President hosts a reception for delegates attending Inter Action Council meeting

Tue 30th May, 2017 | 17:00
location: Áras an Uachtaráin

Speech at a reception for members of the Inter-Action Council

Áras an Uachtaráin, Tuesday 30 May 2017

At a juncture when the voices of fear and entrenchment are, everywhere, becoming louder, let us not relent either in our efforts to affirm that ours is a world that requires more, not less, solidarity, more, not less, understanding of complexity, and more, not less, cooperation on the common issues facing humanity.

A Chairde Gael,
Distinguished Guests,

Tá áthas orm fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh go dtí Áras an Uachtaráin agus go hÉireann. Tá súil agam go raibh lá tairbheach agaibh ag an chéad cruinniú iomlánach den Chomhairle Idirghníomhaíochta a reachtaíodh in Éirinn. Daoibhse atá ar bhur gcéad turas go hÉireann, tá súil agam go spreagfaidh an chuairt seo sibh le filleadh ar feadh cuairte níos faide!

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to Áras an Uachtaráin and to Ireland. I hope that you have had a fruitful first day of discussions on this first plenary meeting of the Inter-Action Council to be held on Irish soil. I am particularly pleased to welcome your Co-Chairs, Bertie Ahern and Mr Olusegun Obasanjo. Bertie Ahern is a former colleague of mine in Parliament and Cabinet, a member of our Council of State, and an architect of peace and inclusive governance at home and abroad. 

For those of you who are seeing Ireland for the first time, I also hope that this initial visit will inspire you to come back and explore further the many human and natural riches this island harbours, a land where an ancient Celtic civilisation was infused and reshaped by Viking and later Anglo-Norman influences, and then by the harsh stamp of centuries of colonisation by our nearest neighbour, with whom we now have forged strong bonds of friendship, symbolised by, for example, the exchanged visits by our Heads of State, and put into practice every day in the social, cultural, economic and political realms. This is what has created the unique social and cultural tapestry that is contemporary Ireland.

I am glad to have this opportunity to meet you, and to reflect with you on some of the shared challenges, but also the possibilities for cooperation and renewal, that lie ahead of us in this new century. Your experience as former statesmen and women, and the freedom you now have to think, reflect, suggest and act with the wisdom that a long-term view allows, emancipated from the too often insatiable and impatient pace of active political life, are precious assets which you bring to the great collective tasks of this generation.

The foundation of The Inter-Action Council in 1983, and the particular contributions of Helmut Schmidt, Takeo Fukuda, and Pierre Trudeau had the aim of combining the wisdom of experience in Government with the most rigorous analytical scholarship from the academy.

The International Declaration on Human Responsibilities in 1997 carried this spirit forward. Now, twenty years later and on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights adopted by the United Nations, it has a renewed importance.

We are in possession of two international agreements, the great achievement of 2015 in Paris and New York – An agreement to tackle the impact of Climate Change and a call to replace exploitative development with sustainable development. 

Our world is a world of multilayered structural, political and technological changes. These changes however, are both understandable and amenable to an ethical response if we can create a global consciousness that is respectful of diversity, and committed to inter-generational justice. We are, as you so well know, faced with challenges that are now interacting on a global scale: population expansion, migration, climate change, desertification and deforestation, water shortages, dramatic situations of conflict and war, changing trade conditions with a possibility of a resile to a narrow assertion of special interests on the part of the most powerful. These are all issues that remind us of the web of interdependencies that weaves all of our nations together, as well as weaving us all, humans and non-humans, to Mother Earth. They are also, crucially, issues that have yet to be met with an adequacy of mind and heart translated into policy.

You are so right in identifying the significance of water as a source of international conflict. The delivery of science and technology within a sustainable and inclusive framework is also a theme you are discussing. We must have the courage to enable science and technology to leap over borders and create new options of application in the most populated parts of the planet.

Indeed, we must never allow ourselves to forget that the unresolved issues of global poverty, food insecurity, environmental degradation, unsustainable levels of debt, abuses of power, by commission and omission, are the legacy of paradigms of thought and practice that are insufficient and are failing, and in their failure presenting us with challenges as a global community. Yours are voices that can call, usher in the new paradigms of thought, policy and practice we need. We must have the courage of course, not just to identify the crippling contradictions of our age, but also to encourage our citizens to empower themselves with the necessary information and intellectual skills to challenge the assumptions that sustain those contradictions. 

