Two people born 62 years apart and in different centuries restored my faith in public representation this past week.
Ireland’s president, Michael D Higgins (born April 18, 1941) and Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg (born January 3, 2003) showed that age is no barrier when it comes to giving leadership in a world largely tied up in red tape and political correctness (or in Donald Trump and Boris Johnson’s cases, political incorrectness).
Virtually everyone on the planet either saw 16-year-old Greta’s stare speak a thousand words at President Trump at the Climate Action Summit in New York last week or heard her “how dare you” admonition to older generations for the way they have left the world for her age-group to inherit and try to save from global warming.
Our own Michael D, in my eyes, equalled the bravery and courage of the teenager when he voiced his concerns on a host of issues in New York.
Age often works against people in the public domain but as a near octogenarian, and also into his second presidential term, Michael D knows he can tackles issues that the ‘ordinary’ politicians wish he wouldn’t.
Yes, there was some grumbling that the president was going beyond his remit of being ‘above politics’ when he championed the case of Irish soldiers and their families, saying they were entitled to a living wage.
When questioned if he had strayed into the political arena by making such remarks, he gave a brilliantly unequivocal reply from which there was no comeback.
He insisted that not only should he comment but that it was his constitutional duty to do so.
He made it clear that he was totally aware of what he was saying and doing.
“I said it wasn’t too much to expect that those who serve in the forces might anticipate decent living conditions and so on, and I very much feel that,” he said.
What the President said was just common sense – Ireland’s soldiers are entitled to expect sufficient pay to look after themselves and their families.
When it came to his turn to address the United Nations, like Greta, he dwelt on what had to be done to combat the very real dangers of climate change and warned that the cost of delay or equivocation could be “catastrophic.”
In an address earlier in the week to New York University, he urged US President Donald Trump to reconsider his decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Agreement.
If there is not urgent and radical action on climate change it will leave an unwelcome legacy for future generations of forced displacement on a bleaker, more volatile planet, he said.
He also questioned President Trump’s thinking and humanity over the thorny question of migration.
The White House seeks to lock down US borders to prevent people getting in to the country, he said.
But Áras na Uachtaráin takes pride in how Ireland has been transformed from a nation which people were forced to leave to one which can welcome the less fortunate to its shores.
He urged people to shun narrow nationalistic, jingoism and embrace “multilateralism.”
This allows “the large and small, the powerful and weak, to co-exist in shared concern and joint prospect for the betterment of a shared world.”
What was inspiring about hearing such words from an Irish head of state was that it came hot on the heels of Greta’s the day before.
President Higgins went on to urge the UN itself to reform, while lobbying for Ireland to be given one of the rotating seats on the UN’s permanent Security Council.
The CEO of the Irish international charity Concern, Dominic McSorley, called it “part inspiration and part denunciation”