December 1, 2022
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD welcomes European Commission President von der Leyen in Oireachtas address

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has welcomed European Commission President von der Leyen, in an address at Leinster House.

The text of Teachta McDonald’s address is below-

– – –

Ireland is a proud European nation. 

In the New Year, we will mark fifty years since Ireland became a member of what was then the European Communities in 1973. 

Since then, it has been a journey. 

There have been many positive advances in areas like equality, workers’ rights and environmental standards and challenges in terms of growing militarisation, deregulation and privatisation.

But on this journey solidarity, fairness and a conviction that we can be strongest when we work together – to make a real, positive difference to people’s lives- has guided our greatest successes. 

I warmly welcome European Commission President von der Leyen here today. 

Through your work on the Commission you have been a good friend to Ireland and demonstrated your desire to work with Ireland towards these common goals.

This year, Europe has shown the power of its unity and its solidarity in standing squarely with the people of Ukraine. 

Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion has shocked the world. 

His illegal and unjust war must be stopped and the horror of the bloodshed end. 

In this time of crisis, Europe has come together in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they endure and resist this grotesque war. 

This solidarity has sent a powerful message to Putin that Ukraine is not alone— that Europe will stand up for what is right.

Recent years have also shown Ireland the importance of European solidarity as we weather the storm of Brexit.

There is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland. 

The people of the north voted to Remain in the EU, but were dragged out against their will by Britain- spearheaded by the Tories at the DUP’s urging. 

Throughout those years of fractious negotiations, the EU stood steadfast with Ireland and our determination to protect the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, a peace agreement which will be 25 years old next year and has transformed our island and showed that conflict can end and peace can triumph.

Prior to the Good Friday Agreement, British army checkpoints marked the border.

British military installations, built and reinforced from the 1970s onwards, were symbols of division and conflict.

The invisible border on the island of Ireland has now become the greatest symbol of peace.

There can never be any return to the hard border in Ireland and I welcome your forceful assertion of that reality here today, President. 

It’s important to acknowledge that the Good Friday Agreement is a diplomatic success not just for Ireland but also the European Union and for that we commend you and we thank you. 

The European Union has been a critical partner for peace, providing political and financial support leading to greater economic and social progress on an all-island basis.

I think it is particularly important to thank Michel Barnier and Maroš Šefčovič and their teams for their determination to hold steady on these crucial issues and defending peace and progress in Ireland. 

The EU’s solidarity remains essential as we continue to address the fall out of Brexit. 

Currently, the institutions in the north of our country lie dormant as the DUP continue their shameful boycott.  

Workers and families in the north pay the price of not having an Executive to work hard for them to deliver for them in the current cost of living crisis. 

It bears repeating that the Protocol is working and is necessary to protect the north from the damages of Brexit. It is supported by democratically elected representatives in the north and indeed across Ireland.

While issues around the implementation of the Protocol exist, they can be resolved through good faith engagement. 

We must see calm and clear leadership from those at the negotiating table. 

We listened to the words of the new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that he is committed to restoring the political institutions and resolving issues around the implementation of the Protocol. 

His words are welcome but they need to be matched by action and meaningful talks between the British government and the European Commission.

I know it is your fervent desire to engage constructively.

This is what’s needed, not sabre rattling and no more threats to breach international law.

The reality is that Ireland is changing and Brexit is responsible for some of that change. 

It was a very significant decision by the EU to state from the start of Brexit  – to our then Taoiseach Enda Kenny – that in the event of Irish reunification the north will automatically rejoin the European Union and the north’s citizens can become EU citizens once again.

This is a very important statement recognising that the Good Friday Agreement set out the next step on Ireland’s journey – the ending of partition and the holding of referenda on reunification.

The responsible thing for all of us to do now is to prepare for democratically, orderly, planned constitutional change. 

Just as the Commission played a key role in the peace process, I believe that the EU can play a positive role in the last length of the journey to Irish reunification, and a United Ireland within the European Union. 

We want to see the bridging of the gap on the democratic deficit. 

We want to see advances on workers’ rights, environmental protections, social justice, ethical trade, sustainable trade, research and developments, all areas in which we can make progress.

That will challenge the European Union but we must rise to that challenge.

The climate emergency is one of the biggest challenges facing our planet.

As we in Ireland work to secure a better, greener future for younger generations, we know that this solidarity is crucial in delivering the major changes that area needed to secure truly meaningful impact.

Through working together on these issues, we can deliver tangible and lasting change to our citizens’ lives. 

That is our vision for Europe.

We are an island nation, at once on the periphery of Europe and at its heart.

Our vision also recognises Ireland as a proudly neutral state.  To be Irish is to be from a small island, but it is also to be part of a powerful global family.

We are somewhat of an outlier as an EU state in that we were the colonised and not the coloniser.   

We have seen conflict, we have seen partition and we have seen occupation.

Speaking in this Chamber 35 years ago Australian former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke described this well when he said:

“Ireland is the head of a huge empire in which Australia and the United States are the principal provinces. It is an empire acquired not by force of Irish arms but by force of Irish character, an empire not of political coercion but of spiritual affiliation, created by the thousands upon thousands of Irish men and women who chose to leave their shores, or who were banished from them, to help in the building of new societies over the years.”

In an increasingly complex world in which our multilateral institutions must work, the presence of military neutrals and non-aligns can be a critical interlocutor in the work for peace, disarmament and social justice. 

I would go further.

The next step is the recognition and acknowledgement of military neutrals and non-aligns within EU treaties, and of course here in Ireland.

This would be a hugely positive step forward and would add to the diplomatic repertoire and scope of Europe.

No doubt that there are many challenges facing Europe, but our shared commitments and values show what can be achieved through solidarity and a resolve to improve our citizens’ lives. 

We remain committed to working with our European friends on these issues as we work for a better life for all our people.

We stand at a crossroads.

The future of Europe can be one of retreat or one of hopeful progress. We must choose progress.

A future in which citizens are disillusioned or empowered.

A future of opportunities for the few at the top or a future of opportunity and prosperity for all.

Now is the time, to look forward to the future, with ambition and hope. 

By working together, we can build a new Ireland and re-invigorate the vision of Europe as a beacon of fairness, solidarity, and equality. 

We believe we can make Ireland better, we believe we can make Europe better and by working together we can make the world better too.

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