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Address by Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (Continued)

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl] Indeed, the press dubbed you at the time the "Hero of Dublin" for achieving an unlikely consensus between the two. Those mediation skills and an ability to reach consensus will be much needed in the days, weeks and months ahead as we seek a solution which will benefit all.

Since the negotiations are now entering a particularly crucial phase, today's proceedings are timely and we appreciate the opportunity to hear your views at this important juncture. President Juncker, I now invite you join us in the Chamber to make your statement to this historic joint sitting of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

  Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, then delivered his address.

Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker: Mr. Speaker, Taoiseach, other Members, I have some difficulties in walking. I am not drunk; I have sciatica. I would prefer to be drunk. It is a real honour to be with you here today for this special joint sitting of the Houses. It is a particular honour for me that you have joined in order to listen, hopefully carefully, to what I intend to say.

Over the years, I have spent some emotional and memorable moments here in Ireland. I think of the crucial Dublin summit in December 1996 where we paved the way for the single currency with the Stability and Growth Pact. Since then, my second name is "Hero of Dublin" - I am doing something for the reputation of the city. I think of the "Day of Welcomes" in May 2004, when we gathered in the Phoenix Park to welcome ten new countries into our Union celebrating the moment where European history and European geography came together. On a more personal note, I think back to 2014 when, in Dublin, I was elected as the lead candidate for my party ahead of the European elections. On that day, I stood side by side with a certain Michel Barnier. We were running together, not he against me, not me against him, but I won. I am delighted that, four years on, we are back, Michel and myself, here in Ireland still standing together. He is a loyal friend to me, to our Union and to your nation.

Ever since it took its rightful place in our Union some 45 years ago, Ireland has acted like a founding member state and often more than some founding member states themselves. You have always sought the European approach, understanding that what is good for all in our Union is good for us all individually.

Ireland, itself, has come a long way in that time. It went from a small, mainly agricultural economy to a thriving Celtic tiger in the 1990s and in the 2000s and thanks to difficult, tough decisions following the crisis, the economy is now more than back on its feet. The crisis took its toll on citizens and businesses alike but together, you have managed to turn the country around. Growth is projected at 5.8% this year, the second fastest anywhere in Europe, and unemployment is set to drop to less than 5% next year. Ireland has become a pioneer of the digital world and is now a hub for some of the world's best innovators and entrepreneurs. This reflects just how much this country has embraced the modern world.

It is now the most youthful country in our Union with a median age almost ten years younger than that of Germany and Italy. It is the most optimistic country in our Union with the highest proportion of people with a positive image of the European Union anywhere in Europe. I have to tell the one who wrote this speech that the approval of the European Union is even higher in Luxembourg than in Ireland but they are always treating Luxembourg with benign neglect - that is the reason I had to complete what he or she has so well done.

Ireland is the most globalised country in our Union thanks to its open nature and high level of economic and social integration with the rest of the world and it is a country that is undergoing a more profound transformation with more than half Ireland's population not born at the time of the decision to join the European Union. The recent referendums on marriage equality and abortion reflect a deeper shift in societal views, a shift that would not have been contemplated even a generation ago. Both of these issues were approved decisively and clearly by the people. To quote George Bernard Shaw, "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." This sums up the transformation this country has undergone.

Perhaps the biggest change of all is that today's children can grow up in a peaceful land. That is, first and foremost, down to the people who live on this island but it is also true that this long and winding path to peace was greatly supported by European Union membership. From 1973 onwards, both Ireland and the UK worked together on European issues, dialogue returned, relations slowly started to thaw and over time, co-operation, compromise and mutual respect replaced suspicion, scepticism and mutual distrust. This is the European Union at its best, building bridges and working for peace and it shows what it means to be a member of our Union. It means agreeing to settle conflicts around a table rather than with arms. It means designing and abiding by rules to build trust and confidence between us. It means voluntarily pooling our sovereignty to make ourselves stronger. It means speaking with one voice in an increasingly volatile and unstable world and it means having the weight of 26 other partners united behind you when you need it the most. This is what Ireland can rely on, both today and in the future.

Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom. Two years ago this week, the British people made a sovereign decision to leave our Union. I wish they had made a different one but it is their decision and I respect it fully. However, other member states and Ireland in particular, should not pay the price for that choice. This is why, when it comes to Brexit, I have always said that it is a case of Ireland first. We have made much progress in negotiations, notably on issues linked to the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom, but we are not yet there. The hardest parts are still to do and there is not much time left to find a concrete agreement.

On Ireland, both sides agree on the main principles. There should be no return of a hard border. We need common rules to preserve North-South co-operation. Most importantly, this means the Good Friday Agreement should be preserved in its entirety - every line, every letter.

Twenty years ago, 94% of the people in Ireland and 71% in Northern Ireland endorsed this agreement. They voted overwhelmingly for peace and peace is what it has delivered, built on trust, fairness, equality, the rule of law and democracy. Whether one lives in Derry or in Donegal, the Border has been out of sight and out of mind for 20 years and that is how it must stay.

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