President hosts a Youth Garden Party

Fri 22nd Jun, 2018 | 14:30
location: Áras an Uachtaráin

Speech at a Garden Party to celebrate Youth Empowerment

Áras an Uachtaráin, 22 June 2018

A Chairde,
Tá fáilte romhaibh ar fad go hÁras an Uachtaráin inniu, agus go raibh maith agaibh as teacht. Is mór an phribhléid é dom féin agus
do Saidhbhín fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh go dtí an teach agus na gairdíní seo, áit cónaithe Uachtaráin na hÉireann ón bhliain 1938.

[Good afternoon and thank you to all of you for coming along to Áras an Uachtaráin today.  It is a great privilege for Sabina and me to welcome you all here to the house and gardens of the home of Presidents of Ireland since 1938.]

Today’s garden party is a celebration of the contribution made by young Irish people to Irish society and it is truly marvellous to welcome so many young people from throughout Ireland to Áras an Uachtaráin; I hope the day is enjoyable, filled with friendship and laughter, and that it provides an opportunity to meet new friends and develop new possibilities for the future.  

Acknowledging and valuing the energy, creativity and enthusiasm that young people have brought and can bring to the transformation of Ireland is the purpose of today’s garden party. Using the energy of youth to be an active citizen rather than a more passive consumer was a theme which formed a significant part of the earlier stage of my Presidency when I called on young people to ‘Take Charge of Change’ and invited young people to share their vision for Ireland’s future with me.

This they did, through regional workshops and an online consultation process during which they expressed their creativity and their imagination, enthusiastically grasping the opportunity to build a vision of the Irishness which they see as best for all of us in our different generations, now and for the future.

That generously sharing of themselves - their hopes, their concerns, their vision and their vulnerabilities – and reflection with their peers on the future of Ireland resulted in a report entitled ‘Being Young and Irish’ which captures the views and offers the vision of almost 800 young people on life for young people in Irish society as well as their proposals for the future of this country. The major themes and priorities that emerged were concerns about employment, the future of the economy, political reform, citizen participation and education for a full life.

Throughout the initiative what came across, powerfully and inspiringly, again and again, was the real will amongst young citizens to achieve equality and to become consciously involved in directing change, to being active not passive participants in society.

It is surely one of Ireland’s greatest assets and sources of hope that this country has one of the highest proportions in the world of its population under 30, with 40 per cent in that age category. 

Younger citizens in Ireland are increasingly important drivers of change, and the empowerment of young people – acquiring the skills and the critical awareness, along with the opportunities to positively impact their own lives and the lives of others, organisations, and communities is the challenge to our people, and my survey told me that they wish to do so with a sense of enthusiasm and both social and environmental responsibility. Modern technology continues to make our world a smaller place.  Today we share, across the world, a generation of young people for whom cultural, geographical, language and ethnic differences are no longer barriers to a shared youth culture of common values, dreams and desires. We must see them as global citizens bringing what is new into being, rather than a market segment to be exploited.

Your generation is the most interconnected generation in history, and is a generation that continues to grow rapidly. Indeed, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has estimated that by 2050, the continent of Africa will contain 2.5 billion people, 1 billion of whom will
be young people. By mid‐century then, Africa will be the continent of the young. There can be no doubting that the challenges, but also the
opportunities you and your generation face, both at home and at global level, are as exciting as they are daunting. It is you who can achieve the ethical globalisation that we so urgently need.

If you are to effect positive change you will need to be women and men who are unafraid to question the kind of world we inhabit, to aspire towards a fully conscious and critical life, to be the arrow and not the target. 

In many speeches I have made as President of Ireland, I suggested that the society we so dearly wish for will not take shape unless we acknowledge the need for an education that is pluralist, one of character, values and desires. We need to encourage and support critical reflection and a more holistic approach to knowledge. I have suggested that there would surely be considerable merit in introducing the teaching of philosophy in our schools, which could facilitate the fostering of an ethical consciousness in our fellow citizens; a consciousness that will enable citizens to think more critically and to challenge the inevitability of that which is too often presented as given and unchangeable.

Welcome progress has been made in this regard. Some secondary schools now offer Philosophy as a Junior Certificate option, and last year I was delighted to launch the Irish Young Philosopher Awards, aimed at encouraging our primary and secondary school pupils to think creatively and humanely around the critical issues and challenges that face our society today.

