People looking to post-Brexit EU with concern - Donald Tusk

European Council president given honorary life membership of UCD Law Society

The President of the European Council Donald Tusk told UCD Law Society students that he was a fan of Conor McGregor. Photograph: PA

The President of the European Council Donald Tusk told UCD Law Society students that he was a fan of Conor McGregor. Photograph: PA

 

Thousands of people are looking to a post-Brexit future for the Northern Ireland peace process with “concern and anxiety”, European Council president Donald Tusk said at an event in Dublin.

In a speech to the UCD Law Society, he told hundreds of students that while they were among a generation of Irish people living at an “exciting time”, there were reasons for caution in analysing the state of the European Union and its members.

“We have many reasons to be satisfied, as a generation which has united Europe, ” he said. “But we have as many reasons for concern, as a generation that could still, unfortunately, make it to the gloomy and, for sure, spectacular show of another European disunion.”

In a speech whose tone was laced with humour and cautious optimism for the future, Mr Tusk wasted little time in referencing his disappointment in Brexit – a political reality he said had caused him some distress.

“I don’t like Brexit. Actually, that’s an understatement: I believe Brexit is one of the saddest moments in 21st-century European history. In fact, sometimes I am even furious about it,” he said.

This year would be about the UK’s departure, he said later, and consequently “instead of integration I will be dealing with disintegration”, and a form of damage control.

Law Society

The former Polish prime minister was speaking at the university’s O’Reilly Hall where he was presented with honorary life membership of the Law Society.

His speech made a number of references to European conflict and division within nations, citing his own country and the Balkans among them.

“While here in Dublin and in Belfast today, on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, thousands of people are looking with concern and anxiety to the future of the peace process after Brexit,” he said.

But there was an optimistic note for his young audience. Today is an “exciting” time to be Irish, he told students, addressing surveys that placed the country’s population among the happiest in Europe; as well as a high birth rate and quickly growing economy.

“You have managed to combine fidelity with the past with a freedom from old anxieties. You became a country of immigration for the first time, receiving more people proportionately than the UK, yet no-one ever hears of any problems on this issue from Ireland,” he said.

“Meeting your young Taoiseach or watching the exploits of your rugby team, it is clear that something much more interesting is happening. There is a new confidence there, not dependent on the opinions of others.”

It was a 15-minute speech that also made sure to credit Irish culture – Mr Tusk announcing himself a fan of several of the country’s most celebrated figures, WB Yeats, Samuel Beckett and U2 among them.

“I am even a fan of Conor McGregor,” he said to a rousing welcome from the floor, “though I must say I have mixed feelings about his latest fight with a bus in New York.”