A Year in Review 2020

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A YEAR IN REVIEW 2020


President Michael D. Higgins and Sabina, May 2020

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CONTENTS Foreword 04 “The Year of Covid”

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• Thanking the essential workers

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• Covid-19 and global solidarity

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• Supporting the arts during Covid-19

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• Building back better

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• “Take Care”

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Remembering our Past

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Representing the Nation

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Key Themes

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Legislation 33 Biodiversity study

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The ‘Centenarian Bounty’

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Finances and Governance

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FOREWORD I have the pleasure in offering this report from Áras an Uachtaráin on what has been an extraordinary year in pandemic times. It would be hard to overstate the sense of turmoil and uncertainty, the trauma and tragedy that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about, wreaking havoc as it has by turning our lives, our societies and our economies – indeed our very existence – upside down during 2020. I, like so many, have over the past year, together with the staff at Áras an Uachtaráin, had to adapt to new ways of working. When the first Covid restrictions came into effect in March 2020, cancellation of many planned events or their deferral were initially considered. However, I am happy to report that, thanks to a managed shift to new methods and procedures, a significant number of public engagements planned over the course of the year were able to proceed. Although I sorely missed the opportunities to welcome the thousands of people we normally invite to Áras an Uachtaráin, or my visits to groups and organisations that have enabled me to witness their activities in communities around the country, it is my hope that the speeches that were delivered to camera and the messages I have written for different groups, have had the effect I sought, of thanking and encouraging citizens everywhere. A notable milestone in 2020 was our contribution to Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries through the development of the ‘Machnamh 100’ seminar series which allows for considered reflections to be given space, as we continue with an ethical recall of the events that shaped the birth of this nation 100 years ago. These seminars will continue throughout 2021 and into 2022 as we mark Ireland’s War of Independence, partition and the Civil War. This report is offered as further building on my commitment to provide greater transparency and accessibility by presenting an overview of the key work of the President of Ireland, including major

engagements, events, visits and expenditure incurred over the past year. The review compliments the wealth of information already published on the website www.president.ie which, as well as providing details of the President’s public engagements, includes a multimedia section that houses a library of speeches in audio, video and written format, photographs, publications and news releases. This publication will, I hope, help provide a deeper insight into the work and functioning of the Office of the President. I hope it will be informative as to the many people and organisations – various Government Departments, State bodies such as the Office of Public works, An Garda Siochána and the Defence Forces – with which we interacted and that provide crucial support to me as President and to the workings of the Áras, Office of the President. Is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le muintir na hÉireann agus leo siúd uilig a ghlac páirt sna himeachtaí a cuireadh san áireamh anseo, i mo dhara athbhreithniú bliantúil. Gabhaim buíochas leo as a dtacaíocht leanúnach, a bhfuinneamh seasta agus n-obair dhíograiseach i dtreo fíorú fhís na todhchaí, a bhunófar ar na mianta ar labhair mé fúthu agus a roinnimid le chéile, comhionannas, cuimsiú, cruthaitheacht agus inbhuanaitheacht ina measc. Le linn mo thréimhse Uachtaránachta bhíodh agus tá sé go fóill, mar aidhm agam a bheith mar Uachtarán do mhuintir uile na hÉireann, cibé áit a bhfuil siad agus cibé coinníollacha a maireann siad iontu. Beir beannacht.

Michael D. Higgins Uachtarán na hÉireann President of Ireland

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“There is no doubt that the spread of the Covid-19 virus has had a profound impact on all our lives, and many have lost loved ones, lost their livelihoods, or have seen their lives altered in dramatic ways. All of us have had to come to rely on the solidarity of others, in a renewed awareness that no-one will be safe from the virus until every one of us is.”

President Michael D. Higgins, 16 October 2020

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“THE YEAR OF COVID”

In April 2020, President Higgins and Sabina led the ‘Shine A Light’ initiative, in tribute to the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic

On New Year’s Eve 2020, President Higgins said to the people of Ireland: “Agus muid ag fágáil slán le blain an Covid-19 is cóir dúinn smaoineamh ar íad atá imithe úainn agus íad atá fágtha ina ndiaidh. As we emerge from the year of Covid-19 it is appropriate that we remember all those who have departed from us during the year, and those they have left behind and who did not have the opportunity of grieving for them in the way that is so traditional, and so central to Irish life.” During “the year of Covid”, lives were lost and communities were profoundly impacted by the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

From the moment in February that the first cases of the virus were reported in Ireland, President Higgins highlighted the importance of abiding by the public health recommendations, to ensure an effective response to the spread of the virus. Throughout the pandemic, the President spoke of the need to base our collective response to the pandemic on the principles of compassion, care, solidarity and kindness locally, nationally and internationally. Not long after the government announced a first lockdown in March, President Higgins spoke about the coronavirus in his St. Patrick’s Day statement, asking citizens to look out for each other and in particular for those in the most vulnerable categories who may need assistance and care.

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“Today, as the world faces the global spread of the coronavirus we are called more than ever to follow the values embodied in the story of St. Patrick. Those values of solidarity and concern for the well-being of our fellow citizens will play a fundamental role in our effective confronting of the challenge with which we are now presented. It is a challenge that calls on the tradition and practice of our communities working together, recognising the needs of all their members, and in particular those who are most vulnerable.” Quote from the President’s St. Patrick’s Day address, March 2020

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On 27 March, President Higgins signed the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020. In a statement accompanying the notice of his signature, the President expressed his sympathies “to all those who have lost a family member or friend, and my best wishes to all those who have been infected by the virus, all those who have not had the opportunity to express their grief, or offer their care to those they love.”

