President Higgins launches year-long debate on ethics and society

Over 50 events across island include lectures and workshops at third-level institutions

Over 50 events are planned to take place across the island of Ireland this year as part of an ethics initiative by President Michael D Higgins to stimulate debate on and an awareness of ethics.

It will initially involve third-level institutions across the island but the intention is to spread it to wider society.

Involved will be a series of academic workshops and public lectures at University College Dublin on the role of conscience in society, with emphasis on whistle-blowing, conscientious objection and civil disobedience.

These will explore the ethical background to the ongoing financial crisis and why it was that, though many felt the boom was ethically dubious, so few spoke out.


Trinity College Dublin is to host four major public events and a series of seven consultations on ethics, which will include the inaugural Edmund Burke lecture by Onora O'Neill, a philosopher at Cambridge and chair of Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission. The 'Designed Life: the Ethics of Synthetic Biology', currently at TCD's Science Gallery, is part of the university's contribution to President Higgins's initiative.

University College Cork is to launch a new Centre for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Economy and Society, as part of the initiative, and will host a series of ethics-related events, including an summer school on 'Economy and Society', in conjunction with Waterford Institute of Technology.

Dublin City University will host an international symposium on disaster ethics, highlighting issues arising from the response to, the prevention of, or the prediction of disasters, while the Dublin Institute of Technology will host four public debates on ethics and society.

NUI Galway will host a public lecture on ‘Ethics and Economics: Re-imagining our Economic Model for the 21st Century’, which will explore what a more ethically tuned economy might be like. It is planned that the the lecture will begin an ongoing process of embedding ethics deeper within, and across all disciplines at the university.

There will be workshops at NUI Maynooth on tolerance in a pluralistic society and on the ethics of data collection and use, while Queens University, Belfast will host a two-day conference on 'Religion and Public Life' next May.

University of Chicago Philosophy Professor Martha Craven Nussbaum will speak at the University of Limerick on June 6th while a seminar there, aimed at the local community, will explore the ethics of political, sporting and music heroes. UL will also run four seminars on'Ethics in Public Places, Public Spaces and Public Discourses'.

A Royal Irish Academy opinion series will explore what ethics means to Irish researchers across a variety of disciplines.

The year’s events will conclude with a major seminar at Áras an Uachtaráin at the the end of the year.

This is the second major initiative launched by President Higgins.

The first was on ‘Being Young and Irish’ and involved up to 800 young people .

In his November 2011 inaugural address he said he intended holding such "Presidency Seminars"', on themes "such as the restoration of trust in our institutions, the ethical connection between our economy and society, the future of a Europe built on peace, social solidarity and sustainability."

Speaking of his ethics initiative he hoped it might help “enable us build a sustainable social economy and a society which is profoundly ethical and inclusive.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times