Irish president pays a centenary visit

The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, is in Latvia June 18 for a state visit that celebrates the centenary of Latvia's declaration of independence in 1918 just one year before Ireland made its own declaration of independence.

The State Visit started with an official welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Riga, after which President Higgins had a bilateral meeting with President Raimonds Vējonis. It is the first state visit by an Irish president to Latvia since 2007.

The pair delivered press statements afterwards, though no questions from media were taken.

Vējonis stressed that Ireland has Latvia's full support in the European Union's negotiations with the United Kingdom over the contentious issue of how Brexit will affect the regulation of the Irish border with Northern Ireland. Latvia and Ireland are "of one mind" on the issue, Vējonis said.

"Both countries are interested in ensuring the rights of their citizens after the United Kingdom exits the European Union. Latvia shows solidarity and supports Ireland in its aspiration to prevent the establishment or building of a physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland," Vējonis said.

In the other direction, Ireland is supporting Latvian efforts to reform the Common Agricultural Policy so that farmers receive fair payments, Vējonis added.

He also pointed out the shared experiences of Latvia and Ireland as countries that have experienced large-scale emigration.

"Among the significant topics we discussed were issues related to the Latvian diaspora in Ireland, which constitutes approximately 30,000 of our compatriots living and working in Ireland," Vējonis said, adding that Ireland's long history of migration and success in luring people home again has much to teach Latvia.  

In response, Higgins said it was important that the EU's smaller states do not allow their voices to be drowned out by larger members.

"The discussion of the future of the European Union must be one that is not a conversation that is initially between the strongest and then later as an addendum includes all of the others. It must be a conversation that includes all of the members of the European Union,” Higgins said.

In further comments he repeatedly stressed the opportunity for smaller countries to lead larger ones on issues such as the green economy and tackling climate change.

Among the officials in attendance was Ireland's ambassador to Latvia, Jim Hennessy, who told LSM about the significance of President Higgins' visit. 

Irish ambassador to Latvia Jim HennessyMike Collier/LSM
     

    President Higgins then laid flowers at the Freedom Monument in the capital, followed by a book donation ceremony at the National Library where he donated a history of Ireland and spoke with great passion about the importance of libraries as receptacles of national consciousness. In the afternoon, President and Sabina Higgins will receive a walking tour of the historic center of Riga.

    On 19 June, President and Sabina Higgins will commence an Official Visit to Lithuania where President Higgins will receive an honorary doctorate at Vytautas Magnus University. The President will deliver an address on “Ireland, Lithuania and the future of the European Union – the importance of values.”

     

    The office of the Irish President later released this very nice video montage of President Higgins' visit to Latvia.

     

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