e travelled across the nation, meeting party leaders and dignitaries. But the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, did more than just share a few Irish tales. He reached deep into the core of Australia’s history, recognising its troubled past.
President Higgins acknowledged Irish colonists’ persecution of First Nations Peoples and reminded Australians of the need to revisit their past.
“If we are to be unblinking in our gaze, we must acknowledge that while most Irish immigrants experienced some measure, some a large measure of prejudice and injustice, there were some among their number who inflicted injustice too,” Mr Higgins declared at the Western Australian Parliament.
The visiting head of state also cited former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s powerful speech acknowledging responsibility for crimes against Aboriginal communities.
“His were powerful words: ‘We took the children from their mothers, we practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice’. His speech and my belief was, and remains, an emancipatory act in the ethics of memory.”
Irish President Michael Higgins.
His words moved many. He especially struck a chord with Labor MP Linda Burney, Australia’s first Aboriginal woman to become a member of the House of Representatives.
“It was just wonderful to hear the speech because he actually acknowledged that his Irish settlers … in the colonial period were not completely innocent when it came to the treatment of Aboriginal people. And to hear a President of Ireland, another country, acknowledge the colonial history and what that meant for Aboriginal people was incredibly heart-warming and enormously honest,” she told NITV News after the event.