Speech: Higgins - Ireland and New Zealand

Published: Fri 27 Oct 2017 06:53 PM
‘Ireland and New Zealand
- Of some origins and prospects of two nations
who share so many experiences and interests’
Michael D. Higgins
Uachtarán na hÉireann
President of Ireland
University of Auckland
Friday, 27th October, 2017
A Sheansailéir,
A Leas-Sheansailéir,
A Mhic Léinn,
A Dhaoine Uaisle,
Distinguished guests,
Ar an gcéad dul síos is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leat, a Leas-Sheansailéir, as d’fhocail deasa. Is mór an onóir dom é an deis seo a ghlacadh chun cainte libh san ollscoil uasal seo.
May I thank you, Vice-Chancellor, for your kind introduction this evening. It is an honour for me to address this august institution, which has contributed so much to the social, cultural and intellectual life of New Zealand.
As a former University teacher, it is a pleasure at any time to return and speak at a university, but today it is a particular pleasure to have been asked to address a university from which one of the great literary movements of New Zealand emerged.
I refer to the publication of that short-lived but seminal literary journal, Phoenix, in whose pages were first published the words of Allen Curnow, Rex Fairburn, Ronald Mason and Charles Brasch, among others. The inclusive words of their ambitious declaration must surely still ring through the decades to us today:
“We are hungry for the words that shall show us these islands and ourselves; that shall give us a home in thought.”
I recall reflecting on these powerful words, their demand for a public culture and a space for culture, on my first visit to New Zealand in 1999.
As a former Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in Ireland and President of the Council of Culture Ministers of the European Union in 1996 during the Irish Presidency of the European Union I had been invited to address a symposium organised by the Broadcasting Commission and the Institute of Policy Studies in Wellington, to speak on the importance of creativity, and in particular, the future of public service broadcasting.
On that occasion I spoke, based on my experiences in Ireland, of the crucial importance and potential of public broadcasting as an invitation to the citizen to experience the timeless, the universal, the unimagined, and in providing a rich source of creativity. I spoke too, of the dangers of a perspective which saw broadcasting as something lesser – as merely a production space for a commodified and homogenised entertainment.
I recalled the title of Raymond Williams last public lecture “Be the arrow, not the target” with its powerful advocacy for active, participatory culture rather that the passive mass consumption of homogenised product, the outcome of monopolised production and distribution practices.
It is a privilege for me to return to this great country now as President of Ireland, and I am grateful for the invitation to address you this afternoon.
I was fascinated to learn of the early influence of Irish migrants on the development of this university. Its establishment in 1882 owed much to the efforts of George Maurice O’Rorke, the son of an Irish Anglican parson from County Galway, who would go on to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chairman of the Council of this University.
As is the case with many Antipodean universities, migrant Irish scholars exerted a significant intellectual influence in those early years. If I were, as a former teacher of sociology, to single out one here today, it would be Hutcheson Macaulay Posnett, author of what is considered by many as one of the foundational texts in the sociology of literature.
He was, like many Irish lawyers of his generation, schooled in the comparative jurisprudence of Henry Maine, a method which he extended to the study of literature and political economy. His first work, The Historical Method in Ethics, Jurisprudence, and Political Economy, encompassed a critique of the classical political economy of his day, a matter which remains of enduring interest to me.
The influence of Irish scholars and politicians is but one small strand of a longer and enduring connection between New Zealand and Ireland. In the decade prior and immediately following the Treaty of Waitangi many of the Irish who came to these shores were migrants, sometimes escaped or time-expired convicts from the penal colonies across the Tasman Sea, seeking to make, very often in this city, a new life in the rough and tumble trades of whaling, sealing, and timber-cutting. It was from this milieu, for example, that the Sydney-born Irish father of the Mâori politician and government minister, James Carroll, emerged.
Others were colonial administrators and soldiers, who came to serve here during the New Zealand Wars. The best known of the Irish administrators may be William Hobson, the naval commander from County Waterford and first governor of New Zealand who gave this city its name and drafted the Treaty of Waitangi.
