June 21st 2021
Today Claire Casey of the Childhood Development Initiative will speak on the topic of "Restorative Practices in Schools".
Forthcoming Speakers and Events
Next week Club Assembly.
Jul 5th Presidential Handover.
Jul 12th Patrick Hamilton Walsh, former member, speaking from Stockholm.
Jul 19th David Ellis – How Rotary is perceived by the public.
Jul 26th Gavin Walker, Rotary Club Bangor “Lend with Care, microfinance”
Aug 9th Eamonn Allen
President Alan, in the chair, opened the meeting by saying that anybody who mentioned the score in the Scotland-Czech Republic game (due to start at 13.15) during the course of the meeting would be in serious trouble. (The final score in the game has been redacted in the interests of public safety).
Thought for the Day
The thought for the day was given by PP Mark who was frustrated by the fact that it wasn’t the 21st of June because had it been, it would have been the summer solstice and the birthday of one of his children both of which might have been good starting points for a TFTD. Undeterred, after a brief diversion into UFOs and possible life supporting planets in our galaxy, he noted that every day was famous for many things. June 14th was the day on which, inter alia, the first prisoners arrived at Auschwitz and a Japan Airlines plane crashed. With these and other sobering thoughts in mind, Mark encouraged us to enjoy our fellowship whilst thinking of those for whom this day may not be such a happy one.
Visitors and Apologies
Past president Tom introduced two visitors. These were David Normolye from the Fingal club and Marie Mueller. President Alan welcomed both of our guests. He hoped that we would get to meet Marie in person sometime soon. Welcoming David, he noted that together with Fingal and Dublin Central we would be joining hands on some projects in the coming year. Alan added that incoming DG Dave Murray is a member of the Fingal club and is keen to progress these projects.
Apologies were received from Rana Al Damin, Mary O’Rafferty, Gerry McLarnon, PP Ethna Fitzgerald and David Horkan.
Rotary Rangers Schedule
Rotary Rangers have recommenced weekly walks under the resourceful guidance of PP Brian George. Forthcoming adventures are:
June 22nd Lough Ouler, Military road
June 29th The Spink, Glendalough
A programme for July is being prepared and should be available next week.
• President Alan said that he did not have much by way of presidential announcements. He mentioned that District are running a number of on-line programs in the evenings. Tonight there would be one about International. Everybody is welcome to join this and other meetings.
• Alan said that a while ago he had hoped to organize a trip to the zoo, but that Foundation chair Delma had sent him a note to say that she and Eamonn had been to the zoo and that it had been a disappointment. Invited to elaborate, Delma said that movement around the zoo was quite restricted. Visitors were limited to a predetermined pathway and all of the houses were closed. The day they had been there it had been particularly hot. Many of the animals may have been asleep, but there were many animal enclosures with no animals to be seen in them at all (for example there were no seals), so the kind of fun experience you would expect in the zoo with lots of children and people having a good time just didn't happen. Delma said that the trip to the botanical gardens had been a far more enjoyable outing and suggested a repeat visit. President Alan said that he would try to organize this for Wednesday week and would ask secretary Tony to circulate details as soon as the plan is finalized.
• President Alan asked PE Alexander if he would like to say anything about the forthcoming handover. Alexander said that he was still putting together the presentations. He has some inputs, but is having to chase other people. ADG Mike Connelly has been asking a number of questions as the new year approaches, in particular about membership. Alexander was pleased that PP Mariandy continues to do great work in drumming up new members. He believes that we have two new lady members joining shortly. He hopes that we do not lose any members; so far, our membership seems to have been fairly steady for this year. He has reported this to ADG Mike.
• President Alan said that we have been in touch with the Grand Canal hotel about getting back together for a real lunch. We are waiting for them to come back to us about timing and possible arrangements which may include a need to book (or, as they say on RTE, pre-book in advance).
Hon Secretary’s Announcements
• It is that time of the year when annual subscriptions are about to fall due. Hon Secretary Tony will be sending out notices about this shortly.
