Higgins applauds Chile's 'values of decency'
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has honoured a man who had his roots in the west of Ireland and who helped secure Chile's independence.
Bernardo O'Higgins led the Chilean forces which won independence from Spain.
Yesterday, the Irish president laid a wreath at the monument to the founding father of independent Chile who was born there but whose father came from Sligo.
And three weeks of intensive language training in Santander, north Spain, paid off for the president who delivered part of his speeches at all his engagements yesterday in his hosts' language.
Last night, President Higgins and his wife Sabina were guests of honour at a dinner hosted by President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, and his daughter, Magdalena.
The state dinner in the Palacio de la Moneda was the last item on the President's packed agenda.
He also inspected a military guard of honour at the palace accompanied by his wife Sabina who wore a two-piece suit in burnt orange by Irish designer Helen McAlinden.
Although President Higgins is no relation of Bernardo O'Higgins his Chilean counterpart acknowledged they both came from the same part of the country.
O'Higgins' father, Ambrose, was born in Co Sligo while President Higgins, though born in Limerick, was raised by his uncle and aunt in Co Clare and represented West Galway politically.
President Higgins spoke last night about how "moved" he felt returning to Chile, a country he felt "tremendous affection" for.
He told the President he had previously visited the country in 1988 as a member of a parliamentary delegation to observe the plebiscite that decided the country's future and saw an end to the regime of General Augusto Pinochet.
President Higgins said that on his previous visit he had been "moved by the dignity and generosity shown by the Chilean people in choosing a path based on respect for values of decency, democracy and human rights and the future possibility it created."
He said people in Ireland had followed the country's development and rejoiced in its progress.
Young Irish people will soon have the chance for employment in Chile on work exchange programmes.
Ireland already has a working holiday agreement in place with Australia, New Zealand and Argentina.
President Pinera said he hoped the working holiday exchange programme would help make Chile a bilingual country.