Thank you for the invitation.
It was an American poet who said:
“This time, like any other, is a good time if we know how to use it.”We meet here at a time of unprecedented challenge and unprecedented opportunity.
When the drafters of the European treaties put them together they never contemplated that anybody would actually leave. Yet that is precisely what the United Kingdom has decided democratically to do. And we must therefore deal with the consequences of that decision.
I thank the EPP and the European Union leaders for their support for the Northern Ireland Peace Process as written into the Good Friday Agreement almost 30 years ago. That support has been critical in maintaining a fragile peace through difficult times. Ireland again will ask for your support in continuing that peace process in a situation where the Republic of Ireland will continue to remain a central member of the European Union while Northern Ireland will leave the Union as part of the United Kingdom.
I will therefore need your support to have the language of the Good Friday Agreement included in the ground rules for negotiation as Britain exits the European Union. And I say this particularly because the EPP holds the presidency of the Council, the Commission and the Parliament and our lead negotiator Michel Barnier has a deep and through understanding of the unique and special circumstances that apply in Ireland’s case.
I spoke yesterday to the British Prime Minister and I have welcomed her specific references to Ireland in her letter triggering Article 50. I am also grateful to our MEP’s and the European Parliament for their references in their document about the future of Europe.
In a sense our Union’s greatest strength has also become its weakness.
That strength is peace.
It is a period of peace that is longest and deepest in our history. And thanks to our Union, generations of European have grown up, without being called up.
And for these same generations, our journeys across neighbouring borders have been for business, for trade, for education, for sport, for the arts and for enjoyment.
And we have enriched each other in these pursuits. But we have taken that peace for granted. Apathy and complacency are always the enemy of democracy and we need to address that. We need to break out of the bubble of politics that we live in and listen to all those voices out there.
The drift away from the centre to the right and the attendant fracturing of old politics are warnings that we should heed.
The ‘new right’will not be dressed up as the old –it will be both subtle and social. The ‘new right’revolution will not be televised, it will be tweeted. And it is our responsibility to ensure that the centre, where we stand, holds. If we do not accept that responsibility our children and their children will not thank us.
We must have the sense and the humility to recognise that we have not got everything right. That we could have and will do better. And that we will use improving economies for the social benefits of all our people.
We have not always listened as we should, and because of that, good people have been pushed to the left in anger and to the right in fear.
We have the opportunity to bring those people back, and I know that we will. Is it not part of our Christian values as an EPP that we comfort the dispossessed and welcome the stranger?
We do live in a changing world and a changing Europe. Our continent, the wealthiest on the planet, will in time become the most aged and the smallest in population. We must prepare for that future. We must build much greater capacity in Africa to allow countries to thrive on their own and therefore make a real impact on migration. We must continue to lead on climate change, on food security, on drought, on water, on digitisation, on education and in the cyber world.
The protection of all our peoples lies in our support for each other: big countries working with small countries in our common interest.
Finally, we need to explain ourselves much better, to the world and specifically to the United States of America. We need to demonstrate just what our union can do to create prosperity, jobs and opportunities and bring about peace in a troubled world. I know we can do this but we have got to work hard at it.
It was President Kennedy who said:
“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”
Before he died, one of our many Nobel Laureates, the poet Seamus Heaney, sent his wife a text. Two words:
“Noli timere”–Don’t be afraid.
The EPP can look to the future with courage. We have the capacity to build a better world.