France’s ambassador Jean-Pierre Thébault has thanked the people of Ireland for the support and solidarity shown in the wake of the attacks on journalists, police and citizens in his country last week.
Numerous weekend events around the country brought together people from all walks of life and nationalities, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended yesterday’s march in Paris with other world leaders.
Mr Thébault was at events in Dublin on Saturday and yesterday, and said seeing such support from Irish people eased the difficulty of not being in France.
“We felt at home here in Ireland, there were so many thousand, really tens of thousands of expressions of support and solidarity,” he said.
The ambassador told Marian Finucane on RTÉ Radio 1 that these and events taking place globally demonstrate a world in unity, despite inevitable fears about the kind of terror that affected his country.
“It’s our responsibility, not only of the political world, but also of each individual, to take a stand,” he said.
He spoke to the 5,000-strong crowd who marched yesterday from O’Connell Street to the gates of Leinster House.
Children led them in a sombre walk through the city centre, after gathering at the Spire and the GPO in an event organised by Dublin’s French community.
People held pens and pencils aloft and carried ‘Je Suis Charlie’ posters, with an impromptu rendition of French national anthem La Marseillaise bringing the event to a moving end.
Around 200 people took part in an event at the Spanish Arch in Galway, and in Cork, more than 400 people gathered silently at Daunt’s Square to express solidarity and sympathy about what happened last week.
Despite little publicity outside of Cork’s French community, people of all ages and nationalities took part, holding ‘Je Suis Charlie’ and ‘Is Mise Charlie’ posters, some with candles barely sheltered by plastic cups from a biting wind.
“What happened is terrible and we have to show our solidarity with the people in France. [The attackers] tried to stop journalists expressing what they think, that is an attack against freedom of expression,” said Nuria Gutierrez from Spain.
Amandine Lebrun from Orléans, about 100km from Paris, organised the event through Facebook and initially expected less than 100 people would attend.
“I have a few friends in Paris, it was scary on Wednesday when we found out. Because we’re far away from home and we can’t be with the ones we love and care for, we said we might as well meet up as a community,” she said.
“There’s a lot of French people in Cork, but also a lot of people would have been affected, French or not, so it’s really heartwarming to see so many people,” she said.
Many local journalists also joined in the event that ended in a march through the city. Ed Riordan said his community in Inniscarra is twinned with a group in Brittany, who he said were shocked but very determined to show a spirit of liberté, égalité, fraternité.
“Every country has to fight its own battles for democratic values and free speech, we’ve had our ups and downs with extremists and religious bigots, but we have to support each other as well,” he said.
Soizic Houze from Brittany said she hopes people at home in France do not become racist to Muslims.
“Just because some extremists did something for the name of a god, doesn’t mean they are all like that. They said it was for their god but I think it was just an excuse, they killed a Muslim policeman as well,” said the florist, who has lived in Cork for two years.
Irish rally for Paris: Standing for freedom and values by Cormac O'Keeffe
The words of the French ambassador rang as clear as the bright, crisp morning.
If there was a blasphemy at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, it was a “blasphemy against life, against decency, against freedom”.
Flanked by leaders from politics, police and journalism, Jean-Pierre Thébault quietly expressed the gratitude of his nation at the event in the grounds of the Dubh Linn garden at Dublin Castle.
It was a gathering arranged by the Irish branch of the National Union of Journalists for Saturday morning, three days after the murder of ten journalists and two policemen at the satirical magazine and only hours after the bloody climax of twin operations in and around Paris.
That sense of shock and disbelief was fresh on the faces of many present, not least the ambassador.
He told those gathered their gesture was testament to the fact that the terrorists had not succeeded — in instilling fear and defeating freedom of expression.
“Your outstanding reaction, your words of comfort, your words of support, of understanding, illustrate that they didn’t reach their aim.”
Mr Thébault said French and Irish people were united “standing for freedom, standing for values” and that the actions in Paris would not deter them.
“If there was a blasphemy in this story,” he said, “it has been a blasphemy against life, against decency, against freedom. No offence of any kind justifies taking life.”
He said the French and Irish republics were “closely united with core values of “freedom, liberty and equality” and expressed his deepest thanks to Ireland, its government and people. Senior figures attending included Tánaiste Joan Bruton, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.
NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley said people had gathered under a dark cloud in a special place where “the very stones speak of noble sacrifice”.
He referred to the Garda Memorial Garden, which marks those police officers who have died for the country and, on the other side of Dubh Linn, the bust of journalist Veronica Guerin, who died because she too “sought the truth”.
The names of the ten journalists and cartoonists and the two police officers were read out. There following a minute’s silence, just as the bells of nearby St Patrick’s Cathedral peeled. Those gathered raised posters of Je Suis Charlie.
NUJ chair Gerry Curran said journalists and policemen were gunned down “for doing their job”.
“Journalists died for drawing lines on paper. Police officers died protecting the thin blue line between society and lawlessness”.
“To live in fear gives a victory to terror, to shy away from truth telling allows liars corrupt the public sphere,” he said.
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