Speech at a Garden Party – Participation and Transformation
Áras an Uachtaráin, Sunday, 23rd June, 2019
The garden party season is a special time of the year here in the Áras. Sabina and I welcome this opportunity to celebrate the contribution made by young Irish people to Irish society, and it is truly marvellous to meet here today with so many young people from across Ireland who are willing to contribute, in their unique ways, to the crafting of a new and better Ireland.
For my second term as Uachtaráin na hÉireann I have announced three special initiatives. They are - Participation and Transformation, Samhláiocht agus an Náisúin (Imagination and the Nation) and Shared Island, Shared Ireland.
I have chosen as the theme of today’s garden party ‘Participation and Transformation’ and today we are recognising and celebrating the many people who are contributing so profoundly to the promotion of the active participation of young people in society, thus helping to transform, not only their communities but often their own lives and the manner in which they view the world.
Tá áthas orm fáilte a fhearadh romhaigh uilig anseo inniu. Fáilte speisialta roimh lucht Aontas na Mac Léinn in Éirinn agus sibh ag ceiliúradh trí scór bliain ag cothú agus ag obair ar son cearta na mac léinn, agus trí sin beag an phobail. Fearaim fáilte spéisialta roimh bhaill óga Macra na Feirme atá ag ceiliúradh cúig bliana is seachtó an eagraíocht i mbliana. Fáilte uí cheallaig roimh, agus roimh gach duine a thaistil anseo inniu.
[I am delighted to welcome so many of you here today. May I particularly welcome members of the Union of Students in Ireland as you celebrate sixty years of defending and lobby for student rights, and young members of Macra na Feirme whose organisation marks this year its 75th anniversary. You, and all those who have travelled here today are very welcome.]
During my first term as President, and particularly during the initiative ‘Being Young and Irish’, I often quoted Raymond Williams closing advice given in his last public address on culture and citizenship – “Be the arrow not the target”. All of you gathered here today are ‘arrows’. What you share is not any definition as shared targeted consumers but arrows – agents of change – that will allow what is necessary to be born, come to be, in a new combination of ecology, economy, ethics, gender and cultural diversity. You must invite all of us in other generations to be your allies.
Looking around the marquee today I am reminded of William Wordsworth’s words in his autobiographical poem ‘The Prelude’:
“Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven”
Today we acknowledge and value the energy, creativity and enthusiasm that young people have brought and can bring to the transformation of Ireland. 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 them to share their vision for Ireland’s future with me.
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. Our planet will be a shared planet of the young. It is a truism in farming that you do not deplete the soil with practices that, once useful, have become destructive. That is the story of our planet. We need a new symmetry of nature and the Anthropocene.
Here in Ireland, one of our greatest assets and sources of hope is that approximately 40% of its population is under 30 – one of the youngest populations in the world. Younger citizens in Ireland are increasingly important drivers of change, and the empowerment of young people – acquiring the skills and the critical awareness, and you are entitled to access the sources of critical thought. There is a responsibility and a joy to have the opportunities to positively impact, not only on one’s own life but on the lives of others, organisations, and communities – is an important challenge, but one I know that you will continue to meet with a sense of enthusiasm underlain by an enormous sense of social and environmental responsibility.
In addition to the intrinsic value of such an active generation their ability to contribute within a caring, generous intergenerational dialogue makes it all the more valuable.
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, the move to an ecological-social model of political economy that acknowledges the finite nature of the Earth’s natural resources and the role that rich nations, like ours, have played in depleting these resources and contributing to the climate crisis we now face.
This move to a better symmetry between ethics, ecology and economics is needed now more than ever if we are to create a sustainable, inclusive and cohesive society.
In doing so, we must remember that we are also citizens of a wider global community. In 2015 the international community set out a clear and widely agreed road map, detailing what it takes to meet our global challenges head on. We collectively agreed to do all we can to attain 17 goals for a better world. By the year 2030 we must have achieved these Sustainable Development Goals. We have a historic opportunity, and indeed duty, to lay the foundations of a new model for human flourishing and social harmony, an opportunity in which you will play a critical and central role.
