There is more to unite us than divide us and we must build on it

Whilst over in Dublin in the last few days, my brother and I were flying the flag for Sheffield and catching up with the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and his charming wife Sabina. It was evident there are many similarities between the values and principles that underpin Ireland and Sheffield

Wednesday, 22nd May 2019, 1:21 pm
President Michael D Higgins and Mrs Sabina Higgins with Chrissy Meleady and Patrick Meleady in The President's Official Residence - Áras an Uachtaráin

Combating loneliness, isolation, and healing fractures in society are shared priorities. The President points out that more and more interactions are encountered in digital space and whilst this has enormous benefits for the ‘time-poor’ it can be intrusive upon what defines us as people. The President consistently emphasised his and the Irish nation’s belief in human contact and the importance of community.Community and interpersonal interactions and relationships are something also that has been on Sheffield’s agenda and which were given more prominence by Sheffield Newspapers and Sheffield LA in their excellent campaign of ‘ Know Your Neighbour’, which was hugely effective in respect of breaking down barriers, bringing people and communities together, exploring shared solutions to community and city-wide problems. The campaign fostered a sense of inclusion and belonging for all. It has to be recognised that these positive engagements also challenged and mitigated against some of the vulnerabilities our area and citizens have undoubtedly suffered from, arising from post-industrial deprivation and the north and south economic divide, amplified by austerity.The President also often identifies how vital it is for there to be a reinstatement of a discourse based on solidarity, inter-dependency and shared solutions rather than the prevailing discourse on lifestyle and individualism, arising from societies of citizens giving way to individual consumers. This way of being and working is in contrast with some other cities in the UK, where there has been a noticeable absence of an adequate discourse on the community, social cohesion, the adverse impact of consumerism, solution finding and belonging, resulting in vacuums. The President has previously recognised how such vacuums can embolden those who seek to mimic the language of the far-right for short-term electoral advantage.Such forces relish misappropriating suffering and grievances for their own means in order to inflame hate, in their search to divide us against one another.The President has also pointed out that since the Good Friday Agreement and after this, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s state visit to Ireland, there has been a remarkable transformation in relations between Ireland and the UK. This reconciliation and friendship he noted was fostered also by his predecessor President McAleese. Indeed, President McAleese took the time to visit us in Sheffield and gave recognition to the ties that bind Sheffield and Ireland together, not least that during hard times as well as good times, Sheffield was a place of welcome for Irish people and is still home to a sizeable Irish population who at every level of society are making major contributions to Sheffield and its social good. Likewise, Ireland has people from our city residing in all areas, living happy and fulfilled lives, bringing up their families and contributing to the Irish social good, whilst being supported to maintain their rich Sheffield and South Yorkshire heritage. Another area of shared resonance is the environment. The President has pointed out our planet, which is four or five billion years old, is being put at risk by policies that are 250 years old, with people thinking that modern existence can continue unchanged, separate to destruction of nature.It is recognised that in 2014, Sheffield established a Green Commission in response to the 5th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.In early 2019, Sheffield became the largest UK local authority to declare a climate emergency. Cross- party commitments to working together were agreed to tackle head-on, climate change. The President, like Sheffield, also recognises the importance of young people, who exhibit great promise to becoming the problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and persistent learners that Sheffield, Ireland and the world needs. Our young people are essential to a shared and better future for all who share this fragile planet.It was very clear from being with President Higgins and Sabina that their good thoughts towards and inclusion of Sheffield, identifies that, just like in our communities there is much more to unite than to divide us.