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‘Drawing water from the same well – the central importance of UNESCO in building peace through recognition of the power of culture’

UNESCO, Paris, 19th February 2013

Mme Director General,

Madame President of the Governing Conference,


Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen

Ar an gcéad dul síos is mían liom mo theanga fein a úsáid, agus mé á rá go bhfuil an áthas orm bheith anseo inniú le mo bhean chéile, Sabina.

It is a very great pleasure and honour for me to be here today at UNESCO. I opened using a language that is one of the oldest languages in the world, a language which almost went out of existence, but was shared by, among others, a man who went on later to be the first President of Ireland, Douglás de hĺde.  The Irish language itself is used every day in my Office in the Presidency.

It is a pleasure for me to be at UNESCO. Madame Director General, thank you for your warm welcome. The positive and warm feelings are, I assure you, reciprocated in my appreciation for both the status and mission of your Organisation and the quality of those who have contributed to its discourse and debates since its foundation in 1946.

The importance of UNESCO was recognized from the earliest days of the United Nations. I think sometimes people forget that Eleanor Roosevelt chose UNESCO to consult with organisations, nations and peoples on the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The story of how the draft came to be written, is itself interesting but for another day.

I am so pleased to be here because UNESCO matters. UNESCO matters if we are to construct a world that will not only deliver peace, but the fruits of peace in our present and all of the products of the imagination in our shared future.

Yes, this is the first time that a President of Ireland has come to UNESCO and it is my dearest wish that it marks a new and positive departure in my country’s relationship with, and the people of Ireland’s relationship, with your Organisation.  I am also conscious that I am coming at a time when Ireland holds for the 7th time, the Presidency of the European Union.  And I hope too that my visit signifies a commitment to the moulding of culture into the centre of the debates about the future of the Union.

UNESCO is important.  It has always been an important part of the United Nations project and it remains so. It probably is more important now at a time when, internationally, an economic crisis sourced on reliance on a single hegemonic model that moved away from production that was based on a real economy, into the realms of speculation on virtual financial products that has delivered so much disaster in so many different parts of our world.

The mandate of UNESCO may have been at times perceived by some to be idealistic. I think, at the time of Eleanor Roosevelt’s initiative, there was a sense of a moral bathos having been reached, as well of urgency, almost of a desperate anxiety to ensure peace. The phrase “wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men peace must be created” reflects this anxiety.

But at this time I think it is important for us to remember that there is no necessary clash between idealism and pragmatism, between interests and moral principles, provided that we define those interests as an interest and ideal above all else, of living in peace, prosperity, security, safety, respect and dignity. And while we may differ on the sources of such moral principles as to whether they are derived from an enlightenment in one continent, in one period, or indeed, as to whether they are revealed to us, this should not deflect us from the task of pursuing what might be, or come to be, capable of universal acceptance as rights.

I want to congratulate you Director General on the spirit and the vision that is contained in your speech that you delivered in Milan in 2010 when you spoke of a new ‘Humanism for the 21st Century’.  And I want to take this opportunity too, Director General, to congratulate you and applaud you on your recent visit to Mali and your solidarity and the solidarity of UNESCO with the people of Mali who have suffered so much, and who are at risk so much, at the hands of extremism.  Like you, I am shocked by the deliberate targeting of culture and cultural heritage as a weapon of war.  The attack on the culture of Mali is of course primarily an attack on the people of Mali and the generations yet to be born in that region.  However, we must remember, an attack on the culture of one of our members in UNESCO of 195 members and its associates is an attack on the culture of us all, who share the culture of humanity.

It is to UNESCO that the most fundamental task of disarmament of the mind of war and aggression has been assigned. As I paraphrase the preamble to your Constitution I also want to suggest that a peace based exclusively upon political and economic arrangements could not secure the unanimous lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world.  True peace requires a form of consciousness that not only eschews all forms of violence but which also envisages the rich fruits of peaceful life together in all its utopian diversity.

