A little piece of the Emerald Island
By Marty Gatto
On Monday, September 30th, the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, spoke on refugee crises, the history of Irish immigration, and the role of universities in such times. His lecture, which he has titled “Humanitarianism and the Public Intellectual in Times of Crisis,” touches on some of the topics which were relevant in the current global and local political landscape.
After an introduction given by Father McShane, President Higgins opened with some general thanks. In his introduction, among other things, he stated that, “I want to say as well that the flag is at half-mast at your university and I think that is a very fine gesture to NYPD officer Brian Mulkeen who has just had his life taken away.” Following the introduction were comments on the merits of universities, stating that, “there is no place like a university for […] a gathering place of the young and curious who believe that the world need not be as cruel as it is but indeed can be changed.” The President sounded enthusiastic and passionate in his extended discussion regarding the merits and functions of the university in times of sociopolitical tension or crisis.
A word which surfaced several times in this regard was “paradigm.” President Higgins, after having expressed his belief that the university is crucial to the formation and cultivation of individuals, stated that, “a moment of truth has arrived for all institutions […] that of facilitating an exit from a paradigm that has failed humanity and of outlining how we can make our way to a new paradigm.” The President seemed to express both cynicism towards a standard paradigm and hope, resting in “all institutions,” for a new paradigm.
The lecture then continued into a more humanitarian direction. The focus was largely on that of refugees and immigration, highlighting the long history of Irish immigration. The president mentioned the founder of Fordham, John Hughes, as a result of the waves of Irish immigration that took place in the 19th century. Following this, he highlighted parallels between this chapter of his nation’s past and the current state of American immigration, “In America, and elsewhere across the globe, the Irish found refuge and opportunity. They did not escape either the marginalization or the exploited fear of the other that is the experience now of too many migrants today.” This line of thought was concluded with references to the ultimate “mingling” of culture, in spite of oppression, that resulted from Irish immigration to America.
After his speech concluded, Father McShane delivered closing remarks and gave President Higgins some Fordham swag (a fancy pen, tote bag, and a book of Fordham’s history written by McShane’s cousin). Then an individual at the podium stated that “The President does have time for some questions, and he’s just asked that he wants to be challenged by the students especially. Is there a question for the President?”
A young individual in the back was handed a microphone and spoke thus: “there is obviously…such a suffusion of Irish membership and Irish self-perception in the NYPD, but the NYPD receives almost five thousand complaints about harassment and excessive violence largely from people whose status in this city is threatened. That figure does not account for the number of undocumented people who cannot voice their complaints. Can you speak to whether a police force could function within the new paradigm you are trying to describe?”
The President responded that it was “a very good question. I’m glad you asked it. I think it’s work that needs to be done.” He continued for several minutes, touching on the points that “migrants are often set against each other” and have “competition for space.” He did, too, reiterate that institutions are important in the issues at hand. Nowhere in his response, however, did he mention the NYPD by name.