Toast by President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins on the occasion of the State Dinner hosted by President Steinmeier and Mrs. Büdenbender
Schloss Bellevue, Berlin, Germany, Wednesday 3rd July 2019
Your Excellency President Steinmeier,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your warm words of welcome and for the invitation to visit Germany this week. I am particularly pleased to be joined on the visit by the Tánaiste and Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland, Simon Coveney T.D.
I have greatly enjoyed this first day of the visit in Berlin. I appreciated the wide-ranging and important discussions we had as well as my dialogue with Chancellor Merkel and with the Governing Mayor of Berlin.
Ireland and Germany are bound together through long historical, cultural, and economic ties and through our shared membership of the European Union. These enduring ties are of importance to both of us.
There are many great names in our past and in our present stretching from well more than a thousand years ago down to the present day. All are part of the rich material through which we know one another as countries and as people, and today we are closer than at any time in our history.
A random selection from the many personalities that have been part of our relationship reveals a wonderful richness and variety:
I think of Kilian, Patron Saint of Franconia, who came from Co. Cavan in the seventh century; Georg Friedrich Händel, who premiered his Messiah in Dublin in 1742; the colourful and controversial Lola Montez, the Sligo woman, dancer and King’s mistress who caused mayhem in the Bavarian court in the 1840s; the writer, pacifist and ‘First Lady of Munich’, Annette Kolb, whose 1912 novel The Specimen was partly set in Ireland; sculptor Imogen Stuart, Berlin-born but based in Ireland since 1951, and whose work has become an integral part of our island’s built environment; Heinrich Böll whose “Irish Journal” of 1957 has had an unparalleled impact on German perspectives on Ireland; Elizabeth Shaw, the Irish woman whose children’s classic, The Small, Scared Hare, published in 1962, was beloved bedtime reading by children in the former East Germany; and not forgetting U2 who, inspired by German reunification, recorded the classic Achtung Baby album in Berlin in 1990.
Today we are reminded that, as before, it is through our people and our culture that we have come to understand, and will understand, one another best.
2019 is the 90th anniversary of Irish-German diplomatic relations. Over the decades we have forged a relationship which has grown stronger and deeper with each passing year.
While we speak a different language, we share values and principles which allow us to speak with a resonance and respect, not only on the fundamentals we agree, but on the nuanced differences we can equally discuss. We stand together as active and proud members of the European Union.
While I do not wish this evening to focus on the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, a decision with profound consequences for Ireland, it should not be either avoided or evaded. I would like to acknowledge the very strong EU solidarity which has been shown to Ireland at this difficult moment. It has been a very tangible reminder of the value of us being together and staying together in Europe to continue to defend, maintain, improve and promote the core values on which the Union is founded: democracy, cohesion, shared prospects, human rights and the rule of law.
Our shared commitment is present in our approach to the multilateral institutions. We are deeply committed to the United Nations and the values of multilateralism which we are determined to uphold in its institutions in what are challenging times.
I look forward to us working together to achieve cohesion within and between the members of our European Union and, if it will bolster efforts, having an exemplary role in responding to global issues, such as responding to climate change and achieving sustainability.
We share a belief in protecting the vulnerable, in the essential nature of human rights, in the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and in the need to build a better world.
The desire to be part of the effort for a better world is shared by the young people of both our countries. They seek to be part of the solution to the many conflicts and challenges in our crisis-stricken globe, to experience hope, a path forward.
Of these challenges and crises we face and which I have mentioned, perhaps the greatest in terms of its existential impact, relates to climate change. I know that Germany has taken steps to address anthropogenic climate change since the mid-1980s, starting with your participation in the international negotiations of the Montreal Protocol. Just two weeks ago, the Irish Government launched a comprehensive whole-of-Government Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown, demonstrating Ireland’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis.
While the EU has imposed binding emissions’ targets for 2020 and 2030 on all its Member States, I suggest we must now go further in Europe and plan for full decarbonisation of our economies by 2050, encouraging the rest of the world to follow suit, and urging in the strongest possible terms those who have not signed the Paris Accord on Climate Change, or indeed those, such as the USA, who have decided to exit from the agreement, to re-consider their decision.
A radical shift to a new economic paradigm in a decarbonised world, an eco-social political economy perspective, is required to achieve what we have agreed as principles.
In dealing with socio-economic consequences of climate change, we must be conscious of the need for a ‘just transition’ for workers and communities to ensure that we are all part of a sustainable, low-carbon economy and benefit from decent and green jobs.
In Ireland and Germany, this will mean that those impacted by the closure of unsustainable electricity generation stations, for example, must be offered re-skilling opportunities to enable them to find suitable jobs in other areas, such as the green economy, or opportunities with sustainable incomes in other parts of society.
I know that you recently celebrated the seventieth anniversary of your Basic Law. It is a Constitution grounded in respect for human dignity and the inviolability and inalienability of human rights. I salute your continued adherence to and celebration of a constitution, which, to quote its preamble, takes its inspiration from, “the determination to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe”.
President Steinmeier, I want to acknowledge the crucial role you have played in fostering a continuing commitment to multilateralism and the peaceful resolution of conflict. As Foreign Minister you worked actively towards a vision of a better world. And as President, I know you have placed a high priority on understanding and highlighting our values as Europeans. I want to acknowledge your contribution – as both a philosophical thinker and as a politician – to the ongoing debate on the changing world order, and to the importance of values in international relations and cohesion in society.
At a time when core values are under threat, Ireland and Germany stand together, side by side, in defence of our shared values and our way of life.
I am pleased that during this visit I will have engagements in four different German states. I know that in Berlin I am only seeing a sliver of the true diversity of this country. It is a particular honour that tomorrow I will travel to Saxony, the first Irish President to do so in an official capacity – indeed the first Irish President to officially visit any part of the former East Germany outside of Berlin.
This visit will be an opportunity for me to reflect on the Leipzig protests some thirty
years ago and on the enormous achievement that is the process of German
reunification. We in Ireland understand the removal of borders and the challenges
and complexity of overcoming old divisions; this is a task which does not end, and
there is much we can continue to learn from one another.
This evening we celebrate our existing links, but I hope that this visit will be the start of an ever-more diverse, ever stronger and ever-growing Irish-German relationship.
Celebrating all that we have been sharing and will share in friendship and ever closer relations 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 Steinmeier and Mrs Büdenbender,
To the happiness and prosperity of the people of Germany;
To the continuing friendship and affection between our two peoples.
Sláinte mhaith – Prost!
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.