New Ross Standard - - NEWS - By DAVID LOOBY

PRES­I­DENT MICHAEL D HIG­GINS paid his first of­fi­cial visit to New Ross on Satur­day to speak at the 50th an­niver­sary of the open­ing of the John F Kennedy Ar­bore­tum.

A crowd of 200 peo­ple greeted Pres­i­dent Hig­gins who ear­lier planted a tree at the park. Through­out the evening he took time out to pose for pho­to­graphs and to chat with peo­ple of all ages, be­fore thor­oughly en­joy­ing opera mu­sic and a meal at a mar­quee erected at the ar­bore­tum. Pres­i­dent Hig­gins re­called Sen­a­tor Robert Kennedy’s a char­ac­ter­is­tic spirit of prag­matic ide­al­ism, fifty years on from his as­sas­si­na­tion. ‘He pro­posed moral re­newal for his coun­try in the role of the US in world af­fairs. That cam­paign came to rep­re­sent an ex­pres­sion of faith in the power of pub­lic ac­tion to achieve change in pub­lic so­ci­ety.’

Joined by his wife Sabina, Pres­i­dent Hig­gins de­scribed as a ‘sin­gle and hor­rific mo­ment’ Bobby Kennedy’s death, say­ing he was a cham­pion of jus­tice and inclusion for many of the com­mu­ni­ties ex­cluded from so­ci­ety. He said: ‘ This ar­bore­tum re­minds of the new chal­lenges of our age: bio­di­ver­sity loss, en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and above all else cli­mate change. We know what must be done. And so as we cel­e­brate to­day 50 years of the John F Kennedy Ar­bore­tum and Memo­rial Park and the close of the sixth week­end of the gath­er­ing of a schol­arly week­end that I so praise let us com­mit to re­cov­er­ing anew the spirit of John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Dr King.’

Kennedy Sum­mer School founder Noel Whe­lan, from Bal­ly­cul­lane, said as well as the many sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ments the ar­bore­tum has in terms of forestry, it is a ter­rific lo­cal amenity. In an en­gag­ing speech he said the Kennedy Ar­bore­tum is a neu­tral space. ‘It gives me great per­sonal pride to have worked with so many oth­ers, in­clud­ing Wex­ford County Coun­cil and our friends in the OPW, and a ter­rific lo­cal team to build an­other neu­tral space from which we can gather form the si­los of po­lit­i­cal opin­ion for a dis­course which has be­come the an­nual Kennedy Sum­mer School.’ He de­scribed the fes­ti­val as an ar­bore­tum of ideas, where cut­ting edge re­search, ex­pert opin­ion and lo­cal knowl­edge con­verge pro­vid­ing a neu­tral space ‘at a time when peo­ple like to re­treat to their si­los on the spec­trum and to their adamant opin­ions’. ‘We say no, gather in one place, con­front each other, hear dif­fer­ent views, nur­ture some of those plants of con­sen­sus on which we’d agree, fer­tilise some of those roots: democ­racy and jus­tice which are very much threat­ened in this time.’ He said he has had rea­son re­cently to re­flect on the dis­tinc­tion and sub­stance of the cur­rent Pres­i­dency, adding that he is hum­bled by how Pres­i­dent Hig­gins reaches out and ac­knowl­edges com­mu­nity ef­fort. ‘ The fact that he comes this week­end and does so in a way that recog­nises the work of the Kennedy Sum­mer School is re-en­er­gis­ing for us.’

Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins with a young fan at the JFK Ar­bore­tum.

Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins with two young fans at the JFK Ar­bore­tum.

Pres­i­dent Hig­gins met Luke Fo­ley and his dad Mark from Dun­ganstown.

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