French prime minister Manuel Valls praises Ireland’s economy

Mediterranean crisis hung over meeting with Taoiseach, writes Lara Marlowe

 

It was perhaps the moment Taoiseach Enda Kenny had been waiting for, an endorsement that showed there had been a slight shift in “the power dynamic” between big France and little Ireland.

“I want to very warmly congratulate the Taoiseach for the remarkable economic performance that Ireland is again achieving,” prime minister Manuel Valls, the man to watch in French politics, said at the end of his two-day visit to Dublin. “It’s good news for Ireland and it’s very good news for Europe. ”

The Taoiseach had just returned from the extraordinary EU summit, and the plight of migrants from the Middle East and Africa hung over his meeting with Valls.

“The equivalent of three jumbo jets have been lost in the Mediterranean,” Kenny said.

Criticism

“I don’t accept that the focus was just on traffickers,” Kenny said. “There was real urgency, because these people have a right to live.”

He has committed an Irish naval vessel to the European effort. “Under appropriate circumstances, we will offer that vessel immediately.”

The Taoiseach said 12 million people had been displaced in Syria and “Libya is in a desperate state”. The EU must join forces with the African Union, he said.

“The population of Africa is set to reach two billion. If even 2 per cent of young males try to reach Europe, the scale is of enormous proportions.”

Asked how many refugees Ireland would accept for resettlement and when, Kenny said: “We will take our share. We will play our part.”

Valls had started the day with a visit to the Old Library building at Trinity College Dublin, where he was given a crash course in Irish history, from the 9th century monks who embellished the Book of Kells to Brian Boru’s harp and the 1916 Proclamation of Independence.

“The Book of Kells has been described as the work of angels,” librarian Helen Shenton told Valls.

He pored over Samuel Beckett’s small, slanted handwriting. “Beckett wrote to a lot to people he cared about,” said Bernard Meehan, keeper of manuscripts.

“It sure beats texting,” Valls joked.

A recent documentary claimed the French prime minister had no sense of humour, but he cracked at least three jokes yesterday in Dublin.

Valls grew up in an artistic household, which must have inspired an impromptu speech in the Long Room on European civilisation.

“Without universities, there would be no Europe,” Valls said. “If Europe still has some say in the world, it is thanks to her history and culture.”