Media Library


Speech by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland on the occasion of a luncheon hosted by President Van Ber Bellen

Music Room, Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Wednesday, 6 April, 2022

Your Excellency President Van der Bellen, 
Frau Schmidauer,
Distinguished Guests 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A cháirde,

May I say how delighted my wife Sabina and I are to be here with you in the Hofburg and in the beautiful and historical city of Vienna.  

I am pleased to be joined by the Minister for European Affairs, Mr Thomas Byrne TD whom I know has an excellent working relationship with his Austrian counterpart, who joins us here this afternoon. 

Tréaslaím leis as an úsáid a bhaineann sé d’ár dteanga dhúchais in a obair.

Your Excellency, I greatly appreciated the wide-ranging discussions we had and welcome the opportunity for further engagements this afternoon.

Ireland and Austria have a deep and longstanding relationship that dates to at least the medieval times, with Irish missionaries having played important roles in Austrian education. 

Then, too, of course is the contribution made from the 17th century onwards by Irish political exiles, such as the Wild Geese and their descendants. Many served with distinction at the highest levels in Austria’s military, diplomatic and political office. 

The Irish-Austrian connection is a useful reminder of how our diverse European histories are interconnected, overlapping, but always subject to change and evolution.

Today Ireland and Austria share a common perspective on many issues at European level, including the importance we attach to the challenging but necessary work of envisaging the future of Europe in all its cultural diversity and the role of arts and culture in that task.

At an international level, as neutral countries, our shared values are evident in our support for multilateralism and the United Nations, our commitment to the pursuit of peaceful resolution of conflicts, and our respective records of involvement in UN peacekeeping. Our partnership has grown in strength, too, as leading voices for human rights and staunch advocates for disarmament.

As members of the European Union, it is with shock and horror that we look to the aggression that has been unleashed against Ukraine and its people. The humanitarian crisis resulting from Russia’s immoral, unjustified war against its neighbour demands a concerted European response. 

This return to war in Europe, such abuse by the powerful of its neighbour, the flagrant violations of the principals of the United Nations, bring into sharp focus our shared values, test our resolve, our solidarity, our common humanity.

Every glimmer of hope through diplomacy must be seized. We must not allow ourselves to be mired in militarism. These times, however challenging, are times for multilateralism and our international institutions. 

Our planet burns. Global hunger is rampant among those dispossessed by the effects of climate change. We are being distracted from so much that is important, including reaching our Sustainable Development Goals. 

As to our shared future and the cultivation of what might constitute a ‘mind of Europe’, we Europeans are challenged to define inclusively, to recognise diversity, be generous, genuinely international as to the outlines of the Union that we now seek. We must be authentic in our efforts to advance a critical debate on the future of European values. 

We must re-engage with the European street and do so with authenticity and courage. The European respect for culture, in its broad diversity as to source and expression, must be at the heart of our public discourse and our reclaimed public space on the European street. 

We cannot afford to squander this unique opportunity, as we set about rebuilding our societies and economies in the aftermath of the pandemic, to build on the vision of Spinelli, Schumann, Monnet and others, to construct a European Union that speaks to its citizens in their entirety, in the fullness of their possibilities, in their glorious diversity of origin and expression, a Union resolute in its vindication and protection of the most vulnerable, a Union that will offer a European-led transition to a just and sustainable future free from conflict.

Your Excellency, Ireland and Austria enjoy a rich history of cooperation and exchange in politics, the arts and education. Ours is an organic partnership which owes much to the deep personal ties between our peoples.  

In that spirit, your Excellency, please join me in a toast: 

To your good health, to the Republic of Austria and its people, and to the bonds of friendship between our two countries, and our peoples. May they deepen in conditions of peace and friendship.