"We face global challenges, but we also have global plans" - Senator Alice-Mary Higgins

07 may 2019

This is the seventh and final contribution in a series of blogs that we have published around the theme of the Dóchas Conference 2019 - Finding Our Voice: How Civil Society is Countering Uncertainty - which took place on 2 May 2019 in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8. Find out more.

We asked leaders, innovators and thinkers working in the areas of equality, justice and development to respond to a set of questions around the theme of the conference - the key challenges facing international cooperation and how we can shape the Irish response to these challenges, find opportunities within them, and build public support along the way.

In our final Conference Blog, we are delighted to feature Alice-Mary Higgins, independent Senator on the National University of Ireland panel for Seanad Éireann. Find out more.

Read the other blogs in this series.

Alice-Mary's Response

What do you see as the main challenge facing international cooperation between now and 2030?

We are at a crucial moment for the future of Europe and, indeed, for our shared planet. Climate change and the destruction of biodiversity are already causing huge suffering, our shared social fabric has been strained by economic inequality and irresponsible speculation. Crucially, there is a worrying international rollback on peace and disarmament.

The power to resolve these issues lies in our democracies from the local to the global level. We must ensure that power and accountability are not abdicated to the market and that governments listen and respond to the concerns of their people in terms of equality, environment, economy or peace.

We need to protect and nurture an internationalism and multilateralism based on principles rather then interests alone. The world must not be allowed to return to an era of big power politics or a new colonialism. Spaces like the UN and EU, however flawed, are crucial in terms of the core idea that we can live together, in peace. The language of rights, however unfulfilled, must also be protected and expanded.

What role can civil society, particularly in Ireland, play in overcoming this challenge, and how will civil society need to change to achieve this?

Civil society has forced political action on issues that matter, from apartheid to Repeal. I formed the Civil Engagement Group in the Seanad because I wanted a more dynamic relationship between civil society and Irish politics. The same must also be true on a European level and indeed a global level.

There are many worrying trends across the world today but alongside that there is an extraordinary positive momentum in social movements around gender equality, climate justice or decent work. Movements that reach across borders and chart a path towards a healthy planet and a social, sustainable future, one in which every person’s needs and potential are recognised and supported. Wider participation and new solidarities are the greatest antidote to a politics of division or fear.

We face global challenges, but we also have global plans. We have seen great moments of unified hope in terms of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals represent one of the most detailed blueprints for a better way to live together, including targets and indicators towards a more sustainable and just future. We have a path and a plan. Our challenge between now and 2030, is to move forward on that path and to leave no one behind. That means translating the SDGs in annual budgets, in strategic planning, in Europe’s post-2020 strategy and its multiannual financial framework. The SDGs are about joined-up thinking and civil society can both model and champion that by reaching out and making the connections across sectors and across issues.

How do we bring the Irish public along with us to believe in and champion the importance of international cooperation?

We need to begin by believing in and championing the public. I believe people in Ireland already have a strong belief in the importance of international solidarity. Eurobarometer shows very high support from the Irish public for the EU and there is a real pride in the impact Ireland has had in the UN and through our humanitarian work. The public also value and appreciate Ireland's neutrality, the credibility that has given us as a voice for peace

Importantly, I also think that the Irish public want a healthier, greener, more inclusive future. A massive 97% of the members of the recent Citizens' Assembly recommended that climate change be at the centre of policy-making in Ireland. The challenge is in connecting this positive inclination towards internationalism with specific action on specific issues. We need to build two-way understanding between the impact on ground and where decisions are made. In my recent legislation to progressively interpret EU Procurement Directives and place a greater emphasis on quality, I had to show how procurement can intimately affect the care you get or the food you eat.

In this era of new technology we can also do far more to connect people with people. Women’s groups or trade unionists from Dublin can and should be supported to form practical links and solidarities with similar groups in Krakow or Kampala.

When I spoke to the secondary students of Ireland recently, I spoke about the importance of connecting with the 60% under 25 years of age across Africa. These young people are already collaborating and challenging old complacencies. But, as many of them know, the opposite of complacency is not cynicism, it is creative, collective action.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dóchas.

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The Dóchas Conference 2019 - Finding Our Voice: How Civil Society is Countering Uncertainty - took place on 2 May 2019, in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8. The Conference explored the key challenges facing international cooperation between now and 2030. It provided a space for discussion and new ideas about how we can shape the Irish response to these challenges, find opportunities within them, and build public support along the way. Speakers included Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, and Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, Chief Executive Officer, Plan International, and more.

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