Dáil Éireann - Volume 378 - 18 February, 1988

Visit of the President of the French Republic: Motion.

The Taoiseach: I move:

That, to welcome His Excellency Francois Mitterrand, President of the French Republic, to Ireland and to mark his visit in a signal manner, a joint sitting of both Houses of the Oireachtas be held in the Dáil Chamber on Friday, 26 February 1988, and that the President of the French Republic be invited to address such joint sitting; that the proceedings at such joint sitting shall consist of a [312] speech by the Ceann Comhairle welcoming the President, the address by the President and a speech of thanks by the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad for the address; and that the time of such joint sitting shall be 3 p.m.

Next week the President of the French Republic, Mr. Francois Mitterrand, will visit this country in his capacity as Head of State of France. It will be the first ever visit to our country by a French President in office and I know that the entire House will wish to warmly welcome President Mitterrand and offer him all the honour and courtesy appropriate to his high Office.

The President will come here as the representative of a great nation that has contributed immeasurably to international advancement, and to the philosophy and culture of humanity. His visit will mark the unique and enduring realtionship between France and Ireland — a relationship that can be traced back to the beginning of European history.

Those early settlers who established in the Boyne Valley in Neolithic times and created there a vibrant culture whose traces can still be seen today are likely to have come from Brittany. From France, too, came the Celts or, at least, many of them and much later, the Normans — two waves of settlement that had a profound effect on the course of Irish history and the character of our race. Indeed so fruitful has been the intellectual, cultural and artistic exchange that it is difficult to think of a major Irish writer or artist who has not worked or studied in France.

In the political field France provided a refuge for Irish exiles during the most difficult moments in our history. It was there that members of Ireland's leading families fled in the 17th century after the collapse of the Gaelic nation; and later France provided a haven for thousands of our people who had been forced by penal legislation and persecution to seek refuge abroad. Many of these “wild geese” played a distinguished role in the armies of France from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. Many more went on to study at the great Irish colleges there [313] and subsequently returned to lead the Irish Church.

But France was more than a refuge. It was also a source of aid and, perhaps more importantly, of political ideas. The ideas of French republicanism were to endure and ultimately to succeed. The democratic republic that Ireland is today owes much to the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity developed in France 200 years ago.

Today, the relationship between France and Ireland is closer than ever. France is our fourth largest trading partner and an important source of foreign investment and tourist revenue. Our two countries are partners in the European Communities and share a joint commitment to the task of building a peaceful and prosperous Europe. In the week after a difficult but successful European Council, I can say that French and Irish interests proved once again to complement one another and that the Irish and French delegations worked together effectively and in a spirit of great understanding and friendship. We now look forward to co-operating further with France in putting into effect the decisions of the European Council and achieving the ambitious targets set out in the Single European Act.

President Mitterrand's visit will provide an opportunity to reflect on and further strengthen the links between our two countries and to celebrate a relationship that has endured over many centuries. His coming will be an honour and I believe it should be marked in a signal way by inviting him to address a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr. Dukes: I have the greatest of pleasure in agreeing with the Taoiseach's proposal that we welcome the President of the French Republic and do him the honour, and ourselves the pleasure, of having him address a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas. As something of a Francophile myself, and having more than a drop of Norman blood in my veins, I must say, a Cheann Comhairle, I am aware of the various links to which the Taoiseach has referred. At a time when [314] we are striving to build closer links and to bring about a greater unity within the European Communities, a visit by the President of the French Republic, which is after all one of the most powerful of the States in the EC and has been in the past one of the most powerful influences for the unification of Europe, I think at this time a visit of the kind proposed, all other things being equal, will be extremely welcome.

Mr. D. O'Malley: I am delighted to support his motion. Like all Members of the House, I welcome very much indeed this visit by the President of France, a country with whom this country has always had very friendly relations, not least since we joined the European Communities. I look forward to a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas, which the President will address.

Mr. Spring: On behalf of the Labour Party I would like to add our words of welcome to the motion in the Taoiseach's name. We are certainly very honoured that the Socialist President of France will be coming to Ireland and addressing a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas. No doubt the Taoiseach will have an opportunity of getting an insight into the cohabitation of socialists and conservatives in the French system. I am sure an interesting exchange can take place on many matters which affect both our countries. I trust that the French will also give our rugby team a warm reception in Paris on Saturday.

Mr. Dukes: Cohabitation confers some benefit.

Mr. Desmond: Do you want to put down an amendment?

Tomás Mac Giolla: On behalf of The Workers' Party I also wish to welcome President Mitterrand, the President of the great French Republic, with which we have had such long historic connections. We may have some reservations in regard to their foreign policy, particularly in the area of nuclear testing, but nevertheless [315] I think it is particularly appropriate that he should visit us this year as 1989 is the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution which had such a profound effect on Irish history. We unreservedly welcome President Mitterrand.

Question put and agreed to.