Thanking the first responders

The President continued:

And from the start, the President singled out those workers in pivotal sectors of society, who continued to provide essential services throughout the lock-down.

“As we muster our resolve to be far more vigilant as we enter a most difficult phase of tackling the virus, it is appropriate for me to express my thanks to the Irish people for their response to the crisis, and urge them to stay the course and encourage others to do so. So many people are continuing to do their best to keep us safe and to keep the country going, through their efforts in the health service, in public service bodies, in important social services, in shops and in pharmacies. It is appropriate that we, as a nation, thank them for their service by doing our bit, by complying with the HSE advice. Extraordinary and difficult measures have been necessary as we try to stem the tide of increasing infection.” Referring to his signing of the emergency legislation, President Higgins said in March that “intergenerational solidarity has been one of the greatest resources of contemporary Irish society.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone, has changed our society, and is posing profound challenges. Throughout the pandemic, President Higgins has sought to provide leadership, calling on the Irish people at home and abroad to heed the public health advice and to support one another in solidarity.

In a message to the people of Ireland, disseminated via local newspapers and local radio stations in early April, President Higgins said that in the dark days that lay ahead we had an opportunity “to draw on those great Irish instincts of solidarity, empathy and kindness to allow us to help each other through this ordeal.”

“May I take this opportunity again to express my deep gratitude, mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, on behalf of the Irish people, to our health care workers, GPs, pharmacists and their staff, Defence Forces, and An Garda Síochána, all of whom are working tirelessly and selflessly to ensure the best care possible is being made available for those affected by the Coronavirus and also for the safety of all our citizens.” Message to the people of Ireland, April 2020

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President Higgins hosted a number of events to remember all workers who died through exposure to the Covid-19 virus and to highlight the importance of keeping all workers safe and healthy. He also addressed health workers, for instance on International Nurses Day and at graduation ceremonies of the schools of nursing. On International Nurses Day, the President said: “We have all gained hard-won wisdom with regard to the value of frontline workers, such as nurses, and those providing essential services across the economy. It would be so regrettable, egregious even, if, through some form of collective amnesia, we as a society were ever to disregard or forget your heroic efforts, and revert to where we were before the pandemic – a society that sometimes failed to value you fully.”

“We must welcome the praise, private and public, for those selfless and much appreciated workers. Yet praise alone, however, will not adequately protect the lives of vulnerable workers or safeguard them from subordination to economic efficiency. It is only by closing the gap between words and action in relation to conditions, safety and provision that we can sufficiently and ethically commemorate those workers we honour here today.” Statement for International Workers’ Commemoration Day, 29 April 2020

President Higgins and RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy, at ‘The Starry Plough’ memorial, dedicated to workers’ rights, the Citizen Army and playwright Sean O’Casey 9 2020 IN REVIEW


The President returned to this theme on the international stage. Addressing an International Labour Organisation (ILO) summit in July, the President argued that the pandemic has forced “a return to basics that none of us, including the ILO, can afford to ignore; questions such as how did we come to value so little, take for granted, essential work and essential workers? We have been shown what the consequences are of privileging those remunerated in a financialised global economy over those who worked in the provision of universal basic services, or indeed worked in the real economy.” In October, in a keynote address to the OECD’s conference on “Confronting Planetary Emergencies”, the President highlighted the wage and employment insecurity of some, the vulnerability of tenants, and how many workers providing essential services are “shamefully undervalued and underpaid.”

“To all those workers, who have responded to the Coronavirus crisis with such a generous spirit of solidarity, we owe, and future generations will owe, an enormous debt of gratitude. Gratitude, whose expression is so important, however, cannot be, and must not ever be, perceived as any adequate substitute for the dignity, well-being, and security of employment that is the right of all workers in any fair and inclusive society.” 28 April 2020

President Higgins and Sabina marking International Workers’ Memorial Day, with representatives of workers who care for those most affected and who are at the forefront of efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic 10 2020 IN REVIEW


In June 2020, President Michael D. Higgins launched a nationwide musical tribute to essential workers on European Music Day

President Higgins launched a nationwide musical tribute to essential workers on European Music Day, Sunday, 21 June. Musicians joined the President on the steps of Áras an Uachtaráin to perform Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ (Óid don Lúcháire), the European Anthem, before the musical salute continued with a larger group of musicians and singers led by the acclaimed soprano Mairéad Buicke on the steps of the National Concert Hall, Dublin. ‘Ode to Joy’ echoed across the nation as musicians and music lovers were called on to perform their own European Music Day tribute to all frontline workers within their local communities, while maintaining physical distancing.

“The coronavirus provides us with an opportunity to do things better. This crisis will pass, but there will be other viruses and other crises. We cannot let ourselves be left in the same vulnerable position again. We have, yet again, learned lessons in relation to healthcare and equity, in relation to what is necessary in terms of income and the necessities of life… The coronavirus has highlighted the unequivocal case for a new eco-social political economy – of having universal basic services that will protect us in the future.” 22 April 2020

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Covid-19 and global solidarity The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated very acutely and painfully the enormous extent to which the people of the world are inter-connected. The virus spread rapidly across borders and continents, affecting every country on the globe. Early on during the pandemic, President Higgins highlighted the potential for the spread of the virus to hit vulnerable communities in impoverished countries hardest. In April, in an address to a web-conference on the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa, President Higgins said that “while Covid-19 is a global threat, it is the most vulnerable who are most at risk.” The President pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly increased global unemployment and dramatically reduced incomes of all those in precarious employment. In countries with weaker health systems, and in countries facing humanitarian crises, vulnerable people and communities - refugees and migrants, indigenous peoples, older persons, people with disabilities and children – were being left behind, unable to earn a living or access effective health services.

