Michael D Higgins warns xenophobia could ‘destroy democracy’

President tells diplomats global inequality is being exploited by ‘extremists’

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina with Minister of State Helen McEntee meeting HE Robin Barnett, the British ambassador, at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina with Minister of State Helen McEntee meeting HE Robin Barnett, the British ambassador, at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

As US president Donald Trump’s immigration ban comes under international criticism, President Michael D Higgins has warned democracy could be destroyed by racism and xenophobia.

Mr Higgins told the diplomatic corps of the dangers of demagoguery which he suggested was “exploiting fears and ignorance in ways that could destroy democracy itself”.

The President was addressing embassy officials from more than 60 countries at what is the traditional start-of-the-year gathering of the diplomatic corps in Áras an Uachtaráin.

He did not mention the recent events in the United States nor Mr Trump by name, but he criticised “an anti-intellectualism which is feeding populism among the most insecure and excluded”.

He suggested global inequality was being exploited by “extremists, preaching claims to exclusive forms of propriety and entitlement which ignore the fundamental truth that we are all but migrants in time and space”.

‘Visionary project’

He warned of the threat to multilateral institutions such as the UN, the Council of Europe and the European Union. He said the EU was a “visionary and vital project”, but one that had to have a greater connection with the “European street”.

The UN had “enormous, life-saving achievements to its name” but was also under-funded and not connected to those who depend on its moral authority.

He said multilateral institutions were set up after the second World War because those involved recognised the need for collective action rather than a retreat into just national interests.

“Our imperfect world is a better place today because of far-sighted and imaginative arrangements put in place then by longsighted women and men,” he said.

“It needed an inspired generation of diplomats and political leaders to make it happen and that is what we need again today.”

Speaking on behalf of the diplomatic corps, the papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown recognised there was now a “strong sense of uncertainty and even apprehension throughout the world”.

Multilateralism and globalisation

The move towards multilateralism and globalisation had been stopped, he said.

“The pendulum, if you will, appears to be swinging in precisely the opposite direction, towards independence, autonomy and separation.

“Long-established patterns of acting, commonly accepted presuppositions, comfortable certainties, have all seemingly been overturned in the last few months.

“We have the feeling that we are entering a new era, a different era, an uncertain era. All of us sense it, some of us can describe it; but few of us can completely explain it.”

Dr Brown identified inequality as the root cause of global discontent. “When inequality is not effectively addressed, established government policies and even long-standing international agreements can come under political pressure.”

He said the ongoing centenary of the first World War was a reminder of the “tragic, unintended consequences that can follow when national interests are pursued explicitly and even blindly at the expense of other nations”.