In those early days, the pattern of Irish settlement was concentred here on the North Island rather than the South Island, which was then developing according to the template of that champion of ‘systemic colonisation’, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, for despite the involvement of John Robert Godley and James Edward Fitzgerald, both Anglo-Irish colonial enthusiasts, the enterprise of the New Zealand Company had few places for Irish migrants.
It was the Otago gold rush of 1861 that brought the first large influx of Irish migrants, miners who had first sought their fortune in Ballarat and Bendigo, whose alluvial deposits were now exhausted, and 49ers came too from across the Pacific Ocean, where ‘gold-fever’ had slowly given way to the imposition of the rule of law by the new state of California.
The impact of this wave is clearly visible when one compares census returns: in 1861, on the cusp of discoveries at the Tuapeka and Waipori fields, the Irish-born population numbered 8,831. Three years later, there were 20,317 Irish-born living in New Zealand. The Irish population in New Zealand had doubled.
As Angela MacCarthy, Jock Phillips and Terry Hearn have shown in their research, new arrivals from Ireland followed through what scholars of migration refer to as a process of ‘chain migration’, as Irish people in New Zealand persuaded and, through nomination schemes established by the provinces of the young colony, secured the subsidised passage of their friends and family members.
This process accelerated rapidly in the 1870s, under the influence of the ambitious assisted passage scheme championed by Jules Vogel. This vast project of the early entrepreneurial state dramatically expanded the possibility for nomination and extended the potential of direct recruitment of new colonists from Ireland – a hitherto underexplored possibility – in some provinces still beholden to the legacies of colonial companies such as the Canterbury Association.
Indeed, it was George Maurice O’Rorke who, as minister for immigration, ensured an increase in the number of recruiting agencies despatched to Ireland. The Irish-born population peaked at 51,406 on the cusp of the Long Depression in 1886, and would slowly decline thereafter as those with Irish ancestries gradually integrated into what would become pakeha society.
The new Irish arrivals of the 1860s and 1870s were predominantly small farmers and rural labourers – men and women who had grown up in an agrarian society - as the historian Donald Akenson has noted.
They also, for example, shifted the concentration of the Irish presence to the South Island. To Canterbury, where Irish men fulfilled the same role as the Irish Navvies of the United States in building the roads, bridges and railways of the rapidly expanding province, and where Irish women were often engaged as domestic servants. On the West Coast, towns like Hokitika, a booming gold rush town, developed, for a time, a distinctive Irish identity, with pubs and taverns named after familiar Irish heroes and patriots.
The Irish arrivals participated too, with other migrants who came to this land, in the creation of that ‘laboratory of social experiment’ for which the new democracy of New Zealand would become noted. If there was a distinctive Irish contribution to a country famed for its progressive legislation, it was perhaps a certain sense of a recoil from, and an ambition to transcend, what was perceived as an oppressive colonial mindset. This was deeply understandable given the Irish experience of the effects of oppression and injustice, of opportunity foreclosed by cultural assumptions as to their inferiority, exclusion on religious grounds, and an unjust political economy. They were, however, perhaps moved too by an impulse to imagine a new world in the southern oceans.
In the imperial world of the nineteenth century, this was demonstrated by an unusual parallel, indeed a contradiction, as the matter of land reform and land redistribution in New Zealand became inextricably linked, in the eyes of the colonists, with the importance of learning from the failures of landlordism in Ireland.
In 1881, Robert Stout, a Scottish immigrant born on the Shetland Islands and a future Premier, published ‘The Irish Question and its Lessons for Colonists’, advocating the use of the then novel land tax as a mechanism to provide land to the small proprietor and prevent New Zealand from becoming an Antipodean replica of the Irish social structure, a country of great landed estates and numerous toiling tenant farmers, and an expanding, grinding poverty that would have devastating consequences.
In the same year, John Ballance, the eldest son of an Irish tenant farmer and another future premier, attended a mass meeting in Wellington in support of the Irish National Land League, which had been established in Ireland three years earlier to ensure, in the words of its founding resolutions, ‘the obtaining of the ownership of the soil by the occupiers’.
