Higgins says EU states must ensure developing world also benefits from vaccines

President has arrived in Rome for four-day visit to the Italian capital and the Vatican, where he will meet Pope Francis

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins visiting  the Terme di Diocleziano, which was the largest public bathing complex in ancient Rome. Photograph:  Maxwells

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins visiting the Terme di Diocleziano, which was the largest public bathing complex in ancient Rome. Photograph: Maxwells


Political Correspondent in Rome The European Union’s determination to roll out vaccine programmes in all member states must be matched by a commitment to ensure the developing world also benefits from Covid-19 vaccines, President Michael D Higgins has said.

The President arrived in Rome on Tuesday for a four-day visit to the Italian capital and to the Vatican, which will culminate with a meeting with Pope Francis on Friday.

It is the first time the President and his wife, Sabina Higgins, have travelled outside of Ireland since the pandemic first struck in Ireland in March 2020.

On Tuesday evening the President and Mrs Higgins met representatives of the Irish community at Villa Spada, the Irish Embassy to Italy and also to the Holy See.

In his address Mr Higgins highlighted the needs of the developing world in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I spoke of the success of the European Union and its member states in rolling out vaccination for its citizens. This is a source of encouragement to us all. But this success must also be accompanied by a genuine commitment to ensuring effective vaccination programmes in the developing world if our exit from the pandemic is to be a long-term one.”

He added: “Time is running out to save lives on the African continent.”

In a reference to his appointment with Pope Francis on Friday, he said he would also have the opportunity to discuss some of those challenges at the meeting. He added that Pope Francis’s “deep reflections on issues such as development and climate change have been such an inspiration to us all”.

The President also referred to the change of regime in Afghanistan which followed the withdrawal of US troops last month. Without referring to the Taliban by name, he said:“Unfolding events in Afghanistan surely give emphasis to the importance of basic human rights being protected and vindicated.”


Turning to the audience, he said he was very aware that Irish people resident in Italy had experienced very difficult consequences of the pandemic, including prolonged separation from family in Ireland.

“This is our first visit abroad since the beginning of the coronavirus health emergency, and I am very conscious that it is to the country which suffered the most in the European Union from the pandemic, particularly in the early months last year when we all witnessed the tragic images of the coffins of the deceased being moved by army trucks in Bergamo.

“More recently we have seen the scenes of fires and flooding in other parts of the country, and our hearts have gone out to those affected.”

The President was invited to Italy by President Sergio Mattarella.

Tuesday’s event was cohosted by Ireland’s Ambassador to Italy, Colm Ó Floinn, and the Irish Ambassador to the Holy See, Derek Hannon.

On Wednesday the Arraiolos group of 13 European presidents, all of whom have a non-executive role in their member states, will meet to discuss issues of European and international significance.

Mr Higgins said critical issues included climate change, the changing nature of work, and the impact of largely unregulated technological change, which has adversely affected trust on the European street.

“Developing a vision of our European Union that is not confined to the market or economic forces is, as I have argued consistently over recent years in various public addresses, an essential task for contemporary leadership.”