THE EUROPEAN Union is the reason for peace in Ireland, former Irish President Mary McAleese has said.
Professor McAleese, who is currently a visiting Professor in Irish Studies at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, said: “I am unashamedly pro-European.”
Professor McAleese was interviewed by former RTÉ London editor Brian O’Connell at City Hall, as part of a series of lectures run by the Irish Cultural Centre.
“One of the great success stories of the EU has got to be the Northern Ireland Peace Process because it came out of that,” she said.
“The EU is the first union Ireland joined voluntarily and we are sitting down at the round table with the old enemy and suddenly they are not the old enemy any more. How big a change is that?”
Professor McAleese was speaking ahead of the upcoming Brexit referendum, which will take place on June 23.
She revealed she will be using her vote in Britain in the hope that the EU will remain status quo.
“I will be voting here. One of the first things I did when I came here was register to vote, it’s hugely important,” she said.
“I think it’s extraordinarily for Ireland for Britain, Ireland and Europe. There are 28 countries in the EU and I hope there will still be 28 after the referendum.”
Professor McAleese also told the captive audience about the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic of Ireland in May 2011 – in particular when the Queen opened her speech at Dublin Castle saying “A Uachtaráin agus a chairde” – meaning “President and friends”.
“I was astounded,” she revealed. “When she used those words I knew that there were hearts all around Ireland that would start breaking open to this visit.
“Something broke open in us and more importantly washed away.”
The Queen’s visit to Ireland – from May 17 to 20 – came just months before Professor McAleese’s second term as President of Ireland came to an end.
It is lauded as the most significant development in British-Irish relations since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, bringing an end to the Troubles.
Since her term as President ended in late 2011, Professor McAleese returned to her studies in the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, to become a qualified canon lawyer.
And since becoming a student again, she revealed she has felt a peace like no other she has felt before.
“On my first morning I was in my runners and my backpack and I realised as I was walking, I had a lightness of heart that I never remember having in my life before,” she said.
“The nearest thing I can think to it is of my father-in-law who lived with us and, at 80 years of age, he said the years he spent with us were the best years because every bill that came through the door belonged to Martin and I.”