“It is not a time for withdrawing behind borders. In the African countries where Covid-19 has arrived, there are immense problems. Problems such as lack of equipment, lack of funding, insufficient training of healthcare workers, and inefficient data transmission.”

President Higgins delivering his address to the IIEA, on Europe and Africa 12 2020 IN REVIEW

‘Responding to Covid-19 in Africa’, April 2020


The Covid-19 pandemic is both straining health systems globally, threatening livelihoods, challenging trade patterns, and testing international solidarity. President Higgins used his international contacts to call for solidarity with the world’s poorest. Highlighting how the Covid-19 crisis is not only challenging our health systems, but also testing our common humanity, the President spoke to a number of Heads of State during the year about the important principle included in the Sustainable Development Goals, to “leave no-one behind.” In July, the President said: “The choice is clear - to seize a new moment for global solidarity or seek to hide in the thickets of a systemic failure that is failing the vast majority of the world’s people and that has brought our planet to a point of ecological disaster.” In September, in his contribution to the UN’s ‘High Level Virtual meeting’ on universal access to Covid-19 health care, the President said that the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated that, when it comes to health, no one will be safe until everyone is safe. The pandemic knows no borders, and can only be tackled through global solidarity and international cooperation.

To ensure that people everywhere have access to essential services and social protection, the UN has called for a rapid scale-up of international support and funding to support vulnerable people and countries who are less able to weather the impacts of the pandemic. Reminding the UN member states that “as is the case with so many crises, including climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted on those most vulnerable, and those most marginalised,” President Higgins argued that there is a moral imperative to working together to ensure that effective and affordable diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines are made available to all: “Unequal responses to the pandemic will widen inequalities already exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19. We must recognise the damage of inequality.” In September, speaking at a High Level Virtual UN meeting on universal access to Covid-19 health care, President Higgins called for urgent international action to ensure that poorer countries obtain equitable access to the new health technologies and vaccines, to help stem the spread of the virus.

“As traditional markets have acknowledged that they cannot deliver at the scale needed to cover the entire globe, solidarity within and between countries and the private sector is essential if we are to overcome challenges presented to us by Covid-19 with regard to accessing appropriate medical treatments.” 25 September 2020

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Supporting the arts during Covid-19 Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, President Higgins has highlighted the role that culture has played in helping us all cope in these difficult times. In June, President Higgins wrote to the heads of European institutions with an urgent call to support cultural institutions and workers. The President also hosted cultural performances at the Áras, including events marking Bloomsday, European Music Day, and New Year’s Eve. In July, President Higgins addressed a special show, “Songs from an Empty Room”, hosted at venues across Ireland, in support of technicians and crew working in

the live events industry. The coronavirus pandemic had seen their earnings decimated and President Higgins used the occasion to say that artists and those working in theatres and arts productions “need our solidarity now.” Despite the fact that the number of visitors to Áras an Uachtaráin had to be kept to a minimum because of public health restrictions – in a normal year, more than 20,000 people come through the doors of the home of the President – the President hosted a number of performances by artists, not only to celebrate Irish talent but also to help in both a symbolic and a practical way to highlight the lack of income for so many of Ireland’s artists and workers in the cultural sector.

On Bloomsday 2020, President Higgins watches a performance by Lisa Lambe. The President hosted an online programme of performances at Áras an Uachtaráin, to highlight the need to support artists during the pandemic 14 2020 IN REVIEW


President Higgins marked Culture Night 2020 with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, in a call for protection of the arts and those who work in it

On New Year’s Eve, President Higgins and Sabina invited Dan McCabe to perform ‘The Parting Glass’ at Áras an Uachtaráin, in honour of all those who died, or who lost a loved-one during the year

In February, President Higgins donated books from his personal collection to the public library system

President Higgins with members of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, September 2020

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Building back better From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, President Higgins sought to promote greater public debate on the vulnerabilities in our national and international systems that exacerbated the impact of the spread of the virus. In April, the President published a number of articles arguing that the response to the Covid-19 pandemic relied heavily on State action, and that this renewed appreciation for the role of the State should inform not only shortterm responses to the pandemic but also the long-term strategies to reconstruct our society, and reduce our future vulnerabilities. The President stated that “successful crisis management is, as we have come to learn, no guarantee of durable reform. We therefore must embed the hard-earned wisdom from the Covid-19 crisis into strong scholarly work, policy and institutional frameworks.” The President has argued that the Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated how the global economic system is inherently subject to crises and cascading failures, and that new systemic approaches and economic thinking are needed to address these problems. In a keynote address to the OECD, the President said that “understandably, much current economic commentary focuses on the cost of the pandemic. But we must also reflect on the systemic weaknesses it has exposed in how we organise our society and economy.” Citizens and governments should use the lessons of the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to tackle growing inequality and environmental damage, and move away from an unhelpful focus on economic growth as a core metric of economic success. A narrow focus on GDP growth has resulted in consumption, investment, government expenditure and the balance of trade being “calibrated so that economic growth is maximised at whatever cost to social cohesion and without any due regard to inequality or adverse ecological impacts.”

