SUMMER 2014 / VOL. 14 ISSUE 2
Irish President Higgins Encourages Ethics in Economics 

By Michelle Boyle 

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Michael D. Higgins, the ninth president of Ireland, presented a thought-provoking lecture followed by an open dialog to a sold-out hall at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on May 12. Elected in November, 2011, by 1,007,104 votes. he gained more votes than any other Irish politician in the Republicís history. 

In Chicago, Higgins lectured on a new initiative encouraging more comprehensive ethics within the realm of economic education at both a university and global level. His lecture covered such diverse topics as economics, history and environmentalism. He launched his lecture stating, "I am concerned with the harmful separation of the discipline of economics from its ethical and philosophical foundations." 

He spoke of overcoming assumptions that the studies of economics and environmentalism are divergent fields but rather they are interdependent. In his summary, Higgins drove home his heartfelt message, "It is my profound conviction that this time, we will need to give centrality to rethinking our relations to the natural world, a dimension which has long been a blind spot of western thought. There is little more pressing than the need to provide new ideas linking economics ethics and environmental sustainability." 

Following his well-received lecture, the president welcomed questions from the audience. He deftly addressed a potentially inflammatory question regarding a recent political incident in the north of Ireland. He spoke of the importance of moving beyond the past. "You have to seek to be fair in the way you try to balance facing the past, rejecting amnesia, but at the same time trying to do it in such a way that you are able to go on and live in the present and have a peaceful future. That's where we are and we're working at it." 

Higgins visibly warmed to a question asked by Patrick Boyle, Executive director of Milwaukee Irish Fest, regarding how the current economic crisis has affected Irish culture, specifically in the gaeltachts, Irish speaking communities. Formerly serving as Ireland's first minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht from 1993 to 1997, Higgins promoted the Irish language and social and economic development in Irish speaking communities. 

Responding to Boyle, Higgins said, "While banking in one bank really might have damaged our reputation internationally, the cultural community and cultural product and cultural practice has never done anything but add to Ireland's reputation everywhere. It's something that knows no boundaries, something that is quite global and has given us enormous advantages and benefits." 

Higgins provided an optimistic, forward-thinking reflection of his country's prospects as it slowly, but surely, pulls itself from its economic crisis. Yet, with all of his future focus, his feet are firmly grounded in the past, striving to do service to the people who have made huge sacrifices in Ireland's troubled past and who have paved the way to a more peaceful and prosperous future. 


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