President Michael D. Higgins was in New York in September for the United Nations General Assembly, where he attended many high-level bilateral meetings with other world leaders. While in New York, he also participated in various other events around the city with the Irish diaspora.
At the U.N., Higgins delivered Ireland’s national statement to the General Assembly and later addressed a summit reviewing international support for Small Island Developing States. His presence at the summit was a significant opportunity to raise Ireland’s profile at the U.N. and to underscore the importance that Ireland attaches to the U.N. and the multilateral system.
“For my country, Ireland,” said Higgins, “the U.N. anchors our foreign policy, and its Charter, institutions, and personnel constitute a prism through which we view our situation in the world and how we wish our practices to be perceived and judged.
“We view the U.N. as that special institution where newly free nations found a home after their struggles for independence, their emergence from the shadows, legacies, and distortions of imperialism. We see the U.N. as a forum that has been provided to give a voice to the voiceless, the marginalized, and those lacking power and wealth. For so many, it is the only such forum available to them – and it is all the more important for that.”
The visit came as the U.N. was hosting a series of summit meetings on “sustainable development,” reviewing the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals agreed to back in 2015.
He delivered keynote addresses at both New York University and Fordham University. At NYU, he spoke to a packed hall about the importance of reconnecting economic thinking with ecology and ethics, saying that public discourse and policy-making must be based on an understanding of the complexities of our inter-dependent world. He highlighted the importance of the U.N. to Ireland and the need for greater international cooperation to address today’s global challenges.
“We have to craft anew the space of hope if we are to achieve change, and do it together,” he said, “for we have seen in our world a profound erosion of solidarity. It is a value and test of our practices – the solidarity test – that we must re-establish urgently across all our peoples and our policies.”
In his speech at Fordham University he focused on humanitarianism and the public intellectual in times of crisis.
On the final day of his visit, Higgins participated in a public interview in the New York Public Library moderated by New York Times reporter and columnist Dan Barry and unveiled a new sculpture by John Behan, commissioned by the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the U.N., entitled “Migrant Boat, Off Sicily, 2018.” It depicts the plight of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and resonates with Behan’s earlier work, “Arrival,” depicting an Irish famine ship. “Arrival” was gifted to the United Nations by the Irish people in 2000 and currently sits on the North Lawn of the U.N.