“How regrettable it is that it has taken a pandemic in which thousands of lives have been lost in so many countries to establish, or rekindle, widespread appreciation of work in the public sphere, of the public sector and the importance in the economy of the public good—and, in terms of our shared future, the state’s benign and transformative capacity.” 22 April 2020

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In October 2020, President Higgins addressed the OECD ‘Confronting Planetary Emergencies’ conference

In October, President Higgins spoke of the need to use scientific insights for the benefit of the whole of humanity. In a keynote address to the online Engineers Ireland annual conference, the President called on engineers, business leaders and policy makers to take urgent action on climate change and to work with communities to transition to a more resilient society. The President emphasised the importance of sharing the benefits of scientific discovery, including the Covid-19 vaccines, equitably among and within nations. The President called on the Irish State to “lead by example” in the battle against climate change, and to play a leading role “if it is to have any credibility, any realistic hope of bringing its citizens with it on the difficult journey to a decarbonised future.” The President argued that a “radical paradigm shift” is needed, making greater connections between ecology, economics and society.

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Throughout the year, President Higgins has argued that, despite the seriousness of the Covid-19 crisis, there are seeds of hope for the future. This hope stems in large parts from the solidarity and kindness that has characterised people’s responses to the unprecedented situation, but also from the ingenuity that has been on display, as people found new ways of working, socialising and caring for each other. Our hope for the future lies in our ability and willingness to galvanise this sense of solidarity, and to draw lessons from our experiences, both of how we confronted the virus and how our societies came to be so vulnerable to its impacts. The pandemic has

made clear the urgency of the need of addressing the flaws inherent in our current economic model, and of embracing a new paradigm, based on universalism, sustainability and equality. As the President said in December 2020: “For out of such a crisis, we are presented with perhaps a oncein-a-generation opportunity to do things better, to embrace and bring to fruition a new paradigm of existence with each other, in relation to work and living, and with the world itself; a renewed and healthier connection of society, sustainable economy and ecology.”

President Higgins addressing a virtual conference 18 2020 IN REVIEW


“Take Care” In early April, President Michael D. Higgins called on Irish people to place a light in their windows to symbolise shared solidarity and hope, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. A poem by President Michael D. Higgins became the

inspiration for a campaign by the HSE, urging Irish people to ‘Hold Firm’, as the impact of the pandemic continued to take its toll on lives and livelihoods. The poem, “Take Care” was written by the President in 1992, and re-published in April 2020, to encourage people to continue to follow advice to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Take Care In the journey to the light, the dark moments should not threaten. Belief requires that you hold steady. Bend, if you will, with the wind. The tree is your teacher, roots at once more firm from experience in the soil made fragile. Your gentle dew will come and a stirring of power to go on towards the space of sharing.

In the misery of the I, in rage, it is easy to cry out against all others but to weaken is to die in the misery of knowing the journey abandoned towards the sharing of all human hope and cries is the loss of all we know of the divine reclaimed for our shared humanity. Hold firm. Take care. Come home together. MDH ‘Season of Fire’, 1993

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REMEMBERING OUR PAST TO SHAPE OUR FUTURE Ireland is marking a “Decade of Centenaries”, highlighting the centenary anniversaries of some of the seminal events in Ireland’s history, including the Lockout of 1913, the First World War, The Easter Rising, the Flu Epidemic, the election of 1918, the meeting of the first Dáil, the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. President Michael D. Higgins led the commemorations, through State ceremonial events and by shaping national efforts to examine the background, impact and contemporary relevance of the events being commemorated. In his work, President Higgins has highlighted the need of engaging in the task of ‘ethical remembering’ – the importance of including and recognising those voices that were, in our past, too often marginalised, disenfranchised or excluded – and of adopting a disposition of ‘narrative hospitality’ – a willingness to be open to the perspectives, stories, memories and pains of the stranger. In 2020, President Higgins launched a next phase of the programme of commemorations, by hosting a series of seminars inviting reflections on the War of Independence, the Treaty Negotiations, the Civil War and Partition. Entitled “Machnamh 100” – referring to an ancient Irish concept encompassing reflection, contemplation, meditation and thought – the seminars are designed to bring together leading scholars, from different backgrounds and with an array of perspectives, to share their insights and thoughts on the context and events of a century ago. Machnamh 100 is an invitation from the President to all those with an interest in Ireland’s past to reflect on what the events of a century ago mean for us today.

seminar in the series of reflections, focusing on the nature of commemoration itself: why we do it, what we choose to commemorate, and what we may have chosen to omit from our commemorations. In his opening address for the seminar, President Higgins urged respect for different perspectives on the events of the 1913-1923 period, in order to facilitate a more authentic treatment of our shared history, which can contribute to the post-sectarian hopes for the future.

“The complex events we recall from a century ago are integral to the story that has shaped our peoples in all their diversity, and how they are recalled and understood will continue to shape us and the decisions we make into the future.”

In December 2020, the President hosted the first 20 2020 IN REVIEW

December 2020


In December 2020, President Higgins hosted the first seminar in his ‘Machnamh 100’ series of reflections

The President said that an appropriate form of commemoration of the past offers the opportunity to reflect on how our societies change, and have changed, over time, and what helped drive those changes. The events of the past “will be retold from many different standpoints, and it is through respecting these differing perspectives in all their complexity that we can facilitate a more authentic construction, not only of our intersecting shared history, but of our postsectarian possibilities for the future.” However, the painful events of the past should not be censored from memory. The President said that during the War of Independence, the acts of aggression unleashed by Crown forces and administered by the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, were often in the form of exemplary collective punishments and reprisals – tactics that would be contrary to the modern-day Geneva Conventions and would be considered illegal under international law.

