Lebanon’s president praises ‘47 Irish martyrs’ as Higgins visits

Shared history unites Irish and Lebanese people, says Irish President in Beirut

 President Higgins meeting parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut. Photograph: Maxwell’s

President Higgins meeting parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut. Photograph: Maxwell’s

 

“The blood of 47 Irish martyrs is mixed with the history of this land,” the president of Lebanon said on Thursday in reference to four decades of service by thousands of Irish peacekeepers there.

Michel Aoun was speaking after discussions with president Michael D Higgins in Beirut on Thursday.

Mr Higgins spoke of the common histories of Ireland and Lebanon. “We are both countries of small size with relatively small populations which have come through a period of colonisation, experienced internal strife, division and sectarianism,” Mr Higgins said.

Mr Aoun said the mission of the peacekeepers has not finished as Israel still occupies Lebanese territory and makes constant incursions into Lebanon, threatening war.

Mr Higgins welcomed the opportunity, on his second official trip to Lebanon, to visit the Irish contingent and continue talks with Mr Aoun begun at last month’s opening of the UN General Assembly.

Ireland co-sponsored a Lebanese resolution calling for the establishment in Beirut of an Academy for Human Encounters and Dialogue. Its aim is to promote diplomacy and dialogue as an alternative to conflict, an existential objective in this war-gripped region. Mr Aoun urged Ireland to become a co-founder of the academy.

Heavy strain

Mr Higgins thanked Lebanon for its support for Ireland’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021-2022 while making the point that Ireland has “always taken principled positions, upholding international law, peace and security and human rights”.

Ireland has donated €6 million this year to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon from the war gripping their homeland. As they constitute a quarter of Lebanon’s population, their presence is putting a heavy strain on the slender resources of this country, which has not recovered from 15 years of civil strife (1975-90).

Mr Higgins also visited the seaside official office and residence of parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri before going to Martyrs’ Square in central Beirut. He stood solemnly before the bullet-riddled statue of two grieving women, Muslim and Christian, holding hands over a coffin. The statue commemorates the hanging by Jamal Pasha, the governor of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, of 21 nationalists fighting for freedom from the Ottoman empire. The date in May 1916 coincides with events of the Easter Rising. This is how shared history, stressed by Mr Higgins, unites Irish and Lebanese people.