The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore TD, and Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton TD, today led a national handshake in Croke Park, as part of Ireland’s EU Presidency celebrations of Europe Day.
They were participating in a group handshake with a team of young GAA players (10-13 years), from community clubs around Ireland, whose families originated in other European countries. The young players, sporting a specially designed GAA Europe strip were welcomed to Croke Park by GAA President Liam Ó Néill and Director General Páraic Duffy.
The hand shake was replicated in national schools around the country where pupils wished each other a ‘Happy Europe Day’, acknowledging the diversity and solidarity that exists between them as EU citizens. The schools’ national handshake was coordinated by European Movement Ireland whose Blue Star Programme for schools aims to foster better understanding and knowledge of the European Union and how it affects the lives of its citizens, through classroom projects and activities.
The handshake symbolises the day that then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman extended the hand of friendship to old enemy Germany, to put war behind them and to forge a peaceful continent. That was the 9th May 1950 which to this day is celebrated as Europe Day. The Schuman Declaration proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community, in the wake of the devastation caused by World War 2. It proposed the pooling of the production of coal and steel in order to raise standards of living and, in the words of the Declaration, to make war between historic rivals France and Germany "not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible". It was the genesis of the European Union of 27 countries which we know today.
The Taoiseach said:
“This handshake today, involving young Irish people whose families have come from many parts of Europe and beyond, underlines why we celebrate Europe Day. It is a day to remember that there is so much that binds us in the European Union and that our futures are inextricably linked.
2013 is a big year for Ireland. On this Europe Day we mark not just our role as Presidency of the EU, we celebrate, too, the 40th anniversary of our membership of the Union and the European year of Citizens 2013.”
The Tánaiste said:
“I’m delighted to see so many young people taking part in this Europe Day handshake, because the next 40 years of Ireland's EU membership will be the most important for them.
EU membership has had a hugely positive influence on Irish society over the past 40 years, by helping us to build critical infrastructure, improve gender equality and enhance our education system. And, at this difficult time for Europe, as we all try to deal with the aftershocks of the economic crisis, the European Union – and our place at the heart of it – will play a central role in our continued recovery.”
The Minister of State for European Affairs said:
“Irish citizens in common with all EU citizens enjoy rights, including the rights of free movement of persons, goods and services across the continent, which many of us take for granted today, but which would have been inconceivable to past generations.
As well as acknowledging what has been achieved together in Europe, Europe Day – and indeed the European Year of Citizens as a whole - will, I hope, help people understand better the rights and opportunities they enjoy as citizens of the Union, and how to overcome obstacles to using those rights.”
Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael Liam Ó Néill said:
"As an organisation the GAA is delighted to be involved in this important day which underlines the close ties between Ireland the wider European Community built up over the last four decades.
"We take seriously our role in helping people who have arrived in Ireland in recent years to integrate fully into Irish society through the medium of our games and by the same token the growth of our games across Europe over the same period has been one of the success stories of the GAA."
For more images from Europe Day, see our image gallery.