President Michael D. Higgins speech at the Long Service Awards to Family Carers

Speech by President Michael D. Higgins at the
Long Service Awards to Family Carers
Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin

Wednesday, 11th February, 2015


Tá áthas orm a bheith anseo libh ar fad ag an Duais Fadseirbhíse do cúramóirí teaghlaigh ar maidin. Is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le Chumann na gCúramóirí dá gcuireadh caoin dom a bheith anseo libh chun an ócáid speisialta seo a cheiliúradh.

[I am delighted to join you all here this morning at the Long Service Awards for family carers. May I thank The Carers Association for their kind invitation to be with you to celebrate this very special occasion.]

As a society we must all be grateful for the quiet, sustained work of the many unsung heroes who provide critical care for family members and others who, without that care, would be unable to remain in their own homes. It is important, however, that we be challenged by their actions and their sacrifices, rooted as they are in a great spirit of generosity and human solidarity and will to make their contribution to wider society. It is such a sense of solidarity which should prompt us to recognise and respond to the rights of those who provide and those who receive assistance and that we combine our responses with a pursuit of social justice.

Whilst caring for fellow citizens, and family members in particular, has always been an essential part of family life and responsible citizenship, changes in societal structures and demographics, along with rapid advancement in medical science, has presented carers with new and complex challenges. There can be no doubt that, while retaining and valuing a spirit of concern for others and a willingness to offer of our time and support to those who are vulnerable is essential we need, as a society, to invest in public policies and resources that can reduce the burden on those who care for loved ones.


That such care is altruistic and given with generosity does not, and should never, exonerate the State from its duty of care towards all of its citizens. The ethics of kinship and friendship, with its moral gift, must always go hand in hand with the building of a caring state by concerned citizens. It is the concerns of citizens and this articulation of it that after all defines the reach of the State. A caring society does not fall from the sky. The case for it must be made and support for it given.

Every day, in homes across the country, hundreds of thousands of people are providing generous care for parents, children, partners, or other family members or friends. Indeed the number of citizens who undertake this demanding and often difficult role continues to increase, and as the figures increase an urgent need for strategic planning in relation to care provision, in particular that of long term care, for our ageing population, becomes ever more clear.

The most recent census has shown that 4.1% of our population now provide unpaid care, with a total of 6,287,510 hours of such care being provided every week in this country. In addition, while Ireland currently has one of the lowest proportions of citizens aged over 65, this is rapidly changing and between Census 2006 and Census 2011 the percentage of over 85s in this country grew by 25%. We also know that the population of older parents who have
children with a learning disability is growing, presenting its own complexities as many such parents enter a sixth or seventh decade as the primary carer for their child.

So today we receive a welcome opportunity to express our deep appreciation, and indeed admiration, for some of the citizens whose work stands behind those stark figures, and give them their human meaning. We also receive an opportunity to reflect on the reality of the lives that make up the statistics and numbers and percentages. They are lives that must at times feel overwhelmed, hugely burdensome to carry, or even unfair. Lives where many days are reduced to a struggle against tiredness, stress and loneliness; and where the separation of a caring role and that more fundamental relationship to a parent, child, sibling or friend, can very often be difficult to sustain.

There are also, of course, the many practical and far reaching aspects which must be considered when undertaking a caring role; aspects which can impact so strongly on the quality of life for the carer. Some carers may have to leave their place of work, or reduce their hours or take early retirement, at huge cost to their financial security.

Others may have to balance the competing needs of their paid employment and their caring roles. All make enormous private sacrifices, giving up time, personal freedom, opportunities and even friendships in order to look after the person in their care.

For all our award recipients here today, their journey has been a unique one. The circumstances under which an individual becomes a carer can vary considerably. Some may have been propelled into that role with a great suddenness, with no time to plan or to prepare themselves, either practically or emotionally, for such a seismic shift in their lifestyle.

For others it may have been a more gradual process, a growing awareness that a family member was becoming more dependent on day-to-day care and less able to manage alone. And for others, the commitment to caring for and nurturing a child became a lifetime of selfless giving.

However, whatever the individual circumstances, all carers have one thing in common; the ability to commit their lives selflessly to the emotional and physical needs of a loved one; to centre their days around that person and to ensure they have all they need to live their lives as fully and comfortably and enjoyably as possible.

Each one of those chosen for these awards, and the many other people around the country that they mirror or represent, provides an essential service which allows someone affected by illness or disability or old age to live as comfortable and normal a life as possible within the familiarity of their own home and to be surrounded by their own unique memories as they struggle with the effects of their debilitating illness or disability.

In our society we acknowledge and reward achievement, whether in business, sport, the arts or other endeavours. We are here today to celebrate your achievements, which are born of a spirit of giving to others. Unlike others, your work is done quietly and in the background, and you neither seek nor receive any fanfare.

As Uachtaráin na hÉireann, I am delighted to have this opportunity to acknowledge the vital work you do; work which has, at its heart, an inspiring spirit of selfless commitment, devotion and dedication.

Is mian liom buíochas a ghabháil libh as ucht na hoibre sin a dhéanann sibh chun sochaí eiticiúil a fhorbairt, sochaí a bhfuil bunnaithe ar iomláine mhothúchánach agus ar intinn chásnach a bhfuil ina gcuid lárnach den creatlach sóisialta i ngach poblacht dhaonlathach chóir.

[I thank you for that work you do to develop a truly ethical society, a society founded on an emotional integrity and a caring attitude which must be part of the social fabric of any truly just and democratic republic.]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

id lárnach den creatlach sóisialta i ngach poblacht dhaonlathach chóir.

[I thank you for that work you do to develop a truly ethical society, a society founded on an emotional integrity and a caring attitude which must be part of the social fabric of any truly just and democratic republic.]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.