Statement to the Media By President Higgins, Ambassador’s Salon, Presidential Palace, Beirut
Date: Thu 17th Oct, 2019 | 12:35
Statement to the Media By Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland
Ambassador’s Salon, Presidential Palace, Beirut
12:35pm, Thursday 17th October 2019
I am delighted to be here again, which is my second visit as President to Lebanon. Hospitality is a trait for which Lebanon is well known, and I would like to thank you for the wonderful welcome you have given to me and my wife Sabina, to Minister Kehoe and to the accompa-nying delegation.
We have just concluded a very useful meeting in which we were able to continue the discus-sion we started in New York at the end of September.
Historically, Ireland and Lebanon have much in common. We are both countries of small size and with relatively small populations which have come through a period of colonisation, have experienced internal strife, destructive sectarianism, and know the story of emigration, exile and dispersal of our people throughout the world. These are themes which I believe can bring us even closer together.
The bilateral relationship between Ireland and Lebanon is strong, forged by these common experiences. The passage of so many Irish soldiers through Lebanon in United Nations Ser-vice, some 70,000 individual tours of duty, means the names of villages and towns in south Lebanon are familiar to Irish ears. The affection and empathy of Irish people for Lebanon is very real and I believe is quickly discovered by Lebanese people when they travel to Ireland.
As a young political science student, the constitutional texts and achievements of Lebanon were high on the syllabus, and rightly so. Lebanon has a great reputation for the values of plu-ralism, tolerance and openness. This is reflected in the generous welcome which has been ac-corded to refugees from the Syrian conflict over a period of several years. We know this has not been easy, and you must not be left to stand alone in carrying this responsibility.
Ireland has contributed more in humanitarian aid to the crisis in Syria and the region than to any other single crisis. In addition, Ireland has offered refuge to almost 1,700 Syrians who first sought asylum in Lebanon.
We believe these people will add to Ireland’s cultural social and economic experience, creat-ing an interwoven tapestry of rich cultural heritages, all of which are playing a vital part in our shared identity.
We of course recognise the wider challenge of sustainable economic development faced by Lebanon and are available to cooperate with new and existing projects.
Ireland is keen to support to the fullest extent possible the efforts of the Lebanese Govern-ment to create a vibrant economy which will be compatible with efforts to address climate change, ensure sustainability and provide the social cohesion that is required for long term stability. We have seen everywhere the spirit of enterprise and innovation of the Lebanese diaspora which surely can be replicated here at home. Ireland stands ready to share its own experience of economic development, including through harnessing the talents and experience of the diaspora.
A very important dimension of the bilateral relationship between Ireland and Lebanon is the long-standing Irish commitment to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Peacekeep-ing is a vital part of Irish foreign policy and our commitment to this region stretches back over 60 years, to the very first Irish UN peacekeeping deployment.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon remains the largest Irish peacekeeping mission. The fact that 46 Irish soldiers have died in this Mission adds a very poignant bond between our De-fence Forces and this land. We will continue providing this contribution to Lebanon’s peace and security, regarding as we do peacekeeping as an essential element of our humanitarian efforts.
President Aoun and I had the opportunity to further discuss the establishment of the Acade-my for Human Encounters and Dialogue at the UN General Assembly this year. I know he is personally committed to the initiative which will provide a vital forum in promoting peace and understanding internationally. Ireland was delighted to co-sponsor the establishment of this Academy.
Finally, President Aoun, I would like to thank Lebanon for its commitment to support Ire-land’s candidature for the Security Council in 2021-2022. As a small country, we all are so aware that we must rely on an international rules-based order. We are deeply committed to taking multilateral approaches to the many global challenges we face. We have served on the Security Council in the past, and have always taken principled positions, upholding interna-tional law, peace and security, and human rights and dignity. If elected, we will do so again.
Arís míle buíochas is gach beannacht ort agus ar muintir na Líobáin.