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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Jul 2022

Vol. 287 No. 6

Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad

I call the House to order on this very beautiful sunny morning. It is my pleasure, privilege and honour to welcome the Belgian ambassador, H.E. Karen Van Vlierberge, to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. Tá fáilte Uí Cheallaigh romhat.

Speaking on behalf of the Cathaoirleach, I want to say a few words on the national day of Belgium. Next week, on 21 July, Belgium and friends of Belgium will celebrate their national day. The bonds of friendship between Ireland and Belgium are deep and strong. Our enduring friendship is grounded in historic connections from the era of the saints, including Dymphna, Bridget and Faolán, and scholars at the Irish college in Leuven, our shared values, including around the table at the EU and UN, and our creative artists and enterprises. This relationship has been strengthened by our common interest and increased connectivity throughout the challenges of Brexit. It is important to say that Ireland is very grateful for the steadfast support of Belgium and all her other EU partners during that very difficult phase. Unfortunately, it continues.

Many thousands of Irish people have chosen to study, live, work and retire in beautiful Belgium, where they have found a warm welcome and, more recently, Kilkenny limestone in much of the paving of the city streets beneath their feet. If they have not found gold, they have found Kilkenny limestone.

Ireland has also become home to many innovative Belgian citizens, including several waves of artisans, weavers and brewers as far back as medieval times, and to many innovative businesses today. Belgium is, of course, famous for its chocolate, frites and beer, while its citizens really enjoy our beef, lamb and seafood, as well as our music and dance. These cultural, commercial and culinary exchanges continue to enrich all our lives.

We are especially grateful to Belgium for the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, which will mark its 25th anniversary next year. The peace park was opened in 1989 by the then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Majesty King Albert II of Belgium. We are also grateful for its contribution to the peace garden here at Christchurch, which underlines Belgium's deep commitment to peace and reconciliation.

In June 2017, the centenary of the start of the Battle of Messines Ridge, an island of Ireland commemoration jointly let by the Government of Ireland and the Government of the UK, in partnership with the mayor of Messines, was marked at the Island of Ireland Peace Park. The ceremony reflected on the engagement, side by side, of the 36th Ulster division and the 16th Irish division at the Battle of Messines. The remembrance of this battle has become an important symbol of reconciliation on the island of Ireland.

I send special greetings to the ambassador, H.E. Karen Van Vlierberge, and to all Belgian citizens in Ireland. Gelukkige nationale feestdag aan Belgen en vrienden van België. Joyeuse fête nationale aux Belges et amis de la Belgique. Schönen Nationalfeiertag an die Belgier und Freunde von Belgien. That is the most beautiful greeting the ambassador will have heard in a while.

It is certainly the most unusual, I suspect.

You are very welcome, ambassador. It is good to have you here.