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Irish people cannot 'remain silent' in face of attacks on refugees, warns President

Michael D Higgins made the speech in New York.

The President made the comments in a speech in New York.
The President made the comments in a speech in New York.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has told an audience in New York that Irish people must not “remain silent” in the face of attacks on refugees and asylum seekers. 

“As President of Ireland, I have offered an apology on behalf of the people of Ireland when there have been incidents of callous and unacceptable behaviour directed at refugees. I believe that we cannot and must not remain silent in the face of such attacks on refugees and migrants,” he said. 

Higgins made the remarks in a speech at Fordham University in New York today. 

“Ireland will continue to stand with refugees both at home and abroad,” he said.

The remarks come following protests in Oughterard in Galway against any plans for a Direct Provision centre in the local area, which put the Irish system for processing and housing asylum seekers back in the national spotlight. 

Higgins has given several speeches in the city in recent days. Last week, he told the UN that climate change is the biggest issue facing the international community. 

In June, Higgins hosted a garden party at Áras an Uachtaráin to highlight the work of Irish organisations that support refugees. 

Higgins said today that “we have become accustomed to narratives of how men and women throughout our world, as refugees, find themselves living for extended periods of time in unsuitable accommodation, confined to forced idleness, without even control over their daily diet”. 

He also highlighted the dangers of social media as a platform for spreading hatred. 

In Ireland, we may have, to date, been spared the worst of the populism and hatred seen elsewhere, which targets and scapegoats minorities, including refugees and migrants. Political leaders have, in general, behaved in a responsible and ethical way. Nonetheless, I believe we must remain constantly vigilant to the threat of these menaces, and the ease with which such toxicity can lodge itself through social media, for example.

In a wide-ranging speech that discussed everything from Ireland’s experience of emigration and global impact of World War Two, Higgins attacked prejudice “driven by political populism and lazy opportunism” and suggested that “rising inequality” is partly to blame for any opposition to refugees and immigrants. 

The speech also saw the president criticise the pressures facing university staff and the lack of job security many face. 

“Academics all over the world should weep for the destruction of the concept of the university that has occurred, which has led to little less than the degradation of learning,” he said. 

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