Righteous anger at betrayal of trust, says President


IN THE first speech of his six-day visit to New York and Boston last night, President Michael D Higgins spoke of the “righteous anger” that Irish people feel “that various institutions and individuals betrayed the trust placed in them”.

Addressing several hundred members of the Irish community at the Consulate General, Mr Higgins acknowledged that Ireland has gone through “a period of deep distress . . . economic uncertainty and the scourge of high levels of unemployment”.

Irish people “are hurting from the recession” and are “dismayed that the transient, artificially-based, property-based economic bubble . . . has turned into ashes.”

But like the Taoiseach and Tánaiste on earlier visits to the US this year, Mr Higgins tempered his account of the crisis with the “encouraging news” of the return to economic growth, record exports and the flow of inward investment.

The President asked the Irish-American community to help “make an Irishness of which we can be proud”. On his inaugural visit to the US, the President is accompanied by his wife, Sabina Higgins. Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan will join him for the last two days in Boston.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has visited the US three times this year. “Obviously the themes and subject matter are similar,” said Ambassador Michael Collins.

“The economy, community and cultural links. This brings it to another level. The President is a man steeped in culture and he brings a particular cultural dimension.”

Mr Higgins will deliver the Thomas Flanagan Lecture on Remembering and Imagining Irishness at the American Irish Historical Society tonight. Other major speeches will address Irish emigration and the Famine.

Mr Higgins will speak at the World Press Freedom event at UN headquarters on Thursday, before making a courtesy call on UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

The President will attend 25 events before returning to Ireland early on the morning of May 6th. Like former president Mary McAleese two years ago, he will not visit Washington. Mr Collins said it is hoped that Mr Higgins will visit the capital in the future.

“New York and Boston are quintessentially Irish cities, so they are natural starting points to look after and acknowledge the relationship,” he said.

Mr Higgins will start today with breakfast with young Irish professionals at the Bank of New York Mellon. From Wall Street, he will go to nearby memorials to the victims of September 11th and the Famine, before meeting mayor Michael Bloomberg at City Hall.

The President will be the guest of honour at the American Ireland Fund gala for 1,400 people at Lincoln Centre on Thursday night, and at the Self Help Africa Inaugural Boston Change-Makers’ Ball on Friday.

In his speech last night, Mr Higgins noted that “three of the world’s best novels written in recent years, Colm McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn and Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland were all written by Irishmen and set in New York”.