Madam Director General, you quoted a line from my poem ‘Of Memory’, I should tell you that I wrote that poem in honour of the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, and when I did so I was acknowledging his enormous contribution to the politics and ethics of memory.

We must be able to place the narratives of our origins and our history side by side with respect, and Paul Ricoeur wrote too, we should remind ourselves, of the possibility of being able to make such an amnesty in our conflicts of the past as would not disable us for living with a sense of humanity in the present, and most important of all, of imagining the futures that we can share together. That kind of thinking is respected in the phrase I see written on the wall of UNESCO that invokes ‘the memory of the world’.  The memory of the world, yes it differs in that there are versions, but it is important that it not be a place of arid contestation only but rather a place of an ethical exchange of narratives that will be enabling, empowering and emancipatory for our future.

I also think it is very important, that our ethical aspirations be communicated and I congratulate UNESCO on its great publications. For example, long ago, the publication ‘One World, Many Voices’ which caused such conflict in its day, on the simple suggestion that in our world one voice in any part of the most remote areas was as important as any other if you wished to acknowledge the dignity of the human person. One world, many voices, many stories; that was the message of this powerful UNESCO publication in its time.

I was proud to participate as a contributor to ‘In From The Margins’, which was a regional contribution in its term through the Council of Europe to Our Creative Diversity. This was UNESCO’s attempt to take on this issue of culture, and see how it can be used to achieve the mind of peace.

We need to use all of our intellectual resources if we are to build the mind of peace through culture. For example, the discipline of anthropology was not utilized in the drafting process of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It comes after its acceptance. Anthropology, a discipline widely used in the period of colonization has been neglected in post-colonial times.

But we need now to include all of the different intellectual instruments that we have, to take off in a new beginning, taking UNESCO as the path towards constructing new models of economy embedded in culture, of human rights at the heart of development, of human rights itself being constituted in such a way that the discourse of reason and of different faith systems can live together on the common assumption that their universal protections of the body, and of the person, and of the dignity of all must never be let go.

Madame Director General, real peace must be founded upon ‘the intellectual and moral solidarity of humankind’ as is stated in the founding texts of UNESCO. And it is to the achievement of that peace that UNESCO, not only through those documents that I mentioned, has devoted itself, with some success, over the past sixty-seven years. It is to the security of that peace and its possibilities that we must aspire if we are to overcome the fundamental challenges of our time.

In making this contribution today I recognise with humility, the great minds and “spirits”, which have contributed in the past, and continue to guide UNESCO’s discourse and ideas have been valuable. Albert Einstein, Leon Blum, the great Rigoberta Menchú[1], Nelson Mandela, Kuniyoshi Obara[2], Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, to mention but a few. And I think that while their influence has been of immense value, it must be turned into something more than a moral or theoretical influence. The words must be driven into policies.

The message, seeking policy reform, must be brought home to the member countries and the words must turn into actions that are emancipatory and liberating and empowering.

On a personal level, I am especially aware that the great poet Pablo Neruda, whose work I have so often quoted, and whose home in Isla Negra I recently visited, spent some of his last days here at UNESCO as Ambassador of Chile in 1972, and in those late writings of his, passionately reminded us all of our obligations to the people of the world as human beings.

My visit too comes just after the visit of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, who participated in UNESCO’s solemn marking of Holocaust Memorial Day, and of course at the end of last year the President of the Republic of Peru was here to discuss the great World Heritage project of the Qapaq Nan, the main historical Andean route between the peoples of that region, which is now being rediscovered and re-explored.

