heart of society.

Mr Higgins was speaking in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin at the launch of the book Up the Republic: Towards a New Ireland, edited by Fintan O’Toole. He said he hoped the collection of essays on rebuilding the Republic would “propel its readers into action”. He commended the “courageousness” of its contributors in engaging with the “urgent” matters facing the country.

“I passionately believe in the importance of public intellectuals engaging in debate and discussions about issues that must be at the heart of our society and democracy,” he said.

“In my inaugural address a year ago, I said I wanted my tenure as Uachtarán na hÉireann to be a presidency of ideas. The crisis that Ireland currently faces is not just an economic crisis.

“It is also a crisis caused by the failure of ideas . . . and by the failure of policymakers and influence formers to adequately challenge prevailing assumptions and models that were regarded as holy writ.”

Celtic Tiger

“There is general consensus that never again should we replicate the hubristic mistakes of the Celtic Tiger,” Mr Higgins added. “By its speculative nature, the Celtic Tiger economy was bound to end in tears . . . [and] the materialistic values which it gave rise to were not a particularly becoming version of Irishness.”

He had opened his speech by pointing out that, while his presence at the book’s launch was not an “endorsement of its content”, being president did “not require [him] to recant long-held convictions or resile from previously expressed views”.

While the office required him to respect the constitutional boundaries between the various branches of the State, he had “sufficient scope for the necessary critical and positive contributions I wish to make”.

O’Toole commended Mr Higgins’s “great war against cynicism” in his speech. “We’ve never needed to fight that war quite so urgently as we do now,” he said.

The book’s other essayists are legal journalist Dearbhail McDonald, poet Theo Dorgan, and academics Iseult Honohan, Elaine Byrne, Tom Hickey, Fred Powell and Philip Pettit.