Higgins says ‘stealth power’ of firms is unaccountable

President tells US audience interest and commitment to politics needs to be restored


The “stealth power” of corporations is not open and accountable in the same way as political power, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Criticising the role of multinationals in the world economy, he said it was possible to change governments now without changing the locus of power.

Speaking at the University of Washington, in Seattle on Friday, he warned against the “canker” of cynicism in politics. A canker is a sore or ulcer.

He said it was very important the interest and commitment to politics is restored.

The President and Sabina Higgins are halfway through an official visit to the US west coast and will fly from Seattle to San Francisco on Saturday.

In a keynote address, given to a packed out auditorium at the university, Mr Higgins criticised the United Nations planned Technology Facilitation Mechanism, set up to facilitate access to new technology for poorer countries. He described it as “inadequate”.

“At first reading these steps strike me as inadequate and they are seen by most as modest at best,” he said.

“It remains to be seen how they will interact with agreements in other spheres and emerging from other processes.”

He did say, however, that the new structures would provide a framework for expression of “a new ethic of science”.

Mr Higgins told those gathered to hear his address on redefining development and taking responsibility for climate change that empowerment was the key to sustainable and just development.

Aid and trade were important for Africa and other poor countries. But a model of sustainable development that “creates employment, develops indigenous industry, builds infrastructure, and addresses the acute needs of the people” is needed.

“We have a choice: to make available the benefits of science in a spirit of solidarity and under the ethic of sharing the benefits of advances in knowledge and understanding; or to reduce knowledge to a tradable commodity, which becomes another dimension to the imbalance and inequalities we inherit from history,” he said.

The President said in the developing world, the best results are produced where the benefits of science and technology are delivered within a citizenship model, rather than a consumer model.

He also said access to technology and scientific knowledge was central. He highlighted programmes in which access to the necessary scientific knowledge was delivered through state agencies and universities, and combined with local expertise. This differed from “unaccountable strategies that can create a new dependence, or indeed even a new form of colonialism”, he said.

Mr and Mrs Higgins also attended the Northgate Community Centre on Friday, to meet older Irish Americans, many of whom emigrated in the 1950s and 1960s.

Among the guests were 96-year-old Fr Bill Treacy, from Co Laois, who was ordained by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in 1944. The priest continues to play a role in the Seattle community, where he runs a retreat centre.

On Friday evening, Mr and Mrs Higgins attended a dinner hosted by mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray, in conjunction with the Irish Network of Seattle.