I was delighted to read that Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, are working together to present this initiative to the World Heritage Committee for Qapaq Nan.  What a splendid act of cultural co-operation this is, and I so wish them every success. This illustrates the power of shared cultural legacy in contributing to building and re-enforcing peace between nations, and it is UNESCO that is providing the opportunity for this. Recently in South America I described all of these countries which were experiencing change, changes from the base of societies, as symbolically being something rather like the pilgrims in ‘The Canterbury Tales’. They are all on pilgrimage, but each has a different story. Sometimes it is change led by the civil society, sometimes by workers in unions, overwhelmingly women are involved, sometimes this change is about participating in budgets, sometimes it’s about ethnic rights. But they all share one view, that their continent is a continent that is moving and changing from the base, and this is such a contrast, and let us all recognize it, in countries that were dominated by military regimes, regimes that excluded citizens and trampled on human rights.

The World Heritage Programme of UNESCO is one of the great visible achievements of UNESCO. But there are many more UNESCO achievements that have been feeding unknowingly into our daily lives – from how we approach education and science, to how we recognise, protect and celebrate the cultural diversity of humankind, how we defeat discrimination or exclusion on gender or any other grounds.

We in Ireland were very pleased that Dublin in 2011 was designated UNESCO City of Literature. I thank you for your references to James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, and indeed I should say we have added Eileen Grey as our third great modernist whose exhibition is on in Paris at the present.

There is something special that this work tells us and all humanity about the artist’s work and contribution. It comes out of the exilic mind and it comes out of the morality of migrants, people who have left the comfort of the familiar and the sedentary, that have disposed of the security of property and have gone on to use their mind, in the pursuit of freedom, in the case of Joyce it constitutes the breaking open of an art form, in the case of Beckett addressing issues about the inadequacy of words, of our humanity, reduced to the point, but also celebrated at the point, where words are insufficient; and in the case of Eileen Gray it involves continually moving on, and the migration from one form of invention to another and through materials and design and shape.

That is the story of the world. It is time for us not only to recognise this diverse legacy of values but also at a more general and philosophical level to restore normative theory again, as alternative to our immersion in endless narrow versions of contests between interests, but we must also build into our knowledge of structures, incomplete as it is, the morality that comes from the transience of the mind, and experience of the migrant and also the careful reflections of those who have taken the exilic as the prism through which to look at their own pasts, their own people and their own futures.

UNESCO has acknowledged the importance of film by designating Sydney and Bradford as UNESCO Cities of Film. I am aware, as a former Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, of my own city, Galway, recognising the significance of a UNESCO designation.

I also wanted to say Madame Director General, that I am aware that UNESCO in reflecting in its Constitution on the statement “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”  is not doing so in any merely defensive way. It is also seeking to celebrate the possibilities of the peace secured. In establishing at The University of Ulster in Ireland, the UNESCO chair in Education, Pluralism, Human Rights, Democracy, Education and Conflict, and in its working together with another third level institution in Ireland through the NUI Galway, the UNESCO chair in Education Family Support and Youth Development, are taking that aim and turning it into practice with a focus on youth experiencing adversity. These are practical examples of UNESCO’s work in Ireland on post-conflict resolution, reconstruction and conclusion.

At an international level too, for example, UNESCO’s priority themes on gender equality, ethically based development through education in Africa, are worthy of the support of all of us all over the world.

I am well aware that UNESCO faces particular resource challenges today, but I am confident, Madame Director General that you, along with the Executive Board and the General Conference later this year, will find a balanced and focussed programme of reform, one that meets your needs, but one also essentially that safeguards the future of the Organisation.  Those of us who have for long looked at the United Nations, as our hope for the future, and who made the case for reform of the United Nations, also know the essential work of some of the agencies, not only of UNESCO but, for example, the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Such change as comes in those organisations must be ones that are driven by the moral purpose of their founders. It must not be a case of shrinking back to the point at which some nods to efficiency in an administrative sense are made. It is of making sure that the fundamental purposes are secure while one, of course, always remains open to re-imagine the combining of resources to deliver the best result.

Madame Director General, as I have already said to you, what I read in the Milan speech, which you gave sixty-five years after UNESCO was established, deeply moved me. I think it was so important for you to address this consideration of values as a source of inspiration towards the work of the review for the middle term, and for the longer term. The building of a human community, of being a humanist, means building bridges between north, south, east and west, the strengthening of the human community so as to enable it to take up our challenges together.

