A St Patrick’s Day message from President Michael D Higgins
Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, may I send my warmest greetings and good wishes to our Irish family, and friends of Ireland, across the world, on this day of celebration of our national patron, Saint Patrick.
Whether we are Irish by birth or Irish by choice, we are all part of a rich and vibrant global community that is bound together by a shared love of life, a shared love of our national heritage, language and culture.
Today, as we gather to celebrate that spiritual culture and legacy that speaks so deeply to us of a common but complex past, we can draw a shared strength from recalling the inspirational teachings from the life of Saint Patrick, our national Patron Saint.
In these times of multiple interacting crises, human and natural, it is vital that we recognise the need for a solidarity that binds us together as humans, and acknowledge the responsibility we share for our vulnerable planet and for all those who dwell on it.
For example, the plight of the people in Türkiye and Syria will be in our thoughts as they work to rebuild in the wake of last month’s devastating earthquakes. Such horrific events remind us all of our utter vulnerability, and of the shared humanitarian response required.
We live in a time of increasing conflicts, and a departure from the principles of international and humanitarian law so carefully crafted over decades, as alternatives to war.
Over a year on from the invasion, the people of Ukraine, and all those ensnared in the more than 20 armed conflicts around the world, must remain foremost in our minds.
It is heartening to see the welcome that so many households and schools have extended here in Ireland and elsewhere, heartening to hear of all those who continue to provide sanctuary to the tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainian citizens who have fled conflict in their homeland. Schools in every part of the country have opened their arms to new pupils and shown a deep commitment of respect and solidarity. Thank you.
As we honour our patron saint, Naomh Pádraig, how appropriate it is that we recall the foundational story upon which our National Day, is based, that story of the slavery of his time as a young man.
Saint Patrick emerged from slavery, having been trafficked across the Irish Sea as a young man. After six years he escaped, returning to his family and his studies in Britain. Yet, in a remarkable display of resilience and generosity, he would later return to Ireland as a missionary.
There are many powerful echoes from Patrick’s life that resonate with our contemporary circumstances, ones that have brought new forms of slavery into being, where racism is increasing rather than decreasing, in so many parts of a world, where a poisonous xenophobia, new and recalled, has taken hold in so many places. It is in these spaces where fear is being sowed.
The story of Patrick’s transformation that would lead to his becoming an emblem of the country he adopted as his own, stands in counterpoint and is so important.
In his protest against the war crimes of King Coroticus and his men, Patrick, the former slave, gave both voice and his life, to spearheading an awareness of the consequences of slavery.
The story of his life as a migrant, we must never forget, is a reminder of the resilience and necessary courage of migrants, a reminder too of the contributions that they have made, and continue to make, to the countries they call home.
The act of migration constitutes a story defined by an extraordinary will and an unyielding human desire to envision and create a better world, even in the face of sometimes considerable adversity.
Today, as we recall the life of our patron saint, we can invoke his spirit in acknowledging our role as global citizens, opening our minds and hearts to our universal human family in all its complexity, circumstances and vulnerability.
It is by showing empathy, compassion and solidarity, such as by helping those fleeing distress, by offering our hearts and doors to those in need, and giving people an opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their families, that we demonstrate our commitment to bringing into being values which have the power to transcend borders.
Basic human morality suggests that we must think in terms of the common good if we are to invoke or follow the path of Saint Patrick, recognizing that we bear a duty to stand in solidarity with all those across the globe who are vulnerable and in need, and do everything in our power to create an inclusive, just world where all humans, in all their diversity and circumstances, are treated with dignity, respect and justice.
While Saint Patrick’s story encourages us to reflect on the significance of migration running through our history as a constant feature of the Irish experience, we are required to respond to the ongoing, brutal reality of human trafficking and forced migration as a constant feature of human experience. It is by doing that we can most fully embrace Patrick’s legacy and our own place and exercise our responsibilities in today’s world.
There are so many areas where we cannot continue to fail on such basic issues as global hunger and poverty. For example, in the Horn of Africa, the harsh reality of hunger steals the future, the potential, the dignity, of millions of our brothers and sisters threatened with famine.
How shameful it is too that 64 countries in the developing world were forced, while struggling with the Covid pandemic, to spend more on debt repayments than on funding public health.
During my recent visit to Senegal at which I addressed the Africa Food Summit, I emphasised that there is an urgent need to tackle not only poverty and hunger in Africa but to offer proper security on the basic necessities of life, delivering universal basic services such as education and healthcare, thus helping to create a lasting, sustainable future built on security in its most inclusive sense.
We have a moral and ethical responsibility to support our global family in dire need, to help with sustainable solutions to ending all famines, to provide a decisive response to climate change.
Saint Patrick’s message was at its core one of respect for nature, for its spirituality reflected in its seasonal renewal. Our planet is scarred by the consequences of human actions, actions often sourced in greed, actions that have had a direct bearing on our changing climate, constituting, as it does now, one of the greatest challenges of our time, reflected in extreme weather events, widespread displacement and forced migration across our world, and the loss of fertile land.
It is such a tragic injustice that those nations suffering the greatest human and economic impact of climate change are those who were least responsible for the emissions that threaten their very existence.
The demand for collective action addressing our shared Earth’s climate emergency has never been greater. We all must now take responsibility for our role in the climate crisis and play our part in decarbonising our economy and society so that we may inhabit a sustainable world, one that preserves the planet for future generations and all those who inhabit it.
On this day, let us pledge to work together, cooperating, so that we may confront the contemporary challenges facing our world, espousing some of the most essential values, such as kindness and compassion, embodied as they are in the story of Saint Patrick.
Rather than list the points of darkness that challenge us in our contemporary circumstances, let us instead be guided by the points of light. Let us envision how our lives could be without war, famine, hunger and greed, in a world that eschews the poisonous ideals of imperialism and embraces the decent instincts of humanity that such as Saint Patrick embodied.
As we commemorate Saint Patrick’s legacy, guide and patron, whose life embodied the values of a shared, generous sense of humanity, let us do so by mustering the courage to recover the best instincts of our humanity, have the mettle to face those who resist such instincts, reaffirm and strengthen our commitment to advocating the principles that informed Patrick’s life, calling us as they do to embrace our role as global citizens, extending a hand of support to all those in need with whom we share this planet, respond with hospitality and kindness to those fleeing the ravages of hunger, conflict and climate change, thus bringing into reality our taking responsibility to work with fellow citizens for a more just and inclusive world.
I wish you all a most enjoyable and peaceful Saint Patrick’s Day.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh uilig.