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Statement following bilateral meeting with the President of Malta George Vella

Date: Thu 12th May, 2022 | 14:50

It is my great pleasure to make this State Visit to Malta, the first such State Visit by an Irish President to Malta since 2006. I want to express my deep gratitude to President Vella, and to Miriam Vella, for the warm welcome extended to me and my wife Sabina, and to my delegation this week.

President Vella and I have previously met on a number of occasions, most recently at the meeting of the Arraiolos Group of non-executive European Presidents in Rome last autumn, and I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to further renew our friendship today.

I am delighted that the accompanying Minister on behalf of the Irish Government is the Minister for Social Protection and Minister for Rural and Community Development, Ms. Heather Humphreys TD.

In our discussions today, President Vella and I touched on many of the challenges confronting us all at this critical juncture.

Ireland and Malta share a number of historical experiences from a rich ancient cultural heritage through to colonial times, the struggle for independence and now our shared endeavours as fellow members of the European Union and the United Nations.

Both of our countries have a commitment to active multilateralism. Ireland’s current membership of the UN Security Council will be succeeded by Malta. Our programmes are complementary and we will be helping each of other. I welcome all of the interaction between our two countries with regard to how States such as ours, with similar priorities in many respects, can make an important contribution to the work of the Security Council and ensure that crucial topics such as the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable, including the Small Island States, receive the attention they urgently need.

The recent figures from the World Meteorological Organisation emphasise how we are at a climate change crisis. There is now a clear responsibility to take the evidence and act; a moral, social and economic case for turning targets into urgent action. There is no longer any doubt about the science. Now it is an issue of survival, of human rights, justice and the protection of our citizens.

At this time, we are all of course particularly conscious of the continuing horrors taking place in the war in Ukraine. The loss of life, homes and property must be brought to an end. I have previously outlined in a letter to President Vella and our fellow members of the Arraiolos Group that neutral countries such as Ireland and Malta can play a key role in helping find a resolution to this terrible crisis.

As countries with a strong track record of positive neutrality, including our strong tradition of international peacekeeping, we must use our neutrality as an effective instrument for peace, and leverage all the multilateral channels available to us to push for an end to the Russian invasion and for the importance of a ceasefire, the opening of humanitarian corridors and a meaningful discussion on how to best ensure Ukraine’s security into the future.

The solidarity we feel with the people of Ukraine is reflected in our humanitarian assistance and support for refugees. Ireland will continue to work closely with our European partners to support people seeking safety from the war. I welcome the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive by the EU as a vital measure to protect those driven from their homes by this conflict.

More broadly, I am proud of the links between our Defence Forces including the training of close to fifty Maltese cadets in the Defence Forces Training Centre in the Curragh in Ireland. We have also gladly seen the deployment of Armed Forces of Malta personnel as part of the Irish Battalion to UNIFIL.

Similarly, I was pleased to learn of the mutually beneficial ongoing co-operation between our police, An Garda Síochána, and their counterparts here in Malta.

Ireland was proud to hold the Presidency of the European Union in 2004 when Malta acceded to the Union. Our shared membership of the EU provides us with many opportunities to cooperate and collaborate and represents the foundation stone for the progress and development we have both experienced since becoming Members.

Given the many challenges which we have collectively faced in recently year, I believe we are all acutely conscious that we are meeting at a crucial time in the history of the European Union.

The Conference on the Future of Europe has provided citizens across Europe with an invaluable opportunity to take stock of where we are as a Union and, crucially, what form of Union we wish to achieve and what its priorities should be. Ireland’s national programme of events was based upon our strong track record of engaging with citizens through our Citizens’ Dialogues and Citizens’ Assemblies.

As two island nations, our citizens have brought unique perspectives to the Conference process. It is vital that these contributions are reflected in the conclusions and programme of action to follow. The voices of citizens and parliamentary groups across Europe are central to the outcomes of this process.

Ireland is deeply appreciative of the consistent solidarity demonstrated by Malta to Ireland throughout the Brexit process, together with Malta’s understanding of our unique circumstances.

In the same vein, we have sought to the best of our abilities to demonstrate solidarity with Malta in relation to the considerable challenges it faces as a frontline State dealing with migratory pressures.

We have sought to learn from Malta and other Mediterranean countries on how we can assist. We have endeavoured to demonstrate our solidarity through participating in the important work on relocation and through welcoming to Ireland people who originally disembarked in Malta from search and rescue and other missions.

The migration crisis remains a major challenge, indeed a moral responsibility for Europe, and must be urgently addressed. Otherwise men, women and children of all ages and circumstances will continue to die making dangerous crossings into the EU.

Ireland fully supports EU efforts to approach the issue of migration in a comprehensive and holistic manner, including through cooperation with key third countries. We will continue to be a constructive participant and supporter of Malta in trying to find sustainable solutions, involving consensus among Member States and based on a balance of solidarity and responsibility.

While here in Malta, I look forward to my visit to the headquarters of the European Union Agency for Asylum, whose work remains more important than ever.

In terms of leadership on the international stage, I was also very pleased to learn from President Vella of his plans for the Arraiolos meeting in Malta later this year. This will be a timely opportunity to discuss key developments and challenges ahead for Europe and the wider international community. 

I will conclude by noting that the connections between our peoples are thriving. For example, higher education links continue to flourish, including through new Erasmus+ collaborations, signed in 2021 with the National University of Ireland, Galway, University College Cork, and with Waterford Institute of Technology.  Exciting new research links are also being developed through the Horizon 2020 project GoGreenRoutes involving the cities of Limerick in Ireland and Gzira (Guh-Zi-Ra) in Malta. I also note the connections being built between our film industries with a number of Irish films due to be screened in Malta this year.

With links such as these in mind, today I extended an invitation to President Vella and to Miriam Villa to pay their own State Visit to Ireland so we can build on what is achieved here in Malta this week.

My thanks once again to President Vella. It is a pleasure to make this State Visit to Malta and mark the strong and longstanding friendship between our two countries.