State Luncheon for President of Ireland, Mary McAleese

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Banquet Hall
Beehive
Parliament Buildings

It is my pleasure to welcome Her Excellency, Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, Dr McAleese, Mary Hanafin TD, Minister of Education and Science, and the distinguished delegation from Ireland to Parliament today.

President McAleese, this is your second visit to New Zealand. Your last visit in 1998 is recalled with great affection, and it is a privilege for us to be able to host you again in your second term of office.

New Zealand and Ireland have a very warm relationship. There is so much in common between us, leading us to work together on many international issues.

It’s scarcely surprising that that is so, as our relationship is underpinned by so many cultural and family ties. Around eighteen per cent of New Zealanders claim Irish descent – although on St Patrick’s Day it’s tempting to think that number is much higher ! I count myself among the eighteen per cent as my grandfather migrated here from Ulster as a young man.

The strong kinship ties between us are reflected in the large numbers of Irish cultural societies around New Zealand. Contact with those groups will be an important part of President McAleese’s time here.

Our country receives a steady flow of short-term visitors from Ireland. The New Zealand - Ireland working holiday scheme began in 1995 and is very popular. Young people from Ireland come here under the scheme. Tourist numbers from Ireland have doubled between 2000 and 2006, and now stand at around 20,000 per year.

I recall my own very short visit to Dublin in November 2005 very clearly. The occasion was New Zealand’s presentation to the International Rugby Board for the right to host Rugby World Cup 2011. Our bid was successful and we are the proud hosts of the next Cup. Sadly flight changes left me with very little time in Dublin, but I was pleased to be able to call on the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

During this visit, a new agreement will be signed between our governments which builds on our shared heritage and culture. It is the new New Zealand Ireland Film Co-Production Treaty which will allow official co-productions to access cultural funding and incentives in each country. I hope it won’t be too long before we see the first Kiwi-Irish movie !

New Zealand values its observership on the International Fund for Ireland board, and we remain very interested in developments in Northern Ireland.

The restoration of a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, after more than four years in suspension, was a hugely significant event for the Northern Ireland peace process. It is testament to the joint efforts of the British and Irish governments, and particularly the personal commitment made by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to the peace process. We welcome the positive signs from Northern Ireland that the new government is operating effectively and that its two leaders are working well together.

Another area of cultural policy focused on in the President’s visit here is that of support for indigenous languages. The Irish Government has a far reaching strategy to make Ireland a fully bilingual country, and encourages the use of Irish language in all aspects of life. While in New Zealand President McAleese will be visiting Maori Television and gaining insights into the contribution it is making to promote the use of indigenous language here.

In recent years the level of co-operation between New Zealand and Ireland in the international arena has stepped up a great deal.

Our defence forces are to be found in peacekeeping roles in many theatres, upholding the United Nations’ principles and pursuing its goals. Currently we are both involved in Kosovo, in Lebanon, and elsewhere in the Middle East as well in the UN Truce Supervision Organisation. In earlier years, we worked together in East Timor. We have an annual programme of short term military exchanges, established in 2000.

New Zealand and Ireland are both keenly focused on the international challenges of climate change and improving sustainability. We are discussing how to tackle agricultural greenhouse gas emissions which are significant in the emissions profiles of both our countries. We are expecting a number of Irish scientists to travel to Christchurch for the Greenhouse Gases and Agriculture conference we are hosing in November.

We also work closely together on disarmament issues, especially through the New Agenda Coalition. A world free from nuclear weapons is a common goal for us both. And we are both playing a leading role in the Oslo Process to negotiate a new treaty on cluster munitions. That is a very important humanitarian initiative, and is one of New Zealand’s top disarmament priorities.

Once again, I welcome you, Madam President and Dr McAleese, to New Zealand. Our countries and peoples have so much shared heritage and so much in common that we meet as close friends. On this visit we can celebrate that, and look forward to keeping our ties strong in the future too.

Ladies and gentlemen, can I now ask you to rise to a toast to Her Excellency, Mary McAleese, President of Ireland.