President addresses Cyprus House of Representatives

Wed 16th Oct, 2019 | 11:00
location: (Cyprus) Cyprus House of Representatives

(Cyprus) Cyprus House of Representatives

Wednesday, 16th October, 2019

Address to the Cypriot House of Representatives

House of Representatives, Cyprus, Wednesday, 16th October, 2019 

While we may be at the geographical fringes of Europe, we are both now at the heart of the European discourse. Our respective national experiences afford us a unique perspective on the Union and enable us to make incisive and informed contributions regarding the possible futures of the European Union.

President of the House, Members, Distinguished Guests, 
A Uachtaráin an Tí, a Bhaill, a Aíonna Oirirce,

Thank you, President Syllouris, for your invitation and for the warm welcome to me and my wife Sabina, and to my delegation today. It was a pleasure to meet you when you visited Ireland in January earlier this year when we in Ireland were marking 100 years of the establishment of the Irish Parliament, Dáil Éireann. 

May I also express my thanks for the warm welcome you have accorded to our Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, who has been working very closely with your Government on the functional review of the courts system in Cyprus. 

Dear friends,

It is a great honour to have been invited to address this House as part of my State Visit to Cyprus. As a parliamentarian for many decades, I am acutely conscious of the vitally important role played by the institutions of our representative democracies, the importance of parliaments, obviously in the struggle for democratic representation, but particularly as we now continue to live through challenging times, dealing with new multiple crises – democratic, humanitarian, ecological.

After my meeting with President Anastadiades earlier this week, I spoke of how Ireland and Cyprus, two islands at either end of the European continent, are two countries with a physical distance of some 3,800 kilometres but with an emotional distance, between us as island nations, that does not feel very great. Like Ireland, Cyprus has had to struggle for its independence over the centuries. You, too, have had to cope with the challenges associated with post-colonial nation-building, and we have shared the consequences of the 2008 recession which impacted so severely on our people. 

I also spoke of my deep concern, as President of Ireland, at what is happening in northern Syria, and the unilateral intervention by Turkey in that area. Today, allow me to reiterate here my call on Turkey to seek an alternative, negotiated approach, one that rejects military intervention and its resulting humanitarian distress, and one that rejects the coercion or forced returns of refugees. 

I have also discussed with President Anastasiades my concern in relation to the recent arrival of drilling and prospecting off-shore. Today, I reiterate Ireland’s view that matters of the maritime, and activities at sea, should be undertaken within the framework of international law and any argument on these matters should be settled through negotiations undertaken in that context.

Dear friends,

This has been my first visit to Cyprus, though I have long had a particular interest in your unique history; an island at the crossroads of three continents which has had many visitors, welcome and unwelcome, over the centuries. The historic parallels between Ireland and Cyprus are undeniable. 

The quest for knowledge is something which finds its source here in the Eastern Mediterranean, the cradle of European civilisation. Cyprus occupies an important role in Greek mythology, being the birthplace of Aphrodite and Adonis, and home to King Cinyras, Teucer and Pygmalion. 

The Cypriot contribution to the arts and culture has been so significant. The art history of Cyprus can be said to stretch back up to 10,000 years, while Cypriot literary works include epic poetry such that of the Cypria, one of the very first specimens of Greek and European poetry, composed in the late 7th century BC, attributed as it is to Stasinus. 

Ireland, too, has historically been the space of considerable scholarship, providing internationally recognised contributions to the arts and culture, with a strong sense of connectedness to the outside world. 

These days, our two islands find many areas of fruitful cooperation, all of which I hope will deepen with my visit: from culture and tourism, law and business, food and environment, to our developing relations in the marine and maritime sector. 

This afternoon I will be in Larnaca to meet with the members of the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute, a new Institute for Cyprus that will be modelled on the Irish Marine Institute which is located in my home city of Galway on the western coast of Ireland. 

