President Michael D Higgins has described the failure of the international community to address hunger and poverty as the "greatest moral failing of humanity".

In a keynote address to the University of California at Berkeley, the President continued a theme of his presidency, in highlighting the need for greater transparency and accountability within the international system to combat global hunger.

He also said that he was concerned about how the role of the state was "neglected", adding that although philanthropy had "a part to play" in achieving food security, it would not and could not "supplant the role of government".

He said he had come to the conclusion that "servicing the insatiable demand of creditors who are benefiting from global debt is taking precedence".

Building on his criticism in recent days of international institutions, President Higgins said that view that debt was more important than social issues, was a view that he felt was  "being supported … within some of our major multi-lateral institutions".

He questioned the role of the state in the current international system, saying there was a "fashionable notion" that matters people previously voted on could be shifted to civil society.

He described this "degradation of the role of the state" as a "sinister" development.

To a packed auditorium he said that "the failure of the international community to address endemic and recurring hunger and poverty remains the greatest moral failing of humanity". 

He called for what he described as "bad faith" to be removed from international gatherings of nations where financial pledges to help those in need were made, but often not followed through on.

He said that in many parts of the world, the atmosphere was closer to that "of a gold rush than the Agora of Athens".

President Higgins said society had "installed a set of procedures within our institutional architecture that ensures normative thought as it adjusts to power structures".

He said "good people" many of whom he knew, were "worn out and ground down in the demands of a bogus inevitability".

Speaking to an audience of students and faculty, President Higgins said young people in Ireland would regard it as "abhorrent" that there was still global hunger. He said it was one of the basic moral issues they raised, that there was such a gap between "moral instinct and action".

He also said that hunger was not just an issue in so-called "developing countries" but was also a growing problem "within the cities of the developed world as the massive expansion of food relief centres in major cities attests".

The President urged the students to recognise that monopolies had "immense power", and warned against such a monopoly that "so far has escaped regulation and which uses its power to influence both those who are designing policy and those who are seeking to practice at the front line of human need".

He said there was "no point" trying to avoid the contradictions that arose when multinational corporations sought to define the relationship between donor and recipient countries, even though they themselves were "not observing basic principles in terms of extraction, taxation, environmental standards or labour rights".

He stressed once again that those who "draft, decide and define the policy and the process must be accountable to those who elect governments". 

President Higgins also pointed out the pressure that aid agencies and others in the NGO sector were under because they were "excessively dependent" on funding from foundations. 

He said they often had to "construct their policies and practices under the influence of, or certainly taking into account, the strategic interests of multi-national corporations".

He also pointed to the lack of equality in the international legal system, that there was an imbalance of power that was perhaps ignored.

President Higgins said international jurisprudence was "mocked" every day by the enormity of the fines paid by the banking sector and various multinational corporations.