Rural depopulation and violence in cities should concern all, says Higgins

President says those who use the drugs ‘at root of killings’ must take responsibility for actions

The depopulation of rural Ireland, "which is proceeding at a galloping pace", and the continuing violence in our cities, should concern us all, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Those who used the drugs “at the root of killings and mutilation must be asked to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, which many of them ignore, not seeing the connection between their individual choices and social destruction,” he said.

Speaking on Monday at UCD’s Centre for Public Ethics, Mr Higgins also warned against failing to understand “the essential humanity” of people “who live on the streets, suffer from addiction, or have come to foreign shores as refugees escaping war and persecution.”

A “rhetoric of individualism has allowed many to explain social problems in terms of individual behaviour, absolving those who dominate our social structures and those responsible for running our institutions from blame,” he said.

It has also “allowed the formation of social policies that pursue, at most, a paternalistic route, and fail to tackle the root causes of issues such as poverty, homelessness, and addiction, preferring to impose solutions that deprive vulnerable citizens of autonomy and a voice.”

Mr Higgins said people are now standing " at a highly critical juncture in world history" and that "we must ask ourselves not merely what kind of society, served by what kind of economy, do we wish for Ireland, for the European Union but for those living in vulnerable conditions across the globe.

“We must ask is our scholarship, as source of policy, capable and willing to forge new connections of society, ethics, ecology and economy?” he said.

Noting the difference between an economy “and a cabal for the advancement of mutual interests,” he said that universities “can only enrich any public debate or conversation at this time of great change and upheaval by your bringing of intellectual reflection, diversity of vision and inclusion to such conversations.”

He recalled how, when inaugurated as President of Ireland just over six years ago "we were a society that had been left just recently, if not for the first time, gravely wounded by the speculation, individualism and extreme form of neo-liberal economics" on which the Celtic Tiger was built.

He had spoken then “of the necessity to work together to create a very different set of values that would enable the building of a sustainable economy and an ethical and inclusive society; a society that would restore trust at home and inspire respect and co-operation across the world.”

In initiating what became known as “The President’s Ethics Initiative”, he had turned first “to our third level institutions to discuss and review the principles by which we might live and work ethically together as a society.”

Looking back, he wondered if it would have been better had he been more “polemical and to have spoken of how insatiable individualistic greed was driving our society. I was anxious however, to get beyond justifiable rage.”

He had no doubt that the intellectual work produced by the UCD centre would contribute significantly “to the seeking of sustainable and innovative solutions to the challenges we face as we strive to shape an ethical future.”