Lahinch based charity founder Ruairí McKiernan has expressed his “heartfelt thanks” to President Michael D. Higgins as he concludes his seven-year term on the Council of State.
McKiernan was appointed as one of President Higgins’ seven appointees for his first term in office. “It was a huge honour and a privilege to have been appointed by President Higgins back in early 2012. The role gave me a much deeper insight into the workings of the state, in addition to the opportunity to contribute my views at Council of State meetings.”
In 2005, Ruairí founded the SpunOut national youth organisation and believed being on the Council of State helped create opportunities to champion the rights and needs of young people. He worked alongside President Higgins to implement the Being Young and Irish initiative and hosted a youth ‘Speakers Corner’ event at Áras an Uachtaráin.
Being on the Council of State is a voluntary role which entails offering non-binding advice to the President when it comes to whether or not to refer a piece of legislation to the Supreme Court. In addition to the President’s appointees, automatically membership is granted to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Attorney General, and ‘ex-officio’ office holders including Mary McAleese, Mary Robinson, Brian Cowen, and Bertie Ahern.
Two Council of State meetings took place during the Cavan natives seven year term. These focused on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and the International Protection Bill. “It was an incredible experience to sit among so many key figures and to discuss the constitutionality of the legislation in question. In both cases, the issues at hand affected particularly vulnerable groups. I feel Ireland has failed so many people over the years and hence good legislation is vital. I didn’t always agree with the views on offer at the meetings but that’s not why I was there. I’ve never been shy about speaking up, and neither has President Higgins throughout his career. If anything we need more people to challenge the status quo as so much change is still urgently needed. This is particularly evident when it comes to the lack of leadership on issues such as housing, healthcare, mental health, and climate action.”
Later this year, McKiernan will publish a memoir, Hitching for Hope, that includes further reflections from his time on the Council of State. The forty two years stated that despite some frustrations with the pace of change, he is optimistic when it comes to the future of the country.
“It can be hard to be hopeful at times when you read the news but I meet so many amazing people all the time that are giving their all to make change happen. It is this grassroots energy that eventually leads to change at the top. There are so many unsung heroes that need celebrating and supporting. I’m thinking about carers, community volunteers, and those working to support Asylum Seekers, the homeless, and people with disabilities. I think campaigning is important in terms of getting our voices heard, especially coming up to the local and European elections, but so too is creating new ways of doing things.”
“For me, much of this comes down to the need for stronger communities and to resist a lot of the divide and conquer that is going on, especially fearing mongering around migration. Migrants aren’t the problem, rampant greed and the politics of inequality are. There is huge change in the world right now and in some ways, I see it as a battle of hope versus hate, love versus fear. Most of us obviously want love to win the day but for that to happen we’re going to have to stand taller and stronger together in making our voices heard.”
During the Presidential campaign last year, entrepreneur Peter Casey confirmed Clare councillor Ann Norton would be one of his nominees to the Council of State should he be elected to the Áras. Clare County Council on the proposal of Norton and Cllr Gerry Flynn nominated Casey to appear on the ballot paper.
New appointees to the Council of State include Cara Augustenborg, Sinead Burke, Sindy Joyce, Maurice Malone, Johnston McMaster, Mary Murphy and Seán Ó Cuirreáin.