Reclaiming the European street: the legacy of a president

Since the mid-1960s, Michael D Higgins has been a major figure in education and politics in Galway. At UCG, his sociology lectures were memorable for their ease, as well as for their content.

The lucky students who attended left the lecture hall dazed but knowing they had experienced something special. Some, like me, couldn’t remember a word. However, when faced with exam questions a few months later, our pens flowed with the answers.

He was first elected to the Senate in 1973, to the Dáil in 1981 and to the Presidency in 2011. On a personal level, he was the last politician I saw standing on a chair outside. church and speaking to people as they left Sunday Mass during an election campaign.

His most important contribution to Irish life and culture, as Minister of the Arts, was his role in legitimizing Telefís na Gaelteachta at TG4 in 1996. He has also written several books on civil rights and change climate, as well as a number of poems. collections. Perhaps what will be considered his most important work will be released this month – Reclaiming the European Street: Speech on Europe and the European Union 2016-20, the book marks its 80th anniversary.

In the foreword, Michael D presents his stand: “For the future, my vision on which I continue to write… is that of a Europe with quality public services at its heart and decent jobs in the public sector. We must remember that the services provided by the public sector are not a cost to society but an investment in our communities. “

“An unregulated and financialized global version of the economy poses the greatest threat to democracy” – Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins

He ends the foreword with the aspiration that “the lessons of necessity and solidarity learned during the pandemic must now inform a Europe-led transition to a just and environmentally sustainable society as a result. I hope that, in an enlightened eco-social framework, we can respond together in a transformative and inclusive way to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the impact of digitization, increasing inequalities and irresponsibility, and in doing so, face up to the democratic crisis facing so many societies in Europe and beyond.

The vision of a president

Flag of the Republic of Ireland 1916

The book consists of six sections, each consisting of major speeches given by Michael D. on the theme of Europe since 1916: Section 1, European History and Memory: “In Honor of Roger Casement”, “A Forgotten Polish Hero of the Irish Famine, Paul Strezelecki’s Struggle to Save Thousands of Lives ”,“ The Great Flu of 1918-1919 ”and“ Remembering the Holocaust ”.

Section II Towards a social Europe: “A new European spirit and the need to rejuvenate the discourse”, “Trade unions and the future of Europe”, “Parliamentary democracy in the European Union”, “Solidarity in Europe “

Section III, Thinking Europe: “On the state of democracy in our changing world”, “Overcoming disciplinary borders”, “The ethical challenges for the European Union” and “The idea of ​​home”

Section IV Connecting European cultures: “From Greece and Ireland: an old and lasting relationship full of new possibilities”, “Pangúr Bán”, “Ireland and Germany”, “Ireland and the Countries -Bas ”,“ Ireland and Sweden, Ireland and Lithuania: Towards a common future within the European Union ”, and“ Ireland and Croatia ”.

Section V: The future of the European Union: “Giving the European Union a future which will engage its citizens”, “The future of Europe: rebalancing ecology, economy and ethics” and “Europe and Africa: towards a new relationship”

Section VI “Pangur Bán” (Irish language version), “A certain idea of”, and “Die Zununft Europas: Okologie, Wirtschaft, Und Ethik- Eine neue Balance finden”, “Postscript on the COVID-19 Crisis: Towards a Europe Resolute in its defense of the most vulnerable among us ”.

From the start, the book is full of energy and urgency. Ideas and concepts are like a full flowing river with ideas and concepts jumping off the page at a knot pace. Reading it brought back strong memories of the 1968 amphitheater, except that now the narrative is more immediate and the need for a positive response imperative.

To open the door

Having said that, it is not a book that allows the reader to jump to conclusions, it is a book that simply allows the reader to open the door and see what are the issues and problems of a unified Europe and to trigger the questions to be asked.

The book appears to be an extraordinary kaleidoscope of ideas entangled in a dazzling torrent of words that could threaten to drown the reader. However, as the book progresses, the reader’s understanding and understanding of what the European Union can offer us, at least in theory, emerges.

Towards the end of the book he writes: “Brexit, Trump, nationalism and street violence all represent responses that we may perceive as hostile to the important question: how to reforge a deal on redistributive justice for those who have lost. , either objectively or subjectively, of globalization, technological innovation (including digitization), known as innovation (including the precariousness of work) or responses to climate change. How then to regain confidence? What are the consequences of a legacy of discarded or weakened mediation institutions?

Michael D and Des Kenny

However, it does not stop there. A few pages later, he reached the top of his mountain: “For the future, my vision is of a Europe with excellent public services at its heart. Good jobs in the sector mean quality services for citizens. We must remember that the services provided by the public sector are not a cost to society but an investment in our communities. This message must be taken to the heart of Europe.

I suggest that what is in fact inexplicable are the insatiable speculative flows of capital; an unregulated and financialized global version of the economy poses the greatest threat to democracy, the greatest source of inevitable conflict, and the greatest obstacle to ending global poverty or achieving sustainability.

There is a strong feeling that with those last words Michael D. is only starting the debate – and then the thought rises that if he writes like this as his 80th birthday approaches, what will it be like- is he approaching his 100th? The spirit is mind boggling.

Kevin E. Boling

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