President Higgins thanks public for support on Welsh visit

Backing has given President ‘great energy’ in performing duties over first three years


President Michael D Higgins has said that he and he and his wife Sabina have been moved by the support he has received since assuming office.

President Higgins was elected three years ago today and alluded to the passage of time in a speech to the Irish community in Wales.

He said he wanted to thank those who had taken the trouble to write to him and offer their support. “There’s a great energy that comes from that and I’m very grateful for it.”

He singled out the first State visit by an Irish president to Britain, which occurred in April, as among the highlights of his first three years in office.

Another highlight was his return to El Salvador in October last year where he had campaigned against human rights abuses by the US-backed government in the 1980s.

Mr Higgins said he had set out to make his term a “presidency of ideas” with three speeches given at the London School of Economics, the Sorbonne and the European Parliament reflecting on the theme of ethics.

He added that some 50 events have been organised as a result of his ethics initiatives in Irish third-level institutions.

The President embarks on his longest official visit this Saturday when he travels to Africa for 22 days.

He will visit Malawi, South Africa and Ethiopia and make four speeches on his travels, including one to the UN based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

On the final day of his visit to Wales, President Higgins visited the InterReg 4A programme in Swansea University where he saw 11 projects which are joint ventures between Irish and Welsh universities.

Among the programmes he visited is one that seeks to reduce the energy bill associated with household supply of water and another that seeks to monitor jellyfish numbers in the Irish Sea with a view to harvesting them for medical research.

The InterReg 4A programme has been renewed for another four years and projects on both sides of the Irish Sea will receive €97 million in funding from the EU.

President Higgins said the projects carried out through the InterReg programmes had brought real jobs to both communities. They will give “real opportunities” to young people, he said and the Irish-Welsh InterReg programme is regarded as a “star performer” within the EU.

The President said recent initiatives to support small and medium enterprises arising out of the InterReg scheme had an 88 per cent success rate in placing and retaining young people in employment.

Among the organisations who turned up to the Welsh Millennium Centre for the event were representatives from the British-Irish chambers of commerce, Gloucestershire GAA, Comhlatas Ceoltoirí Éireann in Newport and the Irish language programmes at the universities in Aberystwyth and Cardiff.

Labour MP Chris Ruane, who is involved with the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group, said he hoped the presidential visit will “set the pace” for Irish-Welsh relations in future years.