Irish President Michael D Higgins was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by Melbourne University at a formal ceremony on 12th October 2017.
Below, the introductory remarks to the ceremony by the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of the University.
Links to both the video of the President’s speech and a text transcript can be found at the end of the introductions
Allan Myers QC, Chancellor
Today, the University will confer upon him its highest honour – the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa and that is done on account of the achievements of the President himself and on account of his position as President of Ireland, a country with which the University has had such a long association.
Professor Glyn Davis AC, Vice-Chancellor
Chancellor, it’s a great honour to present to you this proposed candidate for Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland.
Born in Limerick in 1941, raised in Co Clare, President Michael D Higgins was a factory worker and clerk, before being the first in his family to attend university. He studied at University College Galway, now the National University of Ireland, at Indiana University and later at the University of Manchester.
He commenced his academic career as a lecturer in sociology and political science at the National University of Ireland where he gave some of the earliest lectures in Ireland on the sociology of migration and other emerging areas in the discipline. He was committed to university engagement in community life and travelled across Western Ireland providing evening classes for students who had no other access to further education.
He entered public life in 1973 when he was appointed to the upper house of the Irish legislature, Seanad Eireann. He was elected as the representative for Galway West for the lower House or Dail Eireann for 1981 and 1982 and he served as the Lord Mayor of Galway twice. He was a representative of the National University of Ireland [in the Seanad] from 1983 before being re-elected for the Galway West constituency in the Dail in 1987, a position he held until 2011.
From 1993, Professor Higgins was the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht which included responsibility for promoting Irish language and enhancing the economic and social development of the Irish-speaking areas of the nation. He initiated the first Irish language television station, repealed censorship legislation and led the creation of a network of local arts venues across Ireland. He championed the re-invigoration of the Irish film and television industries, a fact that has been reflected in a series of commemorative awards to him, including an Irish film and television Academy Outstanding Award.
In 2003, he was elected President of the Labour Party and after many years of exemplay public service in Ireland, he won a landslide victory in the 2011 Presidential election and was inaugurated as the ninth President on the 11th of November that year.
Professor Higgins has been an outspoken champion for human rights, advocating in Ireland for issues such as equal pay and the right of people with disabilities and he’s championed human rights in many other countries including Nicaragua, Chile, Cambodia, Iraq and Somalia, and he’s been recognised with an international peace prize presented in Helsinki in 1992.
Professor Higgins is, of course, an accomplished writer and poet and from 1982 to 1992, he was a regular columnist for the popular Hot Press magazine. He worked out with Irish politics, sociology, history and culture and includes two collections of essays and a number of collections of poetry.
As President, he’s continued to advocate passionately the importance of universities and higher education. His work remains widely published, including the three books of essays such as When Ideas Matter, published last year.
So, Chancellor, we have with us a politician, a poet, a writer, an academic, a statesman, a rights advocate, a champion of the creative industries. Professor Higgins has been at the forefront of contemporary Irish politics for more than four decades. He’s played a significant role in advancing the arts, humanities and education in Ireland and beyond. Chancellor, it is fitting that the University of Melbourne should today recognise the contribution to public life though the award of a Doctor of Laws to President Michael D Higgins.
The video of the President’s address-in-reply can be found at President’s address.
The text of the speech can be found at Speech at University of Melbourne.