Charter of European Rural Communities Event, Cashel
1 July 2011
I am honoured to have been invited here today. On behalf of the Government of Ireland, I would like to extend a warm welcome to our friends and fellow EU citizens. Indeed, I would like to extend a very special welcome our guests from the town of Maglizh in Bulgaria, who I understand have recently become the Charter’s newest members!
I was greatly taken by your goal of increasing European integration by bringing European citizens together at the “Kitchen table”. There is absolutely no doubt that increasing the informal contacts between ordinary EU citizens enhances our awareness of our shared aspirations and objectives.
This is the second major event to take place in Cashel in recent weeks. Just over a month ago, Her Majesty the Queen visited the Rock of Cashel during her historic State Visit to Ireland. Her visit was a tremendous landmark in British-Irish relations, opening a new chapter in our relations.
I mention this today because the EU has played a significant role in promoting relations between the two communities of Northern Ireland. This will be celebrated during the forthcoming visit of the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, on 11 July to Ireland. I will attend with him a special celebration of the role played by EU funding programmes such as PEACE and INTERREG in supporting projects aimed at reconciling communities and contributing towards a shared society.
Ireland is, therefore, very aware of the immense importance of dialogue and work carried out at community level in achieving a wider goal. In terms of promoting EU issues at community level, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a grant scheme called the Communicating Europe Initiative, which supports civil society groups in highlighting how the EU matters in their community.
Examples of organisations and groups who have received funding so far this year are the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce (the Irish National Trust), Scoil Cholmcille Naofa in Galway, Conradh na Gaeilge, the Institute of Technology in Tralee and the European Youth Parliament.
In promoting greater understanding between EU citizens and communities, I see there is a lot to be learned from the Charter for European Rural Communities. You set a fantastic example and this was recognised by the European Commission when you were awarded the Golden Star by for Active European Citizenship in 2010.
In Ireland, we have encountered major economic problems in the last three years. This stemmed from the oversized property sector that developed in Ireland in the years immediately before the financial crisis of 2008. Government became excessively dependent on revenue derived from the construction sector and Irish banks borrowed on the international financial markets and then lent these funds imprudently for projects whose value has suffered sharp declines. The shrinking of property values and the serious problems this created for Irish banks resulted in a severe contraction of economic output.
I have no doubt that around the kitchen table here in Cashel, your hosts have shared with you the tremendous pressure that this has put on individuals and communities in Ireland. This Government is acutely aware of the hardship that has been faced by the Irish people. In our Programme for Government we have pledged to ‘… seek to match the spirit, courage and pride of the people, so that our country can confidently begin a period of renewal’.
Early results are promising. The deficit is being reined in. A regulatory framework for the financial industry has been put in place and the new Government has moved swiftly to change the landscape in the banking sector with a radical restructuring designed to deliver a smaller system, fit for purpose and tailored to the needs of the real economy. We are working with the IMF and the EU institutions so that we can emerge strengthened from this experience and return to a path of sustainable economic growth.
The growth in exports across all sectors is a driving force in our recovery, with a growth rate of 6% recorded in 2010. Our exports cover a broad range of economic sectors, including those to which Irish rural communities make a significant contribution.
We are protecting our natural landscape which provides the best ingredients for our successful food and tourism industries. This is driven in no small part by our capacity to innovate – indeed Ireland is set to have the world’s first national beef quality and sustainability assurance scheme accredited to the Carbon Trust.
Though the world media and our own media are currently dominated by our economic concerns, there is a richness of civic and cultural life, a community strength and solidarity that makes Ireland a very pleasant and easy place to live. The World Competitiveness Yearbook ranks Ireland fourth in the world for having a culture that is open to new ideas, our sparkling literary heritage is well known, our music, film and dance also have universal appeal, our sporting life is probably the most dynamic of any country in the world and we draw on the strengths of our global emigrant family whose genius also replenishes and refreshes our deeply textured cultural life and character.
I hope that you all have already had an opportunity to experience our wonderful culture here in Ireland and I wish you all every success at this conference here in Cashel.