Minister conveys "message of optimism" for Franco-Irish relationship
Ireland – Joint press conference given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Mr Simon Coveney, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and Mr Thomas Byrne, Irish Minister of State for European Affairs – Preliminary remarks by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian
Dublin, 20 May 2021
Clément Beaune and I are very pleased to be here, and also to be the first European ministers to visit Ireland in over a year. We’ve wanted to pay this visit for a long time, as soon as it was possible. I told Simon this. And that moment has arrived.
We’re in what is becoming an agreeable period with small, gradual easings of lockdown restrictions happening in both France and Ireland. I think Clément and I are very pleased to be here. Clément first because he has memories of being a student here, and earlier we went on a pilgrimage to the place where he studied. And I think he was very moved. And then me, because I have some Celtic roots in common with the Irish. As it happens – Simon knows this –, at one point in my life, when I was mayor of my city, Lorient in Brittany, I met the Mayor of Galway, who has since become President of Ireland. Back then when he was Mayor of Galway, we organized the twinning of Galway and Lorient. So it’s really quite moving to be meeting later under new institutional arrangements. At any rate, France has a very strong relationship with Ireland, and I was even told that during the operation in Bantry Bay in 1796, General Hoche arrived from Brittany. So there’s a whole history.
We’re very pleased to have also been able to visit Dublin Port earlier. Clément Beaune and I thought the visit was very interesting. We saw how direct sea links have developed with France – you referred to this – and also how customs and health checks for goods coming from Britain have been put in place. All this, in a way, led us in the end to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
But what’s essential are the two messages we’ve come to convey here. Firstly a message of optimism for the Franco-Irish relationship. We’re now your nearest European Union neighbour. I think we can build a relationship between our two countries commensurate with our affinities, our interests, our cultures and the values we promote together in Europe and the world.
And we’re also going to adopt a political declaration which will set out the framework for the relationship and for bilateral dialogue and promote relations and cooperation in every sphere – the economy, academia and science –, and I know particularly what very strong relations Trinity College maintains with French universities.
We’re also going to carry out this joint cooperation at European level. We’ll strengthen our coordination in anticipation of France’s European Union presidency, which starts on 1 January next year. I think we’ll have the opportunity, cher Simon, to approve our action plan, which we launched on 3 December when we saw each other in Paris. And I hope the action plan can be signed and approved when President Macron visits Dublin, at the invitation of Ireland’s highest authorities.
We’re also going to try to ensure, during the French presidency of the European Union, that our bilateral relations bolster our shared determination regarding Europe’s future and destiny, because we share the same determination, the same ambition practically all the time.
We also want to convey a message of solidarity and responsibility with Ireland, at what is a serious moment. Serious, because the pandemic isn’t yet behind us and Europeans must remain coordinated to come out of the pandemic. Coordinating our efforts, bringing them into line, and at the same time significantly stepping up our action to fight coronavirus in the rest of the world, because there will either be total immunity or there won’t. In this respect, I hope – since things are improving for us – that the Irish authorities might ease the constraints on travellers coming from France. I hope we can talk about this given that we’re making a great deal of progress as far as we’re concerned. And so the gradual easing of lockdown, I hope, will improve this situation.
Serious, because we’re confronted by serious international crises, and I’m obviously, of course, going to talk to Simon about the tragic situation in Gaza and the role of the Security Council, where we’re sitting side by side at the moment. And as you reminded us, we took initiatives yesterday to achieve a resolution allowing an immediate ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities, which is the starting point for everything which can happen afterwards.
Finally, serious, because, as we all know, a crisis is possible on this island and the spirit of responsibility can be lacking.
I want to be clear: respecting the Northern Ireland Protocol means much more than respecting the commitments made; respecting the Northern Ireland Protocol also means opting for peace.
Nevertheless, the UK is still an essential partner for us. We have much to do on many issues of common interest. It’s up to the British to tell us what they want on their side. And we’re ready to work together. I’ve already said this to our colleague Dominic Raab, last week.
Those are the basic points I wanted to make, whilst reiterating, dear friends, what a pleasure it is for us to be here. It’s always quite conventional to say in press conferences “it’s a pleasure for us to be here etc.” But in this case it’s really, completely true, because we also have a relationship not just of trust but friendship, which is going to be reinforced over the course of the meetings we’re going to have./.