Past must not disable you in present, says Higgins on North centenary

Issues around NI protocol can be resolved: ‘This is not putting somebody on moon’

President Michael D Higgins has urged people in Northern Ireland not to allow the past to "disable you in the present" as the state marks 100 years since its foundation.

Speaking about the centenary he recommended that people should read the speech of King George V at the time. He “was simply saying ‘this is where we are now ... and what the future will be like is up to you and it’s up to you to make the best of it’”.

“The whole purpose is not to allow some event of the past have the capacity to disable you in the present and remove options for the future from you. It’s a moral choice,” he said.

He also warned that “it is a great tragedy if ever the Irish language is used as, stated as, the possession of any one tendency or any one view.


“It belongs to all the people who have ever used it,” he said adding that the Presbyterian contribution to the Irish language is “extraordinary”.

Mr Higgins was speaking during a wide-ranging interview on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme with William Crawley on Brexit, Ireland's place in Europe, the centenary of Northern Ireland, Irish unity and the Irish language.

Speaking about Northern Ireland’s centenary he said that 100 years ago a minority on an all island basis had every reason to be concerned for issues of conscience and in Northern Ireland there was a very significant minority “who were part of a bigger discourse in relation to independence”.

He said that nobody should try to change history and that “in Derry/Londonderry, what was there was disgraceful in relation to housing, and exclusions in relation to employment and recruitment and that was a social and economic issue”.

The President also said social class had been neglected North and South and the trade union movement had not been treated adequately.

“Workers should not divide on the basis of false divisions that are being manipulated,” he said of religious divide.

He said that when people ask him about a united Ireland he said “what is much more important is a united vision against violence”. They had to look at institutionalised exclusions and “it is possible for us to deal with the past. It’s possible to deal with our present difficulties. I think they should be ironed out I think they can be.”

“People are talking as if they are attached to a rock or something like that. Everyone is a migrant.” The issue “is about the nature of the other – do you see the other as an inviting opportunity for curiosity or as source of fear”.

He said problems around Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol were not rocket science and should be resolved.

“This is not putting somebody on the moon,” he said of the complexities involved.

He said Brexit had been “sprung on a great number of people” and “preparedness for it was in fact insufficient.

He believed people “were let down. I think even from the European response the idea that Europe was going to come out fighting strong – I think that was exposed too” and he added that “I don’t think anyone is served by reducing complex matters to simplicities”.

He also said he believed the religious oath he swore during his inauguration should be removed and replaced with an affirmation.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times