President Michael D Higgins said at his inauguration that he will use his second term to maintain a “positive relationship” with the UK during Brexit and to shun nationalist movements like that seen across the rest of the world
In a speech after being sworn in at Dublin Castle, he warned against the rise of divisive politics and also vowed to stand up against the challenges of climate change, LGBT and women’s rights and international poverty.
Mr Higgins, 77, thanked Irish citizens for re-electing him at the inauguration ceremony, which was delayed until last Sunday evening to avoid clashing with Armistice Day, the commemoration of 100 years since the end of the First World War.
Mr Higgins won his second term in Áras an Uachtaráin with a landslide 56 per cent of the vote last month. Peter Casey, a US taxpayer and reality television personality, finished in second place having ridden a populist wave after criticising the Travelling community and social welfare recipients.
Mr Higgins made it clear that tackling divisive rhetoric – like that seen from Casey during his campaign trail – would be one of his office’s main priorities for the next seven years.
“There are some contemporary cultural influences that may be dismissive of any responsibility towards the needs, opinions or experience of others and there can . . . be too much emphasis on division and domination rather than reflection or understanding,” he said.
“These are tendencies we must not allow to take root. They, if unchecked, can undermine the warmth of our Irishness and stifle those decencies of the heart that have enhanced our lives, filled our imagination, and contributed so much to our reputation and experience.
“It is important that we seek to reach always for the best of ourselves and the best of what we might become, and that we allow that to guide our collective ambition for our country.”
Anglo-Irish relations have been fraught since the UK voted for Brexit, creating uncertainty about the future of the Irish border and about Irish trade. Mr Higgins noted the “deep” and “complex” relationship between Ireland and the UK and said that each country lived in the other’s “shadow and shelter”.
“This is something which will remain true whatever political changes the near future might bring, and the presidency can continue to play a crucial role in sustaining positive relationships between our peoples in challenging circumstances,” he said.
“There is a power in placing empathy alongside participation, solidarity and creativity at the heart of policy and action.”
Mr Higgins also said he would focus on climate change, gender identity issues and violence against women.
“Not only is the very existence of our planet in its biodiversity threatened, but we have not yet slowed the pace of that destruction,” he said. “We live with ongoing violence against women, which must be ended.”
Mr Higgins also said it was important to recognise “the rights and culture of indigenous peoples”, adding that every person should be “free to express their sexuality, gender or relationship”.
“In some of these global challenges we face science and technology can play a powerful role, but its use must be accountable and responsible,” he said. “We must, for example, eliminate global hunger, but now do so in a way that meets the demands of sustainability.
“Political vision, bravery and generosity are required for the making of the new urgent global conversation, commitment and action we must undertake together.”
Mr Higgins said that the world must now “live with the reality” that some of the nations that had signed up to the UN Paris agreement on climate change were abandoning it, a slight to Donald Trump after the US pulled out of the Paris Agreement two years ago aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Higgins also praised Ireland’s younger generations for their interest in international issues and injustices. He said that they have, “rejected undermining of democracy by xenophobia and hate in so many places” and added they see a “future as defined by ethics, philosophy and creativity as the kind of future to which science and technology should be called to assist.”