President’s speech on UN was a call to action

Throughout his public life, President Higgins has been a strong advocate for an effective UN

Sir, – Speaking at last week’s National Ploughing Championships, President Michael D Higgins spoke at length on the importance of members of the United Nations living up to the commitments which they made in 2015 to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and called on members to redouble their efforts to achieving the goals by the target date of 2030. The President’s speech was a call to action at this critical time for food security globally, representing a strong appeal for countries to support the UN, to fulfil their promised commitments to the SDGs – particularly their commitment to “zero hunger” – and reflected the President’s belief that, with the requisite action, this can and will be achieved. The President’s remarks directly referenced, echoed and were similar to those made by UN secretary general António Guterres the previous day at the SDG summit in New York, and again later in the week at the UN General Assembly, where Secretary General Guterres expressed serious concern at the fact that just 15 per cent of the SDGs are currently on track.

The President’s concern was for the effectiveness of the United Nations, for an authenticity of language and action. Reading the secretary general’s statements, it is remarkable how alike his language is to that used by President Higgins throughout his speech at the ploughing championships, where the President linked the challenges facing Irish agriculture to their global context.

Throughout his public life, President Higgins has been a strong advocate for the importance of multilateralism and the essential need for an effective UN. The speech followed two public statements issued by President Higgins in recent weeks in support of comments made by Secretary General Guterres with regard to the vital issues of migration and the need for effective multilateralism.

President Higgins has described the UN as our most important single shared institution. The President’s longstanding calls for reform of the UN are absolutely at one not only with the Irish Government and Secretary General Guterres, but with many heads of state and government speaking in New York last week, including, for instance, President Lula da Silva of Brazil.


Unfortunately, some of the reaction to the President’s speech last week gave neither reference to the full nature nor the context of his words. The misconstruction of a single passage, divorced not only from the speech as a whole but from the paragraph of which it formed part, was used to suggest a position which the President has never held. As the President said in that very paragraph which has been partially referenced: “I think our nation’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and to the 2015 Paris Agreement constitutes one of the great moments for humanity. What do we mean by this? Our hearts lifted when the Agreements were signed, our hearts have saddened and darkened when the agreements are not being achieved. So my message is – let us all together in partnership get the second seven years to 2030, make it happen.”

The President’s full published speech and audio of his remarks as delivered are available on the website.

The President will be returning to the theme of food security at the forthcoming meetings of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome in October. It is the President’s belief that the widest, fullest discussion on the issues he has raised, with the best respect for facts and options, will benefit us all. – Yours, etc,


Head of Communications and Information,

Áras an Uachtaráin,

Dublin 8.