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President Higgins' Address to Media following a meeting with President of Latvia

Date: Mon 18th Jun, 2018 | 15:11

Thank you, Mr President, for a very warm welcome and thank you for your remarks, which are a very good summary of the two meetings we have had – the meeting between ourselves, and the  meeting which was attended by both of our officials.

I am absolutely delighted to be here, and to have the opportunity, as President of Ireland, to share part of the celebrations of your centenary. I wouldn’t want to have missed it.

If I may say a few words, because we discussed issues of culture and language, in our own language, which is 5,000 years old.

Tugann sé an-áthas dom a bheith I Riga inniu agus ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas ó chroí a chur in iúil don Uachtarán  Vējonis as ucht an fíorchaoin fáilte a d’fhear sé romhaim, roimh mo bhean-chéile Saidhbhín and rompu siúd atá ag taisteal linn.

I have just said in Irish that it is such a great pleasure to have been part of your celebrations and to have been able to share discussions not only about that which we share in our past experience – we both have dealt in our past with very strong neighbours for a very long time – but also what we share in relation to the future.

I want to thank you very much for your remarks just now. Ireland is deeply appreciative for your support and solidarity with us as we deal with the issues of, something we regret, and that is the exit of our nearest neighbours from the European Union.

We, after all, recall a great moment in 2004, when we had the Day Of Welcomes at Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of the President of Ireland, when we welcomed more members of the European family. Which enables me to say as well how strongly I agree with you, that the discussion on the future of the European Union must be one that is not initially a conversation between the strongest, and then later, as an addendum, includes all of the others. It must be a conversation that includes all of the members of the European Union.

In our conversations, as I said, we were able not just to discuss the challenges, but also the great opportunities of the future. In many ways, the smaller countries of Europe are in a very good position, to be able to take charge of new forms of connection between industry, ecology, economy and social justice, moving from what was a situation after World War II from a concentration on welfare to a concentration on well-being, and that enables us to do forms of economy in an entirely new way and to bring to the forefront, in the European Union, issues of sustainable development and responding to climate change. And that in turn can allow the European Union in itself to become a region that is giving global leadership.

It was such a pleasure, President, to be able to discuss how much we share, and the importance we both attach to matters of culture. It is so obvious to us and, again, in relation to our past experience for independence, and our acts of military gesture of 1916 and of political independence was preceded by a cultural revolution that invited people to have a sense of what it meant to be Irish.

Equally, bearing in mind just shortly after the great exodus following our Famine, that in 1901 more Irish people born in Ireland lived outside the island of Ireland than lived on the island of Ireland itself.

We share an interest in our diaspora. We also, and that is something that is very important, have the experience of being migrants and receiving migrant populations.

In relation to the other issues discussed, the forms of the economy that will be appropriate for the new Europe which is evolving is one that, of course, will have to be tested against its capacity to answer the questions in relation to sustainability, but very particularly in response to climate change. It means as well that the criteria in relation to the MFF, which now is a discussion that you correctly say is just opening up, will not just be a discussion associated with what you might call the industrial economies of the strongest, but it will also have to include criteria as to whether we are giving capacity to all of the 27 to enable them to take part in, let us say, the green economy and better connections between economy and ecology.

The Latvian community, we can never get a definite figure but all I can say is that they are most welcome and that they are making a most positive contribution to Ireland, and very particularly not just in relation to the economy but in relation to the fullest participation to the culture.

We appreciate very much your understanding, as we do the understanding of all our fellow members of the European Union, in relation to the particular issues that are created for us by Brexit. I think very particularly of our peace agreement, which is 20 years old, and which need our continual attention. In our discussion we had the opportunity to discuss what is involved when you set about the task of commemoration given the circumstances that both of us have. It requires being able to transact the past in such a way that the past is no impediment to your having a future of opportunities, but particularly a cohesive present.

Again and again, I think the discussion in Europe is now coming to a point at which we realise that if competitiveness and cohesion were of similar status in the Lisbon Treaty competitiveness took over, more or less to the point that the discourse on cohesion is insufficient, which has created difficulties in relation to reconnecting with the European street. All of our conversations in the future will require the privileging of cohesion and that will have implication for both investment, infrastructure and the necessary transfers between the strongest and the weakest.

I was delighted, Mr. President, that we can agree as well that a Europe of several speeds is not really the appropriate future for the Union but that we must all go forward together.

I very much look forward to, even in the brief visit that I have had, to walking in the old town, and of visiting your institutions, but may I say, Mr. President, that I have recommended that the best possible future that we can achieve now, together, is not just our students who have already gained from Erasmus, but  our teachers and scientists and technologists and others deepening our relationships, deepening the relationships between our third level institutions, both universities and technological, and I see the warmest, very fruitful possibilities in what I know is a friendship that will deepen and I hope that my visit contributes to it.

Thank you.