When the leader of the Irish National Land League, Michael Davitt, toured New Zealand in 1896, he found here a reflection of what he felt were the most advanced ideas of his age, many which he had advocated in Ireland: a progressive land tax, land redistribution, a determination to ensure that older people were ensured an income in old age, a faith in the pursuit of the public good, and legislation to ensure labour secured a fairer share of proceeds of growth. He saw it as a recognition and vindication of a public world that was possible, uniting the efforts of land and labour.
He attributed these policies, he saw as successful, to the influence of Ballance and his lieutenant, John MacKenzie, who had witnessed the Highland clearances as a young boy. Davitt wrote of:
“an Irish Premier of New Zealand, aided chiefly by a Celtic Highlander - both of whom knew something of Irish and Scottish landlordism - instrumental a few years ago in moulding the present land laws of the colony on the broad, just and rational principle of ‘the land of a country for the people of the country, and not for any class’.”
We are reminded that it is impossible to ignore the role that ‘the clearances’, ‘the enclosures’, had in creating the huge numbers of vagrants whose crimes would be used to fill the colonies with those transported in humiliating and degrading conditions.
Michael Davitt would also write of the ‘Mâori Land Leaguers’ and of Te Whiti, and of how they, as he put it, ‘were beaten by overwhelming forces, but the principle underlying their brave struggle was not crushed’.
If Ireland demonstrated to New Zealanders an imposed destiny that was to be averted, for Irish observers such as Davitt, New Zealand in its turn showed, by its willingness to experiment, to engage in quite new forms of thought and action, and to challenge and overturn the failing orthodoxies of the old world, and thus indicating an alternative pathway to the future.
Such values and impulses are surely needed now more than ever. We need at a global, national, and international level, a morally informed sense of the importance of human dignity, a scholarship that is able to absorb the impulses of the human street and the human spirit, that is able to craft alternative theoretical and policy models that can integrate a moral intent in ethics, ecology and economics.
Good scholarship is inclusive scholarship. We need to reframe economics, as political economy, in such a fashion as will generate responsible policy formation with the capacity to reconnect with our publics and their best ethical intent.
There is much that we in Ireland can continue to learn from New Zealand, and perhaps much we may learn anew and re-discover together, as we face the great challenges of coming decades, from which we must not shirk our responsibilities: the urgency for just and sustainable development, the necessity to address the causes and consequences of climate change, the prevention and resolution of conflicts, both ancient and new, the imperative to welcome those fleeing war, persecution and famine, the ever-present threat of nuclear weapons, and growing inequalities in wealth, income and opportunity and their contemporary threat to social cohesion.
For citizens of Ireland and citizens of New Zealand, given our shared characteristics and our shared values, I believe there is so much we can continue to achieve together. We are both small countries, in terms of population, who value our democratic traditions and who seek to be authentic in our commitment to international institutions – a commitment expressed best, perhaps, by our shared abhorrence of the threat posed by nuclear weapons.
It was the Irish representative at the General Assembly of the United Nations who first proposed, in 1959, a resolution that would lead to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which has been, from 1968 up to this year, the primary international legal
The virtues required for this achievement were tact, tenacity, and a quiet and stubborn persistence. As we look forward, what a great gift to humanity and to present and future generations it would be if, as was originally committed, a reduction in nuclear missiles and their eventual elimination was achieved.
New Zealanders can be proud too of those virtues as they recall a steadfast and courageous kind that were required to refuse the presence of the USS Buchanan and secure New Zealand’s status as a nuclear-free nation – namely courage, bravery, and in the face of the oblique and sometimes the open hostility of the two nuclear-armed states of the day.
Fortitude was needed and was shown. Fortitude is surely the word that comes to mind, when one thinks, and recalls, the shocking bombing, in July 1985, of the Rainbow Warrior not far from here in Auckland Harbour. I think that many small nations, in the face of such intimidation might have sought a discrete compromise. It is rare in international relations to find such an inspiring display of moral clarity.
