President receives H.E. Mr. Sergio Mattarella, President of Italy

Sun 19th May, 2024 | 19:30
location: Áras an Uachtaráin

Speech by President Higgins at a reception for H.E. Mr. Sergio Mattarella, President of Italy

Áras an Uachtaráin, Sunday, 19th May, 2024

Speech by President Michael D. Higgins at an Official Dinner on the Occasion of the Visit of the President of the Italian Republic, H.E. Sergio Mattarella

Áras an Uachtaráin

Sunday, 19th May, 2024

President Mattarella,
Distinguished guests,
Cari amici,
A cháirde,

Sabina and I are delighted to welcome His Excellency, Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic, to Áras an Uachtaráin, home of all Irish Presidents since 1938. May I also welcome President Mattarella’s daughter Laura who joins us this evening.  Tá fáilte mhór romhat araon. 

It is a great pleasure to be able to return the hospitality that my wife Sabina and I enjoyed in October of last year when we made an official visit to Italy during which time I participated in a meeting of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome. 

Sabina and I recall with great fondness that visit and the warm welcome that was offered to us both and indeed to the wider Irish delegation. 

I recall the warmth of your invitation, and appreciated it all the more for facilitating that to which it led – a very productive meeting with you, at the Quirinale, of having the opportunity we both took of discussing areas of mutual interest, including food security, the future of Europe, the return of war to Europe, the prospect of a renewed arms race with all its consequences for global poverty, migration, and we both welcomed the deep and meaningful bond between our two countries. 

We both share a public call for a ceasefire in the conflict in Gaza with its horrific losses of life, injuries and destruction of infrastructure.  The blocking of humanitarian aid to those starving, those trying to hold on to life in hospitals reduced to rubble, breaks every principle of International law.

The nature of your visit today is particularly significant in terms of those bonds, coinciding as it does with the transfer to Ireland of Lucan House, which since 1954 has served as the residence of successive Italian Ambassadors, as well as the inauguration of the Parco Italia on the Lucan House demesne which will be a beautiful recreational resource for West Dublin and beyond. That you and your delegation have travelled to Ireland to mark this significant moment is an honour I deeply appreciate.

The frequency and intensity of exchanges between our two countries are proof of what is a genuine, close and warm friendship between the Italian and Irish people: a natural affinity, a similar outlook, and a genuine ease within our relationship, this is one that is based on centuries-old social and cultural affinities and the movement of our peoples between our two countries.  

The cultural influence of a manuscript tradition was later to extend from Ireland, as our monasteries kept safe the ancient texts of antiquity, and Irish scholars from a monastic tradition went forth some centuries later to promote and sustain spirituality and education in the Europe of the Dark Ages.  

During this period, Saint Columbanus, that great European visionary whose legacy and reputation stretch far beyond Irish shores, founded the famous monastery at Bobbio. 

Saint Columbanus indeed is remembered and celebrated to this day for his work in the towns and villages surrounding Bobbio in the Piacenza Provence.

Irish people through the ages recall also the refuge that Rome offered to the great Irish chieftains O’Neill and O’Donnell when they arrived there as exiles in the early 17th century.  

As to the Italian community in Ireland, sometimes known as the ‘Irlandiani’, while it can trace its roots back to the sea and navigation, it is multifaceted.

For example, there were the many gifted Italian artisans who contributed to Irish architecture.   

Here in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin we have ‘The Pieta’ which we regard as a peace symbol, commissioned as it was during the War in 1948 as a symbol of gratitude for assistance to those affected by war. Its transport to Ireland was paid for by Italian residents in Ireland.

Among Italians of note who have contributed to our Irish lives there is widespread particular affection for Charles Bianconi, who set up Ireland’s first public transport system in the 19th century. 

Among a number of other and many distinguished contributors to Irish life are Joe Nannetti, who became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1906, and the National Gallery’s chief conservator, Sergio Benedetti, who discovered. ‘The Taking of Christ’, a lost masterpiece by Caravaggio in the Jesuits’ house of studies on Leeson Street in the 1990s and arranged for its cleaning and conservation.

From the 19th century in particular, Ireland and Italy shared an important common human experience, that of mass emigration. Our people forged many bonds as emigrants in the New World.  From such difficult beginnings grew communities whose achievements in their adopted lands in retaining a culture of origin, and being part of the making of the new one have been, for both our countries, a source of pride and inspiration. 

A special part of Irish life are the wave of Italians who came from the Frosinone region of southern Italy in the mid-20th century, many of whom have made a unique mark in the hospitality sector in Ireland enriching us with their Italian gelateria, fish-and-chip shops, and many fine ristoranti, and whose family names – Nico, Morelli, Fusco, and Caffola – have become synonymous with the Italian community here.

We benefit too from a rich academic and intellectual exchange, with many young Italians studying English in Ireland and others gaining valuable work experience in our economy. 

I was delighted to learn of the first Festival of Italian and Irish Literature taking place in Ireland in September of last year, and I am pleased that you had the opportunity to meet Italian studies students in Ireland on your previous visit to Dublin in 2018.

Irish history shows a deep appreciation, through all classes, of Italian culture and, for example, its music and opera.  Italians have taken to heart Irish culture. 

Ireland is honoured by the many Irish cultural festivals in Italy, whether it be the annual Film Festival in Rome, the James Joyce Summer School in Trieste, or the many Irish poetry and music festivals that take place every year, the initiative for which is led in many cases by Italians.

Italy has long become a home for many of our writers and artists. James Joyce himself found a home in Italy and, still today, a multitude of Joyce scholars and seminars have their home in Italy. 

My Presidency has a special relationship with the outstanding work of Professor Enrico Terrinoni who has made such a unique and important contribution to Joycean scholarship with the completion of the translation into Italian of Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake.

President, our countries continue to have much to share and continue to benefit from a mutually reinforcing relationship, one of cooperation and partnership that is based on shared values.

I have already mentioned migration, we in Ireland recognise the frontline role that Italy has played in receiving the hundreds of thousands who have fled Africa and the Middle East in recent years in search of refuge.

In all of our meetings together we have recognised that the achievement of peace is a task for which we both have a strong desire to make real. The price being paid for the failure of diplomacy, the arrival and continuation of all of the war and the havoc, the human suffering of war – be it Gaza, Ukraine or the many other regions of the world suffering the devastating effects of war and destruction – represents a great human failure. 

I know that we, as Heads of State, recognise that the great interlinked challenges and crises we face in our contemporary times – climate change, global hunger, poverty, displacement and war – can only be tackled through a recognition of their interlinkages, as well as a global recognition of our human interdependencies and vulnerabilities. 

The need for effective multi-lateral institutions – an issue that is central to the plenary meetings of the United Nations, later this year.

May I suggest, too, that our European Union is at its best and most effective when it speaks in the spirit of its founding Treaties and of peace, when it offers a clear vision of a shared future based on ecological responsibility, justice, social cohesion, inclusivity and peace.

I recall how often in my speeches on Europe at peace I have so often referred to the Ventotene Manifesto of Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi. Let us together in Europe and the world in these challenging times, recover the quest for peace, continue to work closely together to achieve such a harmonious future.

Celebrating all that we have been sharing and will share in friendship and the ever closer relations which will be assisted by this visit, may I now invite you all, distinguished guests, to stand and join me in a toast:

To the good health of President Mattarella and his family, 

To the happiness and prosperity of the people of Italy,

To the continuing friendship and affection between our two peoples.

Salute. Grazie mille.

Sláinte mhaith. Go raibh maith agaibh.