Speech at the Diplomatic Reception on board LÉ James Joyce

13th March, 2019


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am delighted to be here this evening, and to host you on this splendid Irish naval vessel. I would like to thank Lieutenant Commander Michael Brunicardi and his crew for their warm welcome aboard the LE James Joyce.


Thank you, also, to Ambassador O’Neill for his kind words of introduction.


It is a pleasure for me to be back again in this magnificent setting in the heart of London.   It is a city I know very well, having lived and worked both here and in other parts of the UK, like so many other Irish people have.


London remains a wonderfully vibrant and multicultural world capital, and it is a privilege to celebrate Ireland’s National Day together with our British friends and neighbours, and the diplomatic representatives of the many nations represented here this evening.         


The LÉ James Joyce is a ship named for a writer intrinsically and eternally associated with Dublin, my home city. 


Although Joyce is not commonly associated with London, he lived in Kensington for a short time in 1931, and this city played host to his marriage to his long-time partner, Nora Barnacle.


And, there is yet another layer to these Joycean links between Ireland and the UK. Like her famous namesake, the LÉ James Joyce is not a stranger to these shores, as she was constructed just a few hours from here, in the historic Appledore shipyard in Devon.


Coming to London for St Patrick’s Day, and crossing the great trading waterway of the Thames this evening, I am reminded of Ireland’s position as an island, the westernmost outpost of Europe, bounded by the great waters of the Atlantic.


In 1593, the famous Irish pirate queen Gráinne Mhaol travelled to Greenwich to meet with Queen Elizabeth to secure the release of her brothers from captivity by the forces of the British Crown.  


The LÉ James Joyce is a more recent, and dare I say a more welcome, visitor on the Thames.


For centuries, we have travelled across water, across continents, and across the globe.


Despite our location, we see ourselves as an island at the centre of the world. 


We have a global diaspora, which is many times greater than the size of population at home.


We are an increasingly diverse and inclusive society.


Indeed, one in five of the people living in Ireland today were born elsewhere. They are making a valued contribution to so many areas of Irish life and are very welcome.


And we are one of the world’s most open economies, trading globally.


We rely on the development and the protection of a rules based international order, and are committed to playing a central role in it.


This is the cornerstone of our economic and foreign policies.


We also see ourselves as having a responsibility, as members of a global community, to help shape the world for the better.


Our Defence Forces have a proud history of unbroken service in UN peacekeeping operations since 1958.


We currently have 673 personnel serving in nine missions around the world, including in Mali, Lebanon and on the Golan Heights, contributing to international peace and security.


Our Naval Service, including the LÉ James Joyce, has served on successive operations in the Mediterranean, saving over 18,000 precious lives.


In a very real sense, you are standing on a living embodiment of our values.



The women and men serving on this vessel represent a long tradition of international service, that encompasses peacekeepers and aid workers, educators and missionaries, civilians and members of our defence forces and national police.


They, and the Irish people, are committed to working to achieving a better world.


A Better World is also the name of our ambitious new policy for international development. In it, the Irish Government has committed to increasing our development assistance budgets in the years ahead, as we work towards achieving a target of 0.7% of GNI by 2030.


In doing so, our focus will be on reaching those furthest behind first.


Under a programme called Global Ireland, we are leading an ambitious extension of Ireland’s international footprint.


We are opening new embassies and consulates around the world.


This includes strengthening our embassy in London, and a new consulate in Cardiff.


We are taking these steps to position Ireland for the future, in our increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent world.


We will continue to deepen and strengthen our existing relations with your governments.


Why are we so committed to doing this?


We have learned, that in an inter-dependent world, the challenges of our time do not respect geographic boundaries.


The challenges of conflict, migration, hunger and climate change are often linked.  No country, however powerful, can meet these challenges alone. Finding solutions is a shared responsibility. 


Our sense of shared responsibility guides Ireland’s view of the world and the part that we are trying to play in it. 


Our own experience of overcoming conflict, and our memory of hunger that once stalked our land, has also shaped our international outlook.



As a small country, we are firmly committed to the rules-based international order based on the UN system and global institutions of governance as the best way to ensure our security, wellbeing, and prosperity as a people, and to tackle the many threats and challenges which face us all. 


In areas such as peacekeeping, disarmament, sustainable development, climate, nutrition, human rights, and humanitarian assistance we have sought to match our words with deeds – with concrete support for multilateral organisations.


In promoting global security;


In actively contributing to the work of the United Nations;


In working to making this a safer, and more sustainable world.


It is this belief in multilateralism that inspires our candidature for a seat on the UN Security Council at the elections that will be held in June 2020. We are already campaigning with energy and we are seeking the support of all UN Member States.


We approach this task with humility.


And our themes of Empathy, Partnership and Independence will guide us.


We are seen by many as bridge-builders and talkers, but we listen too, to all sides – our experience of conflict on our own island has taught us this. 


And we work to build collective solutions to the global challenges that confront our shared world.


We think independently – our path is very much our own. We bring no partisan agenda to the table. We seek to serve the wider good and to support the UN.


With Ireland, you have a small country with a broad mind, a listening ear and a strong independent voice that promotes universal values. 


I very much hope that those States represented here today will support Ireland’s candidature.


Turning to events closer to home, I would like to say a few words about an issue which is on everyone’s minds, and that is the decision taken by our British friends to withdraw from membership of the European Union.

I am visiting London at a key juncture in this process. Important debates and votes are taking place in the House of Commons that will have profound implications for the future of the United Kingdom’s relations with the EU and, by extension, its relations with Ireland.


For the Irish Government, our position is both consistent and clear:


We regret the UK is choosing a different path, after forty-six years of shared EU membership. Ireland’s future remains as a committed member of the European Union, which we have helped to build and shape.


Together with our EU partners, we believe that the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement represents the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal, to protect the Good Friday Agreement, and to ensure the closest possible future relationship between the EU and the UK.


As the debates and votes are ongoing this evening, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further. I can assure you that we are preparing for all scenarios, even while we hope and wish to see an agreed outcome.


Inevitably, some things are going to change.


But one thing that will not change is the friendship between the Irish and British peoples.


Despite the challenges that Brexit will bring, the network of family links, shared values, culture and history, and the multitude of ties that have bound us for generations will continue.


Ireland will remain the UK’s closest neighbour, friend, and partner.


We wish to see you continue to play a role in the affairs of the continent we share.


As we celebrate St Patrick’s Day, I am reminded that Patrick was a Briton, a migrant, and a missionary, who came to Ireland from this island, and who is now celebrated at home, and around the world, as the embodiment of Ireland.


Patrick is not just a symbol of Irishness, he also encompasses the enduring friendship between the Irish and British peoples, which I am confident will continue to deepen and strengthen in the years to come.


I join with Ambassador O’Neill and Lt. Commander Brunicardi in wishing you all a very pleasant evening. I look forward to meeting with many of you over the course of the rest of this evening.


Happy St Patrick’s Day,  Beannachtaí na Féile oraibh.