A defiant Françoise Hollande has called on French citizens and Europe to stand together in the wake of terrorist attacks to protect freedom, as he thanked Ireland for its solidarity, writes Juno McEnroe

The French president, in a brief but crucial visit to Dublin, also bolstered Ireland’s position in backing consideration of our special status in any negotiations on Brexit.

The politics of terrorism and Brexit took centre stage during a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings yesterday. This was the first bilateral visit by a French head of state here in almost three decades, since president Francois Mitterrand visited in 1988.

While security and trade formed part of the talks, all eyes here were on what the president’s response was to Ireland’s attempt to carve out a unique position in the Brexit talks.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has argued Britain’s exit from the EU cannot result in a “hard border” from Dundalk to Derry. The Government also wants to sustain the €1bn weekly trade with Britain and the common travel area between the two countries.

Mr Hollande simply backed Mr Kenny’s argument that the Brexit talks must consider the historic peace process and, in particular, our border with the North.

Ireland was “very attached” to the Good Friday Agreement, said Mr Hollande.

“France understands this position, because it is very important for peace.”

But he went further: “I do recognise there is a special situation for Ireland. A special situation has to find a place in the negotiations.”

But what reason would France have to back Ireland’s position in the Brexit talks, especially after a cold reception from Angela Merkel last week where the German chancellor refrained from saying Ireland had a special case to make?

Mr Hollande’s visit here was curtailed in the wake of the Nice attack where 84 people were killed along the seafront of the southern French city.

He is under pressure to seek stronger security co-operation in Europe in the wake of the massacre. Furthermore, France will hold a presidential election next year and needs clarity around Brexit sooner rather than later.

France was extremely grateful for Ireland’s solidarity though, Mr Hollande said, and detailed cultural, trade and linguistic links between the two nations.

President Hollande reiterated his gratitude for Mr Kenny’s support in the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris last November. While Ireland is a neutral country, it expressed its support in the aftermath and even committed Irish troops to a peace mission in Mali in order to allow French troops return home. “Ireland responded with a positive answer. In spite of its status, Ireland is not a member of Nato, Ireland wanted to be in solidarity with France and I’ll never forget that,” the president told a press conference yesterday.

Hollande on Brexit: ‘I recognise there is a special situation for Ireland’

Taoiseach Enda Kenny then detailed how Ireland was willing to share sensitive security files on terrorism suspects in order to help protect other countries. He said ongoing efforts on this were being pursued by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

The admission that Ireland could indirectly support France’s own war on terror can only have helped Mr Hollande’s decision yesterday to back Ireland in the Brexit negotiations.

This common bond was emphasised when Mr Hollande, later in a speech at Dublin Castle, also pointed out that the terrorist attacks on France were attacks on Europe, on liberty and a “way of life”, similar to Ireland’s. In the speech to French communities living here, he recounted sacrifices Irish soldiers made at the Battle of the Somme, defending France in World War I.

He said that terrorists still wanted to attack France because, just like Bastille Day, the country was “a symbol of freedom”.

Not surprisingly, the French president also said he was conscious of other victims of terrorism, including in Iraq, Syria, Belgium and Turkey.

It was not for commercial reasons that France wanted to fight terrorism, the crowd at Dublin Castle was told.

“We want to maintain peace around the world in order to protect our way of life.”

That way of life involved “freedom of thought”, stressed the French leader, like Irish people had and a desire to remain independent. Terrorism wanted to destroy this way of life and that’s why attacks had taken place at restaurants, music halls and at public events, the crowd was told.

“France represents what fanatics hate the most.”

The attacks must not let people give way to suspicion, he warned.

The president told his people not to give up on their “unity” and, when coming home to holiday over the summer, to attend concerts, festivals and public events.

Resources, including the army, would be deployed during the holidays as the country’s state of emergency continues for another six months, it was added.

The president called on the French people not to lose their calm and to avoid being driven into a “spirit of revenge”

Those who hated Europe the most, he declared, were those who were not in it.

“You love Europe, it is part of your life,” the president told the French citizens.

It was a defiant speech, that cut through bureaucracy and declared why the attacks could not just damage France, but Europe as a whole.

Closing it before the two national anthems were played to a crowd of several hundred, the president declared: “Long live the friendship between France and Ireland.”


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