It should be no surprise to anybody that we are both forging maritime links given our shared histories as seafaring nations. Throughout the Classical period, when Cyprus was under the control of the Persian Empire, around the 5th century BC, Cyprus as part of the Persian Empire’s ‘Fifth Satrapy’ was linked with Phoenicia and Syria. Like the Phoenicians, the Cypriots were recognised as expert sailors.

On Monday of this week, at the beginning of my visit, I was pleased to meet with President Anastasiades to discuss current issues of concern for both Ireland and Cyprus. I want to thank the President again for his warm welcome and kind hospitality. 

Cyprus and Ireland, as I have said, both suffered the impact of the global financial crisis and, in the case of both countries, emergence from those difficult times is largely owing to the resilience of our peoples who endured much hardship as a result of the economic downturn associated with the so-called ‘Great Recession’ which lasted five years in my own country, and the effects of which still manifest themselves in our society and economy. 

It is clear now that, as a direct result of the blunt impositions and handling of the crisis, social cohesion has been significantly damaged across our Union; this has a consequence in its contribution to an atmosphere that facilitated the rise of euro-scepticism, exclusionary forms of nationalism and austerity-sourced populism, nativism, reactions that are built on negative invocations of fear and ignorance, including a fear and ignorance that is invoked and manipulated too often to scapegoat the stranger, ‘The Other’. 

Ireland and Cyprus are both committed members of the EU, supporters of a social Europe. Ireland was proud to hold the Presidency of the EU in 2004 when Cyprus joined along with nine other countries in the historic enlargement of the Union. In May this year, we marked fifteen years since the “Day of Welcomes” when the scars of Europe’s Cold War divisions were finally healed. 

While we may be at the geographical fringes of Europe, we are both now at the heart of the European discourse. Our respective national experiences afford us a unique perspective on the Union and enable us to make incisive and informed contributions regarding the possible futures of the European Union. 

Ireland and Cyprus share a commitment to the essential values of the European Union: respect for the rule of law, protection of human rights and also the principle of equality within and between member states. This last point is so very important to Member States with smaller populations, like Ireland and Cyprus. We also share the challenges and perspectives that come with being two geographically peripheral states with small, open economies.

This State Visit of Ireland to Cyprus occurs at a moment of particular significance for the European Union, multiple significances in fact.

Our Union is a community of rules, encompassing law, economy and society, but it is also – and perhaps equally importantly – a community of values. It is clear, however, that these values are not being upheld uniformly and sufficiently across our Member States. This is surely a grave concern for democracy and for those of us who believe in social cohesion, human rights and equality.

At a time when populism and simplistic solutions to complex, multifaceted problems – such as the migration crisis – are being presented to our peoples, we must not let our peoples succumb to the politics of division, fear and blame we must offer alternative models of inclusion, innovation and a deepening of democracy. Our peoples deserve a version of their independence and shared sovereignty that is principled and based on values.

As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the Government and people of Ireland are grateful for the solidarity shown by other EU member states regarding the unique implications for Ireland. Since the decision of the UK public by referendum to leave the EU, Ireland’s objective, above all, has been to protect the hard-won gains of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement which established a peace process that, despite some setbacks, has resulted in a period of normalisation in Northern Ireland over the past two decades. The potential creation of any hard border on our island could put this hard-won progress at risk. 

We know that you in Cyprus understand the value of our peace process and the importance of coming to terms with the legacy of a painful past. As a first-time visitor to Cyprus, I was saddened to witness the physical manifestations of the ongoing partition of the island. 

The Mayor of Nicosia welcomed me yesterday to the new Municipal Building in the Old City. While there, I had the opportunity to witness this physical division and its impact on the city of Nicosia. Like all friends of Cyprus and the Cypriot people, I sincerely hope that Cyprus can be reunited, at peace and with full reconciliation between all of the communities on the island. 

In Ireland we learned over many long and painful years of the cost of division and partition. One of our great peacemakers, John Hume, has often said that peace is not so much about uniting two pieces of land, it is about uniting peoples. In this regard, I acknowledge the important role that civil society can play in peacebuilding and in providing solutions to deal with intercultural challenges, that can, with good will, be transcended as the prospects of a shared future are encouraged, envisioned, and anticipated.

