France and Ireland must draw closer, says President
Ireland – Bilateral relations/European Union/fight against terrorism – Statements by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at his joint press conference with the Prime Minister of Ireland (excerpts)
Dublin, 21 July 2016
Attack in Nice/Irish response
Prime Minister, cher Enda, thank you for the welcome, first of all. It’s a long time since a French President has come here to Ireland.
Thank you for the words you spoke in French to express your sorrow, your grief, your solidarity regarding a tragedy, a tragedy that occurred in France, in Nice, and affected many nationalities – no fewer than 25 among the victims, dead and injured. It goes to show that while terrorism wanted to strike France because France is a country of freedom, it also struck the world, because terrorism makes no distinction between faiths, creeds and nationalities. That’s why we must all be united against terrorism. And when France was hit last November, as it had been in January 2015, I turned to my European partners. I asked them to support France in a number of operations to relieve the pressure on us and enable our territory to be even more strongly protected.
Ireland responded positively despite its status as a neutral country, despite the fact that Ireland isn’t a NATO member; as a fully-fledged member of the European Union, Ireland wanted to show solidarity with France, and I’ll never forget that; likewise, you haven’t forgotten what a French general did, and you often remind me of it.
We, Ireland and France, are in fact linked by culture, history and even language, because many young Irish people learn French today and because we in France host many students from Ireland under the Erasmus programme. Now Ireland also wants to be an observer member of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie [international Francophone organization], and we’ll be very happy to welcome it.
What’s just happened obliges us again to draw closer in terms of cooperation and defence; I talked to the Irish Prime Minister about this. It will be one of the elements of the impetus I want to give the European Union, particularly following Brexit. We must set outselves clear goals that people can understand. Defence, protection and security, including of our borders, are what European people expect, not to shut themselves off but, on the contrary, to be capable of opening up under secure conditions.
The other impetus we want to provide is to put investment, growth and employment at the heart of our policies. Ireland suffered greatly for a whole period; very brave decisions were needed, which were taken by the Irish government, to emerge from what was called the Programme – more quickly than was planned, incidentally – and put Ireland back on the path of growth, which is now almost a motorway. And so there’s everything we must do together to intensify and broaden investment efforts, particularly as regards young people. A lot of young Irish people are heading off all over the world, a lot of young French people are also coming here to invest or create in Ireland, and it’s those young people we must support; we must give them hope, and that hope lies in Europe.
Finally, because we’re members of the Euro Area, we have to ensure the governance of the Euro Area and make it more democratic; that’s what we’ll be discussing in Bratislava.
I’ve come to Ireland after Brexit, but there are no longer questions to be asked, only answers to give. The answer is that we must embark as soon as possible on negotiation with the United Kingdom to decide on the framework of the future relationship between the UK and Europe. It will no longer be in the European Union, but it will still be in Europe.
This evening I’ll be having a meeting with Mrs Theresa May, the British Prime Minister – who in the end was appointed earlier than was initially planned, when we spoke following the British referendum – and I’ll tell her again what I’ve already told her and am recalling here: namely, that the negotiations must begin quickly, i.e. enable the negotiations to be productive, and that there can be no discussions preceding the negotiations. From this point of view, Mrs Merkel and I share the same approach: we must begin the negotiations – the sooner the better – under conditions that must be established, so that decisions can then be made in everyone’s interest.
Brexit/Good Friday Agreement
I’m also conscious of the consequences Brexit may have on Ireland as well. We talked about this because Ireland, like France, is the United Kingdom’s neighbour, but an even closer neighbour than France. We’ve got the English Channel [between us], even though we’ve got a train. But you, you of course have a land border, and this is why you’re so committed to the Good Friday Agreement being safeguarded. And France understands and shares this position, because it’s very important for peace.
Freedom of movement/RTEEirgrid MoU
We also need to ensure the principles of free movement can be safeguarded. Anyway, the United Kingdom can’t have access to the internal market if the principles of free movement aren’t guaranteed and respected.
We, Ireland and France, also want to draw closer together, which was also the aim of the agreement we concluded between our two companies, RTE and its Irish counterpart EirGrid. Why? Because we want there to be major infrastructure networks, we want to be able to move things around on them – in this case electricity – as much as possible, but also full use must be made of all transport routes to bring our two countries even closer together.
I want to end on what is also our, Ireland and France’s ambition. We each have a history, and this history is one of freedom, independence and sovereignty. These words have meaning and significance here: freedom, independence, sovereignty.
But we don’t see these values, these principles, which are so dear to our two peoples, as a means of closing ourselves off, cutting ourselves off, but, on the contrary, as an ability to exert influence in the world.
Ireland exerts its influence through all its generations who have gone out into the world, precisely to carry this message of freedom. France has done this too, which is why there’s always been this very special bond between France and Ireland, and I want to intensify it further with this visit.
I’ll return again to Ireland because I haven’t been able to do the whole of the scheduled trip, due to the tragedy on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. But I wanted to hear what the Prime Minister, what the Irish people said and I’ll pass this on to the French people. Thank you. (…)./.