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Remarks by Taoiseach, Micheál Martin TD - European Youth Parliament

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A chairde,

Tá ríméad orm a bheith in bhur dteannta i gCorcaigh tráthnóna i gcomhair bhur n-imeacht suaitheanta, an 25ú Seisiún Náisiúnta de Pharlaimint Óige na hEorpa, Éire.

Trí dhaoine óga a thabhairt le chéile ó ar fud na hEorpa le saincheisteanna práinneacha na linne seo a phlé, tá ról ar leith ag Parlaimint Óige na hEorpa maidir le hidirphlé feasach a chur chun cinn agus a éascú i dtreo thodhchaí na hEorpa a mhúnlú.

Ní raibh tábhacht chomh mór riamh agus atá anois le bhur misean, spreagadh a thabhairt do ghlúin óg de shaoránaigh Eorpacha fheasacha, oscailte, freagracha agus gníomhacha agus iad a chumhachtú.
I am delighted to join you here in Cork this evening for your flagship event, the 25th National Session of European Youth Parliament Ireland.

In bringing together young people from across Europe to debate the pressing issues of our time, the European Youth Parliament plays a distinctive role in promoting and facilitating informed dialogue towards shaping Europe’s future.

Your mission of inspiring and empowering a young generation of informed, open-minded, responsible and active European citizens has never been more important.

I appreciate sincerely your kind invitation to open this year’s proceedings.

In many ways, your work here in Cork this week captures the very essence of the democratic ideal that is at the heart of our shared European project. With the events that are unfolding in the East of our continent, it could not be more timely.

I want to commend you for the deep respect for diversity that you promote by bringing people from different backgrounds closer together, and the enormous value that can be unlocked through intercultural dialogue and exchange.

Let me also commend you for your choice of venue.

I had the honour of officially opening Munster Technological University last November, and very much welcome this opportunity to visit again.

Ireland’s social and economic progress is built on the foundation of education. It has been and continues to be the Great Enabler.

As Taoiseach I am very focussed on making sure that as a country we continue to invest and innovate in education and ensure that we continue to create the opportunities to grow and improve for the generations to come.

It’s why the establishment of a new Department of Further and Higher Education was such a key part of our Programme for Government negotiations, and it’s why I was delighted to join with colleagues in Government in recent weeks to sign off on the most radical reform of our Leaving Certificate cycle in half a century.

We need to maximise our ability to produce talented and responsible graduates who can lead, innovate, create, inspire, and transform.

And it is my firm belief that the establishment of Munster Technological University will prove transformative for the wider South West region in this regard.

It is impossible to talk about Europe or the values your organisation promotes today without reflecting on the appalling events unfolding in Ukraine.

As we meet, a sovereign European democracy is being subjected to the most horrific and violent assault.

It is an assault not only on a country and on a people, but it is an assault on our values and our way of life in Europe. It is an assault on the very idea of Europe.

We are proud to be part of a European Union that not only stands with the people of Ukraine, but stands behind them.

EU Leaders have been clear in condemning this invasion as immoral and unjustifiable.

We have moved swiftly to adopt the strongest, most hard-hitting package of sanctions in the EU’s history.

I pay special tribute to the Governments and people of neighbouring countries who have done everything they can to offer a safe harbour to millions of Ukrainians at the most difficult of times.

For our part, the Irish people have been enormously moved by the extraordinary courage and bravery of the people of Ukraine in facing down this most unjustifiable and brutal invasion.

We have opened up our country and indeed our homes to welcome those fleeing from the war – in large part women, children, and young adults like you.

We do this because of our own history and because of our strong values and innate sense of decency and fairness.

We do it also because there is fundamental point at stake here – in a confrontation between freedom and the autocracy of Vladimir Putin, we choose freedom.

The people of Ukraine see their future in the European Union and I very much welcome and support their application for membership.

A country defiant in its support for our values, and making the sacrifices that Ukraine is in their defence, is unquestionably part of our European family.

President Zelenskyy joined a joint sitting of both Houses of the Oireachtas by video link on 6 April.

He has called for stronger EU sanctions, for accountability for the perpetrators of unspeakable crimes in Ukraine, and for an accelerated process to allow Ukraine to join the EU.

I made it clear to him then and I reiterate it now, he has my full support.


Ireland’s development has been fundamentally shaped by our membership of the EU.

It was just over 50 years ago, in January 1972 – what might seem like several lifetimes ago – that my predecessor Jack Lynch as Taoiseach, and Dr Patrick Hillery as Minister for Foreign Affairs, signed the Treaty of Accession to join the then European Communities.

This set in train a process that saw the Irish people vote in a referendum in May 1972 to become a Member State, with an overwhelming 83% in favour of joining.

