Tête à tête with Michael D Higgins on the menu for Macron’s whirlwind visit

French president will also discuss Afghanistan, NI protocol and corporate tax with Taoiseach

Emmanuel Macron will make his first official visit to Dublin since he became president of France on Thursday, accompanied by his ministers of foreign affairs, European affairs and finance.

Mr Macron had promised to travel to the capitals of all 27 EU member countries. Dublin was one of only four he had not visited. The trip is also dictated by events, in particular the need to implement the Northern Ireland protocol and France's desire to see Ireland endorse the international agreement on a minimum global corporate tax rate, said a source at the Élysée Palace.

Mr Macron will start the day at Áras an Uachtaráin with President Michael D Higgins. Mr Macron holds a doctorate in philosophy and worked on a book with the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who is often quoted by Mr Higgins.

After a 40-minute tête-à-tête, the presidents will be joined by five intellectuals chosen by Mr Higgins for a "writers and thinkers" discussion about Irish history, to be chaired by the broadcaster Doireann Ní Bhriain. The other four are: philosopher Richard Kearney, who wrote a book about Ricoeur; Catherine Day, the former secretary general of the European Commission and the chairperson of the Irish Citizens' Assembly, which France used as a model for its Citizens' Convention; Paul Gillespie, the UCD academic and former foreign policy editor of The Irish Times, and Joachim Fischer, the German-born chair of European cultural studies at the University of Limerick. *


Working lunch

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will host Mr Macron for a working lunch at Government Buildings. They will discuss events in Afghanistan, including French assistance in rescuing Irish citizens from Kabul, and a Franco-German initiative regarding the future treatment of Afghan asylum seekers. Mr Macron will outline his priorities for the French presidency of the EU, which begins on January 1st, 2022.

The EU has initiated legal proceedings against the UK for violating the terms of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement. “We are ready to discuss the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, but not its renegotiation, for the good reason that it protects the Good Friday agreement, the keystone of peace in Ireland,” said a Macron adviser.

Mr Martin and Mr Macron will discuss what should happen if British prime minister Boris Johnson should again extend the grace period on customs checks or invoke Article 16 to revoke the protocol.

“What do we do if after another extended grace period the situation does not evolve?” the adviser asked rhetorically. “If negotiations do not reach a solution, it could lead to unilateral measures of retaliation.”

Mr Macron will attempt to persuade his Irish interlocutors to endorse the international agreement on a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent. Mr Macron's administration is one of the primary forces behind the agreement reached last month under the aegis of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Ireland, Estonia and Hungary are the only EU countries who refused to support it.

Sent signals

"Ireland has not completely closed the door these last few weeks," said the adviser to Mr Macron. "The Taoiseach and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe have sent signals that they are ready to look at the details of the accord. Irish civil society is being consulted, and it is debated in business circles. We have high hopes that Ireland will join in the agreement. We are coming to Dublin to listen and to understand what difficulties prevent Ireland from joining."

The French and Irish foreign ministers will sign a “joint action plan” for greater cultural, economic and political co-operation. Included in the plan are the Celtic Interconnector which will link Ireland to the continental electrical grid, and exchanges of university professors similar to the Erasmus programme for students.

Mr Macron and the Taoiseach will walk through the streets of Dublin with next year's centenary of the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses in mind. Mr Macron will meet with students at Trinity College Dublin, and visit the university's "splendid library". He will then visit four start-ups at the Guinness Enterprise Centre with Mr Donohoe before an official dinner at the Áras.

* This article was amended on August 25th, 2021

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor