Speech by His Majesty the King at the state banquet hosted by President Michael D. Higgins of Ireland, Dublin

Mr President, Mrs Higgins,

Thank you for your warm and eloquent words of welcome. It means a great deal to my wife and me to be visiting your country in this particular year. We are honoured to be here in Dublin as you celebrate the centenary of the Dáil Éireann.

The road to a free Ireland was long, and entailed great sacrifices. We have enormous respect for the men and women who created and built an independent Ireland.

Our visit is also a token of our esteem for the millions of people who have made this country what it is today: a green beacon of freedom, vitality and friendship in Europe. We are delighted to have had you as a European partner for more than 46 years, and we treasure our close relationship.

There’s even more reason for us to look to each other now that our common neighbour has decided to leave the European Union.

The UK’s decision is something that Ireland and the Netherlands both regret and respect. It also compels us to work together to safeguard the things we value most dearly.

We are familiar with Ireland’s history. Like you, we were overjoyed and full of hope when, in 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was concluded. It was a historic achievement by everyone concerned. Since then a new generation has been able to grow up without the constant threat of violence.

Together, we – Ireland, the UK and the European Union – are the guardians of the Good Friday Agreement. The spectres of the past cannot be allowed to return. No one wants to revisit the era of the Troubles. No one wants to see fences on the border.

The Netherlands is well aware of the far-reaching implications of Brexit for Ireland and for everyone on this island. Everyone needs certainty – whether they are ordinary citizens, farmers or business people. Please be assured that the Kingdom of the Netherlands stands side by side with Ireland.

We will continue working with you and all our partners in Europe on solutions that safeguard the interests of both Ireland and Europe.

The hero, setting out,

Will meet an ally at a crucial moment.

Mr President, those words were written by you, in your poem, ‘When Will My Time Come’.

I can assure you that the Netherlands is only too happy to be Ireland’s ally.

I realise, of course, that this wasn’t always the case. Three hundred years ago, we were anything but allies. In fact, we have a member of my family to thank for that…

On Friday, we will visit the fort in Cork Harbour which was a key link in Ireland’s defences back in those days. There we will also meet volunteers from the local initiative ‘Rescue Camden’. This time, I can promise, we will come in peace. Let us hope that the House of Orange meets less resistance on this occasion...

Mr President, speaking of colours… Irish green enjoys global recognition. Thanks to the Irish diaspora, millions of people around the world feel a close bond with your country, and they’re not shy about expressing it either!

Your own family history – like that of most Irish people – is a story in which emigration plays a key role. Every Irish family knows from experience the value of good relations between countries.

So Ireland has a natural inclination towards cross-border cooperation. It’s an active member of the European Union and the United Nations. It’s a member of peace missions and a dedicated development partner. And you, Mr President, are a persuasive advocate for a society that offers every person – young and old – protection and opportunities in the digital age in which we live. This, too, is a goal that unites us.

As a true lover of nature, you also point to the need to care for our environment and to take action on climate change.

During our visit we will be spotlighting Dutch-Irish initiatives in areas like sustainable agriculture and cleaner, more efficient transport.

And yet, despite everything our countries have in common, there are contrasts between us, too…

The Dutch national character, in all its diversity, is perhaps best reflected in our painting. In the colours and compositions of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Mondrian.

The soul of the Irish, on the other hand, has another form of expression: poetry. Throughout the centuries, the triumphs and tragedies of the Emerald Isle have been made sublime by the power of language. ‘Words that can empower, words that can heal, words that might unite’, as you once described it.

One of Ireland’s greatest poets, William Butler Yeats, understood like no other what makes this country so special:

‘Your mother Eire is always young,’ he wrote.

Hear hear!

This country, despite challenges and setbacks, has always succeeded in reinventing itself. No one can break the Irish spirit. We are proud of the friendship that has grown between our peoples. A friendship that today is stronger than ever.

May I now ask you to join me in raising your glasses.

To your good health, Mr President and Mrs Higgins. To the friendship between Ireland and the Netherlands.

Le nár gcairdeas! To our friendship!