President gets a taste of politics in Quebec at welcoming lunch


The President, Mrs McAleese, got an immediate flavour of the politics of Quebec when she arrived in French-speaking Montreal late yesterday morning.

At a lunch given in her honour by the Federal Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, Mr Stephane Dion, the chocolate mousse was decorated with a maple leaf. It was remarked by some of the Quebecois guests that it was easily known that the federalists were paying because if the hosts were separatist-minded the decoration would have been the fleur de lis.

Mr Dion, speaking in French and English, welcomed Mrs McAleese by referring to the many Irish in his city and praising the recent political advances in Ireland. The Quebecois were proud, he said, of the role of General Jean de Chastelain in the peace process.

Mrs McAleese also opened her remarks in French and spoke of how the Irish had integrated all over the world just as they had in French Canada. Later the Irish party visited St Patrick's Bascila in central Montreal, which was built in 1847 to accommodate the 6,500-plus Irish emigrants. A peal of bells greeted the President's arrival.

The President toured the church, guided by Monsignor Barry Egan Jones, and viewed a plaque dedicated to a family called McAleese. The monsignor said that many of the Irish children whose parents had died of fever in the city were adopted, with church encouragement, by local French families. But they kept their names, and now many French Canadians had Irish surnames.

Earlier in the day the President spoke about her Belfast upbringing at her final engagement in Toronto, and told the audience how the Irish community in Canada represented both orange and green traditions, which had a spirit of generosity towards each other.

Meanwhile, it emerged from the meeting between the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrews, and his counterpart, Mr Lloyd Axworthy, earlier this week that Canada is to make a further donation to the International Fund for Ireland.

It was agreed that the two countries would support each other in the elections for membership of the UN Security Council, and that Canada supported Mr Andrews's initiative on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

Addressing some 600 guests, business people and representatives of Irish communities, including the GAA and a special group of 20 senior citizens, at an 8 a.m. breakfast, Mrs McAleese thanked them for giving something back in a very direct way to help those who remained behind. There was now immigration to Ireland. "We can hardly believe it," she said. "Ireland has been transformed."

The President's speech, in which she referred to her family's experience with emigration and to how things had changed in Ireland, economically and politically, visibly moved members of the audience.

The breakfast was organised by the Ireland Fund of Canada and the Spirit of Ireland, Toronto. The chairman of the fund, Mr Bill Neill, told the gathering that he and Mrs McAleese were both born in Belfast within a few days of each other.

With a background on the Falls Road, she did not come from privilege, he said, but had achieved great academic success.

Although an elegant and articulate speaker she had a natural gift for direct speaking and putting people at their ease.

The President praised the Ireland Funds for their generosity and farsightedness in helping improve the lives and hopes of people throughout Ireland. They had an unrivalled record in raising money for the promotion of peace, culture, charity.