The President of Malta

Speech by the President of Malta George Vella during the State dinner at the Sacra Infermeria, Valletta

PRESS RELEASE BY THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT

Your Excellency, President Michael D. Higgins Hon. Prime Minister

Mr Speaker Your Grace Excellencies

Distinguished guests,

Bi pjaċir kbir nilqa’ lilek għażiż President Higgins flimkien mas-Sinjura tiegħek Sabina, fostna l-Maltin u l-Għawdxin, waqt din iż-Żjara Statali li ser tkompli ssaħħaħ il-ħbiberija bejn iż- żewġ pajjiżi u popli tagħna.

Dear President Higgins, I chose to greet you and your gracious spouse Sabina, among us tonight in our beloved Maltese language.

I do this purposely to convey a most genuine and typical welcome in our mother tongue.

I know this will not be lost on you, Excellency, as I am fully aware of the fondness with which you hold the Irish language – Gaeilge.

Let me begin by saying how pleased I am to have us all gathered this evening to welcome President Higgins who has honoured us with a long-awaited visit to our Islands.

Plans for this occasion had been made right after our first meeting during the Arraiolos Meeting in Greece, in October 2019, but were regrettably disrupted and postponed by the Pandemic.

Indeed, the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid Pandemic created a health emergency and continue to wreak havoc in our global community, especially amongst the older generations and vulnerable people.

Let us remain optimistic and firm in our belief in science to ensure this collective nightmare comes to an end and a long-term, affordable and effective remedy is found, and made accessible to all citizens of the world.

Dear guests,

These sorts of speeches usually centre on the progress made, or the potential yet to be maximised in the bilateral relations between two given countries.

In the case of Malta and Ireland, I feel this would not be enough. For our affinities and similarities go way beyond the bilateral brief.

Our countries are both islands with a millennial history, rich and unique in their cultural and religious heritage, and endowed with a strong maritime identity and traditions.

At one point in time, history defied geography and our countries were bound by a shared colonial chapter and a parallel, albeit different, path to eventual Independence.

Socio-political and economic circumstances made our two countries become countries of emigrants, with very sizeable communities spreading around the globe.

We are now both neutral countries, firmly committed to the European project.

We are staunch advocates of multilateralism as a proven tool for achieving global justice.

Both our countries can nowadays boast of resilient economies we managed to diversify and adjust to modern times, not without sacrifice, and blind faith in our adaptability and determination to succeed.

We are, above all, two resourceful and strong-willed peoples who have overcome several obstacles of the past, to be the success stories of today.

Speaking of people, it would be amiss not to underline the strong connection that the people of Malta feel towards anything Irish.

It may very well be because of a largely Catholic upbringing, a strong sense of family and community, our appreciation of the literary masters – Wilde, Yeats and Joyce – whom we had to study, and as I am told…. possibly also U2 and Bono whom we willingly enjoy.

One thing is certain.

On the date of 17th March, our islands turn green, and I suspect even Malta’s Patron Saint Paul turns green on that day, with envy of his companion in Heaven, Patrick.

Let me now move on to more serious matters.

Our two countries might not be two military giants or leaders of the international order, but we are far from being irrelevant.

We have never shied away from taking strong positions and defending them, on the basis of our declared fundamental principles and values, even on the international level.

This applies now more than ever as we see a war unfolding in front of our eyes in Ukraine.

We all, and our citizens too, continue to voice shock, disgust and anger at the awful scenes of destruction and despair.

We remain categorical and firm in defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, within the country’s internationally-recognised borders, and its right to choose its own foreign and security policies.

Within the European Union we hold converging views on how it could be more relevant as a global actor, the attention that needs to be directed at pressing regional matters such as the Middle East Peace Process, and the importance we attach to effective Development Aid.

We both see the need to eradicate populism and replace it instead with a narrative of dialogue and inclusion, while eagerly listening to what EU citizens are expecting from the Union.

More recently too, we are sharing the experience of shaping the Conference on the Future of the European Union.

Allow me, President Higgins, to underline my very own agreement with your call to ‘reconnect with the European Street’.

We want a European Union that gives opportunities to our youth, that safeguards and defends social justice, and that protects the more vulnerable in our communities.

Above all, we want a European Union that practices, and not only speaks of, solidarity. Both our countries have come to claim this value, each from our own perspective. I cannot say, in all frankness, that our aspirations have always been met.

On this note, I extend my appreciation to Ireland and commend its efforts to live up to European solidarity by supporting those Member States directly hit by large flows of irregular migrants and in relocating asylum-seekers.

Malta is particularly grateful for Ireland’s direct support on this front. Dear President Higgins, Excellencies,

Today’s occasion provides a very good opportunity to reflect on what our two countries stand for and what they have contributed to the international community along the years.

First and foremost, we stand for a strong belief in multilateral diplomacy, that addresses climate change, inequalities, poverty, and lack of access to education, with the United Nations as the ultimate global structure to help us find solutions to all of these challenges.

Our two countries are protagonists of this ambitious mission.

Ireland is serving as non-permanent member to the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 with a bold vision on ‘Building Peace, Strengthening Conflict Prevention, and Ensuring Accountability’.

Likewise, Malta is seeking to serve the international community through the United Nations.

As a country whose aspiration is to promote peace and security, equality, and social solidarity, Malta is seeking election to the United Nations Security Council for the term 2023-2024, firmly committed to serve the international community and uphold the values enshrined in the UN Charter.

We will be building on Ireland’s accomplishments by placing special focus on Women, Peace and Security; Children in Armed Conflict; Climate and Oceans; and Literacy.

We will be basing all our activity on the principles of ‘Security, Sustainability and Solidarity.’

Our cooperation in the interest of global peace and stability does not stop only with resolutions and deliberations. It is also very hands-on.

Right now, the Armed Forces of Malta are deployed with their counterparts from Ireland in one of the longest mandated UN operations, in Lebanon.

Dear President Higgins,

My final words are ones of personal appreciation for the inspiring work you carry out in your homeland and among your people, as well as with us, your foreign partners.

I see in you, as you fulfil your responsibilities as President – but also in your past life as Minister, politician, mayor, poet – an example of wisdom and humanity for us all.

I thank you for your Visit and assure you that you and Mrs Higgins are most welcome amongst us.

May I now ask all of you to stand and raise your glasses to the health of President Michael D. Higgins and Mrs Sabina Higgins, and to the friendship between the people of Ireland and the people of Malta.

Sláinte – Saħħa.

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