Members wishing to speak
• Eamonn Allen said that Wednesday 16th is an important date for two reasons. First it is Bloomsday. Second it is the date of the Foundation quiz which will be held at 7:30 that evening. Secretary Tony has sent out a notification which includes an embedded link to enable people to register. Eamonn said that this link can be forwarded to friends or other people who might wish to attend the quiz. The entrance fee is €20 for a single person and €30 for a couple. Delma added that she hoped that this was going to be a fun experience and that not all of the questions will be highbrow. It will be a multiple-choice quiz so you can tick a box at random if you do not know the right answer. At least you will have a gambler’s chance! There will be bank details on the page that people can use to pay their entrance fee.
• Follow up: The quiz went well and the technology all worked smoothly. The winner, with a score of 55 points was Paul Egan. Geraldine Hamilton and Deirdre Kinsella came second with 54 points. The winners in the draw were Tony Murray, Tony McCourt and Bernadette Mulvey. We do not have a final figure for how much was raised, but it seems to be of the order of €1,000. Well done to all involved and to Eamonn in particular.
There was then a brief intermezzo. As our speaker had not yet arrived, it was decided to go to break out groups. These turned out to be short and sweet as, almost as soon as the groups had been set up, our guest speaker arrived on-screen. President Alan invited Delma to introduce her.
Last Week’s Speaker
Introducing our speaker, Delma said that Senator Alice Mary Higgins has over two decades of experience in policy strategy and advocacy across the areas of equality, international development and social inclusion. She is an independent senator (representing the NUI) with a strong commitment to equality, the environment and human rights. She has been involved in many initiatives for peace and international understanding. She is one of a group of senators with backgrounds in the NGO sector and is committed to bringing the voice of civil society and the disadvantaged into the Senate chamber. She is a strong advocate on the need to tackle climate change as well as on food security, peace building, anti-racism and diversity. From this, it is clear that her work and goals have a considerable overlap with those of Rotary.
Senator Higgins opened her remarks by saying that she was aware of Rotary and the great work that it does in mediation, peace and supporting sustainable development goals. She did not propose to talk at length because she wanted to give an opportunity for questions and discussion.
She wanted to focus on the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) (of which there are 17; see https://sdgs.un.org/goals) and how they overlap with environmental and peace issues. She said that, while she makes the same points to schoolchildren as she does to government representatives around the world, it is the latter that make the policy decisions. It is important to get policy makers to realize that if we want to live together as a community, we need to do it in a sustainable way that encompasses all people including those at the poorest levels both locally and globally. We need to move away from the old politics of power and patronage where there is a small number of big players with their coterie of client states. We need a politics of principle and of multinational vision that envisages how countries from around the world with different systems, cultures and values systems can cooperate and work together.
Ireland has played an important role in driving and leading multinational efforts towards peace and sustainable development. It is a remarkable achievement that we now have so many countries in agreement about the overarching principles, what our vision should be for the next decade and what we would like the world to look like by 2030. These are not vague aspirational aims; they are blueprints with specific targets that drill down deep into the challenges. They bring together the three dimensions of environmental action, economic policy and equality, three elements that are, unfortunately, all too often set against each other as trade-offs.
In her own work she has met not just with the Chamber of Commerce in Ireland, but with Chambers Ireland to discuss, inter alia, sustainable development on town-by-town basis around Ireland. She regularly talks with young activists who can take such plans as mandates for action within their own communities. She knows that these goals are also important to Rotary.
When you move to the international level, there is a need is for a common language. Within this framework, she can, for example, talk with Portuguese parliamentarians about SDG 11 (sustainable cities) or maybe about SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) using common reference points. Using the SDG framework we can create a dialogue between communities and groups facing different local problems and conditions. Another goal is SDG14, which covers underwater life, something particularly important to us as an island people.
Senator Higgins said that while she talks about a ten-year horizon of 2030, in practice this deadline is now less than nine years away. These years are, in her view, going to be make or break for the planet. While there are many wonderful aspirations and goals for 2050, that is a long way down the road. It is the coming decade that matters.
She turned to inequality, something that is a problem not just in Ireland, but in Europe and around the world. Reducing the inequalities in our societies is essential to maintaining social cohesion. In recent decades there has been much damage done to this and to the social fabric by the growing gap between rich and poor - both between nations and within nations. We cannot build peace and security on the foundation of a highly unequal society. Sad to say, Ireland’s performance on many of the SDGs continues to be poor – particularly in relation to the environmental SDGs. Out of 15 European countries in a survey published earlier this year, Ireland was 11th overall (this is one place down on 2020 -Ed.). It was 9th on clean and affordable energy (SDG 7) and 11th on responsible consumption (SDG 12). So there is room for improvement.