The challenge of building a reconciled society after war and conflict is enormous. It is a challenge that resonates strongly with the Irish people. As President of Ireland, I have sought to share a discourse on what the concept of ethical remembering might yield for us. It is a theme to which I return, as President of Ireland, in several addresses.

How should we set about publicly commemorating seminal events in a nation’s history, events that, in their carrying multiple and competing versions, are divisive. 

A central dimension of what I call “ethical remembering” has been a rejection of any kind of conscious or unconscious collective amnesia. Indeed, to reject important, if painful, events of the past, to deny those affected by them any recognition of their losses and memories, would be counterproductive and, may I suggest, even amoral.

Setting about ethical remembering requires being open to a scholarship that can both widen the lens of our understanding to include the broader political and intellectual context in which events unfolded, and refine our peoples’ grasp of the complexity and texture of a tumultuous period by drawing attention to the detail of individual experiences, including those of the marginalised.

The time has come for what Irish scholar Richard Kearney has called “an ethics of narrative hospitality” that might replace our past entrenchments. I believe it is an exercise that will yield the greatest results on my own island, on this island, and across the continent of Europe. Let us, together, cultivate memory as a tool for the living and as a secure base for the future.

Since our independence, both of our countries have supported multilateralism, its institutions and the rule of law. In Ireland we have a long tradition of support for, and engagement with, the United Nations. We are very proud of the fact that Ireland is the only member state with an unbroken record of service to the peacekeeping missions of the UN since our first participation in 1958. 

This commitment found expression here in Cyprus when, from the earliest days of the UN mission in Cyprus in 1964, the Irish Defence Forces played a significant role. 

Over the years, almost 10,000 Irish soldiers have served with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, and today that tradition of support for the mission continues with the presence of twelve members of the Irish police service, An Gárda Síochána, serving here presently. I was pleased to meet with them on Monday and to thank them for the work that they do here representing not just Ireland but the United Nations. 
As a nation which has known division and tension, Ireland is well equipped to understand the complexities of the circumstances here in Cyprus. I am immensely proud of the work carried out by the Irish women and men who have served here, and of the genuine bond they have helped to create between our two peoples. 

Yesterday, I paid a visit to the Committee on Missing Persons where I learned of the devastating impact that the question of “the missing” continues to have, and the efforts of the Committee and its staff to heal this wound and support bereaved families. I commend their work and hope that it will be possible for them to eventually bring a measure of peace to all those who have suffered the added pain and loss of the remains of their loved ones continuing to be lost or unidentified.

As small countries, both Ireland and Cyprus not only value the international, multilateral rules-based system that emerged from the great wars of the twentieth century, but we both are active participants in the multi-lateral institutions.

Just three weeks ago, I had the honour to attend the United Nations General Assembly and deliver Ireland’s national statement to the United Nations’ leaders. I used this address to highlight the need for urgent action to tackle the multiple crises of our time that require multilateral engagement: ecological, humanitarian and democratic.

During my time in New York at the United Nations, I was also delighted that Ireland co-hosted (with Fiji) an important summit on Small Island Developing States that focused on reviewing progress on the SAMOA (SIDS Accelerated Modalities Of Action) Pathway.

Small islands, as we all understand only too well, are inherently vulnerable. This vulnerability has left island communities and low-lying coastal communities open to, not only the forces of nature but, often in considerations of strategic location that ignored their peoples, to the ravages of expansionist and acquisitive empires. 

Today the shared island experience is happening within a context of a financialised global economy with its specific pressures, ecological threats that are now perilous from climate change and its consequences damages to our ecosystem which are largely sourced in what are described as ‘developed countries’. 

In facing these new challenges, I believe that a shared, concerted, determined strategy within the multilateral institutions and in diplomatic practice is vital and I am confident that the SAMAO Pathway will play a significant part in mobilising investment in climate change mitigation and adaptation measures for Small Island Developing States. 