Earlier in the year, President Higgins had also spoken on the theme of collective reprisals. Writing on the centenary of the Sack of Balbriggan in September 2020, President Higgins stressed that collective punishment by British forces were not unique to Ireland, but part of the tactics used in other colonies, including in India, Kenya and Cyprus. The first Machnamh 100 seminar was followed in February 2021 by a seminar examining responses by the British empire to events in Ireland during the War of Independence and the Treaty, and a third seminar, in May 2021, will reflect on the labour movement and women’s participation in the independence struggle. In total, the President will host six seminars in the series, and all contributions will be published on the President’s website and in a book on the President’s initiative, to be published at the end of the series.

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President Higgins and Sabina ringing the Peace Bell at Áras an Uachtaráin, Easter Sunday, April 2020

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President leads Easter Rising Commemoration President Higgins led the annual commemorations marking the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. In a departure from the usual protocol as a result of Covid-19 related public health guidelines, the men and women of 1916 were commemorated not through ceremonies attended by members of the public, but through a televised event. The socially-distanced ceremony began with the President ringing the Peace Bell at Áras an Uachtaráin, followed by a prayer and a reading of the Proclamation from at the GPO. The President then laid a wreath at a group of 16 birch trees planted, on the initiative of President Higgins and Sabina, in honour of the revolutionaries executed after the 1916 Rising. The next day, a short ceremony entitled ‘Ireland Remembers’ honoured all those who died as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In April 2020, President Higgins led a special commemoration marking the 104th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising

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President Higgins at the National Day of Commemoration ceremony in Collins Barracks, honouring all Irish men and women who died in war or on service with UN peacekeeping forces. Photo: Defence Forces

President Higgins at the annual National Service of Remembrance at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, November 2020

In May, President Higgins led a State commemoration ceremony in honour of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising

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Remembering the Holocaust In January 2020, President Higgins travelled to Poland, to attend a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp. The President joined more than 200 camp survivors, who shared their testimonies and warned of the danger of modern day anti-Semitic attacks, and leaders from around 60 countries, in a ceremony honouring the more than 1.1 million people, the vast majority of them Jewish, who died in the camp. Before travelling to Poland, the President addressed the annual Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration in the Mansion House, in which he paid tribute to the survivors and warned of a rise in extremist language and politics across Europe, saying “an ugly anti-migrant sentiment is attempting to rear its head in Ireland”. In this speech, the President said that this “corrupted form of populism has not abated across Europe, and antiSemitism has not been eliminated from the extreme rhetoric of those seeking to scapegoat the vulnerable.”

In January 2020, President Higgins lit a candle at the memorial in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp

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President Higgins and Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael John Horan during the GAA Bloody Sunday Commemoration at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: GAA

President Higgins at the Bloody Sunday Commemoration at Croke Park in Dublin, November 2020

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REPRESENTING THE NATION

On 27 June 2020, President Higgins appointed the members of the Government, in a ceremony at Dublin Castle

The Irish State is a republic and its Head of State is the President, who is elected directly by the people. The Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, prescribes the role and powers of the President, which include: •

Appointment of the Taoiseach, members of the Government, judges and other officials;

Summoning Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann and dissolving, or refusing to dissolve Dáil Éireann;

Signing legislation into law and/or referring Bills to the Supreme Court;

Representing the people of Ireland;

Acting as Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces.

The President’s diplomatic role includes receiving foreign Heads of State and ambassadors, and undertaking visits abroad where the President represents Ireland at the highest level.

The President’s influence has important diplomatic benefits, strengthening Ireland’s influence at multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, but also economically, helping to open doors for Irish companies, academics and artists. In addition to performing his formal tasks, the President also plays an important role representing the entire Irish nation. As principal representative and leader of the country, the President not only personifies Ireland on the international stage but also symbolises Ireland’s identity, values, priorities and aspirations. By speaking on behalf of the nation at times of national or international tragedy, or at times of celebration, the President can give voice to the feelings of the people of Ireland. Furthermore, by highlighting the work and achievements of people and organisations, the President can acknowledge important contributions to our society, and draw attention to specific themes or activities.

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State Visit by President Pavlopoulos of Greece In January, H.E. the President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopios Pavlopoulos, undertook a State Visit to Ireland, at the invitation of President Michael D. Higgins. The State Visit followed on from President Higgins’ State Visit to Greece, in February 2018 and President Higgins’ 2019 Aristotle Address in Athens, in which President Higgins spoke of the nature of democracy and how it can respond to the challenges of environmental degradation and growing inequality within societies. The State Visit began with a ceremonial welcome at Áras an Uachtaráin, followed by a bilateral meeting between the two Heads of State. In their meeting, President Higgins and President Pavlopoulos spoke of the importance of close cooperation between Ireland and Greece on measures to address the most pressing global challenges, including climate change, inequality, poverty, violent conflict and migration.

In the evening, President and Sabina Higgins hosted a State Dinner in honour of President Pavlopoulos, at which President Higgins spoke about the deep bonds between the two countries, and how the two nations can work together to deepen democracy across the European Union. “We in our time have been given a unique opportunity, and indeed responsibility, to assert, deepen and, where necessary, reassert those founding values of democracy, cohesion, shared prospects, human rights and the rule of law in an increasingly interdependent world in which those values are challenged. Let us do it together.” In June, after years of campaigning by the President, Government and Irish diplomats, Ireland was voted onto the United Nations Security Council. In the years leading up to the vote, President Higgins had used his many meetings with global leaders and Heads of State to make the case for Ireland, stating that Ireland’s record of independence and its ambition to play a constructive role in contributing to peace, security and sustainable development underpinned Ireland’s candidacy.

