Higgins shares Brexit concerns with Australian prime minister

President speaks with Malcolm Turnbull about historic links between Ireland and Australia

President Michael D Higgins shared the Government's concerns about the impact of Brexit on Ireland during a meeting with the Australia prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra.

On the ninth day and fourth stop of his 19-day State visit to Australia, Mr Higgins met Mr Turnbull at Parliament House on Monday morning after laying a wreath at the Australian War Memorial.

In discussions with the Australian prime minister, Mr Higgins pointed out that the Belfast Agreement was an international agreement and that care had to be taken with the peace process when it came to the negotiations

Mr Turnbull asked the President about the Irish experience of the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum in the context of Australia’s same-sex marriage postal plebiscite that runs until next month.


Mr Higgins and Mrs Sabina Higgins spoke of the quality of the discourse and the contributions of Irish families to the debate in the run-up to the Irish vote.

He discussed with Mr Turnbull of the historic links between the two countries in the areas of trade, tourism, education and the arts.

The President referred too to the contributions made by Irish people in Australia and the important government and civic initiatives taken to support the immigrant communities.

The President briefed Mr Turnbull on Ireland's bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

This is the first State visit by an Irish head of state since president Mary McAleese visited in 1998.

Mr Higgins was joined in Canberra by the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Frances Fitzgerald TD who will travel on with him to Sydney on Tuesday for business and tourism-related events. They were met in Australia by the Irish ambassador Breandán O Caollaí.

Mr Higgins and Mr Turnbull discussed significant issues facing the European Union, including the potential implications of the UK leaving the EU.

“You are among friends and family here,” the Australian prime minister told Mr Higgins on his arrival at Parliament House. More than two million Australians claim Irish heritage.

A spokesman for the President said he and Mr Turnbull used their meeting “to reaffirm the long and abiding bonds shared by the people of Ireland and Australia, and discussed a wide range of issues.”

The two leaders discussed the business ties between the countries and the fact that there are more than 130 Irish companies in Australia and 40 Australian companies operating in Ireland.

Mr Higgins told him that 55 Irish companies were accompanying him on a trade mission as part of the State visit, pointing out the opportunities for future mutual economic cooperation between the countries.

The President spoke to the need “to move towards an approach to political and economic decision making which achieves social cohesion and is built on the values of mutual solidarity,” his spokesman said.

After his meeting with Mr Turnbull, the President was greeted by Australia's governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove at Government House and honoured with a ceremonial welcome and a guard of honour.

After inspecting the guard, Mr Higgins and Sir Peter stood for the playing of the national anthems of the two countries before the President proceeded inside Government House to sign the visitors' book.

The governor-general told Mr Higgins during their subsequent meeting: “Australia would not the country it is today, without Ireland and the Irish.”

The President said that he looked forward to many Irish-Australians attending the Rugby World Cup if Ireland was to host the event.

After a State lunch in his honour, the President returned to Parliament House to meet the Labour Party leader Bill Shorten MP, Australia's leader of the opposition, and parliaments of Irish descent who are members of the Australia-Ireland Parliamentary Friendship Group.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times