Barroso repeats support for Irish government despite anti-austerity protests
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso ignored anti-austerity protests to use an Irish awards ceremony to pay tribute to the country's economic sacrifices since 2008/2009.
The former Prime Minister of Portugal attended a special ceremony in University College Cork (UCC) amid tight security to accept an Honorary Doctorate.
Mr Barroso (57) insisted the EU Commission had been one of Ireland's "best friends" throughout the crisis as he rejected suggestions Brussels was "obsessed" with controversial austerity programmes.
He acknowledged how difficult it has been for Ireland since 2008 and highlighted the "great sacrifices" made to help restore the country's finances and economy.
"I know it has not been easy. Let me tell you that I admire and respect the
courage and resilience of the Irish people. Families have made big
sacrifices. But Ireland has shown it can be done," he said.
But Mr Barroso stressed it was in the area of job creation and economic recovery that Europe now needed Ireland's expertise.
"Economic growth has returned. In 2011 to 2013 Ireland grew faster than the
euro area as a whole. We predict that Ireland’s GDP will increase by 1.8pc
in 2014 and by 2.9pc in 2015," he said.
"There has been a significant decline in unemployment - although 12pc is still too high, there has been a sharp fall from the peak of 15pc in 2012. Private households have saved more and are less indebted. House prices have also started to recover," he said.
He also launched an impassioned plea for Ireland to remember the solidarity that it had been shown by the EU and other member states throughout the crisis.
UCC implemented a strict security plan for the EU chief's high-profile visit with access restricted to a single major campus gateway.
Access to the Aula Maxima, where Mr Barroso received his award and delivered his address, was strictly by invitation only.
Anti-austerity protests were mounted around the campus but the 50 protestors were kept some distance from the EU chief.
One of the protest organisers, Cllr Mick Barry (SP), said Mr Barroso needed to be reminded of the human cost of policies that have decimated living standards across Europe.
Cllr Barry said the EU's policies over the past six years had amounted to Europe's poor being forced to pay for the mistakes of a rich elite.
"He should not be getting an award like this because it effectively represents UCC endorsing austerity policies," he said.
Others protested over Mr Barroso's comments last year that Ireland's banking collapse had helped trigger the Eurozone crisis.
"He didn't burn the bondholders - he burned the ordinary people of Ireland," Ballyhea Anti-Bailout official Tony Cronin said.
However, UCC President Prof Michael Murphy insisted that the Honorary Doctorate was richly deserved by Mr Barroso given the manner in which the EU had helped transform the Irish university sector over the past decade.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the award was very appropriate.
"I am very pleased that UCC are recognising the work of Jose Manuel Barroso. This is very appropriate. And I think it is also a way of recognising the European Commission and the support they have shown to Ireland over the last number of difficult years," he said.
"This support was critical to underpinning the work we are doing to rebuild the economy and to create jobs for our people."
Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Emmet O'Halloran (FG), warned that the protestors do not represent the majority of Irish people and he stressed that the EU has been good for Cork and Ireland.
"This is a small minority who have been protesting about pretty much everything positive that has happened in the city and county in the last couple of years. Any reasonable person would say that the EU has been very good for Ireland," he said.
Gardai maintained a strict cordon around the college as Mr Barroso arrived in a cortege led by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.
The EU chief chatted with guests following the ceremony but did not speak to assembled reporters.
It was Mr Barroso's second visit to UCC with the Portugese politician having previously attended a Cork conference in 2008.