In June of this year, our two countries, in co-operation with many others, co-sponsored the General Assembly Resolution mandating the convention of a new United Nations conference to negotiate a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This Treaty, adopted in June and opened for formal signature last month, prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. It represents the most widespread acceptance of the threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons.
Some have decried this recent Treaty, signed by so many members of the United Nations, as being ‘without merit’. They have suggested that it lacks force because it does not carry the approval of those who insist on continuing to possess nuclear weapons. Let us be clear as to what these critics are suggesting. It is no more and no less than claiming the right to hold what is a veto for the existing nuclear-armed states on policy-making in this area. Such a view simply echoes the abuse of veto-holding permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations.
Our mutual faith and trust in multilateral institutions and co-operation between nation states also finds expression in our long-standing commitment to the contribution of personnel to United Nations peacekeeping operations. Indeed, may I suggest that the principles that have underpinned peacekeeping for six decades – the requirement for the consent of the main parties to the conflict, to implement the United Nations mandate without fear or favour, and the non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate – are more apposite to the sensibility of smaller nations such as ours.
As to some current challenges, many of which we share, and will share, our two island nations have been endowed by nature with a temperate climate, enabling a kind of pastoral agriculture that is to some degree a product of past dependency, reflecting our history as suppliers of primary products to Britain. The entry of Britain and Ireland into the European Economic Community and its common agricultural policy was a significant change for both of us, with differing consequences.
The structure and success of our agricultural industries brings with it a unique challenge for both our countries in the battle against climate change. Agriculture accounts for nearly a third of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, and I understand somewhat more here in New Zealand, which makes both of us outliers when compared to the other industrialised countries who participated in the first commitment period under the Kyoto protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We have both adopted emissions trading schemes as a policy measure to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
These schemes exclude the emissions generated by pastoral farming, which due to our unique emissions profile, will require distinctive, novel, and sometimes difficult policy measures to be directed to dairy and beef farming, even as the temptation is now to increase our national herds to meet rising world demand.
We should not, and must not, underestimate the depth or nature of this task. The recalibration of our agricultural industry to meet obligations we have accepted by international treaty is an obligation we must, and which we can meet. We can enlist the benefits of science and technology, but it will also require being resolute in the tough decisions we may need to take, and for which we must educate our publics.
The agreement signed at the Paris Climate Conference in December of 2015 was an enormous achievement, representing an important moral milestone, as imperfect as it may be, in recognising the demands of climate justice, and what is the imperative for survival for so many people in this century, particularly in the developing world. The decarbonisation of our societies demanded by the pledge to pursue efforts to limit the global temperature increase to one and a half degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will not be easy, nor can it be made without sacrifice.
It will require the mobilisation of all members of our society engaged in the production, distribution, consumption and exchange of agricultural products to ensure that our countries can contribute to the effort truly required under the Paris climate accord. It will require new ideas, skills and methods, the opening of new frontiers of science and technology, a renewed commitment to the exchange of technical expertise, and, may I suggest, the recollection too of much of the wisdom of ancient methods of ecological management.
The agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals in New York in September of 2015, constitutes what has the potential to be as important an achievement as the Paris climate accord. Over 193 states resolved to end poverty and hunger, combat inequalities in income and opportunity, to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies, and to create conditions for a shared prosperity.
We must not be dislodged or dissuaded from these objectives by any nation, no matter how powerful, that seek to eschew the global common good in the service of narrow sectional interests.
Tomorrow, I will have the great honour to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. I could not help but be put in mind of our own Treaty to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland, the cornerstone of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. In both cases, it is when we see these treaties as ‘living treaties’ that they can deliver most for us.
The suggestion that indivisibility may not be the sole defining characteristic of sovereignty imagined by Thomas Hobbes and
Jean Bodin, but that sovereignty may be, instead, a matter of perpetual renegotiation and debate, something shared, carried out in a democratic, respectful and inclusive spirit, is both profound and liberating, especially when it is imagined in practice. The complex and intricate relationships between peoples embodied in these respective agreements require a constant commitment to ensure that they remain living documents.
