President calls for Irish identity that honours unionists' sense of Britishness

 

THE President, Mrs Robinson, opened the 48th Frankfurt Book Fair yesterday with a call for a more generous concept of Irish identity that honoured the Britishness of the unionist community in Northern Ireland.

Ireland and its Diaspora" is the theme of this year's fair, which is the largest literary gathering in the world.

The President said the diversity of the diaspora had instructed Irish people in the values of openness, tolerance and fair mindedness and had reinforced the sense that Irishness was not simply territorial.

"It is broad enough to reach out to everyone on the island of Ireland and to show itself capable of honouring and listening to those whose sense of identity and whose cultural values may be more British than Irish.

"And, if this is done generously, they too the unionist community while affirming their Britishness, might find it easier to acknowledge within themselves a component of Irishness, of living on the island of Ireland and of respecting their nationalist neighbours for whom that Irishness is the dominant identity," she said.

The book fair opened within hours of the news that Reading in die Dark by the Derry writer, Seamus Deane, has been short listed for the Booker Prize, Britain's most prestigious literary award. Mrs Robinson opened the fair with the German Chancellor Dr Helmut Kohl, who begins his first official visit to Ireland today, and the Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney.

Dr Kohl spoke of the influence of the German writer, Heinrich Boll, in shaping the popular German view of Ireland as a picturesque, lovable country, adding that this perception was no longer adequate.

Ireland today is one of the most dynamic member states of the European Union and is as lovable as ever," he said.

This year's book fair features more multimedia products and electronic publishers than ever before, but Dr Kohl dismissed fears that computers would soon replace conventional books.

"The book reader is his own master in a very practical sense he needs no hardware, no software, no electronic network. At a push, he does not even need daylight just the light of a candle," he said.

Seamus Heaney spoke of the positive legacy of Ireland's history of emigration and conjured up a vision of Ireland as a nation of creative people on the move.

"They are in a position to do in reality the thing that the English poet Robert Browning once envisaged as an ideal for the imagination, namely to range between the kindred points of heaven and home to have equal access to the two domains which bound our earthly existence and which the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh once called the parish and the universe" he said.

The official inauguration of the book fair was followed by the opening of the Irish pavilion by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Mr Higgins.