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President defends right to speak out on political issues

Published 17/06/2016

President Higgins told a conference that inequality was not inevitable
President Higgins told a conference that inequality was not inevitable

President Michael D Higgins has urged people to reconsider how prosperity is measured.

The President also defended speaking out on political and economic issues and criticised the 10 years the European Commission was headed by Jose Manuel Barroso up to 2014.

He said the period from 2004-2014 was in many respects the "antithesis of social Europe".

"Inequality is not inevitable," he said.

"The just redistribution of the fruits of the earth and of human labour is not a dismissible utopian project. Nor should it ever be reduced to mere philanthropy.

"It is a moral obligation for all of us who believe in solidarity - an obligation we must, as a society, do our very best to fulfil."

President Higgins told a conference organised by the think-tank Tasc that the philosophy of sustainable development urges a rethink on what is "value and prosperity".

"It invites us, in other words, to be the artisans, in this new century, of a historic reconciliation between economics, ethics and ecology," he said.

The President said there is extreme concern over how discussions on the future of Europe are defined based on the movement of cheap labour, trade and consumption.

And he said Europe would continue to disintegrate unless the focus turned to solidarity and cohesion.

But he added: "I convince myself to have trust in the capacity for rebirth and renewal of Europeans.

"As they seek to respond to the challenges of our time, my hope is that they will know how to turn again to implement in a meaningful manner those human rights treaties our countries have ratified, and that we will succeed in giving them full expression in our plans, policies and budgets, but also in our public discourse."

The President also hit out at mainstream economics. He said none of the standard indicators and measures assess the cost to future generations of the depletion of resources and degradation of living conditions.

"Thus we have very valuable statements of evidence on climate change, destructive development models, deepening inequality - but little forensic investigation of how it came to be; how money came to be distributed to influence politics and to challenge the science on climate change," he said.

As President he is supposed to be above politics and not to dictate or influence government policy but following other speeches on the issue he has been accused of championing left-wing ideologies.

Mr Higgins said: "My own words have sometimes been distorted.

"In my speeches on these themes, I have never crudely dismissed economic growth. I have, rather, sought to point to the need to look at the quality and sustainability of economic growth in terms of its environmental, social and cultural consequences.

"Increasing national income in an appropriate manner is, of course, necessary and desirable, but such economic growth must always be assessed in light of its ability to fulfil social objectives."

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