Ireland is Europe and Europe is Ireland

President of European Parliament, H.E. Roberta Metsola, visited Ireland to celebrate EU50 and addressed a special sitting of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

6 February 2023
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, European Parliament President Metsola, EMI President Noelle O'Connell and TCD Students launch MyEU50 Competition in the long room in Trinity, standing together holding a MYEU50 sign
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, European Parliament President Metsola, EMI President Noelle O'Connell and TCD Students launch MyEU50 Competition

President of European Parliament, H.E. Roberta Metsola, visited Ireland on 2 February to celebrate EU50.

During her visit, President Metsola met with the President, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, addressed a special sitting of both Houses of the Oireachtas, launched the MYEU50 third level competition with the Taoiseach and participated in a townhall event with young students from across Ireland.

President of European Parliament, H.E. Roberta Metsola's speech

Dear Chairs, Taoiseach, Tánaiste, 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, 50 years after Ireland joined what was then still the European Economic Community.

We have 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 faraway entity deciding for you. It is you. Ireland is Europe and Europe is Ireland. There is no decision that is taken without you.

Dublin, Cork and Galway are the heart of Europe. When ten people lost their lives 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 and 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 but it is about trying to ensure equal opportunities, about levelling up, about ending intergenerational cycles of struggle, about the quest for real peace. 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 have reminded 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. For that example to the world, I thank you. Maith sibh.

Since the Europe we want for the next 50 years is a Europe that cares, a Europe of real peace and a Europe of justice, we will keep standing with Ukraine in 2023, and for as long as it takes. 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. This is also what Ukrainians are asking of us today. The European Union will continue to support Ukraine with financial aid, humanitarian aid and financial assistance, military support and practical solidarity.

I 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. Since 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, struggle, sacrifice, defiance and emerging stronger – lessons that Europe will need to draw on to face the year ahead. Make no mistake, we are living in times of polycrises: war, energy scarcity, electricity prices spiking, cost-of-living increases and inflation wiping value from assets, interest rates impacting government borrowing and housing markets, scarcity of raw materials and a global food shortage one short port blockage away. This is 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 and 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 across Europe but I know we can meet this moment head-on. The European Parliament's job is to help to provide the European regulatory framework for the challenges to be met and to show 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 industries to compete. We can resist the temptation of overprotectionism 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 how you have managed to deal with the challenges of Brexit.

Ireland will have a central role to play in addressing the challenges ahead, all the more so since the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, something the European Union regrets but respects as a democratic choice of a majority of British people. The European Union has not wavered in its solidarity with Ireland, and it is with civility and respect for the rule of law that the European Union and the United Kingdom will pursue their relationship. We will not leave your side.

Honourable Members, 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. Healthcare must be accessible to all. During the pandemic, the European Union stepped up and led on healthcare. 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, whom I am happy to see here today. Irish MEPs have led the debate in Europe on mental health, the environment, gender equality, agriculture and farming, fighting domestic violence, femicide and so much more. Ireland has led.

I know the European Parliament has had a difficult few weeks but I am confident that we will fix our systems and rebuild trust. Of course, I would have preferred the world's attention to be on the great work that Members of the Parliament do every day, on the agreements we have reached on climate, migration and asylum, energy, funding and support for Ukraine, and on what we have 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 superpower of values. We should not forget that. It is important to remind people what Europe is all about and help them to recapture the sense of hope and optimism in our European project.

Next year, 2024, the people of Ireland will be called upon to vote for their representatives in the European Parliament. My appeal, to the young Irish in particular, is to 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 the frustrations. 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 50 years proves that. For Ireland in Europe and for Europe in Ireland, I know the next 50 years will be a remarkable success story – because Ireland is Europe and Europe is Ireland. Thank you.