The business of the 2012 ELDR Congress is already underway and tomorrow we will have a formal opening session, but this is an occasion for us to welcome you all to Dublin and say how happy we are to be hosting this year’s Congress.

Over 500 people from our 50 member parties across Europe will be attending what I have no doubt will be a very successful few days.

Our member parties are as diverse as the people of our continent.

European parties such as the ELDR are broad communities which work to find common ground on the biggest challenges.

The agenda for the Congress involves all of the most important issues facing Europe at this time of undoubted crisis.

I want to thank the Lord Mayor of Dublin for making City Hall available for this reception.  Although the Lord Mayor is a member of an EPP-aligned party, there is a strong tradition in this country of different political sides joining together to welcome visitors.

We are an island on the periphery of Europe but we have always had a deep attachment to our wider European identity.  Before modern transportation it may well have been very difficult to get here, however history records a deep influence of Irish culture and ideas on Europe throughout the ages.

James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, for example, are both profoundly European and unmistakably Irish authors.  They form part of a national identity here which I think has always been strongest when we seek strength in the exchange of ideas and shared culture with the rest of Europe.

 

This has a particular relevance for European liberals.

 

In this hall you can see the statue of Daniel O’Connell, who was the first truly democratic Lord Mayor of Dublin a hundred and seventy one years ago.  He should be seen as the most important leader of liberal and democratic values at that time, though not just in this country but throughout Europe.

 

His first great cause was to fight religious discrimination.  In this country he mobilised what was the world’s first peaceful mass political movement. Organised in every parish in the country in the 1820s, a small membership fee was charged which funded political activity and allowed the organising of meetings which hundreds of thousands of people attended.

He believed in the rights of citizens to participate in democracy and be equal before the law.  His greatest efforts were in this country, but he had influence well beyond our shores.

Because of his successes and methods here, he became a major figure internationally.  He was a passionate abolitionist, becoming a good friend of Frederick Douglas who President Obama refers to as one of his great inspirations.

In Europe he was seen as a leader of those who promoted the liberal values of non-discrimination and ending various forms of serfdom.  Throughout Europe, and especially in countries with significant Catholic populations, his support was regularly sought in liberal campaigns.

Throughout much of this country, the respect for Daniel O’Connell and what he achieved can be seen in statues and streets named after him.  His wider importance is often missed and it is something which I think we should remember more.

When we have overcome our greatest challenges, drawing inspiration, support and solidarity from Europe has always been a central factor.

This has been true here and I believe it has been true throughout the continent.  The tradition of liberal democracy upon which an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity in Europe was built should be celebrated and it should continue to be renewed.

Over the next two days we will have a lot opportunity to discuss the most important issues.

I have no doubt that this Congress will be a great success.