E ngā iwi o ngā hau e wha, tena koutou.
Nau mai Haere mai
Nau mai ki Te Whare Kawana o Aotearoa.
Nau mai i o koutou whenua, o maunga o moana.
Tau mai rā ki Aotearoa.
(Welcome to the four winds, welcome to Government House, acknowledging the lands you have come from, welcome to Aotearoa New Zealand.)
Welcome to this dinner at Government House in honour of the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, and Mrs Sabina Higgins.
It is an honour and a pleasure to welcome you both - and all our distinguished guests – here this evening.
Tonight we celebrate the warm ties between New Zealand and Ireland. It’s a valued relationship, characterised by familiarity, friendship and long-standing personal and cultural links.
Not to put too fine a point on it, we are family.
Up to 20 percent of the New Zealand population – one in five New Zealanders – claim Irish ancestry. I am proud to be one of those New Zealanders.
Ireland and the Irish people have had a profound influence on the shaping of the social and cultural fabric of New Zealand.
In 1840, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson – who was from County Waterford in Ireland – was tasked with negotiating a voluntary transfer of sovereignty from Māori to the British Crown.
Hobson, who later became the first Governor of New Zealand, signed the Treaty of Waitangi, our nation’s founding document, on behalf of the British Government.
Tomorrow, when you visit the He Tohu exhibition and see the original treaty document and then on Saturday, when you visit our beautiful Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the signing took place, you will witness for yourselves the enduring significance of the document that New Zealanders call “Te Tiriti o Waitangi” or simply “The Treaty”.
Irish New Zealanders have played prominent roles in our political history. Three of our Prime Ministers were born in Ireland, and many more have had Irish ancestry. I am delighted that one of them - former Prime Minister Bolger is with us this evening.
Another notable Irish New Zealander from the early twentieth century was born in Ramelton, County Donegal, and moved to New Zealand as a child. He went on captain the “Originals” rugby team – the first All Black team to tour Britain, France and Ireland in 1905-06.
His name was Dave Gallaher, and on the 12th of October, 1917 – often referred to as New Zealand’s darkest day – he was one of the many hundreds of New Zealand soldiers killed at the Battle of Passchendaele.
I am mindful of the bonds forged between our soldiers on the battlefields of the Western Front. In June this year, David and I were privileged to represent New Zealand at centennial commemorations for the Battle of Messines, including a ceremony in honour of the Irish soldiers who lost their lives on Flanders Fields.
Ireland has been an important partner for New Zealand in the world and we have much in common: our populations are almost identical in size; we enjoy close cooperation on a wide range of multilateral issues; and we are both strong democracies, committed to a rules-based international system that benefits us all.
Earlier this year New Zealand announced that we would be opening an Embassy in Dublin – and I understand that there was an unprecedented number of offers from members of the public to be New Zealand’s Ambassador to Ireland – several detailing, in intricate detail, why they would be ideally suited to the role!
That is not always the case for new embassies – and indicates how fondly Ireland is regarded in New Zealand.
Our long history of trade and economic links is underpinned by numerous similarities. Last month, I understand that several New Zealand businesses attended the National Ploughing Championships in County Offaly – and enjoyed the opportunity to experience its wonderful showcase of Irish food, farming and culture.
Despite the geographical distance between us, New Zealanders have described visiting Ireland as a bit like travelling continuously for a day and half, to feel ‘at home’ when they finally reached their destination. Mr President, we hope that is your experience as you and Sabina visit our own country this week.
New Zealand and Ireland are in many ways like-minded countries. Young New Zealanders have long enjoyed travelling and working in Ireland, and each year, thousands of Irish also come to New Zealand under the Working Holiday Scheme. Long may these links continue.
Of course our sporting links are particularly strong in rugby, and New Zealand was delighted to host thousands of Irish supporters during the tremendously successful British and Irish Lions tour this year.
In the cultural realm, many New Zealand musicians, actors, poets, writers and film-makers are proud to point to their Irish heritage – and we are delighted some of them could join us this evening.
Linguistically, Ireland and New Zealand are both Anglophone countries – at the same time, we share a firm commitment to our own indigenous languages.
And, on that note, I would like to share with you a whakatauki – a Māori proverb - that in many ways sums up the most important link between New Zealand and Ireland:
He aha te mea nui o te ao
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.