To mark 50 years of Ireland's EU Membership, the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola visited Dublin and addressed a joint session of the Oireachtas. In her speech, she said that together we have come a long way, but there is some way to go yet.
© European Union | The President of the European Parliament addressing the Oireachtas in Dublin, Ireland
Honourable members of the Oireachtas,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for having me here today. It is an honour to be in Dublin’s Fair City, representing the European Parliament, fifty years after Ireland joined what was then still the European Economic Community.
We’ve come a long way together in five decades. From joining the Single market to joining the Euro, from helping to broker a peace, to securing a Northern Ireland protocol. From opportunities to trade, travel and study, to working to ensure social justice, respect for the rule of law, fundamental values and rights to live in dignity and safety.
These European ideals are Irish values. The EU is not some far away entity deciding for you. It is you. Ireland is Europe. Europe is Ireland. There is no decision that is taken without you.
Dublin, Cork, Galway, are the heart of Europe. When 10 people lost their life in Creeslough, we cried with you. When journalists, like Veronica Guerin, are killed for speaking up, we share your outrage and your determination for justice. When Ireland faced uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, your position was our position. We went through all of that together and we will stay together.
I was told that 50 years ago, Irish married women were not allowed to work in the public service. It would have seemed inconceivable then, that a woman - least of all, one born on an island in the middle of Europe’s Southern sea - would stand before you here today. That is part of what Europe can do. Of how it can be transformational. Of how it can be the leveller we need it to be.
We have come a long way. But there is some way to go yet.
Europe is not only about funds for Irish farmers, cohesion, digitalisation, recovery, infrastructure, roads or clean tech. It is about a fundamental understanding that when we do things together, it benefits us all. It is about a shared destiny. A shared future.
We have different languages, histories, cultures, traditions, beliefs, abilities, but we share common values that are the foundation of everything that we do. The beauty of unity in diversity.
That great European Irishman, John Hume, - once said “Difference is the essence of humanity. Difference should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”
Europe is not a homogenous bloc. It does not seek to make everyone the same. Europe is about trying to ensure equal opportunities. About “levelling up”. About ending intergenerational cycles of struggle. About the quest for real peace.
And there are few places in Europe where that message is as important and as well understood as in this great country.
For 343 days now - Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of sovereign, independent Ukraine and the bravery of Ukrainian people - remind us that progress and justice cannot be taken for granted. Democracy cannot be taken for granted. Europe cannot be taken for granted.
In the face of destruction, devastation and death, the Irish people continue to show solidarity in helping over 70,000 displaced Ukrainians.
Irish people have a long history of showing empathy. Of caring. Of standing up.
And for that example to the world I thank you. Maith sibh.
Because the Europe we want for the next 50 years is a Europe that cares, a Europe of real peace, a Europe of justice.
So we will keep standing with Ukraine in 2023, and for as long as it takes.
The European Union will continue to support Ukraine with financial aid, humanitarian aid and financial assistance, military support and practical solidarity.
I also wanted to thank the Irish across the country for their continued support for the European Parliament’s Generators of Hope campaign, to source electrical generators that allow essential facilities in Ukraine to keep running: in hospitals, schools, shelters and more.
Because this country cares - you have proved that empathy is a sign of strength, time and again.
Former US President, Barack Obama said it well when he said: “Yours is a history frequently marked by the greatest of trials and the deepest of sorrow. But yours is also a history of proud and defiant endurance. Of a nation that kept alive the flame of knowledge in dark ages; that overcame occupation and outlived fallow fields; that triumphed over its Troubles –- of a resilient people who beat all the odds.”
He was right. The story of Ireland is one of beating the odds, of struggle, sacrifice, defiance and emerging stronger - lessons Europe will need to draw on, to face the year ahead.
Because, make no mistake, we are living in times of polycrises. War, energy scarcity, electricity prices spiking, cost-of-living increases and inflation wiping value off assets, interest rates impacting government borrowing and housing markets, scarcity of raw materials and a global food shortage one short port blockage away.
This, framed in the context of our still ongoing recovery from the pandemic, the climate emergency, and living through increased economic pressure from East and West, which is impacting our competitiveness.
This has meant families struggle to stretch their wages to the end of the month. It has meant increased social pressure, people in Europe having to choose between feeding their children and heating their homes. It has meant increased homelessness and hopelessness.
The challenges are clear, but I know that we can meet this moment head on.
No country can afford to go-it-alone. It is only together, that we can bring back economic growth and find answers to the questions people ask of us as their representatives.
And the European Parliament’s job is to help provide the European regulatory framework for these challenges to be met. To show that we can save jobs, create new economic niches, modernise and address climate change at the same time. That is what the Next Generation EU funds are about.
We need to help our businesses and our industries to compete. We can resist the temptation of over protectionism but they need to have: a level playing field, predictability and trust.
That is how we can keep attracting investment and industry to Europe. We can learn from Ireland’s remarkable macro-economic recovery, and from how you have dealt with the challenges of Brexit.
Ireland will have a central role to play in addressing challenges ahead, all the more so, since the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU. Something the European Union regrets; but respects, as a democratic choice of a majority of British people.
Let me say that the European Union has not wavered in its solidarity with Ireland, and that it is with civility and respect for the rule of law that the European Union and the United Kingdom will pursue their relationship.
And we will not leave your side.
After 50 years, Ireland continues to be an avid European Union team player, supportive of a European Union of values that strives for more equality, justice and care.
One-day, after St Brigid’s Day, there is no doubt, in this country, that care matters. And healthcare must be accessible to all. During the pandemic, the European Union stepped-up and led on health care. We were steadfast in securing vaccines and ventilators for all people in all Member States. Now we need to go further and create a real Health Union. That is the best way that we can honour the unsung heroism of front-line workers and caregivers here in Ireland and around Europe.
Social justice is high on the agenda of Irish Members of the European Parliament. And let me say here that Irish MEPs have led the debate in Europe on mental health, the environment, gender equality, agriculture and farming, fighting domestic violence and femicides, and so much more. Ireland has led.
I know that the European Parliament has had a difficult few weeks, but I am confident that we will fix our systems and re-build trust. I would have of course preferred the world’s attention to be on the great work that Members of the Parliament do every day. On the agreements that we’ve reached on climate, on migration and asylum, on energy, on funding and support for Ukraine; on what we’ve done to protect the rule of law and strengthen our value-based approach.
As your Taoiseach said a few weeks ago, the European project is a super power of values. We should not forget that. It is important to remind people what Europe is all about, and help them re-capture the sense of hope and optimism in our European project.
Next year the people of Ireland will be called upon to vote for their representative in the European Parliament. My appeal - to young Irish in particular - is: choose. Vote. Your vote matters more than you can imagine. Your voice matters more than you know.
Europe is not without imperfections or frustrations. I share many of them. I think we have to be honest about our failings as much as our successes. There is much that we can improve together. And we are determined to do what is necessary.
Be part of that conversation, do not give in to the comfort of easy cynicism, peddled by those who say nothing has ever changed.
They are wrong. The last fifty years proves that.
And for Ireland in Europe and for Europe in Ireland I know that the next fifty years will be a remarkable success story.
Because Ireland is Europe and Europe is Ireland.
The President's speech in Irish can be read here.