8th November 2016
‘The EU: United in Diversity’
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
- I am delighted to be here today on this the fifth year of the Europe Direct Information Centres’ Soapbox Competition Final.
- Going from strength to strength, this magnificent initiative – fostered and supported most generously by the European Commission.
- With its origins in the turn of the last century, the soapbox is evocative of ‘Speakers Corner’ in Hyde Park, London.
- It provides citizens from every community a fundamental opportunity to have their say on EU affairs.
- This is a key priority of the European Union and it strongly supports the principle behind the EU motto, ‘United in Diversity’.
- United in Diversity signifies how Europeans have come together, through the EU, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by Europe’s many different cultures, traditions and languages.
- Recent events such as the refugee crisis and of course, Brexit, make the motto for today’s motion a burning topic for debate. And it has been keenly debated up and down the country at the eight regional finals.
- The competition has drawn more than 80 participants of all ages, backgrounds and stages in life. The very talented finalists we will hear today have without doubt earned their place in this Grand Final.
- I expect we will hear compelling and passionate arguments both for and against the topic. I do not envy the distinguished judges their difficult task of choosing the overall winners!
- But before we launch into the debate, I would like to take a moment or two to say a few words on the role of the European Direct Information Centres and our library service.
- Our Europe Direct Information Centres provide a vital link between the European Commission and Irish citizens.
- They provide important information and essential advice about the European Union’s policies and provide space for local and regional debate about the EU.
- Their events are purposely hosted to promote a greater knowledge and appreciation of the opportunities for work, study and travel in the EU. And celebrate the diversity of cultures within the 28 Member States.
- Most importantly, they are not a one-way communication channel; they offer the opportunity for everyone to send their observations and views back to the European Union institutions themselves.
- This critical link is facilitated through the eight Europe Direct Information Centres across the country, managed by Libraries Development in the Local Government Management Agency.
- They are ideally placed to reach the heart of the community.
- Located in public libraries, they stretch from, Letterkenny to Mallow, and from Dundalk to Waterford. There are dual centres in Donegal – Letterkenny and the Irish language centre in Gaoth Dobhair. And also in Galway, in Ballinasloe and Carraroe.
- The Centres offer additional services within the libraries. Ranging from advice on citizens’ rights, work and study in the EU and opportunities for entrepreneurs and SMEs within the EU.
- Indeed, our libraries are the default source of assistance when looking for information about public and government information, making them particularly suited as channels for EU communications.
- As an important and valued civic space for the community to learn, meet and explore its treasures, our libraries are more popular than ever.
- Continuously evolving to meet the needs of a changing population, libraries offer access to a vast range of on line services, information and opportunity to develop and fulfil creativity.
- Since January 2016 membership is free to everyone. Last year alone, there were over 17 million visits made to public libraries, an increase of 20% since 2008.
- Key to this popularity is the excellent service and positive message generated by Library staff whose interest and genuine support in their members needs is most evident.
- Returning to today’s event, the Soapbox Competition is an important annual event. It raises awareness locally and nationally on issues topical in Europe.
- Indeed, it is the perfect vehicle to showcase our proud tradition of public speaking here in Ireland.
- So, without any further delay, it is my great pleasure to open the Europe Direct Soapbox Final 2016, The EU: United in Diversity.
- And, I wish all of the contestants the very best of luck.