Ireland and Romania have developed close links because of their joint membership of the European Union. The arrival of a significant number of Romanian citizens to work in a wide variety of occupations in Ireland in recent years has cemented that relationship.
The connection between the two countries goes back much further. In the 1930s Ireland and Romania both held the post of President of the League of Nations in the dismal and crisis filled days of the 1930s: Nicolae Titulescu and Eamon De Valera.
It was Titulescu who said, in September 1931, as President of the League, that “hardship creates the brotherhood of nations”.
Ireland and Romania are geographically at different corners of Europe: it made for long periods of history when we knew too little of each other. And yet, as Neagu Djuvara has reminded us in his superb illustrated history of Romanians (happily published in English last year), there have been links throughout history, including between the Celts and the peoples of what is now Romania, in long ago days.
The EU has brought Ireland and Romania together as members of a family. As Titulescu rightly described, from hardship came ties and, in time, the construction of a new home in Europe: it is this home the two countries and peoples now share.
I was very taken during a week long visit to Romania last summer to discover how many Romanians know a lot about Ireland: our music, literature, culture, history.
I was particularly struck by the way that farming practices appear to have changed little for generations with small fields of potatoes, barley, oats and maize interspersed with bigger ones containing cattle and sheep.
The lush meadows of natural grasses interspersed with flowering plants of all descriptions are a nostalgic reminder of what rural Ireland was like before the advent of modern industrial farming.
Watching farmers cutting their meadows with scythes while women worked in the fields hoeing and weeding brought back memories of childhood days when I helped my grandparents on their small farm in Ireland.
And, when I wrote an article about Romania in the “Irish Times” when I came back to Dublin, I was even more impressed that several Romanian residents in Ireland commented knowledgeably to me about what I had written.
There seem to me a number of points of importance about the relationship between Ireland and Romania. Just as was the case for Ireland in the 1970s, EU membership for Romania involves an historical “liberation”: a long period of uncertainty ended with an anchoring of the country into the institutions that now unite the peoples of Europe. Our political leaders meet all the time in Brussels and engage in the give and take of EU negotiations on what seems, at times, as everything under the sun.
Our two countries are strong and dedicated believers in a shared European destiny. This, in itself, makes for a close day to day friendship for we have, in fundamentals, the same ideals and vision as to what Europe means. I know, from covering many meetings in Brussels over the years, that Irish political leaders regard Romania as a friend and partner in the essentials of the European construction.
How much do we see eye to eye on day to day issues in Europe? I think a great deal has to be the answer although geography obviously gives at times a different context of approach on some regional or security issues.
Economically, there is a lot the two countries can do together in the next few years. The agriculture sector is critical for both countries. Ireland has succeeded in becoming a magnet for foreign direct investment with over 3,300 foreign owned companies putting down roots in the country. Our agri-food sector has performed extremely well, reaching a level of over ten billion euro in 2014.
Romania is now travelling this same path including creating a pro-business environment and attracting strong levels of inward investment.
It is, therefore, very much in the interests of both countries to strengthen our economic ties and to cooperate closely in the years ahead. I know there is a strong, political wish in Ireland to do that I am sure the same is true in Romania.
It is hard to exaggerate the impact that over forty thousand Romanians now living in Ireland have had on our day to day relations. They have settled in towns and villages across Ireland and have made a remarkable contribution to Irish life.
I have had personal experience of the contribution Romanians are making to Irish life. One of the chief nurses in the care home where my elderly mother now resides is from Cluj. Her professionalism and kindness have impressed my family greatly.
In the “Irish Times” one of the security men is from Brasov and we have had many discussions about the beauties of Transylvania and also about the cost of living in Ireland today.
A few months ago, the Romanian Cultural Institute and the Embassy in Dublin organised in Ireland a month long festival of Romanian culture. It was a great success that brought home to many Irish people the richness of Romanian culture, including literature and music.
I presided over a fascinating event at our National Library in Dublin involving Romanian poet Ioan Es. Pop and the Irish writer and traveler Peter Hurley (photo). The writers read excerpts from their work to a big audience of Irish and Romanian nationals and a lively discussion ensued.
I have no doubt that Ireland and Romania are destined to remain good friends in the years ahead. Irish political leaders view Bucharest as a partner and ally in building Europe: it is a transcendent goal for both countries.
* Stephen Collins is the author of several Irish Political biographies and is the political editor of the “Irish Times.”