President says Irish society hollowed out by individualism

 

IRISH SOCIETY has been “chastened” by the “hollowing out of rampant individualism”, President Mary McAleese has said.

Echoing a speech made at Arizona State University last month in which she spoke of an Ireland “consumed by consumerism”, the President said Ireland was now “uniquely in our history fighting to hold on to our prosperity”.

Speaking last night at the centenary celebrations of the founding of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in 1909, Mrs McAleese praised its successor Siptu for its work in attempting to create social solidarity.

She said the altruism of the founding principals of the union were “properly a true fit for the Irish character” which she characterised as “spirit of community, care for others and making other people’s problems your responsibility”.

She contrasted conditions in Ireland in 1909 when the ITGWU was founded by Jim Larkin with the Ireland of today.

“It started in such grim, difficult and tough times 100 years ago. It is worth reminding ourselves as we think we are facing into grim and difficult times, in the scheme of things, we start with so much,” she said.

“We know the short-term prognosis is not a very pretty sight, but this union has endured and survived much worse in its 100 year history.”

She praised Siptu’s involvement in social partnership which has led Ireland out of a “paralysing cycle of confrontation and blame”.

“In that willingness to engage to take a longer-term strategic view and to seek a share of the problems, we see many of the hallmarks of this great organisation.

“The leadership and commitment shown by Siptu and its representatives over many years has been so crucial and continues to be crucial as we face into what is very evidently tough economic times that beset us and beset many others.”

About 300 guests including trade union officials from all over Ireland, the Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, his predecessor Pat Rabbitte and members of the Larkin and Connolly families attended last night’s event in Liberty Hall.

The poet Theo Dorgan was applauded when he remembered Tony Gregory who died at the weekend. He said Mr Gregory had “raised a banner we must never let fall”.

Siptu president Jack O’Connor said the right to collective bargaining which Jim Larkin had fought for 100 years ago was still not a reality for many workers in Ireland.

He said while the Government had signed up to a transitional agreement to prohibit victimisation of those who want to get involved in collective bargaining it is “sad that it took 100 years to achieve it”.

“It is sadder still that the basic right to participate in collective bargaining, recognised as a human right across the developed world, is as elusive as ever”, though he said it was contained in the Lisbon Treaty which the Government hopes will be endorsed by the end of this year.