Speech by Sabina Higgins at the Opening of Punctuation
Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle, 22 February 2017
It is a great pleasure to be here today. I am delighted to have the opportunity to view such an inspiring showcase of work, reflecting a generous sharing of culture and heritage between the F2women’s group and the Islamic Foundation Amal Coffee Morning Group.
As neighbours, friends and members of the South Circular Road community you have much that you share in common, as you create a sense of place for yourselves and for your families.
For some of you it may be the place where you grew up and first learnt the meaning of the word ‘community’ and experienced that all important sense of belonging, of identifying with the place you regard as ‘home’. Others amongst you may have come here from other parts of Dublin or Ireland, setting up new homes and forging new friendships. Others still may have travelled from much further afield and found amongst the residents of the South Circular road a welcoming community into which you have integrated and where you have become an active participant.
But for all of you, whatever your individual narrative, the South Circular Road has become an important chapter in your personal and family stories; creating an unbreakable link, and a connection that you will always share wherever life may take you in future years.
At this point I must congratulate all concerned in this project this mission. The vision of recognising the central importance of Culture in all aspects of people’s lives and the values by which they live. The Development of the Policies of ‘Dublin Culture connects’ is a wonderful undertaking and the National Neighbourhood Project that we are celebrating today will I am sure prove successful in fostering these positive connections.
This is timely, its significance does not end with its success here today, and that is vital when we live in a Globalised World where the survival of the planet, itself, depends on recognising the interdependence of the local and global. As we learn to take responsibility for what is local we will become more conscious of our responsibility for the survival of our shared vulnerable planet and all its people. For to achieve the great UN Goals for the world of Sustainable Development and Climate Change Justice, these are its building blocks from the bottom up we can be proud to put in place.
We know that, at the very heart of any functioning community, there must exist a real will to constantly work together to bring about positive change; to craft an inclusive citizenship that enables every member to participate and be treated with respect and feel welcome.
A community in its truest sense cannot exist where its residents occupy parallel exclusive societies - separate cultures, languages and traditions creating separate spaces of ‘them’ and ‘us’. For a community to thrive and flourish and have enjoyment its members must be made welcome in each other’s homes, sit alongside each other in the classroom, play together on the sports field and work in solidarity as they embrace the pluralism of a modern and dynamic Ireland. It is particularly relevant that education be accommodating of plurality and multi-cultural realities. Much great work is being done by so many excellent teachers in so many schools now. The Educate Together – integrated schools and schools that are multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-faith have developed a wonderful ethos of inclusion and celebration of difference, indeed to the point of it being the norm.
A true community is one which has the vision to see beyond the false barriers we so often erect between ourselves and others, and the imagination to understand how different cultures and traditions enrich our society and broaden our perspective.
Such vision and imagination must be built on tolerance and empathy, and rooted in a real understanding of the heritage and traditions that have shaped both ourselves and those with whom we share our community.
Today is a great celebration of such vision and understanding. Through art, design, performance and storytelling we mark the uniqueness of individual cultures while witnessing their power to create strong and durable connections.
We are reminded that cultures that remain inspiring and relevant are those that are open and accommodating to new influences; not afraid to come together and weave new patterns that reflect the multi-cultural dimension of modern societies.
It is greatly moving to see today how diverse elements can interact to produce original works that are beautiful, inspiring and lasting, reminding us that artistic creations – our art, our music, our literature and our dance – must be allowed to evolve in a changing society.
Today also calls us to reflect on how our communities too must continue to grow and develop, becoming places where different strands of heritage merge without ceding one identity to another.
All of you here today have, I know, worked with great generosity and commitment to create such a community. I would like to thank Culture Connects for inviting me here today and commend the members of the F2women’s group and the Islamic Foundation Amal Coffee Morning Group for their generous spirit of social and cultural solidarity, and artists Helen Barry, Xanthe Gresham and Hanan Dirya for their invaluable contribution to today’s important showcase.
I wish you all every success as you continue to create a participative inclusive community which welcomes and respects its members; embracing diversity and celebrating all that they share in common.