Speech by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, Youth Event, City Hall ‘TAKE CHARGE OF CHANGE’ – ‘GLAC SEILBH AR ATHRÚ’ Wednesday, 9th April 2014
Speech by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland

Youth Event, City Hall,

Wednesday, 9th April 2014


Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Tánaiste and Minister Fitzgerald:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It gives me great pleasure to be with you here today in City Hall;

a building from which we can see both the Tower of London, that resonates with history, and the gleaming new skyscrapers of the City – reminding us that London is a metropolis that powerfully displays the rich legacy of its past while also embracing with enthusiasm the possibilities of a new and modern age.
Today we look at all those varying possibilities through the futures of a group of outstanding young people from both our nations, including many from the Irish Community in the United Kingdom. All of you, I know, are representatives of so many other young people, young people with energy and, above all, critical capacity, who are not afraid to imagine, to reconsider and to innovate as they craft the kind of world they wish to inhabit and enter into dialogue on the kind of future they aspire to make together.

I am most impressed by the presentations we have just heard, that have been prepared and presented as a result of the dynamic engagement which has been taking place here today amongst some 50 young people. Young people who already are or, in the future, will be leaders, policy makers and, most importantly, emancipatory thinkers and active citizens helping to guide and shape a society that is creative, inclusive and constantly open to new concepts and new possibilities.

It was both inspiring and uplifting to hear your thoughts and insights on the challenges that face us today and your views as to how, working together, you can navigate the way forward towards a better future. The range of topics you have covered is deeply impressive. It extends across a wide cross-section of issues and concerns. It is a source of the greatest hope and confidence in the future to be in the presence of young people who have that remarkable ability to think about life in a way that is liberating, that is inclusive, and that has both the confidence and the moral courage to question the way things are and to set about making them better.

During my first year as President of Ireland, I initiated a six month consultation and conversation on the theme of ‘Being Young and Irish.’ My goal in that initiative was to engage young people as active and reflective citizens in contemporary Ireland and to recognise, affirm and encourage them as one of the key sources of wisdom in solving core social, political, economic and cultural issues. My vision for the initiative was that it would help build an active, inclusive citizenship for which we need a new discourse – one based on participation, equality, respect for all and the flowering of creativity in all its forms.

The ‘Being Young and Irish’ initiative was aimed at young Irish people living in Ireland and abroad. Indeed, many Irish citizens living in Britain also participated in it and brought an important and unique perspective to the conversation. The resulting ‘Take Charge of Change’ declaration – ‘Glac seilbh ar athrú’ – spoke of the future as “a place where young people reach their potential, have a solid future and a valued voice.”

That is why I am so pleased to have heard how our fifty young people here today have expressed their individual and unique voices and have proven that they truly do have the power to effect positive transformation. They are demonstrating both a rigorous sense of active citizenship, and an ability to envision a future founded on a spirit of altruism, solidarity, and hospitality – a combination that has the potential to achieve great things.

I know that many of our participants here today are from Northern Ireland, and that they are the first generation to grow up there as inheritors of a peace process founded on the cornerstones of equality and democratic partnership. Not only did the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 provide a template for peace and reconciliation within Northern Ireland, it also enabled a more dynamic and fruitful relationship between Ireland and Britain.

In my visits to Northern Ireland I have met with many remarkable young people, already on the path to becoming actors in building a more open and ethical society. They are young people who understand only too well that prejudice or old grievances do not evaporate overnight when peace is announced or new legislation is passed. They know that animosities can only be removed when, as citizens, we transcend such legacies, let go and reach a true sense of human empathy and solidarity with each other, thereby diminishing the toxic impact of sectarianism.

Two outstanding award winners from Northern Ireland, who have demonstrated this spirit of solidarity, will shortly receive certificates. One of these has chosen a Gaisce-The President’s Award certificate under the Joint Award Initiative in Northern Ireland, and one has selected the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award certificate, both of which recognise exemplary active citizenship in Northern Ireland. These awards show the significant progress that has been achieved in bringing young people from both communities together in working towards a shared future.

That sense of unity and accord has been much in evidence here today and reminds us of the great debt we owe to the many organisations that do so much valuable work in empowering young people; organisations like the Washington Ireland Programme which has focused on students from both parts of Ireland; the British Youth Council, who have been so supportive in organising and co-hosting this event; and the Northern Ireland Youth Forum who, in partnership with the Council, ran the first elections to the Northern Ireland Youth Parliament last year, an event that provided a unique experience for young people from both communities. Indeed, I will shortly present an award to two young representatives from the Northern Ireland Youth Parliament.

The vibrancy of the Irish community here in Britain, and the many flourishing Irish Community organisations are a testament to their own resilience and to the adaptive nature of British society. In Ireland we are very proud of our Diaspora and greatly value all they do to promote and sustain positive connections with many countries around the globe.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade plays a key role in supporting Irish emigrants everywhere in the world, and our Embassy here works closely with the large network of support and welfare organisations that have developed in Britain over the decades. Organisations such as Irish in Britain, the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, the Irish Travellers Movement in Britain and the various community services and county organisations provide practical support for members of the Irish community including new migrants, as well as for second and third generation Irish. These community organisations also allow our people to maintain links with their Irish identity and heritage and to contribute to the wider Irish community.

Networks such as the Irish International Business Network, the London Irish Business Society and the London Irish Graduates’ Network also do invaluable work in helping young people to develop new skills and fulfil their potential to be future leaders. I am delighted that young representatives nominated by these organisations have taken part in today’s workshop.

You represent, of course, a generation growing up as young Europeans, fellow members of the European Union, and there is so much work for both of our peoples to do outside of these islands. As young people and adults you will have a role to play in building and imagining the Europe of the future. We all wish to see an effective and progressive Europe – but one which also remains true to the values of its founders who saw the European Community as a vital instrument of peace and solidarity on a continent that had been scarred by war.

Let us celebrate what we have witnessed today, the essential work on the hopes and possibilities of an important cohort of our citizens, young citizens of the United Kingdom and Ireland who have undertaken the task of re-thinking, re-imagining and re-structuring the way we live. Young people who are seeking to define the values to be applied in the world we share together. On both sides of the Irish Sea, our societies face tough but exciting challenges, challenges that are full of possibilities in a changing world. Given the determination of our young people to change their community for the better, to engage in their society as active citizens, and to work with each other in a spirit of friendship and mutual respect, the future of our two islands is very bright indeed.

Bhain mé an-sásamh as a bheith anseo inniu. Ba mhaith liom ár n-óige a mholadh agus comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leo as a bheith chomh fial lena gcuid smaointe, a bhfís agus a ndóchas don todhchaí. Guím gach rath oraibh go léir don todhchaí sin; todhchaí ina mbeidh bhur n-idéalachas, bhur misneach agus bhur bhfuinneamh ar fáil chun sochaí a bhaint amach a dhéanfaidh fónamh dá saoránaigh go léir.

[It has been such a great pleasure to be here today. I would like to commend and congratulate all our young people who have given so generously of their ideas, their vision and their hopes for the future.

I wish you all every success for that future; one where your idealism, your courage and your energy can offer so much to achieving a society that cherishes all its citizens.]

Let me conclude with the words of the Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donoghue. They come from his reflection “For a New Beginning”

“Then the delight, when your courage kindled,

And out you stepped onto new ground

Your eyes young again with energy and dream

A path of plenitude opening before you.”

I wish you well on that path.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh – thank you.


About Author Annette J Dunlea Irish Writer

Irish Writer Website: http://ajdunlea.webs.com/ Twitter: @adunlea Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annettejdunleairishauthor
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