President Higgins and President Pavlopoulos of Greece, meeting school children at Áras an Uachtaráin, January 2020 28 2020 IN REVIEW


Elections 2020 On 14 January, President Higgins signed the Proclamation of Dissolution for the 32nd Dáil. Under Article 13 of the Constitution, “Dáil Éireann shall be summoned and dissolved by the President on the advice of the Taoiseach,” but the President can, in some cases, refuse to grant the dissolution. Following a protracted process of government formation, President Higgins signed the warrant appointing the members of the Government, in accordance with Article 13 of the Constitution, on 27 June. Due to the Covid-19 public health restrictions, the ceremony took place, at the request of President Higgins, in Dublin Castle, not Áras an Uachtaráin.

President Higgins signed the Proclamation of Dissolution for the 32nd Dáil

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“Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, as President of Ireland, may I say how deeply grateful we all should be that we had such a person as John Hume to create a light of hope in the most difficult of times.” In August 2020, President Higgins led tributes to John Hume, Nobel Peace Laureate and Statesman, who died, aged 83.

President Higgins at the funeral of John Hume, August 2020

Candle in memory of John Hume

President Higgins, and Lord-Lieutenant Dr. Angela Garvey, at the funeral of John Hume, August 2020 30 2020 IN REVIEW


KEY THEMES President Higgins has structured this aspect of his work along a number of themes, combined in a number of special initiatives: •

Participation and Transformation – President Higgins has made the promotion of a more inclusive society a cornerstone of his work, informed by his firm belief that everyone in Ireland has a valuable contribution to make and that society is strengthened when it supports, and is shaped by, a diversity of experiences and perspectives. Imagination and the Nation – The Imagination and the Nation initiative is based on the President’s view that the power of the creative arts to engage, challenge, transform and empower needs to be celebrated, and protected. Throughout the year, President Higgins worked to highlight the importance of art and creativity in Irish life, by celebrating its power to engage, challenge, transform and empower.

Shared Ireland, Shared Island – The aim of this initiative by the President is to promote public discussion on how we can all thrive on the island of Ireland, while living in harmony with respect for our complex history. During the past year, President Higgins invited thinkers from various backgrounds, communities and cultural groups to Áras an Uachtaráin, and his Machnamh 100 initiative.

Rethinking the Economy – In his meetings and public speeches, President Higgins continued to promote greater public debate about economic policy, and policy-making. Highlighting the importance of promoting greater public engagement with economic policy, the President encouraged debate on the policies that might replace those that have resulted in growing inequality and threats to the planet.

In December 2020, President Higgins welcomed author Áine Ní Ghlinn, the fifth Laureate na nÓg, and Prof. Kevin Rafter, Chair of the Arts Council to Áras an Uachtaráin 31 2020 IN REVIEW


Marking a rare occasion with extraordinary people On Saturday, 29 February – a rare day – President Higgins hosted a gathering of children with their families to mark International Rare Diseases Day 2020. The President invited a large number of Rare Disease patients and their families to Áras an Uachtaráin. A rare disease is defined as a disease having a prevalence of fewer than 5 cases for every 10,000 persons. There are currently some 8,000 described rare diseases, and it is estimated that there are up to 300,000 individuals in Ireland living with a rare disease.

Guests at an event hosted by President Higgins to mark Rare Diseases Day, 29 February 2020

“The principles that serve as a guide in our renewed commitment to combat the Covid-19 virus are based on some fundamental values that surely represent the best of ourselves, such as Solidarity, Care, Compassion and Kindness. Being effective requires positive commitments from us all and we need to speak and encourage each other to have a vision of the light that will surely come from all of our efforts when renewed and redoubled.” December 2020 32 2020 IN REVIEW


LEGISLATION During 2020 President Higgins considered and signed 32 Bills into law. The Houses of the Oireachtas (Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann) are responsible for passing bills, but it is not until Bills are signed by the President that they become law. The President’s role in this context is to consider whether Bills presented to him are compatible with the Constitution. The President cannot veto a Bill simply because he doesn’t agree with its provisions, but other than Money Bills or Bills to amend the Constitution, where he has doubts over a Bill’s constitutionality, he can, after consulting with the Council of State refer it to the Supreme Court to make a determination in this regard. If the Supreme Court finds that the Bill, or any part of it, is unconstitutional, the President cannot sign the Bill and it is not enacted. However, if the Court holds that the Bill is constitutional, the President signs the Bill and it becomes law. In this situation, under Article 34 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, the constitutionality of this legislation, or the provision of the bill that had been referred to the Supreme Court cannot be challenged at a later stage. In the case of disagreement between the Dáil and the Seanad, members of the Oireachtas may petition the President not to sign a Bill, on the grounds that it contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people should be sought, in the form of a referendum. Such a petition requires a majority of the Seanad and at least one third of the Dáil. This provision of the constitution has never be exercised.

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President publishes May Day poem On 1 May 2020, President Michael D. Higgins published a new poem for May Day. The poem was dedicated to Mary McPartlan, folk singer and trade union activist, and friend of Sabina and President Higgins. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the President could not attend her funeral in April 2020. Published on the day that the President addressed a virtual May Day event hosted by SIPTU, the poem paid tribute to the trade union movement. Mary McPartlan

Of Saturdays Made Holy (In Memory of Mary McPartlan, Folk Singer & Trade Union Activist) The night is long and I awake Recall the making of the march, On those Saturdays made holy, The beat of feet behind banners, That bore the glory of the words, The call for a life made equal, Banners held steady for the speech, Gold threaded, fringed, eyeleted With care, for the carrying, To defeat the opposing breeze, Borne by arms made strong, From work of mind, of heart and hand. Those words, sent out to cheers I search for now, They are not gone, Nor is the memory, Of how they danced, without restraint, Skipping back and forth to cheers, In joyful subversion Of the ordinary. The echo of that beat of feet behind banners, On Saturdays made holy Is slow to come. Can it be that it is lost, Perhaps forgotten? Surely not so.

