‘We don’t have to accept inequality’

inequality not accepted says Higgins

People should become much more financially and economically literate if they are to escape the stranglehold of society’s richest one per cent, President Michael D Higgins said in London last week.

The President was speaking at the Embassy of Ireland where he launched a collection of the speeches he has given since he was elected to Aras an Uachtarain in October 2011, When Ideas Matter.

President Higgins said that just as much of the received wisdom and many of the certainties of Medievalism were overthrown by the Enlightenment and widespread literacy the same must happen to the economic dogma of the last few decades. The worst of these, in his opinion, was the so-called Chicago school of economic thought which says inequality is inevitable.

inequality not accepted says Higgins

“You don’t have to be a Keynesian to disagree with those who suggest there are inevitabilities about today’s economics. Just as in the same way Medievalism was overthrown in its day, we all must say ‘show us your assumptions’,” he said. “I strongly believe there is nothing the people can’t understand if it is explained to them properly.

“In the same way that literacy in its day was at the root of making parliamentary democracy general now it is economic literacy, fiscal literacy, understanding financial interconnections that is so necessary to bring to account huge international speculative forces,” he said.

Such forces “are not responsible to any President or any parliament but represent the strong interests of the selfish few, the one per cent who would like to define economics and society in their fashion,” he added.

“There’s no conversation we can’t have, there’s nothing we can’t read, there’s nothing we can’t understand,” said the President.

Economic sense

Later, at the same event, President Higgins told reporters the balance of economic issues between the UK and Ireland dictated it is economic sense to try to continue the relationship after Brexit.

He stressed the Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement and Britain leaving the EU – and Ireland remaining – could not change that as the Irish and UK governments are co-guarantors of it. He said he supports the Irish government’s attempts to begin an all-island discussion of Brexit and its consequences.

On Friday night the President told the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in London that Sligo social justice campaigner Eva Gore- Booth’s achievements had been obscured by those of her more famous sister Constance Markievicz.

inequality not accepted says Higgins
President delivers speech at Congress House, London. PIC: MAXWELL PHOTOGRAPHY.IE

Ms Gore Booth was a feminist, pacifist and trade unionist who helped to organise textile workers in Britain and campaigned for women’s suffrage. He told a packed audience that she was “a remarkable, indeed quite extraordinary, figure, not just in Ireland’s revolution, but also in the international trade union, suffrage and peace movements”.

inequality not accepted says Higgins
Eva Gore Booth

“It seems to me that all of us can draw great inspiration from Eva Gore-Booth’s integrated emancipatory instinct, from her unreserved commitment to the rights of the powerless and the disenfranchised.

“We can, too, recoup much needed courage and confidence in the knowledge that Eva Gore-Booth fought many battles against the dominant and distorting discourse of the established powers of her day – battles which, we know now, were pioneering, although she did not live to see most of them triumph.

“Eva was not limited by any sectional views. She was never sectarian, dismissive or excluding. She was driven by an uncompromising ethical consciousness of universal human rights.

“She was a woman who felt compelled to engage with injustices wherever she found them, possessed as she was by a deep ethical concern for the value of each human life, for everything that makes human life worth living – solidarity, freedom, construction, joy and love,” he said.

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