Irishness 'shaped by emigration'
President Michael D Higgins' visit to Rome is part of two overseas engagements during Ireland's EU presidency. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Irish identity is shaped by the experiences of Irish emigrants as much as it is by those who live in Ireland, President Michael D Higgins said today.
Addressing the James Joyce Italian Foundation Conference at the University of Roma Tre on migration, the President said Ireland and Italy were countries “long defined by a history of emigration”.
While “the loss of so many young people” had caused “grief on our national consciousness”, the President said, young Irish and Italian emigrants were enjoying “successful and fulfilling lives in other lands, while retaining deep ties of affection for their countries of origin”.
President Higgins, accompanied by his wife Sabina, attended today's conference as part of a three day official visit to Italy to mark the seventh Irish presidency of the European Union.
He said the presidency offered Ireland a “unique opportunity to contribute positively to Europe’s development”.
“The priorities for our Presidency are urgent and compelling; jobs, stability and growth. These are the issues that matter to our people,” he said.
“We have a common purpose to create a social Europe and holding to that purpose, while working through our problems together, we will help our Union — still young in historic terms — to emerge stronger and wiser.”
He said the EU was “understandably preoccupied with regenerating the economy, securing our currency and stabilising the banking system”, but the wider vision for Europe should not be forgotten.
“The Union is far more than a currency zone. It is a framework for the maintenance and development of shared values that give meaning and vitality to our European heritage — values such as solidarity, social cohesion and an openness to positively engage with other cultures and identities,” he said.
The President and his wife will visit the Pontifical Irish College tomorrow and meet the rector, Father Ciaran O’Carroll, and staff and students before a business event.
He will also visit the Church of San Pietro in Montorio, the burial place of the exiled Gaelic earls Hugh O’Neill and Rory O Donnell.
Tomorrow evening the President will meet the president of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, at the Quirinale Palace and will be the guest of honour at a concert and reception to mark Ireland’s EU presidency.