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Speech at the Government Lunch for the President of Bulgaria in Iveagh House


Mr President,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here this afternoon as we approach the end of the first State Visit by the President of the Republic of Bulgaria to Ireland.

Your visit has come at an important time.  Bulgaria will soon accede to the European Union.  We also celebrate together the 50th Anniversary of our membership of the United Nations.

Indeed, it seems like only a short time ago that Ireland hosted the Day of Welcomes here in Dublin, marking the accession of ten new Member States to the European Union.  This was the largest and most symbolic enlargement of the Union – bringing together countries separated for decades into a zone of peace, stability and security.

I speak of the fifth enlargement of the Union - an enlargement that still awaits completion.  Your accession to the Union, along with that of Romania, will reflect your true place in the world - part of a free and democratic Europe, further realising the dream to put an end to the post-war division of Europe.

For this reason, the attendance of the Bulgarian Prime Minister at the Day of Welcomes in Dublin was of great significance.  It underlined Bulgaria’s place in the fifth enlargement of the Union. During Ireland’s EU Presidency, accession negotiations were still underway with Bulgaria.   It was a matter of great satisfaction for us, and for me personally, that the negotiations were informally closed while we were in the chair of the European Union.  We are now undertaking the necessary legislative measures in our national Parliament to ratify the Treaty of Accession.  I can assure you that the Government intends to complete our national ratification process as soon as possible in 2006.

As we look forward today to Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union, we can also look back at another significant milestone.  This visit has coincided with the 50th anniversary of both our countries’ membership of the UN – another forum in which our shared values are reflected.  We see our active participation in the development of a European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy as complementing and enhancing our commitment to the UN.  We continue to advocate the strongest possible links between the two organisations.

While our paths have been very different over the past 50 years, it is perhaps these shared ideals that have led us so close together again.  This visit has been an excellent opportunity to develop our relationship and foster new ways of working together in the future.

Membership of the European Union has proved an important catalyst for change in Ireland.  Access to the single market, coupled with support from European Structural and Cohesion funds, has played a significant part in the economic success story that is Ireland today.

We are very eager to share this experience with Bulgaria and I am aware that Ireland has been providing advice and assistance to Bulgaria through our Accession Training Programme.  I am delighted that this programme is set to continue in the future.  It will include a dedicated course on Ireland’s experience of Structural and Cohesion funds, run by the Institute of Public Administration here in Dublin.  I understand that the IPA is also working with the Ministry of Finance in Bulgaria at present and hopes to undertake further contracts in the future.

An important part of sharing experience is working together.  I am aware that your delegation undertook a number of visits yesterday and I am sure that these will prove to be a valuable building block in enhancing both our bilateral and our economic relations.

The meetings concentrated in particular on two areas of significant recent development in Ireland – infrastructure and information communications technology.  I believe that these areas can prove to be a similar catalyst for economic development in Bulgaria and that there is much to be gained from our close cooperation in this regard.

This year also marked the opening of a resident Irish Embassy in Sofia, a further important step forward in our deepening relations. It is fitting that as the geographical boundaries of the enlarged European Union extend further eastwards, we become closer as people, sharing our culture and dreams.  As small European countries, we will face many similar challenges in the enlarged Union and I look forward to working together with you as colleagues – and as friends – in the future.

I wish to take this opportunity to wish you every success in your ongoing preparations for EU membership and assure you of Ireland’s continued support.  Your visit to Ireland has been a major contribution in the further development of Ireland’s already excellent relations with Bulgaria.

In the years to come, we will work to further strengthen and develop our economic and cultural relations with Bulgaria.  We will also be partners together in the joint task of supporting the European Union’s role as an anchor of peace and stability on our continent and a force for good in the wider world.   We will also work together to ensure that the EU continues to meet the expectations of all our citizens for economic development, social solidarity and security.

Thank you.