Few events in Ireland’s history as an independent state have been so transformative.

The five decades since have witnessed Ireland’s emergence as a modern, open economy and society – shaped by close reciprocal cooperation with our European partners.

Far from diminishing our sovereignty as a people, our membership of the EU has strengthened it.

It gives us a reach and an influence that we would not otherwise enjoy.

Not all were positively disposed at the time to the new possibilities that joining the European Communities would open. Our relatively recent independence was fragile and jealously guarded.

But those convinced that Ireland’s future lay in Europe showed the courage to imagine a new Ireland – and a more confident and optimistic future.

Jack Lynch described it as a courage to join “efforts to establish the foundations of an ever-closer union among the European peoples”.

This included not least the ideal of “a vital force for peace in the world”, and “an ever-increasing contribution to the economic and social progress of developing nations”.

As is so often the case, the courageous decision was the right decision.

And these past fifty years have seen a transformative and overwhelmingly positive impact of EU membership across all dimensions of our society.

Your generation now enjoys possibilities and opportunities on a scale and of a nature perhaps unimaginable in the Ireland of 1972.

It was a transformation supported by our European partners, including through substantial EU funding.

Our EU membership has also played a vital role in the journey towards peace and reconciliation on this island.

For as long as the UK was a fellow Member State, Europe provided a valuable shared space in which Irish and British Ministers could cooperate and get to know each other.

Our European partners’ support continues today – through the generous EU support for peace and reconciliation programmes, benefiting communities North and South, and strengthening prosperity across this island.

They have stood by Ireland as we worked together to manage the unique challenges for this island resulting from Brexit and the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

The EU has made the objective of sustaining peace, avoiding a hard border and protecting the all-island economy a major priority from the very beginning of negotiations.

We should acknowledge too that sitting at the EU table has exposed Ireland to new ideas and to new – more generous and compassionate – ways of thinking.

Membership gave us the impetus we needed to strengthen our own human rights record, to drive forward civil and social rights, to introduce gender equality legislation, to improve protection of workers’ rights – and to become a much more tolerant, kinder and inclusive country than the Ireland of 1972.

We are proud to be part of a Union in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality are valued, nurtured and never taken for granted.

We are proud that Ireland has become a beacon to others of what the EU can help a country to achieve – never more so than when Ireland, led by another of my colleagues and predecessors, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern hosted the Day of Welcomes in 2004 for ten new Member States joining the Union.

We are proud to play our part in seeking to advance and defend the Union’s shared values – respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.

Future of Europe

As we look to the future, the Conference on the Future of Europe is enabling people from every corner of the continent to share their ideas on Europe's future.

I see the Conference on the Future of Europe as a very important and practical way of boosting citizen engagement with the European Union. It is being co-ordinated in Ireland in first instance by Europe Minister Thomas Byrne, and I would encourage all of you to engage fully with the process.

The recent Eurobarometer Report reminds us that the level of knowledge about and approval of the European Union and our membership is very strong in Ireland.

It showed 71% of Irish citizens holding a positive view of the European Union – the highest figure recorded, and significantly higher than the EU27 average of 44%.

And it showed as many as 88% of Irish citizens being broadly optimistic about the future of the European Union.

But we should never take this support for granted. We must continue to seek and embrace ways to engage citizens – and our younger citizens in particular – on the aims, the institutions and the benefits of this great project.

As we reflect upon the future of the European Union in the period ahead, I believe the same spirit of optimism, aspiration and hope that informed those who signed the Accession Treaty for Ireland can remain a powerful guiding force.

European Youth Parliament

Your proceedings here this week as part of the European Youth Parliament network are undoubtedly a crucial part of this wider dialogue of renewal – and an important step on our collective journey towards shaping Europe’s future.

I know that EYP Ireland is an entirely volunteer-run organisation that is completely reliant on the generosity of your funding partners, including Bord Bia, Arthur Cox and others.

EYP Ireland is also one of the most important beneficiaries of the Communicating Europe Initiative, which was established in 1995 by the Department of Foreign Affairs to raise awareness about the European Union, and to improve the quality and accessibility of public information on European issues.

I am pleased to confirm today that your application for funding from this year’s Communicating Europe Initiative programme has been successful.

The sum of €15,000 involved is relatively modest, but it is the maximum grant provided for under the scheme, and the largest single award of recent years.

You have my full confidence that the value it provides will be second to none.

Thank you again for the kind invitation to open your 25th National Session here this evening, and please accept my very best wishes for the important proceedings you are getting underway.

Bail ó Dhia ar an obair, agus go raibh míle maith agaibh.