It means guaranteeing access to quality education for all so that everyone may make their voice heard in the universal dialogue.  It means encouraging scientific cooperation networks, establishing research centres, disseminating information and technology to accelerate the sharing of ideas. But you know, it is not the sharing of a single idea.

We need to re-establish again in the public intellectual world the importance of the plurality of ideas. We, at the same time as we are defending the plurality of ideas, or are interested in the integrity of memory, but also make a claim for the sovereignty of the imagination. To achieve this, I suggest it is important that the economy be once again, embedded within the cultural framework.

We should remember too that Einstein and other great scientists saw science and technology as instrumental for the achievement of fundamental, human, moral purposes. If we do not speak on these matters we surrender the ground to those who say that culture and the creative industries become available only for those who want to invest for such profit as they will yield and that alone. From such a view it is a short distance to see how other issues of hunger and food shortages are becoming an opportunity for further speculative investment.

I spoke recently in Ireland and quoted Professor Howard Stein’s paper  on world famine in which he pointed out that in 2011, in relation to famine, that while countries such as Ireland Ireland give a very great deal voluntarily, and Ireland per capita  more than most countries, and while 20% of our aid budget goes on relieving world hunger, and will continue to do so, even in times of austerity, but on the other hand other members of the global community look on and decide when they see the shortage of wheat, to seize an opportunity for profit irrespective of the human core of values. Thus it was that in 2011 61% of wheat futures were owned by hedge funds, the comparable figure of the 1990’s being 12%.

So our world has that moral contradiction, of those who would use words, and rightly so, to draw attention to the dying and the hungry and the vulnerable of the world. But also those others who feel it is more important to leave intact, without criticism, a model that suggests it simply doesn’t matter what constitutes the source from which you make a speculative profit. And thus it is too in the history of UNESCO. UNESCO was defeated in many of its aims in the past by those who regarded education as ‘the next best thing’, and water as ‘the next best thing’ for speculative profit. It could happen too in relation to the cultural industries unless we are very careful. That is why I am so pleased that UNESCO is having a conference to look at the creative industries and how they may best develop in an ethical way and how there may emerge a model that might receive support, one that recognises that the cultural object is not simply a commodity but that it is something that is carrying the expression of a people’s remembered and imagined life, and that it is the labour of a human creator, as craft, art and intellectual product.

I so wish you well in the review that is taking place, and I so wish you well in all of these debates. Madame Director General, I am so pleased that you have instituted these broad open debates over the past few months and I applaud you on this.

We do need a debate on culture, one that takes into account, its history as a concept and above all its transformative capacity for peace, inclusion, and development in a democratic way. In the European Union, culture is not recognised very much in the founding Treaties, it makes it in much later as a reference in the Maastricht Treaty. This is in part perhaps explained because it was assumed that the Council of Europe would do the work of cultural reference. But then culture also had a bad name because of its abuse by ideological extremists. One cannot, however, abandon the area of culture as if it was peripheral. It can never be peripheral. The cultural space is wider than any economic space of a period and loss of capacity as a consumer must never equate with loss of a cultural right as a citizen.

At this time the greatest scar of the European Union is the high unemployment rate, particularly the scale of youth unemployment, which threatens not only in an economic way, but puts at risk not just social cohesion, but the very legitimacy of the Union itself.

I think that we, in the European Union in particular, should recognise that the cultural space is wider than the economic space, and that if one loses ones capacity as a consuming unit in an economy, it should never be the case that you lost your cultural rights to participate in the wider society. That is the principle, the fundamental one that must be accepted.  We must also recognise that culture, as indeed UNESCO’s publication Our Creative Diversity stated, is never fixed or frozen, but is, instead, a process that is being continually changed from different impulses and new contextual conditions.

