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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 19 November, 2019
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Michael D Higgins hopes England 'go all the way' at the World Cup

The President made his remarks to some 700 people who attended a gala dinner in London at the end of day two of his historic State visit to the UK.

Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were greeted by the Lord Mayor of London on arrival at the Guildhall this evening.
Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were greeted by the Lord Mayor of London on arrival at the Guildhall this evening.
Image: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has said that if Ireland can’t be at the World Cup then he wants England “to go all the way” at the finals in Brazil this summer.

Higgins said that he would raise a glass to the English football team triumphing in Brazil this summer towards the end of a speech on day two of his State visit to the UK.

“As a follower of the beautiful game, I look ahead two months to Brazil and say that if Ireland cannot be at the World Cup Finals, then I will raise a glass to England to go all the way,” he said to laughter and much applause from the audience.

He admitted the gesture “coming from the President of Ireland might seem itself modest but transformational”. However, he acknowledged there were some in the audience, which included many well-known Irish figures, who “may not be able to go that far”.

The President was speaking during a speech to some 700 people at the end of a gala dinner in the magnificent Guildhall in London tonight where guests included Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, former Taoiseach John Bruton and his wife Finola, Terry and Helen Wogan, former boxer Barry McGuigan, former footballer Kevin Moran, designer Orla Kiely and Dublin’s Lord Mayor Oisin Quinn.

His comments came a day after it was announced that Roy Hodgson’s side will play an international friendly against the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in June 2015 – the first game between the two sides in Dublin since the infamous riot at Lansdowne Road in 1995.

As it was on day one, day two of the historic State visit to the United Kingdom was dominated by much talk of the changing nature of Anglo-Irish relations in recent years.

The President acknowledged the “intertwined histories of Ireland and Britain have indeed known great turbulence” and the “complex” nature of the two nations’ relationship, but he insisted that those relations have never been “more friendly and respectful”.

“The vibrancy of this relationship now irrigates every aspect of our societies,” he said.

‘Human cost of financial crisis has been enormous’ 

He highlighted Ireland’s economic links with the UK including the €1 billion in trade conducted between the two countries every week. He also pointed out that two out of every five visitors to Ireland last year came from Britain.

On the economy, he said that Ireland had direct experience of the connected world where “a tremble in one corner of the globe can trigger a financial earthquake in another”. 

“In Ireland, we have our own direct experience of this,” he said. “As a small and open economy, we were hit simultaneously by the global financial crisis, over which we had but little control, and by one of its derivatives – the destructive fallout from the collapse of a domestic construction and banking bubble.”

But, the President insisted that Ireland has made progress in addressing these challenges, pointing out that exports have reached heights greater than before the crisis.

“We have returned to a modest but real growth, and are winning back the trust of our people and of investors; a point not unnoticed by that ‘panopticon’ of the contemporary financial world – the rating agencies,” he said to laughter from the audience.

He said that Ireland had received support from partners in Europe and in the UK “for which we are deeply grateful”.

But he pointed out that it is the “ordinary people” of Ireland and the generations to come who have “borne and continue to bear the cost of the painful decisions that have been taken” to stabilise public finances and rescue the banking system.

He said the human cost of the financial crisis “has been enormous” and quoted the words of the late poet Seamus Heaney who said before he died: “We are not simply a credit rating or an economy but a history and a culture, a human population rather than a statistical phenomenon.”

The President added that providing opportunities for young people “will be the true measure of our recovery”.

He also said there needs to be a “rich public discourse” on finding a “sustainable and ethical relationship between the economy and society.”

Also at tonight’s banquet, Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf paid tribute to the President and announced a new scholarship scheme for students on both sides of the Irish Sea to study Anglo-Irish literature at British universities.

VIDEO: ‘They’ve been preparing freshly baked biscuits’: When Michael D met Boris Johnson

‘I’m so pleased to be here’: President Higgins meets David Cameron at Downing Street

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Hugh O'Connell

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