President warns against rise in ‘poisonous xenophobia’ in St Patrick’s Day speech

Michael D Higgins says world should ‘embrace decent instincts of humanity such as St Patrick embodied’

President Michael D Higgins has warned that a “poisonous xenophobia” has taken hold in many places, with racism “increasing rather than decreasing”.

In a speech to mark St Patrick’s Day, the President emphasised concerns about rising racism in a time of migration, the climate crisis, human trafficking and global inequality, but said that while “points of darkness” present challenges, “let us instead be guided by the points of light”.

Mr Higgins put a significant focus on migration in his speech, saying the patron saint embodied the “decent instincts of humanity” and that his story should encourage reflection on migration “as a constant feature of the Irish experience”.

He said there are “powerful echoes” in the life of Ireland’s patron saint for today. He urged people to “fully embrace Patrick’s legacy” and to respond to the “ongoing, brutal reality of human trafficking and forced migration”.


He paid tribute to migrants and drew parallels from the life of St Patrick, who he said was a slave and a migrant and whose story “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 act of migration, he said, was “defined by an extraordinary will and an unyielding human desire to envision and create a better world, even in the face of sometimes considerable adversity”.

There were many lessons from the life of St Patrick, which he said “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 where a poisonous xenophobia, new and recalled, has taken hold in so many places”.

“It is in these spaces where fear is being sowed,” he said.

Mr Higgins said we lived in “times of multiple interacting crises, human and natural” and it was vital to “recognise the need for a solidarity that binds us together as humans, and acknowledge the responsibility we share for our vulnerable planet and for all those who dwell on it” – giving the example of the plight of people in Turkey and Syria following last month’s earthquakes.

“Such horrific events remind us all of our utter vulnerability, and of the shared humanitarian response required.”

He said those “ensnared” in the war in Ukraine and more than 20 other armed conflicts around the world “must remain foremost in our minds”.

St Patrick’s message, he added, was “at its core one of respect for nature”, and with a planet “scarred by the consequences of human actions”, he said the “demand for collective action addressing our shared Earth’s climate emergency has never been greater”, arguing that it was a “tragic injustice” that nations suffering the most from climate change were least responsible for emissions “that threaten their very existence”.

He spoke of his recent visit to Senegal, and said it was “shameful” that 64 countries in the developing world were forced during the Covid pandemic to spend more on debt repayments than on funding public health.

He urged people to “envision how our lives could be without war, famine, hunger and greed in a world that eschews the poisonous ideals of imperialism and embraces the decent instincts of humanity such as St Patrick embodied”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times