In 1996, as President of the Council of Culture Ministers of the European Union, I sought to develop such a discourse on the right to culture, on cultural respect, and access to culture as a right of citizenship. I also suggested that it was even more important that at times of recession you needed culture because it is the spaces in the public world, and the spaces in which you can share and exchange your vulnerabilities as much as your successes, that true democracy and citizenship are defined.

Neither, I suggest can UNESCO afford to fall into any dated pseudo romantic trap of believing that devoting less resources to the broad cultural space is in any sense beneficial or constructive. Starving artists in attics may make for entertaining operatic librettos, but such a myth is as destructive of social value as it is of the individual artist’s life.   Really you do not need poverty for brilliance in art.

We must all come to accept that the cultural space is important inter-generationally as well, that it is something that embraces us all and that it is from that cultural space that we must develop the capacity of not just tolerating difference, but of being able to value the common discourse, see the threats as they emerge and may be countered and contained to a vulnerable discursive democracy, so that we are able to listen to those whom we oppose with respect, and gradually, after a while, put ourselves and encourage opponents in a position of taking the narrative of the other.

We are in the throes of great change. As I have said, and I repeat, the hubris of the single hegemonic economic model of unregulated markets and speculative growth, based on products invented virtually by the market, particularly fuelled by property inflation, is of the past. From its disastrous consequences we are seeking to recover, to heal ourselves and open a new chapter in our lives.

The world of today is, in very many ways, different from what it was sixty-seven years ago when UNESCO was founded.  Yet the fundamental issues remain the same. I think that it is very important for us to remember previous calls, for example, what Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan called for at your first General Conference in 1946. He was appalled at how much time was wasted, how much human life was wasted, in false and foolish divisions, and he described these past illusions of certainty as “intellectual narrowness and rigidity of revelatory creeds”.

We must I suggest commit ourselves to approaching issues of development, theory and practice with human rights at its centre. We must continue our efforts of discovering such human rights as we might agree to be universal and not only in international legal acceptance but in universal consciousness. We must make our way with patience, towards these aims while not ceding any ground on that which we have gained universally guaranteed protections. We must realise that in development it is important not simply to see developing countries as potential markets, but as places to transfer technology and science, so as to enable them to genuinely deal with us as equals in relation to the future forms of the industrial world which will emerge.

I believe that while we recognize the challenges that are there in this time of uncertainty, that it is important for us to also remember that we are not at the “end of history”. But we must be vigilant that our transformative moment is not stolen from us. Very recently, filmmaker David Putnam reminded me of a phrase in T.E.  Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Freedom in which Lawrence wrote:

“In 1926 looking back on the shattered dreams and the broken promises that followed Allied Victory in World War I, Lawrence wrote:  “The moral freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us …  we were wrought up in ideas to be fought for …  yet when we achieved, and the new world dawned, the ‘old men’ came out again and took our victory – to re-make it in the likeness of the former world they knew”.

We have the opportunity of taking this global crisis that exists at an economic level and from it making a new world driven on by the kind of values that are there in the founding constitution of UNESCO. We must not allow our world to regress to old conflicts, or their base in the pursuit of narrow interests.

We must not lose the opportunity to put the stamp of our shared humanity on these current changes. We must not by commission or omission, capitulate to that which has failed us, what has been imposed on us, or what has falsely been described as inevitable.

UNESCO has been given an opportunity to exercise its mandate to be at the centre of our endeavours to achieve this humane outcome to contemporary changes, and members of the United Nations must support it in this role.

You the Ambassadors and Delegates of Member States have a particular responsibility and opportunity to help make our new dialogue more open than in the past. Of course we must represent our own peoples and their concerns in constructing a better world order, but, I feel we should also reflect and ask our governments to look to the broader needs of humankind so that the discussion here at UNESCO can genuinely illuminate decision-making in the years ahead.  I repeat again that I believe that there need not be any real conflict, or trade-off, between the overall purposes of a humankind beyond borders, and the best aspirations of nations, communities and individuals constructed within their own and, due to technological developments, rapidly dissolving borders.