Both our nations are small open economies, highly open to world markets, yet also, because of that very openness, vulnerable to changes to international commodity prices, the structure of global value chains, and sudden shifts and shocks to capital and financial flows. The forms of both capital and the nature of their flows have changed radically in the recent decades of de-regulation. They have created a dystopia, I suggest.
These economic forces are not natural phenomena and neither are they inevitabilities - they are the product of negotiated institutional design and public policy.
Concerted action by states acting in co-operation with each other can, as it has in the past, constrain, control and bind such forces in service of the common good.
This requires regulation. It is in the capital flows that are outside regulation, that are not, and never were, available for productive use, that the greatest uncertainties in global conditions, for economies large and small, are sowed.
The economics of the future will inevitably deal with the challenges of building and securing social cohesion. More equal societies are healthier societies. Societies with deep inequalities are not viable in terms of a stable, cohesive citizenship, nor are they healthy societies. Wild capital can yield short-term benefits for the few but be destructive for the many. The forms of capital which prevail within an economy are not the same as each other in terms of consequences.
We need to privilege productive capital flows that lead to investment strategies that are socially accountable, job-creating, and sustainable. This also requires allowing economies, and the societies which they serve, to level up and to reject the suggestion that there is anything inevitable about the practices of any dominating hegemon in terms of international trade.
This has been manifested most recently in the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, to which New Zealand has already subscribed and of which Ireland is now a member. If these measures are to be at their best, such institutions must channel flows of capital that will enhance the long-run economic growth potential of developing countries and finance sustainable, and sustained, development.
And yet, in this, the tenth year since the Global Financial Crisis, the broader international financial architecture has yielded only most painfully and gradually to change. We should question whether the institutions charged with regulating global flows of capital and finance have the sufficient resources, the appropriate capacity, and, most importantly, the agreed mandate, necessary to achieve the economic and social objectives to which we are committed.
There have been small, revelatory but welcome changes in the advices offered by of the International Monetary Fund on matters of fiscal policy and the control of movements of capital, and the report of the Commission on Global Poverty established by the World Bank, which recommended broadening the conception of poverty to include non-monetary measures of deprivation.
We must ask, as many in the global street are ever more vociferously asking, and most painfully experiencing, as to whether some of the ideas which led to the Global Financial Crisis still underpin global policy? Those who still believe that private financial markets will allocate resources to their best, most efficient use, and must be allowed to do so without regulation have not gone away. Taking into account the necessity for sustainable and just development, we may well ask on behalf of whose and which interests do they speak and act?
May I suggest that the great matters before us in the coming decade cannot be met with the ideas or assumptions of what are the failing and failed paradigms of a less than democratic, often authoritarian, past. Our new challenges, in new circumstances, must be addressed, drawing on the best of the new morally-engaged scholarship that values social cohesion. This is something we must pursue collectively at a global level, with the same vigour and spirit with which our two countries have addressed the threat of nuclear Armageddon.
Can we, in these difficult times, summon again the same openness to new ideas and willingness to break with old orthodoxies that Michael Davitt witnessed here in this country a century ago?
Can we bring the same determination to share, to debate, to contest, and to constantly renegotiate sovereignty in a democratic manner shown by the peoples of Ireland and New Zealand have shown in these recent years? Can we bring the same moral clarity and ethical vision, the same courage and fortitude, the same willingness to confront unaccountable power that has been shown by the peoples of this country in declaring and enforcing a nuclear free-zone?
How we answer such questions will determine whether we can confront and overcome the challenges of this new century.
It is essential that we retain our optimism, our will, but a good beginning might be to combine our efforts in achieving for our peoples what is little less than a new literacy on economic and fiscal matters.
This brings me back to my first paper in New Zealand in 1999 which was to a conference debating how we might, by defending public service broadcasting, secure and deepen the public world. That struggle continues in new conditions. We must not merely hope. We must imagine, change and achieve.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh as bhur bhfoighne. Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann is mian liom gach rath agus beannacht a ghuí oraibh don todhchaí. Go dté sibh slán.
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