Rathlin Representatives Attend Garden Party at Áras an Uachtaráin

Friday 23 June 2017

Several representatives of the Rathlin Island community were honoured to accept an invitation from President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins to attend a “Celebrating Island Life” garden party at Áras an Uachtaráin on Tuesday 20th June.

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Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Stephen Ryan.

The event was held to highlight the contributions made, and the challenges faced by island communities around the island of Ireland. In particular, President Higgins paid tribute to all the hard work within those communities that contributes to the sustainability of island life.

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Some of the Rathlin group at the Áras. Photo: Stephen Ryan.

In his opening remarks, the President noted that through his various public roles, including that of Ministerial responsibility for the Republic’s islands, he had “developed a deep respect and admiration for island life – a life lived in dialogue, and sometimes in confrontation, with sea and sky, waves and wind; an existence at times austere and vulnerable, but always heightened by the strength of close community ties, and blessed by landscapes of astonishing beauty”.

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The full group from Rathlin outside the Áras.

The President went out of his way to specifically mention Rathlin, saying that he was “so pleased that we have friends here from Rathlin Island”, and he went on to emphasise some of the particular challenges facing island communities in modern times. “The issues facing islanders today are well known. They have to do with transportation and access, the provision of adequate infrastructure and of suitable ferry and air services. They have to do with the provision of basic services: medical care, social and childcare services, energy, sanitation and proper waste management systems... Then too, sustainable economic development must be a priority: the maintenance of farming, fishing and biodiversity. Education and the adequate resourcing of primary and secondary schools on the islands are equally vital.”

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President Michael D Higgins during his speech. Photo: Stephen Ryan.

Going off script, President Higgins also made an emotional tribute to the crew of Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 who all lost their lives off the Mayo coast in March of this year, and who had also served the community of Rathlin on a number of occasions.

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Michael Cecil, Chair of the RDCA meeting President Higgins. Photo: Liz Withers.

In perhaps the most striking passage of his speech, the President insisted that “nothing is inevitable. The loss of sustainable island life is not inevitable. The recent decline in many of our islands’ population is simply a challenge that has to be addressed”. This of course is a central issue for many island communities, as it was also for Rathlin until relatively recently.

The garden party was the second in a series of eight to be held this summer in the Áras. These are continuing the tradition of past Presidents in welcoming people from all over the island of Ireland to the President’s residence, and they are intended to pay tribute to “communities, voluntary groups and active citizens” in various areas of Irish life.

The RDCA Committee would like to thank President and Sabina Higgins and the staff of Áras an Uachtaráin for their welcome and hospitality, and greatly appreciate the recognition for the many strands of community and voluntary work that go into the busy life of a small island community such as Rathlin’s.

The President’s full speech is available here.

Audio of the speech is available here.

A gallery of images from the event is available here.

A video of the event is available here.

The RTÉ News report on the event is available here.

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