February 22, 2019

Address by the Prime Minister of Ireland Mr. Bertie Ahern, T.D., at the official dinner given in his honour by President Clerides

Mr. President,

I thank you for your kind remarks, and for the very warm hospitality shown to me and my party by you and the Government of Cyprus on this all too short visit. However, even in one day I have been able to see just why Cyprus has for so long been famous for its beauty and its rich heritage.

I am sure that similar Cypriot hospitality and generosity will be extended to the Irish soccer team when it comes here in March to play your national side in a World Cup qualifier – even though we may, unfortunately, have different views as to what the right result would be.

My visit maybe short, but we have done a great deal of useful work. I feel sure that we have strengthened the bonds between our two countries – links which will become increasingly important to us both, as future partners in the European Union.

Ireland and Cyprus already have much in common, going beyond our shared perspectives as small island states on the periphery of Europe. Perhaps most significantly, we have both experienced, and continue to experience, the effects of conflict and division. In Ireland, we have, through a long and painstaking process of negotiation, achieved an accommodation which offers a basis for lasting peace and for a future of reconciliation and partnership.

Of course, we now know that implementing a peace accord such as our Good Friday Agreement is even more arduous than negotiating one. There are still difficulties to be overcome. But I am convinced that we have definitively come to a new chapter in our history. We have created institutions in which both traditions on our island can work together, and have agreed on the fundamental principles to govern the future development of all our relationships.

Our own history gives us a very special feeling for Cyprus. As you know, Mr. President, Ireland has participated in the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus since its inception. It was my privilege to view that operation today and to meet Irish personnel. You can be assured of our continued support, including during our two-year term as a Security Council member, in the search for an agreed settlement of the Cyprus question. Ireland fully endorses the efforts of the United Nations to achieve a political solution. In particular, we believe that the UN framework of a bi-zonal bi-communal approach remains the appropriate one for an eventual settlement.

Our long-standing tradition of support for the peace-keeping role of the United Nations will, in my view, be enhanced by our complementary engagement, as an EU member state, in the development of the European Security and Defence Policy. This will be an important element in the EU’s contribution to the maintenance of peace and stability in Europe. The EU’s role is of course complemented by the participation of third countries.

As a member of the EU it is essential for Ireland to play an active and constructive part in helping to ensure that future changes go in a direction which is consistent with out values and priorities. An important step in this direction was taken by the European Council at Nice with the approval of a Presidency Report on progress in establishing an EU capability to undertake crisis management tasks.

These developments do not in any way affect Ireland’s long-standing policy of military neutrality, to which we remain firmly committed. Our involvement in ESDP is entirely consistent with that policy. The focus is clearly on the Petersberg tasks, which do not give rise to a mutual defence commitment. Participation in any given case will be a voluntary and sovereign decision. Ireland would only participate in missions authorized by the UN.

As can be seen from the recent Brahimi Report and the subsequent Security Council Resolution, the UN’s own approach in the peacekeeping area is also evolving with a greater focus of the role of regional organizations such as the EU. We look forward to seeing the EU and the UN develop their capacities in a complementary and mutually-reinforcing manner.

Of course, the main focus of my visit has been the question of Cyprus’s accession to the European Union. I do not propose to repeat in detail what I have said in my meetings with you and your colleagues, or in my address to the Chamber of Commerce earlier today.

What I will say, however, is that Ireland looks forward with great enthusiasm both to your early membership, and to the wider process of enlargement. Over a period of 30 years, Ireland’s membership of the EU has given us the opportunity to transform our economy, to a point where we are now one of the EU’s more affluent members. The social, cultural and psychological effects of membership have also been dramatic. We believe that the chance we were given a generation ago should now be offered to all other European States which are in a position to meet the requirement and challenges of membership. Enlargement is in all of our interests, both nationally and as the inheritors of the basic European goals and principles of freedom, peace, and democracy.

I have watched Cyprus’s advance towards EU membership with great interest and admiration. To date you have made impressive progress both in the negotiations and in your internal preparations for membership, as confirmed by the European Commission in its report last autumn.

At the Nice European Council, the institutional changes necessary to prepare the Union for enlargement were agreed. We also endorsed the Commission’s proposed road-map for the enlargement negotiations over the next eighteen months. These negotiations will now, even more than before, be at the heart of the EU’s business over the coming period, as the incoming Swedish Presidency has underlined. Ireland strongly supports the principles for flexibility and differentiation, under which all applicants should be treated on their own merits and should be encouraged to proceed at the most rapid pace sustainable. Cyprus  is a prime example of a country which should be well positioned to conclude negotiations perhaps even before the mid-2002 indicative target proposed by the Commission.

In many ways, you in Cyprus are in a relatively stronger position now than we in Ireland were before our EU entry. However, we fully understand that you will have your own particular concerns. Ireland’s own accession to and adjustment into the European Union has made us particularly sensitive to the special needs of the applicant countries. This we shall bear in mind in the detailed negotiations process which is now upon us. Of course, in the global economy as it now is, no country can be an island isolated from change. But the EU, through its internal policies and international role, provides stability and support in that continuous process of change.

In conclusion, I will say once again how much Ireland looks forward to welcoming Cyprus to the European Union. You can be assured that any help or advice we can offer will always be freely and openly available to you.