Higgins emphasises economic ties in Guildhall speech

President tells 700 guests at banquet that cultural, economic and social links now ‘flow so evenly and naturally’

Ireland and the United Kingdom can enjoy a era of "boundless possibilities", President Michael Higgins has said on the back of political change that would have "unimaginable" just a few years ago.

In a speech to 700 guests in the Guildhall in London, including former Taoiseach John Bruton, Mr Higgins emphasised the economic ties that now bind the two countries.

“The intertwined histories of Ireland and Britain have indeed known great turbulence, but we meet at a time when the relationship between us has never been more friendly or respectful,” he said.

The guest list included Greencore chief executive, Patrick Coveney; Aer Lingus chief executive, Christoph Mueller, along with broadcaster, Terry Wogan.

The cultural, economic and social links now “flow so evenly and naturally” between Britain and Ireland that we “may underestimate their significance”, he said.

Trade is worth € 1 billion each week: the UK is Ireland’s largest export market, and Ireland is the fifth largest export market for the UK.

Highlighting improvements since Ireland’s economic crash, Mr Higgins said: “We have gone from losing 1,600 jobs a week during the peak of the crisis to now creating 1,200 jobs a week.”

He went on: "In responding to our recent economic crisis, Ireland received significant support from our partners in Europe and, on a bilateral basis, from our friends here in the United Kingdom, for which we are deeply grateful.

“But it is the ordinary people of Ireland, and generations yet to come, who have borne and continue to bear the cost of the painful decisions that have been taken, aimed at stabilising the public finances and reducing the astounding levels of public debt incurred from rescuing our banks.

“In the end, it is how our respective peoples experience the result of our action or inaction that is the test of the quality of our decisions.

"The test will always be a human impact one. As Seamus Heaney reminded us last year, not long before his passing: we are not simply a credit rating or an economy but a history and a culture, a human population rather than a statistical phenomenon," the President declared.

Returning to a theme he has previously explored during his presidency, Mr Higgins said the global crisis “calls for a much more fundamental analysis of the nature of our contemporary economic system.

“When the financial and technological forces that hold sway are unaccountable and seem more powerful than Governments, it poses the question as to who is responsible for their consequences,” he told business leaders.

Calling for deeper debate about the challenges facing global society, Mr Higgins went on: “It is such a dialogue that I am seeking to promote in Ireland, and I know that such a debate is also taking place in Britain.”

Before an audience that included the head of the Confederation of British Industry, Mr John Cridland, the President went on:

“In the wake of a banking crisis, it is within our power to envisage new models of possibility – ones where tradition and innovation can enrich each other; where trust and diversity can coexist; and where a sustainable and competitive economy can be based on truly ethical foundations. Ireland and Britain may be just two countries where such a dialogue is under way.”

The menu from last night’s Guildhall dinner

It began with a smoked trout timbala, a delicate mousseline of lightly smoked rainbow trout presented with a spring salsa of watercress, orange, young tomatoes and Dublin Bay prawns.

The 700 guests later enjoyed a spring rabbit and date ravioli, followed by salt marsh lamb, served with “a rosemary reaction and crushed new potatoes”.

And it ended with a chocolate bread and butter pudding — “a classic English dessert in harmony with Irish Whiskey ice cream, garnished with a London ‘Shard’ of sugar work’, followed by Fair Trade coffee and liquers.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times