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Links between Ireland and France “have never been stronger”, the Irish premier said as he welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron to Dublin.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin described the two nations as the “oldest and best of friends” as he welcomed Mr Macron to Government Buildings.
Over lunch the pair discussed a broad range of issues, including Afghanistan, climate change and the EU’s response to the pandemic, in what the Taoiseach described as a “very warm and useful” meeting.
He said: “France and Ireland are the oldest and best of friends.
“Ours is a friendship that has endured and evolved over the centuries. From the safe harbour offered to French Huguenots in Ireland or to the Wild Geese in France; to the inspiration Irish republicans drew from the French Revolution; to the rich cultural connections, especially in the area of literature, that we will mark today; to the past almost five decades of close partnership in the European Union, Ireland and France have stood together.
“The links between us are deep, and they have never been stronger.
“I am proud, Mr President, to have this opportunity to celebrate them with you today.”
President Macron thanked the Taoiseach for the “warm welcome.”
He vowed that Ireland will always have the support of the EU when it comes to Brexit negotiations.
He said it was “not for France to put pressure” on Ireland over it’s corporate tax rate, but said Ireland should “lead” on the issue, pointing to the OECD recommendation for a minimum rate of 15% – compared to Ireland’s 12.5%.
After the meeting, the two leaders went for a walk around Dublin, taking in Sweny’s pharmacy, one of the locations from the James Joyce novel Ulysses.
President Macron was welcomed to Ireland by President Michael D Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain.
Writing in the guestbook, Mr Macron said Ireland “occupies a precious place in the heart of the European dream”.
He said France will “remain a faithful friend” to Ireland in future.
He wrote: “Because Ireland has constantly struggled in favour of peace, was a land of the silent before it became the land of the welcome, because its society showed solidarity and is open, Ireland occupies a precious place in the heart of the European dream.
“Your invitation on this day to meet the minds which shape Ireland is a great honour and a source of inspiration.
“France is your closest neighbour within the European Union and will remain a faithful friend for the future. In confidence, Emmanuel Macron.”
Mr Macron arrived at the president’s residence in Dublin’s Phoenix Park at around 10.30am on Thursday, accompanied by his wife Brigitte.
The two presidents discussed a range of topics including the future of the European Union post-Brexit, social Europe, Africa, and the global Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Climate change and the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Haiti were also on the agenda.
An Aras statement said: “The meeting builds on the very close and positive bilateral relationship between the two countries, a partnership based on the shared European values of tolerance, respect for human rights and a commitment to multilateral co-operation.
“President Higgins stressed his support for a social Europe, and the need to develop new connections between economics, ethics and ecology.
“President Higgins thanked President Macron for his continuing support for Ireland, our shared ideals in the European Union and France’s assistance in relation to our citizens in Afghanistan.”
The Army Number One band of the Irish Defence Forces performed the Irish and French national anthems on the arrival of Mr Macron.
The two men later walked out of the garden side of Aras an Uachtarain and down a gravel path, often laughing as they spoke at length in English.
Mr Higgins asked Mr Macron to ring the Peace Bell, which was inaugurated by former Irish president Mary McAleese to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Macron pulled on the blue satin cord three times and rang the bell loudly.
Mr Higgins’s two dogs, Brod and Misneach, who have become somewhat famous in Ireland, then came bounding out to greet the pair.
Mr Higgins joked “this is an experienced diplomat, he is nine years old”, as he spoke about Brod, the older of his two Bernese Mountain dogs.
He also told Mr Macron that Misneach means “courage” in Irish.
Mr Macron’s delegation included foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, finance minister Bruno Le Maire, European affairs minister Clement Beaune and the French ambassador to Ireland, Vincent Guerend.
Later, the President visited Trinity College, where he visited the Long Library, before taking questions from students, and delivering a message of hope to those present.
“When you listen to the news and listen to experts, it can be not just disappointing but gloomy, and full of fears, threats and so on. But let me tell you we are doing our best to deal with these challenges.
“Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we make the right decisions.
“We do all of this to give you a place where you are entitled to take your own decisions.
“But for sure your generation will have to face a lot of challenges and this is pretty unique in our common history. Don’t give fears, just think about solutions.
“We will deliver, I’m sure about that. We always manage to find solutions, through science, through knowledge, cooperation, education.
“I don’t want a generation to be in despair because we have so many fears.
“There are so many challenges, but we have solutions, in human minds and human hearts.”
Mr Macron also travelled to the Guinness Enterprise Centre to meet with Irish and French entrepreneurs based in the facility and discuss the impact the centre has had on the development of the local area.
He is then set to return to Aras an Uachtarain for a reception in his honour.
On the menu, which was presented in Irish and French, was a salad of Dublin Bay prawns, flaked lobster, pickled beats, avocado and organic citrus rocket for starter.
The main course was a rack and loin of organic Wicklow lamb, herb crust, celeriac potatoes and garlic, choice of small vegetables, sweet port and red berry sauce.
And for dessert Wexford strawberry and passion fruit mousse.