President Higgins: “The language of flocks and language about swarms is completely wrong”

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins - photo by Lorraine TeevanIrish President Michael D Higgins has spoken to several newspapers ahead of next week’s ahead of his attendance at the UN’s World Humanitarian Summit next week in Istanbul.

A report last year by former High Court Judge Dr Bryan McMahon into the Direct Provision and the Protection Process made recommendations that included a call for a reduction in the time asylum applicants wait in Ireland for a final decision and sought improved living conditions for those waiting.

Ten months after the report’s publication, its author described the Government treatment of asylum-seekers as “narrow” and “mean” and called for a one-off amnesty to anyone seeking asylum for longer than five years as a “gesture of generosity . . . in the spirit of the 1916 celebrations”.

While the Irish elections took place at the end of February, it took months of protracted political negotiations to eventually form a new government. President Higgins told the Irish Times that he had noticed that Dr McMahon’s report and recommendations were not “on the parliament’s agenda at the present time”.

“While I was here awaiting the formation of a new government I obviously read everything that was happening every day but it did strike me that those who laid out their demands for the participation in government they were not mentioning Bryan McMahon’s report.”

He was also concerned about the vocabulary used around the refugee crisis:

“The language of flocks and language about swarms is completely wrong.”

In another interview the President of Ireland also addressed the issue of development aid and responses to humanitarian crises in the Irish Independent:

“We have to re-look at how we are responding to the humanitarian crisis … A short-term response is not going to be work any more. We are facing a massive population increase [in the coming years] to more than nine billion people [by 2050]. If we fail in the development model, we add to the other crises.”

One Humanity Shared Responsibility reportThe ‘One Humanity: Shared Responsibility’ document produced for the summit explains:

There are 11 major civil wars today, compared with four in 2007, meaning that the international community is “in a state of constant crisis management” and is “struggling” to find political and security solutions to end them. Urban areas are being used as battlegrounds, women are being raped and schools, hospitals and places of worship are “being bombed with alarming frequency and at alarming levels”.

President Higgins explained:

“When I read the document, my first response was that this is a real declaration from an outgoing secretary-general who is saying we have failed in terms of diplomacy.

“He says the true measure of the success of the UN is not how much we promise, but how much we deliver. He is admitting, and this is tragic in a way, that 75% of people are fleeing from conflict in five countries where we have had no diplomatic resolution.

“Look at the number of displaced persons, the highest level since the Second World War, at 60 million. There are people displaced by natural disasters and as a result of conflict. You can see that diplomatic failure is not resolving conflict. It’s a cry from the heart.”

President Higgins also warned that it would be “disastrous” to use development aid budgets (aimed at building economies from the ground up) to tackle humanitarian disasters.

Photo by Lorraine Teevan via