Indeed, at this point, I would like to acknowledge the support and innovation that both USI and Macra na Feirme have brought to these great challenges we face in protecting our fragile planet for our own, and for future generations. That is such reassuring evidence that there is, on this Island, a real will amongst young citizens to achieve equality and to become consciously involved in directing change both at home and across our wider global society.
Climate change is without any doubt the greatest existential threat facing humankind. Each and every one of us can play our part in responding to the crisis, and we must do so urgently, for the window of opportunity to respond to the climate crisis is fast closing. Failure to act decisively now and over the coming decade will condemn your generation to catastrophic and irreversible climate catastrophes.
I am so very heartened to see the activism of young people in this domain of public policy; how so many of you have been leading the way and seized the urgency and seriousness of the challenged much faster than older generations.
The climate strikes by school pupils earlier this year, during which more than 11,000 young citizens marched on Dáil Éireann seeking urgent action to address the growing threat of climate breakdown, was truly inspiring as an indication of consciousness and activism. A total of 37 rallies were staged around the country in solidarity with the global movement prompted by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. Their awareness impressed other generations. They were supported by parents, teachers, third-level students, NGOs and members of the public. In addition, numerous schools, especially primary schools, staged other climate events on their own premises. Youth climate strikes were held in 105 countries; in excess of 2,000 events attended by tens of thousands of young people.
That was so greatly inspiring as was a second day of protests where thousands of young Irish students calling on the Government to back its demands on addressing the climate crisis facing the planet. The level of environmental and climate awareness, the social consciousness that is so palpable among the youth of today, is perhaps the biggest cause for optimism in the struggle to mitigate climate change.
As a former teacher at Third Level to where so many of those students will move, may I ask that they have access to a curriculum and teaching that is inter-disciplinary, that in the social sciences is pluralist, that they be equipped for the crisis we are in , rather than being limited to preparation for what is narrowly useful in the short term but insufficient for life.
Community-based initiatives for young people have never been stronger in terms of voluntary activity and citizen participation. Many people are determined to craft a better version of Irishness than the acquisitive individualism that drove the worst aspects of the Celtic Tiger. In pursuing a new paradigm of science, ethics, policy and practice, they are drawing on the ethical values that are being forged by talented and energetic people of all generations in order to build a true Republic founded on the values of fairness, equity and participation. Theirs is a vision of an Ireland of which we can all be proud.
Today I would like to recognise and acknowledge the dedication and commitment of all of those who volunteer in the very many youth-related non-governmental organisations and initiatives which contribute so much to Irish society. Many of you are here today and may I take this opportunity to thank you for that contribution and the generous spirit of humanity in which it is made.
Agus mar sin, inniu déanfaidh muid ceiliúradh ar an dlúthbhaint tábhachtach agus insporadáil atá ag baint le n-ár daoine óga in hÉirinn nua, atá ag obair chun Éire níos fearr a chruthú. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil libh go léir arís as bhur gcuid dian-oibre mórchroíoch mar saoránaigh, ag obair le feabhas a chuir ar saolta ár saoránaigh, agus chun rannpháirteachas an aosa óig inár bpobail a fhorbairt. Mar is eol dúinn, gan pobail eiticiúila, ní féidir linn sochaí eiticiúil a chruthú.
[So, today let us celebrate the involvement of our young people in the making of a new and better Ireland. I once again congratulate and commend all of you for the efforts you generously and unstintingly are putting into your role as citizens, for working so hard to improve the lives of our citizens and to improving youth participation in communities, recognising that without ethical communities we cannot build an ethical society.]
I would like to conclude by thanking all those who have worked so hard on behalf of the Áras to make this a wonderful occasion for you
For one person it is a special day. For Bridgeen Kelly, Facilitaries Manager of OPW who has helped so much here at the Áras, it is her final garden party!
May I thank our entertainers David O’Connor, the Mullingar Band, Colm O hArgain, the Atkinson Family, Jimmy Higgins, The Jazz Choir, Los Paddies, Frankie McDonald and Friends, the wonderful Jack L and, of course, I extend a big thank you to our MC Deirdre O Kane.
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.
I also thank Dee Rogers, and his crew for the superb sound he has made possible in facilitating our performers and musicians.
May I say a special thank you to the 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.