Presidential seminars: Being young and Irish


Eager to encourage active citizenship, President Michael D Higgins has gathered young people’s views on a vision for Ireland.

President Michael D Higgins has asked young people for their views on the state of Ireland and its future, in a major consultation.  Public submissions for ‘Being Young and Irish 2012’ were accepted from May to September from 17-26 year old Irish citizens, whether on the island or overseas.  They will feed into a presidency seminar later this year and a report on their views and proposals.

The President hopes that the initiative will open up channels for young people and produce youth-led “sensible and realisable solutions”.  The difficulties experienced by young people from a range of backgrounds were of particular interest to Higgins.

His consultation exercise (open to non-Irish citizens as well) included online submissions and four regional workshops, which took place in September in Dublin, Cork, Monaghan and Galway.  At the first workshop in Dublin, one hundred delegates deliberated on the top ten aspects of their vision for Ireland.  Accountability and equality (i.e. in gender, wages and sexual orientation) were deemed most important.

Political reform, recognition for Irish culture, equal rights and reform of the healthcare system were the most pressing issues for those gathered at the second workshop in Cork.  There, Higgins revealed that the consultation had yielded “very practical and detailed” submissions on education, which called for an approach that respected young people’s different learning capacities.

“This consultation is taking place because of my belief that we are in a period of immense change,” the President told Dublin delegates, “not only in Ireland, but in Europe and the world.”  All aspects of people’s lives have to be “re-thought”, including the way our institutions must work and serve their purpose for the welfare of all our citizens, the way we define what is valuable in our personal lives, and above all in the lives we share together.”  He asked delegates to think about creating a common purpose.

Higgins will assemble a select group of participants from the workshops to debate the consultation findings and distil them into a ‘take charge of change’ declaration.  They will present the findings and declaration at the final seminar, to be attended by senior policy-makers across government.

A report on the findings will be presented to relevant government departments.  A spokeswoman for the President conceded that ultimately any consequent action will be a matter for government.

Higgins told delegates at the final workshop that the declaration on change could be “the cornerstone and foundation for a new kind of ethical, values-based Irishness, rich with integrity and possibility, of which we can be proud at home and abroad.”

In his inauguration speech last November, Higgins announced his intention to hold a number of presidency seminars to explore important themes on the country’s shared life but these would not deal with areas affected by legislation.

More information on the presidency seminars is available at

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