Europe week’s events

10th May, 2014

This week marked Europe week so as the Minister for European Affairs, naturally, I was even busier than ever. The bank holiday meant that Monday became Tuesday and five days’ work was done in four. 

On Tuesday morning, I helped to launch the Crocus Project for the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, with the pupils from Holy Spirit Boys’ School in Ballymun. The project aims to raise awareness among our young people about the Holocaust and the dangers of allowing prejudice and hate to flourish. More than 50,000 young people across Europe are now involved and plant yellow crocus bulbs each year that bloom in January/February, around the time of Holocaust Memorial Day. A fitting tribute to the 1.5 million children who perished under the Nazis and a remarkable achievement as an Irish initiative.

Later that morning, I gave a keynote address to the Future of Europe Conference in Dublin Castle to mark the 10 year anniversary of the biggest ever enlargement of the EU to date, when in 2004 ten new countries joined. This event included the unveiling of the accession poster which is to be hung on Liberty Hall to celebrate Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, and later Bulgaria and Romania, joining us, when the EU grew from 17 Member States to 27.
The afternoon was spent in the Dáil addressing the Joint Committee on EU Affairs, followed by statements by An Taoiseach, An Tánaiste and me to mark Europe Week.

Wednesday and Thursday took me to Thessaloniki in Greece for a two day Ministerial meeting to discuss future EU enlargement. One of the marks of the success of the EU is the fact that so many other countries are looking to join. Ireland has always been supportive of further enlargement and encourages others along that path, difficult as it may sometime seem.
As Friday was Europe Day, I had a number of engagements to attend to celebrate all that the EU has achieved. The 9th May, 1950 is the day that the Schuman Declaration was signed, which led to the setting up of the European Coal and Steel Community; the forerunner of the European Union. The idea behind the pooling of France and Germany’s resources in this way was that war would become ‘not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible’. That remains one of the driving forces of the EU today.

On Friday morning, I visited two Blue Star programme schools. The first was Mary Help of Christians on the Navan Road and the second was Gaelscoil Bharra in Cabra. The students went to great lengths to demonstrate all that they had learned about the EU, from the projects they had undertaken to making bruschetta for me to taste in a bid to understand the influences of other cultures. 

Both schools engaged in the ‘Handshake for Europe’ which this year saw 106 schools across 24 counties joining hands with their classmate to show solidarity and an acceptance of diversity, as EU citizens.
I then went on to the Mansion House for the official ‘Handshake for Europe’ launch with the Lord Mayor and the pupils from St. Brigid’s School in the Coombe, followed by a reception in EU House, organised by the EU Commission. Countries from right across Europe were represented there and a video that was made by Foróige was launched to explain what ‘A day in the life of a young European’ is all about. The video was excellently produced and explains clearly the benefits of being part of the Union. You can watch it here:.The rest of the day was spent in meetings with constituents and election planning teams.

Next week promises to be another busy week as I head to Brussels on Monday for the Foreign Affairs Council, which I’m attending in place of the Tánaiste, and the General Affairs Council, which is a monthly meeting of my European counterparts.