Xenophobia may destroy democracy, warns President Michael D Higgins

Racism and xenophobia are gaining ground, exploiting fears and ignorance in ways that could destroy democracy, warns President Michael D Higgins.

“Our gaze must not be averted. We must be open to the agony of our fellow occupants of this fragile earth,” the President told foreign diplomats.

“There is an urgent need to look into the deep and quiet corners of those lives deprived of a right to participate at all levels of society because these lives deserve, again in the words of Pope Francis, a ‘dignified welcome’.”

Mr Higgins was speaking to members of the diplomatic corps during a new year greeting ceremony at Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday.

“As democrats, we should also be concerned that an anti-intellectualism is feeding populism among the most insecure and excluded on this continent. We live in an atmosphere of diminishing respect for what I like to call the necessary grace of discourse.”

Mr Higgins said the EU remains a “visionary and vital project” irrespective of its failings and imperfections.

He said: “We are for its strengthening, its increased efficiency, its greater connection with the European Street, never in any sense as advocates for its destruction.

“The context of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the union simply means that we must be resolute in mitigating and overcoming any negative consequence for the union and for Ireland.”

Mr Higgins said Northern Ireland is a “living example” of the positive impact of EU membership in supporting and framing a peace process, but there is now a risk old divisions might come to the fore in the upcoming election.

There are also concerns about the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, a region that has been transformed over the past two decades but is not yet fully reconciled or healed, he said.

Mr Higgins believes the people of Northern Ireland expect their politicians to work together because of the support for the Good Friday agreement.

He said: “That democratic endorsement is a powerful one which reminds us that — even in times of difficulty — we have a duty of hope.”

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