Tánaiste brings Franco-Irish relations to 'new register'

Irish diplomats hope Paris meetings will become tradition, comparable to Taoiseach’s Oval Office visit to Washington

French president François Hollande and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore after their meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris yesterday. Photograph: Michel Euler/AP

French president François Hollande and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore after their meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris yesterday. Photograph: Michel Euler/AP


Irish officials say Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore’s meetings with president François Hollande, prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and foreign minister Laurent Fabius over the past two days represent a “new register” in Franco-Irish relations.

It has been a very long time since a high-ranking Irish official engaged in such intense consultations with the French. Irish diplomats hope the Paris meetings will become a tradition, comparable to the Taoiseach’s Oval Office visit in Washington.

“I think it’s very appropriate that the use of St Patrick’s Day to extend our international influence should include France, because it is our fourth-largest trading partner, our second-largest market for food and drink,” Mr Gilmore said in the courtyard of the Élysée Palace following his meeting with Mr Hollande.

Franco-Irish relations were somewhat neglected in recent years because “Germany was the partner that had to be convinced”, French and Irish diplomats said. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is ideologically closer to chancellor Angela Merkel, so relations with Paris have been delegated to Mr Gilmore.

Bank debt
Mr Gilmore raised the question of tens of billions of euro in legacy bank debt, for which Dublin seeks relief from Europe. “This is not an issue that is going to be decided today or tomorrow,” he said. “It obviously requires the putting in place of banking union and the new instruments. Today was an opportunity for me to remind [Mr Hollande] of the agreement that was made, because this was agreed at the EU council in June 2012, that bank and sovereign debt would be separated and the Irish position would be dealt with separately on its own merits. France has been consistent in their support for us.”

The Tánaiste and Mr Ayrault brought a new, co-operative element to the youth job guarantee, which promises youths under 25 a job or training within four months of leaving school or losing a job.

The EU approved the guarantee under the Irish presidency in April 2013. It has still not been implemented. Mr Gilmore and Mr Ayrault agreed to “ask our officials at agencies to look at ways in which we can promote exchanges of trainees and apprentices, with particular emphasis on the tourism sector and in the agri-food area”, Mr Gilmore said. Mr Hollande received Mr Gilmore not because of his position in Ireland’s Government but because he is the leader of the “sister party” to the French socialists. They jointly endorsed the German socialist president of the EU parliament Martin Schulz to succeed José Manuel Barroso as president of the EU commission.

Mr Schulz “has been a very good friend of Ireland”, Mr Gilmore said. “As president of the EU parliament , he came to Ireland in the middle of the economic crisis and he spoke very forcefully, very passionately, about his support for Ireland. He was a friend to us when we didn’t have many friends. We will be reminding the Irish people of that in the campaign for the European parliament.”

Mr Gilmore attended the Wild Geese charity rugby dinner, along with the retired rugby star Ronan O’Gara, last night.