Saturday 24 February 2018

Francois strikes a reassuring note of friendship with special signal

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina and French President Francois Hollande during his visit to Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina and French President Francois Hollande during his visit to Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

It was the very French, very waggly little wave bestowed by a twinkling President Hollande on a beaming President Higgins as he left that gave us real hope, cementing the 'special status' we were holding our breath for.

This was no formal, protocol salute of politeness but Hollande giving a little signal of: "I've got your back, Irlande."

Sabina had done her bit for our parlous state with warm little squeezes, while Michael D and Francois had already struck up a friendship since the Somme commemorations.

Granted, it would be helpful if he had any hope of hanging on a bit longer to see the actual implementation of the post-Brexit process - but the French presidential elections are scheduled next summer and, frankly, things don't look too good for Monsieur Hollande.

Nevertheless, that little waggle was probably the best reassurance we've had from Europe since Brexit.

Which in itself is rather sobering.

This visit, planned months in advance, had been due to take in many more elements but a mere week since the horror of the Nice attack, national tragedy was still very much to the fore.

At Government Buildings, the Taoiseach extended sympathy and solidarity with France after the "appalling litany of outrage inflicted on Nice and the people of France".

"Ireland stands by France," he said. He also reminded President Hollande of how well the Irish football fans had conducted themselves in France during the Euros.

The French President said the tragedy in Nice had "affected many, many nationalities".

"Terrorists wanted to attack France because it's a country of freedom but it struck the world because terrorism makes no distinctions between confessions, convictions and nationalities," he declared.


When France was struck in November and January of 2015, he said he had turned to "my European partners".

"I asked them to support France and to have even stronger protection of our territory. Ireland responded with a positive answer instead of its neutral status. Even though Ireland is not a member of Nato they wanted to be in solidarity with France and I'll never forget that," he vowed, adding that our two countries are bound together by "culture, history and even by language."

He said people expect "defence, protection and security and protection of our borders" from the EU: "Not to close in on themselves but to ... open up with conditions of security."

The President spoke of the Irish courage in getting out of the bailout programme "even quicker than had been planned".

And then it was off to the Arás to sign the visitors' book, standing in silence for photographs, before an exchange of introductions between both sides, with President Hollande giving a big kiss on the cheek to Aziliz Gouez, the French woman who is Michael D's chief speech writer and who formally worked for Francois Holland before he was President.

A private meeting between the two Presidents followed, with a quick lunch - the mahogany table laid out with the harp-embossed cups, President Hollande flanked by the French Minister of State for European Affairs, Harlem Desir on his right and interpreter Michel Bower on his left.

His final engagement was amongst his own.

Some 800 French nationals living in Ireland welcomed him at St Patrick's Hall in Dublin Castle, where he again spoke of Nice, saying France was attacked because of her commitment to liberty, freedom and thought - values shared here.

"Vivez La République, vivez La France, vivez l'amitié entre L'Irlande et La France," he finished - solidarity our two nations need right now.

Irish Independent

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