For in the long sweep of history, In the stories that will be told, Others will hear of how behind banners They marched, women and men And children too, on Saturdays made holy, It will be told of how they sometimes won, And often lost, if never defeated It will matter that they sometimes wept On folding, for another day, those banners That carried words, emancipatory The night though long And dawn so slow in breaking Yet morning light, glorious, Reveals how from those arrows fledged in history, That missed their mark in darkness Have sprung in light some frail fruit trees, Of hope In other times, an old planet weary finds new life, Renewal, from the music of the heart. And now a new song emerges, From behind banners gold threaded, again made sacred, On Saturdays made holy, with words emancipatory, As voices rise in unison, And sing of love, And a new day, For all humanity. MDH May Day, 2020

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President Higgins addressed the ILO Global Summit on Covid-19 and the World of Work, July 2020

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Light for the Diaspora In December, as President Higgins and Sabina lit the lights on the Christmas tree outside Áras an Uachtaráin, they also unveiled a new river of light across the grounds. Streaming from the light for the Irish diaspora on the first floor of the Áras, the river of light stretched out to all the Irish people and all those who could not be with their families for Christmas. Acknowledging the difficult year that was 2020, President Higgins issued a special Christmas message

for the Irish diaspora in December. In the message, the President recognised the difficulties associated with the pandemic travel restrictions, meaning that so many friends and families were not able to gather together to socialise and celebrate: “yet another disappointment to be added to the personal, social, economic and indeed cultural consequences of a pandemic that has resulted in so much tragedy since it enveloped the world earlier this year.” Mindful of the particular needs of the Irish abroad, the President took great care to reach out to the Irish diaspora throughout the year.

At Áras an Uachtaráin, President Higgins and Sabina lit a river of light, streaming from the Light for the Diaspora on the first floor, across the grounds, and out to all the Irish people and all those who cannot be with their families this Christmas 36 2020 IN REVIEW


BIODIVERSITY STUDY In November 2020, President Higgins received a report detailing the findings of a year-long study into the rich diversity of plant and animal life in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin. The President and Sabina have long been aware of the rich diversity of the natural environment around Áras an Uachtaráin, and it was out of a concern to ensure its protection, and to ensure its future flourishing, that the President asked the Office of Public Works to commission a team of ecologists to conduct a detailed ‘biodiversity audit’ of Áras an Uachtaráin and its grounds. The report, published by the OPW and a team of scientists from Trinity College Dublin, provides a scientific analysis of the diverse habitats and the great diversity of species on the 130-acre site around the home of the President of Ireland. The report notes that the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin are home to an abundance of plants and wildlife, with 297 different species of plant, 247 species of invertebrates, 188 fungi and 51 different bird species. Responding to the report, President Higgins said: “At a time when our natural world is in such acute danger, with so many of our planet’s fragile ecosystems being destroyed, polluted and plundered, today’s report provides not only a valuable overview of what already exists, but also it comes with a welcome set of recommendations of how, with small but targeted interventions, State bodies such as the OPW can make tangible and meaningful contributions to the health of our natural environment.”

“The Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit our societies so hard, has also revealed our profound connectedness to nature’s vulnerabilities. We have been painfully reminded of the great extent to which we are connected to, and depend on, healthy and vibrant ecosystems for our health, our food, our medicines, shelter and energy.” National Biodiversity Day, 22 May 2020

The report also provided recommendations on how to enhance the biodiversity at Áras an Uachtaráin - a landscape that was created and managed by people for people - by improving and restoring species-rich grasslands to creating habitat for insects, pollinators, birds and mammals to nest in – and possibly establishing new wetland habitats.

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President Higgins marks the start of the International Year of Plant Health The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) chose the year 2020 to raise awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development. To start the Year, President Higgins planted a native oak tree in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on 15 January. The importance of protecting plants, wildlife and our natural environment has been a constant theme throughout the Presidency of Michael D. Higgins. The President has particularly highlighted the impact of runaway climate change, stating that contemporary society will be “judged by future generations as to whether we averted our gaze from the vulnerabilities of our planet . . . or had the empathy necessary to celebrate our interdependency”.

Presentation of Biodiversity Report by Prof. Jane Stout and Dr. Aoibheann Gaughran, November 2020

President Higgins marked National Tree Day 2020 with members of the Easy Treesie Project and ‘Crann - Trees for Ireland’

President Higgins marked the start of the International Year of Plant Health by planting a tree in Dublin’s Phoenix Park 38 2020 IN REVIEW


THE ‘CENTENARIAN BOUNTY’ The tradition by which people who have reached their 100th birthday receive a gift from the State of €2,540 and a special message from the President of Ireland, wishing them a happy birthday and congratulating them for their longevity, was started in 1940 by President Douglas Hyde. In 2006, the Government decided to extend the eligibility criteria for the scheme so that all Irish citizens born on the island of Ireland are eligible to apply. Since 1 January 2000, the President of Ireland has also marked the birthday of people over the age of 100 years. On his or her 101st and every subsequent birthday, the person receives a special commemorative coin in a presentation box, along with a congratulatory letter signed by the President. A new coin is designed for each year.

