Leo Varadkar sets out UN Security Council goal at Ireland Funds gala
Taoiseach and Prince Albert of Monaco speak at philanthropic organisation conference
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prince Albert II of Monaco at the 32nd annual conference gala dinner of the Ireland Funds at Powerscourt Hotel, Enniskerry. Photograph: Mark Stedman/PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar set a goal of securing a seat for Ireland on the UN Security Council in 2021-2022 in a speech to the gala dinner of annual conference of the Ireland Funds, the global philanthropic organisation.
Speaking at the event in Powerscourt, Co Wicklow, Mr Varadkar said that he would like a place on the council so Ireland can play an even greater role in international affairs and to try to build “a world of laws”.
“At a time of global uncertainty, rising terrorism and enormous threats to peace, it is right that we as a country should now seek to extend our diplomatic footprint overseas,” he told guests at the black-tie event.
Mr Varadkar paid tribute to Ireland Funds co-founder Dan Rooney, the former US ambassador to Ireland and owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team. He described him as “a giant of Irish America and American sports and a wonderful man who had a profound impact on racial relations in the United States”.
The Ireland Funds, which has raised about €500 million for causes in Ireland and other causes, had “done so much to promote peace, culture, education and community development throughout the island of Ireland,” he said.
Mr Varadkar shared parting wisdom passed on by Enda Kenny when he stepped down as taoiseach. Mr Kenny told him that he felt he managed as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael to get the Irish people and Fine Gael to believe in themselves again. He praised the Ireland Funds for building confidence in others.
“You can’t do anything if you don’t believe in yourself,” he said. “I think one thing that the Ireland Funds has done amazingly and remarkably is to give so many people, individuals and organisations the confidence to believe that there is nothing they can’t achieve.”
The country still needed the group’s philanthropic support, he said, pointing to the challenges of Brexit redrawing the map of Europe, the progress still required in Northern Ireland’s peace process and the need to provide real security to all people on the island of Ireland.
The Taoiseach spoke ahead of Prince Albert of Monaco, who is a long-time supporter of the Ireland Funds in Monaco and who was honoured by the organisation at last night’s event.
The prince spoke fondly of Irish connections through his late mother, Princess Grace, saying that he was walking in the footsteps of the 1965 visit taken by his parents to the country. He recalled that on that visit his mother attended a function at Powerscourt House for the benefit of children with tuberculosis.
“I can easily understand how they were seduced by the landscape and the wonderful scenery around,” he said.
The gestures of kindness and affection shown to him on his visit in Ireland, he said, made it “feel like this is more a homecoming than a simple visit”.
He devoted part of his speech to raising awareness of the “mutual awareness” in Ireland and Monaco of their determination to combat climate change and to preserve the future of the planet.
Mr Varadkar, meanwhile, used the occasion to poke fun at himself too, while honouring Prince Albert and his mother, Grace Kelly, the former Hollywood film star.
“As somebody who loves cinema – Love Actually is not the only film I like,” he said to laughs, in a nod to his reference to the UK romantic comedy at his recent press conference with UK prime minister Theresa May.
He noted that Princess Grace was “immensely proud of her Irish heritage” and that “we in turn were very proud of her and all she achieved in her iconic but very short life”.
Mr Varadkar thanked Prince Albert for travelling all the way from Monaco.
“You always have a home here. In the unlikely event Monaco ever becomes a republic, don’t worry – you’re welcome here,” he said, to more laughs.
The Taoiseach recalled a night out drinking in an Irish bar in Paris with Prince Albert when, as then minister for sport, Mr Varadkar found himself at a loose end after freezing weather caused the cancellation of the Ireland-France Six Nations rugby match.
He texted his mother, sister and a few friends to tell them that he was in the prince’s motorcade on his way to an Irish bar for the night. He received no response.
“I found out in the subsequent days they didn’t think it was true. I sent a text to my sister today to say that I just had lunch with Angela Merkel . . . this time she thinks it’s true.”
Mr Varadkar said that his French visit coincided with the presidential elections at a time when nobody then knew Emmanuel Macron, the newly elected president of France.
“It shows much politics can change in only five years,” he said. “Something to bear in mind if you are in this game.”