President Michael D Higgins warns against "populism and hatred" towards refugees during speech in New York
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President Michael D Higgins warns against "populism and hatred" towards refugees during speech in New York

THE PRESIDENT of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, has spoken to an audience in New York's Fordham University about not submitting to "hatred" against minorities, particularly refugees and migrants.

According to The Journal, President Higgins discussed a wide range of topics during his speech in the US city, including Ireland's own history of emigration.

The President warned of the power of social media to turn human beings against each other, as well as acknowledging that while Irish politics has remained relatively stable, the "populism and hatred" found elsewhere in the world could come to Irish shores unless Irish people remain "vigilant".

He said:

"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."

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He did, however, accept that Irish people are not totally without blame and that there have been incidents in the past, for which he offered an apology.

“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,”

In Galway, the city where President Higgins attended university and where he was President of the Student Union from 1964-65, there have been two attacks on a Mosque which Gardaí have been investigating as a hate crime.

In Oughterard, on the outskirts of Galway city, locals have been protesting against the proposal to transform an unused hotel into a centre for Direct Provision for refugees.

Ireland's Direct Provision system in itself is controversial due to claims that living conditions within the centres tend to be bleak, unhygienic or in some cases detrimental to health.

President Higgins seemed to acknowledge this when he said:

"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”.

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Though there are improvements to be made, the President insisted that "Ireland will continue to stand with refugees both at home and abroad".