British Co-Chair Laurence Robertson MP's closing address to the 51st Plenary at Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire
Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen, this is one of the world's greatest racecourses, and every March it hosts what must surely be the world's leading national hunt festival, featuring the famous Cheltenham Gold Cup and many other great races.
It is also no secret that the Irish breed some of the best horses in the world and it is those great Irish horses that so often appear at Cheltenham, and are often winners. The British-Irish relationship is so very evident here at Cheltenham and I hope we continue to strengthen and maintain this relationship, not least through our common love of racing, but most importantly through our common aims of peace and prosperity in both of our countries.
It's for this reason, as well as the fact that Ireland also boasts some of the world's best national hunt racing itself, that I thought it entirely appropriate to hold this 51st plenary of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly at the home of National Hunt racing,
Racing isn't, of course, the only thing which links and unites our two countries. We have a shared history, and now a great friendship and, I'm confident, great prospects for a shared future. But just as I've said that the greatness of this place didn't happen by accident, nor did the huge improvement in the relationship between our two countries happen by accident either, and it has, of course, been enhanced beyond measure by our Royal Family.
Her Majesty the Queen's historic visit to Ireland in 2011, and that of President Higgins to the UK in 2014, cannot be overestimated in their prominence and impact. The significance of both occasions brought a tangible sense of pride and excitement to people all across the UK. I was privileged to be involved in both visits enabling me to witness first-hand the scale of the success achieved by both Her Majesty and the President of Ireland on these incredible occasions.
And now it is the role of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly to build on the spectacular successes of those visits and to continue to further that relationship, and I'm sure that this plenary will have played its part in doing so.
There is much to be gained by continuing our great relationship, but much to lose by failing to do so. As we enjoy this wonderful dinner tonight, in such marvellous surroundings and enjoy these friendships, it would be wrong not to remember those who are suffering so much as a result of the recent events in Paris - those whose lives have been cruelly taken in senseless acts of murder, and those who are left behind, suddenly without the ones they love.
It's hard for those of us who have never suffered such trauma to begin to imagine what those people are going through now, but it is with great sadness that we can also remember times when we were no strangers to violence and grief of this kind here in our own countries.
As we consider the events in Paris, and as we reflect on the futility of decades of terrorism within our own country, and also perhaps as we remember disagreements we might have had across all these islands in the past, we must surely come to the conclusion that it's not that we might disagree, but how we disagree, which is all important. The knowledge, and commitment, that disagreement must be expressed by word and not by deed, and political campaigns waged entirely peacefully and democratically, is the reason we can be together today at this plenary.
However, while we will rightly feel a familiar sadness with the tragedy of Paris in our minds, we must also look to how far we ourselves have come, with hope. At this very moment, Ministers and other politicians who were due to join our proceedings today are in Belfast, attempting to reach agreements which will bring people with differences together, showing our commitment to these very goals of peace and democracy.
The irony for those who have carried out these attacks is that they will only serve to unite people in ensuring that terrorism and violence not only do not pay, but have no place in today's civilised society. We are testament to this fact.
To this end, I know that my co-chairman, Frank, and all members of this Assembly will join me in reiterating our determination to ensure continuing good relations between our two countries and between the peoples of all these islands, and to bring an end to any conflicts which may exist within our jurisdictions. As I have said, we being here today is proof of the progress which can be achieved through hard work and belief in the democratic process, and I am sure we are all in agreement that this is the only means by which we can continue to move forward.
The success of this racecourse, and the good relations between our two countries, was not brought about by accident, but an awful lot of hard work. I would like to give special thanks to my co-chair Frank Feighan for his continued hard work and commitment. It is an honour and pleasure to work alongside Frank and I hope we can continue to work constructively alongside one another for many more years to come.
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