I see this new global community as very possible of achievement. UNESCO is well placed to advance these discourses that we so badly need in human rights, development theory and practice. I also think that the commitment to UNESCO and individual member countries must not rely solely on support or recognition from education departments, because after all in relation to the international bodies that are there, education is very often the reserved space for the narrow interests of a particular state. It is important, it seems to me, that we break out from any restrictions in relation to educational borders. Education, yes, important and to be included, but other things matter such as justice and human rights and equality.  And resources do matter. I do indeed recognize that UNESCO has been made to feel what it means to have lost a significant portion of the budget and I wish you well in filling that gap, but I am convinced that you will be able not to be defeated by it. But I do think that there are models to be drawn upon such as the Paris Principles which came into existence following discussion on human rights. That discussion recognized how resources were important, if we were to have independent, national human rights commissions. In the same way those Paris Principles that recognized the importance of resources in assuring independence may be valuable as a model for UNESCO looking at future funding. The same principles of assuring independence, and the funding which would make it possible for autonomy, surely apply in the case of UNESCO and related Institutions.

May I also, and sincerely, appeal to all the delegates and to all representatives of countries, as a matter of urgency, to have real, active and regularly changed, UNESCO committees, so as to be able to deliver into the minds of different generations the fullness of UNESCO’s ideas.

Our goals for development must be human rights based and take not only political and economic but also social and cultural rights into account.

To achieve these higher goals, we need a more inclusive intellectual framework than we have had. Quite frankly when I compare this decade and its intellectual challenges, not only in Europe, but globally, there is a huge contrast between the way in which issues of a moral kind, public kind, were embraced, in previous decades and now. I am reluctant to say it but perhaps it is, that in our lapse into post-modernism, as a critique of modernism, we lost the capacity to make the moral critique that is necessary of a structural kind to our very unequal world.  It is important to hope then that it is in the debate on culture that the most important debate will take place and that our intellectual recovery can spring from that source.

Thomas Carlyle said: ‘Culture is the process by which a person becomes all that they were created capable of being’. We now need to see economics and economic policy as the servant of mankind in its broadest sense, instrumental in its diverse tools, applications and policies, no more than that, instrumental, towards our different but respected journey in our common humanity.

I was delighted to discuss with you, Madame Director General, so many different topics this morning including the importance of the upcoming thematic debate made possible by the President of the UN General Assembly on Culture and Sustainable Development. That decision represents an important acknowledgement, and an opportunity that must not be wasted, that culture, heritage, and creativity are central to meeting the challenges of sustainable development. And let us be clear, that must include the abolition of poverty, and the ending of gross inequalities in different countries as major aims.

The decision to have such a global conference acknowledges that culture needs to assume centre stage in our discussion of human development; its principles, based on human dignity be drawn upon so as to ensure inclusion, to empower and to emancipate communities, to define their pathways towards developing peaceful and fulfilling societies.

Recognition of the culture space, I repeat again, offers us the promise of innovation in our capacity for living; not only in our economic world, but also in our general world.

George Bernard Shaw said:  “Imagination is the beginning of creation.  You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will”.

May I suggest, finally, that you must ensure that when, you are producing a document of your own on creativity, one that will succeed for example the UNDP’s document the Creative Economy Report 2008”, that it is a citizen’s document. While I think that it is important for us all to recognize the employment opportunities that are there in what is called the creative industries, the incomes that are available, it is even more important for us to realise that that those industries are most sustainably based on cultural policies that have had principles of inclusion at their base. Be it music, be it film, be it software and technology, it should be built on the certain base that all of the citizens have been included, as a first principle of an inclusive and accessible cultural policy and then go on to yield all the rich harvest, be it in employment, exports, or economic growth. I am certain that this is the best path, particularly in relation to eliminating huge gaps between North and South in economic terms.  It also is the most sustainable. It is the most creative. It is the most inclusive and it is the best contribution to the peaceful use as a resource.