More broadly, a major step-up in climate change ambition is now required if we are to have any realistic hope of mitigating the worst effects of global warming, some of which we are already witnessing. 

The time for debate has long passed. The science has been unequivocal for at least two decades. We require more stringent, globally agreed targets on emissions, of course, but we must also use the tools of environmental taxation, which are based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, so as to properly price the use of natural resources, including through carbon pricing, to create the correct incentives so that all of us can play our part in severing our unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels, reducing our carbon footprint, purchasing more sustainable, ethically produced goods, and facilitating investment in a climate-resilient economy.

In the history of the UN, it has often been the nations with the smallest populations which have been the ones that have performed as partners in advancement of the common good, the needs of humanity that transcend all borders. 

The UN flourishes when such voices are heard. A UN that confined the debate on the moral purpose of its Charter and its execution to discussions and decisions at the General Assembly and then cynically proceeded to ignore those voices of the world, voices that define the very purpose of the UN, would quickly and understandably lose credibility in the world for the UN. We must safeguard the UN from such a fate of impotence. 

The UN General Assembly and its decisions must never be dismissed in favour of the pursuit of the unrestrained, and so often threatening, interests of the strong. When the UN turns its focus to creating a transformative agenda, as it did through the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda, member states such as Ireland and Cyprus are called upon to lead. 

Principled countries with small populations, such as our two nations, have the ability to work together to build consensus and support, based on identifying the collective good and rising above any narrow priorities based on self-interest or impulses to dominate, control a discourse that must, after all, be a discourse of the many.

The wider context in which the UN has had to function is one of a trade-driven globalisation informed theoretically and in policy terms driven by a hegemonic single model of connection of economy and society, with ‘development’ being used as a conduit for the singularity of such a position. 

I have been arguing for the need to exit from this failing paradigm, for a scholarship that facilitates, even allows, a new paradigm. It is not simply a matter of putting an ecological or social veneer on what now prevails. We have to strive for a new symmetry between ecology, economy, society, one that respects diversity in all its forms, while sharing a consciousness of what we must do together, co-operatively. 

Should we choose this path, and I believe it an urgent matter for us, we will face opposition from those who believe in unregulated hegemony for market forces. If we fail, however, it is to elected representatives that the publics will bring their wrath. We simply have to address the growing realm of non-accountability by economic forces that know neither borders nor restraint. 

I believe that quality of life cannot be measured simply in terms of resources, accumulation, and consumption; instead, we must consider our relationship to, or ‘resonance’ with, the world, not as we would wish to use or indeed abuse it, but ask how we are taken into that world, how it takes us in and with what joy or pain. 

This concept of resonance, so eloquently articulated by scholars like Hartmut Rosa, is a concept that the youth of today understand only too well. Young people like Greta Thunberg are spearheading a new movement, one rooted on a paradigm shift to an ecological-social model, as advocated by Professor Ian Gough and others, the widespread adoption of which is not only an important gesture towards intergenerational solidarity, it is our only hope as a global people to avoid ecological and social catastrophe. 

The prevailing neoliberal model has failed us all and has resulted in increasing inequality and ecological peril. 

In the time before the advent of our prevailing economic paradigm, I myself had hopes of the emancipatory power of humanistic social science. I could not have foreseen the influence of the second coming of the ideas of free-market theorists, or the influence they would have, not only on theory, but on public policies that would be privileged in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere in the 1980s and 1990s, not as policies chosen among competing options, but as a single hegemonic version of the connection between markets, economy and society itself.

Decades of Keynesianism have given way to decades influenced by the theories of those such as Friedrich Von Hayek and Milton Friedman, to unrestrained, unregulated market dominance and a communications order with a discourse that ‘privileges’ aggressive individualism. 

A prevailing, largely uncontested paradigm has emerged which has consequences for us all, our institutions, and indeed our democracies. It is a paradigm that makes assumptions and demands regarding the connection between scholarship, politics, economy, and society – indeed the inter-relationship of societies. 