Centenarians’ Messages Issued 2020 Total

546

Ireland

440

Female

357

Male

83

Overseas

106

Female

95

Male

11

Coin 2020 Total

648

Ireland

536

Female

460

Male

76

Overseas

112

Female

99

Male

13

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FINANCES AND GOVERNANCE The Constitution of Ireland, Bunracht na hÉireann established the Office of President, and the Presidential Establishment Act 1938 set out the role of the President and his/her associated allowances. The budget for the Office of the President is set by the Oireachtas, on an annual basis, under Vote 1. Spending under this heading is detailed annually in the Appropriation account, which is independently audited and published by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG). The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General performs its audit under the authority conferred by the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993 and in accordance with applicable International Standards on Auditing (ISAs) as promulgated by the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions and accounting rules and procedures laid down by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The audit, through the reporting of the audit opinion, gives independent assurance that the Appropriation Account properly presents the receipts and expenditure of the Vote for the current year of account. Details of expenditure by the Office of the President are also published on the Áras an Uachtaráin website, www.president.ie. In €1,000s Salaries, wages and allowances Travel and subsistence Training, Development and incidental expenses Post and Communications Office Machinery and other office supplies and related services Centenarian Bounty Appropriations-in-aid TOTAL

2019

2020

1,724

1,884

87

76

327

237

64

87

195

187

1,258

1,452

(78)

(81)

3,577

3,842

Staffing levels, and salaries of every member of the President’s staff, are set according to standard civil service pay scales and arrangements. All salary costs are paid from the general President’s Vote and are, therefore, reported to – and audited by – the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) on an annual basis. The Internal Audit function for the President’s Establishment has rested with the Internal Audit Unit of the Department of An Taoiseach since 2012/2013. The Audit Committee provides independent oversight of financial arrangements and is tasked with providing independent advice regarding the suitability and robustness of the organisation’s internal control systems and procedures. Its work is informed by analysis of the financial risks to which the Office of the President is exposed and aims to cover the key controls on a rolling basis over a reasonable period.

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Allied Services The Office of the President is supported by a number of Government Departments and State Agencies. The Defence Forces provide ceremonial support to the President for State events including State Visits, credentials ceremonies and commemoration ceremonies, and also provide continuous formal and informal assistance to the President through the Office of the Aide de Camp. An Garda Síochána provide security and transport for the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade book and organise the President’s foreign travel. The Office of Public Works (OPW) look after the listed building that is Áras an Uachtaráin and provide all the services required for the many events hosted at the Áras. The formal gardens, and the certified organic vegetable and kitchen gardens that provide fruit, vegetables and flowers for use at the many events hosted in Áras an Uachtaráin, are also managed by the OPW. Figures for 2020 are not yet available, and will be reported by the relevant services in due course.

1938 Allowance The annual presidential allowance of €317,000 per calendar year exists to support the work of the Presidency. The allowance has been in existence since 1938, under the terms of the Presidential Establishment Act 1938, and has been available to every President over the last 80 years. The current amount was set in 1998 (under S.I. No. 67/1998). The allowance is used to meet additional costs not covered elsewhere in the President’s Vote and assists in enabling each President to define his or her Presidency. In recent years, the allowance has been used to support hospitality for the approximately 20,000 people that visit Áras an Uachtaráin each year up to 2020, State Dinners for visiting Heads of State, and the hundreds of events hosted by the President at Áras an Uachtaráin each year. To further enhance transparency, an external Financial Oversight Committee was independently established, and has met throughout the year, including virtually. The following is a financial summary of the matters considered.

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2020 In-house events 1. Food & Beverages

€82,711

2. Hospitality & Entertaining

€31,065

3. Transport, Gifts and Related Costs Sub-total

€8,654 €122,430

Foreign travel and diplomacy

€1,348

Books, research, stationery and postage

€9,106

Total spend

€132,884

Total received

€317,434

Surplus

€184,550

These figures relate to spending under the 1938 Allowance for the period 1 January 2020 – 31 December 2020. During the seven years of his first term in office, President Higgins welcomed some 140,000 people to Áras an Uachtaráin, and the hospitality costs associated with these visits were covered by the 1938 Allowance. At the end of his first term, the President returned the unspent portions of the Allowance, totalling €238,443, to the exchequer, as was detailed in the Presidency In Review report, published in 2018. Similarly, at the end of his current term, in 2025, President Higgins will return any unspent funds from the Allowance.

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President Higgins welcomed H.R.H The Duke of Cambridge and The Duchess of Cambridge at the start of their official visit to Ireland, March 2020

Niamh Kelly, niece of musician Luke Kelly and principal of Gaelscoil Bhreifne, in Aghnaskerry, Co. Cavan, kept the music flowing despite the wild weather as President Higgins and Sabina visited the Irish language school on 12 March 2020, the day that the Government announced stringent measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Lorraine Teevan Photography 43 2020 IN REVIEW


President Higgins and Sabina hosted a reception to mark International Women’s Day, 8 March 2020

In January 2020, President Higgins hosted a reception to mark the installation of “Pangur Bán”, a sculpture by Imogen Stuart, at Áras an Uachtaráin. The piece is on loan to Áras an Uachtaráin from University College Dublin, where it had been on display. It has now been installed in the reception area of Áras an Uachtaráin 44 2020 IN REVIEW


Lighting the Christmas tree, December 2020. In other years, this event is attended by hundreds of children and their families, but in 2020, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the ceremony took place without guests

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Farewell to President of Greece, January 2020

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