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ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF IRELAND, MARY McALEESE AT THE STATE DINNER HOSTED BY H.E. THE PRESIDENT

ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF IRELAND, MARY McALEESE AT THE STATE DINNER HOSTED BY H.E. THE PRESIDENT OF THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC

SENHOR PRESIDENTE,

“É UMA GRANDE HONRA, PARA MIM, ESTAR NA BONITA CIDADE DE LISBOA, NESTE MAGNIFICO PALÁCIO DA AJUDA, DURANTE A VISITA DE ESTADO QUE JULGO SIMBOLIZA O DESEJO DE PORTUGAL E DA IRLANDA ESTREITAREM OS SEUS LAÇOS DE COOPERAÇÃO.”

In Ireland we recall with great pleasure your State Visit to our country just three years ago. On behalf of my husband, Martin and myself, and indeed the other members of the delegation, I wish to thank you Mr. President for the warmth of your reception this evening in these most splendid of surroundings.

On a personal note, it is delightful to have this opportunity to meet both you and Mrs. Sampaio again. I hope that just as your visit to Ireland brought Portugal and Ireland even closer, so too my visit to Portugal will further reinforce the strong friendship that has long since characterised the relationship between the Irish and Portuguese peoples.

My husband and I are no strangers to your wonderful country. Like thousands of other Irish we have played the tourist here, drawn back time and again by the friendliness of the Portuguese people, the beauty and history of your country and the intimate, welcoming splendour of Lisbon. But of course men and women have been weaving links between Ireland and Portugal from as far back as pre-historic times and the long-lasting mark of the Celt is still to be found here in Northern Portugal.

Both our countries as maritime nations know what it is to live on peripheries. We both know what it is to live as relatively small countries in the shadow of larger neighbours to the east and indeed what it is to be dominated by that neighbour - even though in the case of Portugal that period of domination was mercifully brief. But of course our histories are very different.

While the Portuguese achieved legend status as explorers and builders of a powerful empire, thousands of Irish were fleeing because of difficulties with another Empire, the British Empire. Some found their way to Portugal even joining Portugal’s army after the restoration of Portuguese independence in 1640. Those historic ties are still evident in the many illustrious Portuguese families with Irish names and I am very proud to see that the head of the family O’Neill of Clanaboy is with us this evening. I suspect my husband who is himself a member of the O’Neill clan may be even prouder again. I was educated in Belfast by Dominican nuns and often heard of the Irish Dominican Convent of Bom Sucesso, first established here in 1639.

For four hundred years it is continuing that work of care and is a source of pride to both Ireland and to Portugal. And of course during the cruel Penal times in Ireland, Portugal came to our rescue with the establishment of the Irish college in Lisbon in 1593. Many of its Irish students pursued post-graduate studies at the Universities of Coimbra and Evora and I look forward with pleasure to following in their footsteps on my visit to the University of Evora.

Mr. President, the Irish and the Portuguese are old friends whose bonds have been refreshened through our membership of the European Union. Enlargement is set to bring in many new members, countries with very troubled and sad histories who hope desperately for new futures like those of Ireland and Portugal. They take great heart from the way in which Ireland and Portugal, two once poor nations, have been dramatically transformed in recent decades. The children of Ireland and Portugal will be the beneficiaries of the great adventure Europe is now embarking upon - and more than that they will be partners.

I know Mr. President that East Timor is very close to your heart. The last time we talked in Ireland, that tragic land was taking its first tentative steps towards peace. Today it is an independent state and a member of the United Nations. Down through the years, Ireland supported Portugal’s courageous stand on the independence of East Timor, when many others felt that the cause was already lost and we salute your determination which has at last been vindicated. It is also a source of great hope that the cruel tribulations of Angola may be finally coming to an end and we in Ireland know the important part your country has played in finding a solution to the civil war there. As a member of the Security Council and the holder of the Chairmanship of the Angola Sanctions Committee, Ireland too has been privileged to play a part in recent, hopeful developments.

The Portuguese and the Irish peoples have both emerged from the dark shadows of the past to an era characterised by success and self-confidence. At home, in Europe and around the world we stand together for peace, prosperity, equality, justice, freedom and democracy. May our values flourish and our friendship too.

I have great pleasure in calling on everyone present tonight to join with me in a toast to the President of the Republic of Portugal and, through you, to the Portuguese people.