Is it not the case, for example, that the narrow theory of interests that motivates the foreign policy of too many nations is the source of some of our greatest collective problems, be it from unfair trade to a reluctance to decisively tackle global warming? Is it not the case that an uncritical theory of growth, not submitted to the tests of sustainability and inclusiveness, has made us blind to the destruction of the natural systems upon which human life, and all forms of life, ultimately depend? 

Is it not also the case that a focus on a bureaucratic efficiency, a limited form of utility and performance, has too often led us to ascribe value – understood primarily as market value – to some spheres of human life at the expense of others?

In that regard, I was delighted to learn that work and its future was one of the themes you examined in your opening session this morning. Indeed a wide-ranging debate on the connections between market competition, social cohesion, ecology and work in conditions of change, globally, regionally, and locally, is as necessary as it is pressing. Our times are ones that invite us to revisit the definitions of work with which we have lived for decades, so as celebrate work in all of its aspects and forms: producing and caring, work of the hand, work of the heart and work of the imagination, work within the market, and work outside it. Re-defining work goes far beyond saving the demand centre of our economies. We are called upon to return to issues of distribution, the role of the State, the balance of work and life, the transition from sufficiency to insatiability and all the consequences of that transition. 

The possibilities opened by the universal Basic Income approach, which, I understand, you discussed earlier today, are among the proposals that acknowledge the issue of distribution and that are promising, in a context where policy-makers are challenged to craft new policy tools and measures adequate to the fundamental objectives of human development, security and dignity. This perspective demands that we move beyond any reduction of the citizen to a unit of labour, it is assumed, ever in readiness for reallocation across sectors and boundaries of societies and economies – a reductive fallacy of inadequate abstract economic fantasy. We need good economies within an ethical and cultural framework.

My conviction, dear friends, is that the invention of new connections between ethics, economy and ecology must be at the core of all work of political and intellectual reconstruction in this century. This was a central point of the conversation I had last week in Rome with Pope Francis. I am aware, too, that the need to anchor ethics firmly at the heart of public action has been a pillar of the activities of the Inter-Action Council over the years.

Indeed, a revived ethic of care and solidarity, a holistic approach to human inter-dependency and vulnerability is what must be established as the informing principle of a renewed political practice if we are to respond adequately to the challenges of our age, in the spheres of peace building, international development, trade, finance, agriculture and food production, and, of course, environmental protection.

If I may take up but the last item in this list, it is obvious that the challenge posed to us by climate change is not just of a scientific or economic kind; it is above all else an ethical challenge, calling for a revolution in consciousness and modes of thinking. The fight against global warming invites us, I repeat, to accept the responsibility of intergenerational justice, as the Prime Minister of India said in his address to the 2015 Paris Conference, to “care for the world we shall not see.” 

Are we ready to depart from economic models that encourage trade-offs in favour of the present, to the detriment of the future? Are we ready for a moral leap such as will enable us to construct our policies transnationally on a normative basis? Can we abdicate from some of the hubris we inherited from those such as Francis Bacon in an Enlightenment gone wrong, and embrace instead a new ethic of responsibility, one of symmetry with nature? Can we leave behind the old hegemonic tropes of industrial and technical mastery, the “dominion” of man over nature, and, instead, return the human being to a meaningful place within nature, seen as dwelling place, a wellspring of nourishment and inspiration?

In our seeking of an adequate ethic for the challenges of our times – an ethic which would heal the separation with nature, address the global reach of our actions, and protect the right of future generations to dwell in harmony on our shared planet – I believe that we can draw from a variety of philosophical and cultural sources, as well as from those old patterns of wisdom and ancient mythic systems of which all of our respective cultures have kept the memory. Our use of science and technology will only better serve humanity, may I suggest, if it is ethically and culturally framed.

Let us, dear friends, recognise the new realities – demographic, cultural, environmental – that will shape our future, and respond to them with political ambition, intellectual courage and creative innovation, but also with respect for the ethic of memory and cultural sensitivity, so that we might explore more fully the unchartered and fruitful intersections between science, technology, economy, and, yes, ethics and vernacular knowledge too. At a juncture when the voices of fear and entrenchment are, everywhere, becoming louder, let us not relent either in our efforts to affirm that ours is a world that requires more, not less, solidarity, more, not less, understanding of complexity, and more, not less, cooperation on the common issues facing humanity.

I know that those principles are at the core of your actions as members of the Inter-Action Council. May I, then, wish you all the best in your future endeavours, fruitful discussions tomorrow, and an enjoyable few days in Dublin City.

Guím gach rath ar bhur gcruinniú amárach agus ar obair na Comhairle Idirghníomhaíochta sa todhchaí, agus tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh sult as bhur gcuid ama i mBaile Átha Cliath.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.