Higgins calls for dignity for migrants during US visit

President visits Seattle on first part of eight day trip to American west coast

President Michael D Higgins highlighted the “significant connections” between Ireland and Seattle, including through University College Cork, University College Dublin and NUI Galway.

President Michael D Higgins highlighted the “significant connections” between Ireland and Seattle, including through University College Cork, University College Dublin and NUI Galway.

 

The global movement of people has to be dealt with in a way that respects dignity and rights, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking on Wednesday, after meeting mayor of Seattle Ed Murray, the President said there needs to be respect for the dignity of labour and the rights of work internationally.

“Migrants in Europe for example, any of them that are allowed to work, within three years have contributed far more than any costs associated with their dignified and appropriate services,” he said. And he said the middle classes emigrating from Syria are net contributors “within months”.

At the first engagement of his official eight-day visit to the US west coast, the President said the debate of the next 20 years will be about “the appropriate ethics that is to be associated with our interdependency” and will inevitably involve redefining work.

“That will mean, as well, it will address the issue of the movement of workers between different forms of economies and also the right of people to define their lives in terms of balances between different forms of activity,” he said.

He praised Mr Murray for being “modern”, “progressive and inclusive” and congratulated him for his “labour economics”.

The mayor, a Democrat, raised the city’s minimum wage from $9.32 (€8.22) to $15 (€13.22) on a phased basis beginning last April, making it the highest minimum wage in the US. He has also focussed on tackling homelessness; the city has approximately 8,000 homeless people in a population of 670,000.

Mr Higgins said Mr Murray, who has four Irish grandparents and carries an Irish passport, realises that “to approach the future in terms of new structures for the labour market”, you have to address issues of inclusion. He said the mayor was a “very valuable link” for Ireland.

He highlighted the “significant connections” between Ireland and Seattle, including through University College Cork, University College Dublin and NUI Galway. The city is also twinned with Galway City, the President said.

Science and technology connections included Microsoft, in Seattle and Dublin and the Ryanair purchase of Boeing aircraft, he said, as well as through several hundred small companies.

Mr Murray thanked Mr Higgins for recognising the importance of Seattle’s Irish and Irish-American communities.

“What’s very important about your trip and about your visit here is it recognises the Irish are everywhere in America and that connection between Irish Americans in Seattle and Ireland is a very important one,” he said.

“As a grandchild of Irish immigrants and as an Irish-American I am so proud that you chose our city.”

On Friday, the mayor is to host a dinner for Mr and Mrs Higgins, in conjunction with the Irish Network of Seattle. The President will leave the city on Saturday.

Separately on Wednesday, Mr and Mrs Higgins paid an informal visit to one of Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions, Pike Place Market.

The market, established in 1907, attracts more than 10 million visitors a year and contains more than 220 small businesses, including fruit and vegetable stalls and, flowers, fish and crafts sellers.

Onlookers were surprised at the arrival of, as one person put it, “the king of Ireland” and were quick to take photos.

Among items for sale that attracted Mr and Mrs Higgins attention were silver necklaces with jasper and agate, by Stuart Porteous. The Pike Place Fish Market, where fishmongers Mike Kirn and Jaison Scott posed for a photo before throwing fish at each other, was also popular.