President mindful of the past and the future
PRESIDENT Mary McAleese yesterday warned that the needs of immigrants must be taken into account in the event of a potential economic downturn.
At the start of her official state visit to Germany, she said that immigrants had arrived at a very prosperous time when there had been a glut of jobs but now there were more "sober signs" on the economic horizon.
"But there is no doubt we live in a time which is a flux of change and it behoves all of us to be very sensitive to the needs of what is now a much more complex society than it was eight or nine years ago," she said.
President McAleese said there were a number of hopeful and reassuring signs, such as a recent EU survey which showed the Irish State had the highest level of contact with immigrants in the EU.
"Those who come to Ireland are on average better educated than the Irish which is saying something because we are a highly-educated people. These are the kind of people who can quickly transcend barriers to integration like language barriers."
The subject of immigration and integration was a key topic during her meeting with German President Horst Kohler in Berlin yesterday.
He told her that the EU Reform Treaty would give "fresh impetus" to the EU and that he was "confident" that it would be passed in a referendum in Ireland.
However, President McAleese, who is not allowed to comment on political matters, simply said that she hoped there would be a wide-ranging debate about the treaty.
"All I can say about it -- because I take no hand, act or part in it and I certainly would never predict the result -- I hope it will be a very vigorous campaign," she said.
After observing the laying of a memorial wreath at the city's Neue Wache memorial to the victims of war and tyranny, President McAleese was shown the Brandenburg Gate by Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit.
He told her that both he and the German people had a strong affection for the "wonderful green country" of Ireland.
"Not long ago it was named by Lonely Planet as the friendliest country in the world. I congratulate you, it's a statement I can only underline," he said.
President McAleese spoke about the importance of German tourists -- our third most frequent visitor after Americans and Britons -- and played down fears they would be less likely to travel here due to rising prices.