This paradigm has gained strength and encouraged an individualism without social responsibility, within and beyond borders. It not only asserts a rationality for markets but, in policy terms, has delivered laissez-faire markets with inadequate regulation and enforcement. Its colonisation of language itself, distortion of concepts, even emancipatory ones, has assisted in the concept of ‘freedom’ being re-defined in a reductionist manner to ‘market freedom’. Humans’ value is, thus, debased and reduced to their economic worth. 

Consequently, the public world must now become, as it was so often before in human history, a space of contestation, a space that sets that which is democratic in tension with that which is unaccountable. As we live through this period of seeking an exit from extreme individualism, a period where the concept of society itself has been questioned and redefined narrowly and pejoratively, when the public space in so many countries has been commodified, we must come together in co-operating and encouraging the merging of the consciousnesses of ecology, human need, dignity, respect for sources of truth and consolation, reasoned and revealed. 

We must combine in multi forms of co-operation for that recovery of the public world, informed by the music of the heart as much as by the partial suggestions of ratio. That is what ancient systems from our earliest civilisations invite us to do, as Cyprus, with its rich and ancient civilisation, knows well. 

It would be remiss of me not to turn to another common feature shared by Ireland and Cyprus, that we are both diasporic peoples, with migration and exile a key feature of our interesting histories. Over the generations we have often left our island homes whether by choice or compulsion. Our emigrants went to the same countries as yours, to Britain, the United States and Australia among others. Their contribution to their adopted homes was immense. 

To illustrate the extent of the Irish migration experience, by 1901, more Irish people were abroad than were on the island of Ireland. Today, Ireland’s diaspora is said to number over 70 million. Our nation’s history contains many tragic reminders of the desperate plight of migrants fleeing our own country. 

It is this relatively recent chapter in our own story as a nation that gives us Irish a resonant empathy with the plight of those forced to leave their home countries, a particular understanding of the challenges faced by those forced to flee their homes due to conflict and war, or economic need. 

Europe has, for many decades, been a leader in championing the rights of refugees and, since 2008, has processed approximately 6 million asylum applications. It is clear, however, that the rise of populist political ideologies that are based on fear, division and exclusion – with the excluded often being abandoned to become the prey of xenophobes and racists – presents a major threat to European solidarity. 

I agree with the recent words of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, whom I had the pleasure of hosting in Dublin in June this year: only if Europe is strong and unified will Europeans be able to deal with refugee and migration issues in a principled, practical and effective manner. 

It is clear to me that if we enable and promote a reciprocal sharing of cultures and ideas, as well as forging multiple symbioses, the cultural diversity that follows will bring with it innovation, opportunity, dynamism and creative energy that enriches our society.

Solving the migration crises is a complex task and will require substantial foreign aid to the affected countries to promote good governance and the rule of law, improve security, and reduced poverty and inequality. Investment in affected regions can mitigate violence, corruption, and poverty over the long term, especially when it builds on civil society groups’ existing initiatives. 

Recent threats to cut off aid to those countries whose governments fail to stem unauthorised migration would achieve the opposite result and make the future status of programmes already in place uncertain. Aid should not just focus on the areas where people are fleeing. It also must be directed at places where people are staying, either voluntarily or involuntarily, and shore up relevant institutions. We need a global fund to anticipate, manage and respond to global migration with regional instruments with capacity to anticipate and respond.

We now require actions that address structures that are the sources of global poverty, conflict and involuntary migration. Actions on climate, migration, cohesion and broader development are urgently needed. We must, in the short term, restore funding for humanitarian response. However, humanitarian actions must not any longer be allowed to serve as an alternative sufficient response to crises that are political and structural in their origins. Humanitarian action is not a substitute for the crucial political dialogue and mediation that must address structural change.

May I thank you again for your warm welcome today, and wish you all well in the important work that you do in this House as parliamentarians and representatives. 

Thank you. 

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.