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Speech by President Michael D. Higgins at the 2022 St. Patrick’s Day Reception

Áras an Uachtaráin, Thursday, 17th March, 2022

A cháirde,    

Tá áthas orm agus ar Sabina fáilte a chur romhaibh go léir ag Áras an Uachtaráin agus muid ag ceiliúradh ár Lá Náisiúnta, Lá Fhéile Pádraig, Patrún Naomh Pádraig Éarlamh na hÉireann. 

Sabina and I are delighted to welcome you all here today to Áras an Uachtaráin as we celebrate our National Day – St Patrick’s Day – the feast day of our patron Saint, Patrick.

St Patrick’s Day is an important occasion for Irish people around the world as we come together as one global family to celebrate our shared culture and heritage, and to reflect on the life of St Patrick – himself a migrant like so many other Irish. 

It is also a day when Sabina and I welcome here to the Áras, in order that we might celebrate together this significant day and the values embodied in the life of St Patrick, groups of citizens who have impacted generously on our society. Those values are, of course, the values of solidarity, friendship and concern for his fellow citizen, values that I know are a driving force in the lives and careers of those who join us here today.

Indeed, this year we are delighted to welcome representatives of a profession whose work and contribution throughout the Coronavirus pandemic has been extraordinary. The past two years have highlighted the remarkable and vital impact that nurses, midwives, carers and indeed all those who work in the healthcare sector have on our society.

In 2020, at the very outset of the Pandemic, the first event in Áras an Uachtaráin to be cancelled was our St Patrick’s Day Reception intended to mark the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. It is a great if belated pleasure to now have the opportunity to honour that commitment, and to meet with you all here today.

I am delighted that representatives from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland are among those in attendance at this event. Sabina and I have, for a number of years, hosted an annual ‘Latching On’ morning at Áras an Uachtaráin as part of National Breastfeeding Week, to which we invite up to 100 breastfeeding mothers and their babies. 

We welcomed, last month, the significant and important report from the World Health Organisation and UNICEF examining how marketing influences decisions on infant formula. We have long been concerned about the enduring repercussions of a sustained marketing campaign throughout the earlier part of the twentieth century aimed at promoting formula feeding. This seminal report, the largest of its kind to date, with data from 8,500 women across eight countries, will, we greatly hope, assist the dissemination of honest and factual information around the benefits of breastfeeding and a reversal of the damaging consequences of a marketing practice guided by industry interests.

You, of course, have done significant work to encourage and support more women to breastfeed their babies and to create an environment where the healthy development of our children is not endangered by the economic goals of large international industries, or by cynical and aggressive advertising and promotions, aimed at young mothers and peddling nutritionally inaccurate information. May I take this opportunity to thank you for that generous work.

I also thank all of our nurses here today, and those who work directly with our patients and keep our institutions healthy, for the values of courage and compassion they have demonstrated time and time again throughout the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19. Your professionalism and great dedication has been critical in helping us to meet that challenge, and you are so deserving of our gratitude and appreciation.  Some of you may have been called on to play a very visible role in our hospitals, battling at the front line through our struggle against Covid. Others amongst you may have been less visible but have played an equally altruistic and critical role during this challenging time, putting your health and lives at risk as you cared for others.

That spirit of compassion and care continues to lie at the core of the nursing profession, despite the rapidly evolving role of nurses in the Irish healthcare system in recent times. Yours is a role that has grown and developed, and you are now charged with responsibilities and the making of complicated clinical decisions that were once the strict preserve of doctors. Once viewed inaccurately as assistants to medical professionals, nurses today are recognised as healthcare professionals in their own right.  The qualifying pathway you must follow, the scope of policies and practices to which you must adhere, the structures within which you work, and the principles of care which guide that work have all changed quite dramatically in recent decades.  

Today, nursing is a profession which plays a critical role in the implementation of patient-centred care and the delivery of effective primary care services. There are many specialised areas of nursing which you can pursue, and a wide variety of nursing programmes, further degrees and certifications required as you continue to follow your chosen vocation. Indeed the World Health Organisation has cited Ireland as an important example of how nurses and midwives can help expand access to health services, while also reducing the work burden on primary care doctors, leading to better delivery on patient needs.  That is an endorsement of which you can all be very proud.

Technological and scientific advances, and the changing health needs of our citizens, have also brought significant change to the role of nurses in our healthcare settings. With such advancements come complex ethical questions, dilemmas and decisions. You are therefore required to work in increasingly multifaceted environments, while continuing to put patient care at the centre of all you do.

While the role of nursing may have changed considerably, the instinct that prompts those to enter this profession remains unchanged. That great spirit of compassion that has always lain at its heart remains, and will always be, I hope, one of its most important attributes. 

As we come together on this day of celebration, I am so delighted to have the opportunity to pay tribute to you for the dedication and commitment you continue to bring to your vital work in our constantly changing and evolving society. I have no doubt, as we begin to take tentative steps towards a post-pandemic world, that your role will once again evolve and adapt to that different world. I also have no doubt that you will rise to those new challenges with the generosity of spirit and great sense of solidarity that defines all you do.

Mar fhocal scoir is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil libh ar fad as teacht anseo inniu, agus guím beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh ar fad.

May I conclude by thanking you all for coming here today, and wishing you a very happy St Patrick’s Day.

Finally, I would like to thank all those who have made today such a special experience and enabled us to once more have such a celebratory experience in Áras an Uachtaráin on our national Saint’s Day.  I thank members of Jiggy for the beautiful music performed today, as well as Mary Beth Taylor who will be performing Sean-nós dancing later, and harpist Denise Kelly, as well as our first-aiders, and the staff here at the Áras who have all worked so hard to make today a success.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.