I think that a sustainable, inclusive cultural policy as a basis for the creative industries is so much better than simply seeing the capacity of such an area as that of creating new pools of consumers, creating in the process a new cultural colonization of the less powerful by the strongest.

The themes for resumed discussion, which I would be happy to support and to contribute are similar to the themes of which I have watched with great interest from my home in Ireland, how can we bring culture in from the margins, to the centre of policy formation, to the heart of public administration, how must we come to realise that culture cannot be administered in the same way as any other administrative commodity? How can we ensure real and full freedom of expression, ensuring our vindication of fundamental freedoms, protections to those who need them, protections that must never be traded in the name of cultural contingency? There is no cultural contingency that should ever be used as a shield for the trampling on a right of protection of the body, or of a person’s right to a belief, or of speech. We should go on to ask too how we can fulfil human capital’s potential to construct a form of work that is fulfilling and sustainable and that acknowledges the human person.  How we can reconcile the arts and sciences and restore the unity of our thought within diverse inheritances of ethics and thought? Let this be the achievement of our century, together.

All of these themes I suggest are inextricably linked and must take into account respect for identity, diversity and minority cultures.

And these, I humbly suggest, ladies and gentlemen, are themes for the future agenda of your discourse here at UNESCO.  They are intellectual and moral encounters which draw little upon your scarce resources, but they can be the source of enormous wealth for humankind as we grapple with the challenges before us.

Going back to my native language.  Gúidhim rath agus beannacht ar or obair UNESCO.

Finally, may I also take this opportunity of addressing the importance of intellectuals, public intellectuals, supporting the dialogue we desperately need if we are to have a constructive engagement between our systems of thought, a dialogue, for example as I have already said, between what has been called the Western World and moderate Islam. If we are threatened by the extremes of any distorted failed system, it is often because we have not had the conversation we need with those who see the truth, the beauty, the belief that is at the heart of some of these beliefs. The Western World has neglected its conversation with moderate Islam. And there are many in moderate Islam who must speak to us too if we are to save the world from the expression and consequences of extremism. We cannot afford to allow the extremes, with their distortions to imperil our peaceful co-existence.

Let us recognize and accept that the legacies of our civilizations and our heritages, they are not separate from each other.

Madame Director General, I once again thank you, and the Delegations for the warmth of the reception which I have received.

Yes, I have been long an admirer of your Organisation and today’s visit at the Headquarters of UNESCO has been uplifting particularly with the opportunity to glimpse some of the collections. Thank you for your reference to James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, who are part of the exhibitions I have seen.

I think I would like to reiterate Madame Director General, that, while there may be a preponderance at times of gloomy economic commentators just in this part of our shared fragile world at the moment, I believe that the potential for all of humankind is so much more positive.  We live in times of change and opportunity – opportunity to advance the real development of humanity. Again and again, and not just as President of Ireland, but long before that when I saw before and look now at cultural expressions in any part of the world, I see the joy and the expression, and the ability to transcend the borders and the conflicts of countries and the ability to take the wound and the grief that is out there as part of one’s experience. That is being human. That is the power of culture, and that is the importance of an organisation such as UNESCO.

And may I wish you well, in all these debates and reviews which you are having, and I am confident, that when all of these different practices, be it science or economics or technology, are embedded again in a responsible culture, one that is rich in dialogues, more a pattern, more a tapestry, rather than anything else, we will all feel much safer. But and more importantly we will have joy too, and continuing creative expressions from our strangeness and our frailty  no longer threatening, as is all part of the history, not only of the literatures and the music and the film of the world, but the very essence of humanity itself.

Thank you Director General, go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.


[1] 1992 Nobel Peace Prize and UNESCO goodwill ambassador, Ms Menchu is a Guatemalan national who has campaigned for the rights of indigenous people

[2] Japanese educationalist and first President of the UNESCO World education Fellowship.