French President’s Irish visit goes ahead

French President’s Irish visit
French President’s Irish visit: Francois Hollande

A visit to Ireland by France’s President Francois Hollande was due to go ahead this week despite the national emergency created by last week’s terrorist murders in Nice.

But France’s head of government and head of state postponed his plans to unveil a World War One memorial to Irish soldiers at Glasnevin Cemetery. Books of condolences were opened on both sides of the Border with President Michael D Higgins leading the expressions of sympathy and solidarity felt by the people of Ireland.

In Northern Ireland the first official engagement of newly appointed Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire was to sign the Book of Condolences in Belfast.

French President’s Irish visit
18/7/2016 President Michael D. Higgins and wife Sabina signed a Book of Condolence for the victims of the Nice tragedy today at the Mansion House in Dublin. Photo: RollingNews.ie

President Higgins, signing the Book a the Mansion House in Dublin, called for people to make a stand for democracy in the face of those who abuse sacred texts.

“We are in a period of time where, for a whole series of different factors, people are seizing and distorting and very often using pieces of text, often sacred texts, massively abusing these in a way that it would be absurd if it did not have such a violent outcome. What we all have to do is take a stand for democracy, prepare for democracy.”

President Higgins said the lorry attack in Nice was an appalling, cowardly act against children and people celebrating France’s national day that defied belief.

“The quality of your response always defines your democracy. The quality of response in France so far – threatened so often and so frequently recently – has been to say we will not be dislodged for our way of life, we are the home of democracy, there will be democracy to be expected in our streets.”

French President’s Irish visit
NI Sec James Brokenshire

Vigils were held last weekend in Dublin, Galway and Limerick to remember those killed and injured. In Brussels a minute’s silence was Europe’s foreign ministers gathered for meetings. President Hollande’s one day Irish visit – in which he is scheduled to meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Higgins – was due to be dominated by talks about Brexit and security matters.

He had been scheduled to unveil a new memorial to Irish soldiers who died fighting in France during WW1 at Glasnevin cemetery, a gift from the French government to Ireland. The memorial is based on the wooden Ginchy Cross, which was carved from the beams of a ruined farmhouse by the 11th Hampshires, a pioneer battalion attached to the 16th (Irish) Division.

The 16th liberated the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy in September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. The memorial will include on its base a tribute to Irish soldiers by Marshal Ferdinand Foch. President Hollande has a personal interest in the memorial, which is the first France has erected to the Irish.

After five students at Paris’s École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Art) were murdered in the terrorist shootings last November President Hollande requested that one of the school’s teachers, sculptor Patrice Alexandre, and some of his students take over the design and construction of the memorial, which has been made from Irish blue limestone, taken from the Three castles quarry outside Kilkenny.

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