The president has said St Patrick’s early life as a slave who was “trafficked across the Irish Sea” should inspire people to stand against racism and xenophobia.
In his annual St Patrick’s Day speech Michael D. Higgins condemned condemning racism and a ‘poisonous xenophobia’ he said has taken hold in many parts of the world.
He also thanked the Irish people who have welcomed thousands of Ukrainians into their homes and schools as they flee the ongoing Russian invasion.
He said the “Irish family” should draw strength from the life and teachings of St Patrick, noting that, “whether we are Irish by birth or Irish by choice, we are all part of a rich and vibrant global community”.
He said people should draw inspiration from the story of St Patrick’s decision to return to Ireland as a missionary – despite escaping slavery here as a young man who was trafficked across the Irish Sea.
“There are many powerful echoes from Patrick’s life that resonate with our contemporary circumstances, ones that have brought new forms of slavery into being, where racism is increasing rather than decreasing, in so many parts of a world,” he said.
“Where a poisonous xenophobia, new and recalled, has taken hold in so many places. It is in these spaces where fear is being sowed.
“The story of Patrick’s transformation that would lead to his becoming an emblem of the country he adopted as his own, stands in counterpoint and is so important.”
He said the story of St Patrick’s life as a migrant, “is a reminder of the resilience and necessary courage of migrants, a reminder too of the contributions that they have made, and continue to make, to the countries they call home”.
The president said anyone seeking to emulate the actions of our patron saint must “stand in solidarity with all those across the globe who are vulnerable and in need, and do everything in our power to create an inclusive, just world where all humans, in all their diversity and circumstances, are treated with dignity, respect and justice”.
He said people ensnared in the more than 20 armed conflicts that are currently ongoing around the world should remain forefront in the minds of the Irish public.
“It is heartening to see the welcome that so many households and schools have extended here in Ireland and elsewhere,” he said.
“Heartening to hear of all those who continue to provide sanctuary to the tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainian citizens who have fled conflict in their homeland.
“Schools in every part of the country have opened their arms to new pupils and shown a deep commitment of respect and solidarity.
The speech was published to mark the official opening of the St Patrick’s Festival which will run across the weekend.