93. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he held meetings while attending the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium; and the issues that were discussed. (Question 19619/18 asked on 08 May 2018)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 94 together.

I delivered an address on the Future of Europe at the Catholic University of Leuven as part of its Wilfried Martens series of lectures. This is an annual event, with previous speakers including Commission President Juncker and former German Finance Minister Schauble. The event was live-streamed and the text of my speech is available online.

My speech covered the many achievements of the European Union, the benefits for Ireland of EU membership, and my thoughts about the future direction of the Union, including the importance of completing the Single Market and Digital Single Market, and working together to deliver concrete benefits for our citizens. I also, of course, spoke about developments in the negotiations on Brexit.

In my address, I emphasised the need for an ambitious and positive approach to our discussions about the future of Europe, and the importance of maintaining our core EU values and principles - respect for human dignity, personal and economic freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and human rights.

I noted that many of the challenges we face - climate change, cyber-security, illegal migration, international trade and the regulation of major corporations - cannot be resolved by 28 states coming up with twenty-eight different solutions, and that we need to work together to respond effectively.

I also emphasised the importance of our relations with the rest of the world, including Africa and the Western Balkans, and noted my intention to participate in the Western Balkans Summit in Sofia on 17 May.

I stressed the importance of communicating and engaging with our citizens on key issues relating to the future of Europe. From Ireland’s perspective, I outlined our Citizens’ Dialogue which I launched last November, and explained that the intention of this has been to facilitate an open and wide-ranging debate with our citizens, which will help to inform our approach.

On Brexit, I noted the particular issues arising for Ireland and the need to preserve the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, and the gains of the Peace Process. I noted the commitment to translate into the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement the principles and commitments agreed between the EU and the UK last December, including in relation to the border, and stressed the need to make real and solid progress on this before the June European Council.

After the speech, I attended a reception in the University where I had the opportunity to meet a range of academics and students, including Irish students studying there.