Ireland’s performance is doubly unfortunate because there is an opportunity for this island to show real leadership. We need to have both the vision and the ambition to want to change things for the better. The pandemic has shown both good and bad faces of mankind. It would be nice to think that, as we slowly exit the pandemic, things are not going to revert to business as usual.
And there are positives on which we can build. We are a neutral nation, and our development aid programme is quite good. We have a good reputation in international development. We see examples of the best of Ireland and the Irish locally in community developments across the country. Like other countries however, the problem is that we build up these things in the good times, but as soon as the economy takes a downturn, we cut back until the good times return. Unfortunately, whenever this happens much ground is lost that then has to be recovered before we can progress further. Moreover, we can be too one dimensional in our thinking. For example, there is often too much focus on employment at the expense of other important social goods.
Turning to peace, Senator Higgins pointed out that security is not the same as peace. She was unhappy that, within the EU, money was being moved from the social cohesion fund and into defense spending. Not every threat we face is a military threat. What we have seen recently is that social cohesion has been one of our best defenses in the fight against Covid-19. Ireland has had a high profile in peace keeping, aided by our neutrality. And we do real good in this sphere. She was there when Ireland hosted the negotiations to ban cluster bombs, for example. Ireland’s involvement in global peacekeeping goes back to the days of Frank Aiken as Foreign Minister in the 1950s. Frank Aiken was the first person to sign the nonproliferation treaty. But being a neutral country doesn't mean that we're somehow not relevant. Our reputation enables us to be seen, and to operate, as honest brokers. We need to continue to push this work so that we become a beacon of peace, promoting work to this end within the European Union and, a global level, we can work with the EU. As an example of our impact, she cited the case of former Labour Party leader Eamonn Gilmore who was the EU envoy to the peace talks in Colombia. He was asked to take that role because he was able to come to it with the perspective of a neutral country and was thus seen as a credible actor.
Words have power and can be used to frame conversations in a constructive way. We can use our neutrality in a way that has been, and will continue to be, much more effective than it would be were we to tag ourselves on to the coat-tails of some military power. Finally, on top of all of this, Ireland is now a member of the UN Security Council and as such can be an even more audible voice, not just for developing countries, but for peace in the world.
She concluded with some thoughts about Covid vaccines. The western world needs to consider the suspension of property rights to enable mass production world-wide of vaccines. This will be a real test of our sincerity to build a better world. Recent statements by President Joe Biden have been encouraging in this regard. She hopes that Ireland will take a strong position on this. It is something for which she personally is pushing.
With that, she invited questions.
A lively discussion followed with questions from President Alan, Keven MacAnallan, Jono Pim, Frank Bannister, Hon Secretary Tony and Brian George. Most of the questioning centered on the vexed question of neutrality and non-alignment with a certain degree of scepticism being expressed about the true nature of Irish neutrality. Other points included questions about the economic neutrality and the current state of the Irish armed forces where there are problems with manpower shortages (particularly in the navy) and poor pay.
Responding to these Senator Higgins said that military neutrality was not the same as political neutrality or diplomatic neutrality. She commented on the state of the Irish armed forced and said that more money needed to be spent on it, in particular in improving pay and conditions. When Irish troops put on the blue helmet of the UN, they can be a great force for good and have probably done more in keeping the peace that most other countries in the world. We are seen as an honest broker because we are not perceived as being in the game for profit or in defense of our national interests. We act with other nations on what she called the politics of principle. She believes firmly in Irish neutrality and she believes that that is one reason why people join the army and the navy so that they can help others around the world. She does have concerns however, in particular about PESCO (the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation defense initiative which encompasses 25 of the EU’s countries including Ireland). This and the common EU procurement programme could see our neutrality being chipped away at the edges. We need to be on our guard.
Thanking our speaker, PE Alexander said that he worked in the world of banking where sustainability is an issue of growing importance. We have only eight and half years to go to 2030 and we have to recover from the pandemic within that timeframe as well.