Speech at the Reception for the Irish Community
Embassy of Ireland, Vilnius, Lithuania, 19 June 2018
Ar an gcéad dul síos, is mian liom mo buíochas a ghabháil libh as bhur fíorchaoin fáilte inniu. Is mór an pléisiúir dom féin agus do Saibhdhín a bheith anseo libh in Ambasáid na hÉireann inniu. Ganhaim buíochas chomh maith le Ambasadóir David Noonan, lena bhean Clíodhna agus lena pháistí atá tar éis saol chultúrtha, spóirt agus shóisialta an tír álainn seo a ghabháil chucu go fonnmhar.
It has been an honour to make this Official Visit to Lithuania in this, the centenary year of the re-emergence of Lithuania as an independent state. It is a reminder of the many historical experiences the Irish people have shared with the people of Lithuania: not only in our long and often difficult struggles for national freedom, but in our strong bonds with dispersed and diasporic national family and in our contemporary determination to create a sustainable future for our peoples.
We assemble today in a building that was itself a formative part of the most recent chapter in Lithuania’s path to self-determination. One floor above sits the former office of Vytautis Lansbergis, leader of the Sajudis movement which gave voice to the demand for the restoration of Lithuanian independence in the 1980s and the 1990s. The ground floor played host to the ‘Literatu Svetaine’ where Lithuanian thinkers dared to imagine a future of freedom, hope and possibility.
And here, in these offices, the Lithuanian Theatre Union defied Soviet censorship, often through an innovate employment of puppetry, encouraging Lithuanians to dream, and gave shape to a democratic future.
This building is an inspiration for all those who value the possibilities of an inclusive and democratic nationalism, and so it is wonderful that the Irish Embassy should be located in such a building as this. It is symbolic of so many of the ideals expressed by our own first Dáil Éireann, established ninety-nine years ago to ‘speak and act in the name of the Irish people’: the right to national self-determination; the right of a people to liberty in all its forms; and the vital importance of confronting oppression. It is a matter of pride to us that Ireland never recognised the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, and today both stand as equal partners in the United Nations and the European Union.
In every country I visit, time spent with the Irish community is one of the most important parts of my programme. You are in a very true sense the bridge between Ireland and Lithuania, the personification of the friendship that exists between the two countries. Over time, the connections that you make of family and friendship will bring Ireland and Lithuania closer together than any other kind of relationship could hope to.
I want to say also that although you are a small community, I value your company all the more. Though our history of emigration has often been a consequence of tragic circumstances, our diaspora is a matter of pride to us. You represent our people here in Lithuania, and in doing so demonstrate the very best of our characteristics, our compassion, our openness and our capacity for solidarity with others. May I then thank you for your engagement in Lithuania, and thank you for bringing pride to us in this country, on the other side our European continent.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.