It is my hope, however, that philosophy will soon form an integral part of the curriculum, not just as secondary level but at primary level too. The teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower our children into acting as free and responsible subjects in an ever more complex, interconnected and uncertain world. As an experience in thinking and reasoning, enquiring and questioning, philosophy is, among its many gifts, a gift of skill – a skill that can be taught and acquired, and a gift that can enable all those who share in it to better understand and withstand such inflammatory passions, sowed in ignorance and fear, as are currently swelling in so many quarters of the globe.

You are all here today because you are already young people involved in all the different strands of Irish life. The wide range and spread of organisations that you represent is greatly impressive and an inspiring demonstration of the generosity, social conscience and willingness to engage and participate that exists amongst our younger citizens. 

Your involvement and commitment to others includes all areas of society–creating better opportunities for the young, providing social contact and care for the elderly, protecting the environment, contributing to our cultural and sporting life, becoming involved in local politics, looking after the sick and the injured, protecting human rights and striving in so many other areas to create a fairer and kinder world.

It is inspiring to see so many young people here today who are active members of groups who do considerable work in promoting more inclusive societies, creating more active communities, engaging with those who are vulnerable and in need, or in providing more opportunities for young people to reach their potential, to become politically engaged, and to use their voice to effect positive change.  That is to be so greatly commended and I encourage you to continue to be society’s active participants, generous and valuable members of our society and role models for other young people.

Earlier this afternoon some of you participated at our Speakers' Corner, facilitated by Ruairí McKiernan, on the theme of "Feidireachtaí gan teorainn/Limitless Possibilities". You spoke of your dreams and vision for a future Ireland, of the roles you wished to play in crafting that future, of the importance of imagining, of looking beyond the status quo and seeing how we can do things differently, better. All of you brought your own original thinking and unique vision to your 3 minute speech, but all of you spoke of a shared and more equal future. I thank those of you who took part, as speakers or encouraging listeners it was most inspiring to have the opportunity to hear your hopes and indeed your intentions for the future. 

It is, of course, important that you strive to turn those visions into reality and it is equally important that we, as a society, empower you to do so. If Ireland is to truly engage with its young people it is important that an older generation not only listens to you but also includes you in decision making processes, incorporates you into organisations and groups where your voice can make a difference, respects you as key stakeholders in policy formation processes and is generous and open minded enough to share, where possible, the powers and privileges which have traditionally come with adulthood.

We must let you know that you have our respect, our trust and our belief – that we are willing to share your visions and hopes, that we trust you to play your part in leading us towards a better future. 

As you arrived here today, you were all encouraged to take a packet of vegetable seeds – ‘seeds of hope’. I ask that you plant them, as a symbol of both your will and your potential to help in transforming our society. As you nurture those seeds, and help them to grow and flourish I hope you will, in tandem, continue to nurture and nourish your dreams, your visions and your hopes, enabling them to grow into that which is strong, enduring and rooted in fertile soil.

Is mór an spreagadh atá faighte agam uaibh inniu, agus tugann bhur fhlaithiúlacht, bhur misneach agus bhur neart tola, mar dhaoine óga Éireannacha, ardú croí dom. Tá an t-ádh orainn sa tír seo go bhfuil bhur leithéidí againn atá chomh bríomhar, paiseanta i dtaobh domhain atá níos fearr agus níos cothroma a thógáil.

[It has been so greatly inspiring to meet with you all here today, and so reassuring to receive such validation of the great generosity, will and courage of Ireland’s young people. You are an uplifting reminder of how fortunate we are to have so many young people who are passionate about playing their part in the creation of a better and fairer world.]

Before I conclude, I would also like to thank our superb MC this afternoon, Laura Woods.

May I also thank our entertainers this afternoon: Colm Ó hArgáin, Ruairí Ó hArgáin and MJ Mc Mahon; Mary Kelly, Claire, Elena & Chloe O’Connor and Charlotte Von Kietzell; The Vincent’s Secondary School Glasnevin Band and Choir; Mark Redmond; Aoife Scott and her band –  Daire Bracken and Eamonn Maloney; the Mullingar Marching Band and Baile and Salsa.

I also thank Dee Rogers, and his crew for the superb sound he has made possible in facilitating our performers and musicians.

Thank you to our friends in St John of God’s, the Gardaí and our Civil Defence colleagues, the tour guides and all who have worked so hard to make today such a joyful and happy occasion for us all.

May I say a special thank you to my staff here at the Áras for your hard work and good humour – and special thanks to OPW and our wonderful household team, not only for their wonderful treats, but for their kindness and ever cheerful disposition too; all things which contribute in no small part to making this garden party a very special event for you.   

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.