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La vida no es de nadie - todos somos la vida: Address by the President 
of Ireland Mary McAleese to the Senate in Mexico, 6 April 1999

Edited and introduced by Edmundo Murray


Nahuatl account of the conquest of Mexico

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the most painful and intractable problems that any country can face is witnessing the loss of its young people to emigration, year after year. It drains a country of its most talented and energetic members, the very ones who have the capacity to create opportunities in their native country.

We in Ireland understand that plight which Mexico faces, for until recently we faced it ourselves. Generation after generation, unable to eke out a living on the land which had barely supported their ancestors, were forced to seek opportunity in foreign lands. Yet we have demonstrated that it is possible to escape that vicious circle, to create instead a charmed circle as we enter the new Millennium. We have now experienced a return of many of our most recent emigrants, whose experience abroad has enriched the economic and cultural fabric of our country. We have seen too, that the generations who were forced to emigrate, and who put down roots in other countries, today form a global Irish family which is an immense resource. We have friends in every corner of the world. They are people who look with affection on Ireland, and who have provided very tangible support in our efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland, both politically and in terms of financial support through initiatives such as the International Fund for Ireland.

Our experience provides hope for other countries, including Mexico, that what is now an immense loss can one day become an extraordinary resource.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen

Our countries are so distant, and yet share so many similarities, that I feel there is much we can learn from each other. A strong sense of independence - combined with a keen appreciation of the necessary interdependence of nations - is at the core of our consciousness as peoples. It is a happy coincidence - or indeed perhaps no coincidence at all - that inside the Column of Independence here in Mexico City, there stands a statue to Guillén de Lamport, born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1615, and recognised as one of the earliest precursors of Mexican independence.

It is important that we continue to build on those historical links. I greatly welcome the launch last October by your Foreign Minister, Mrs. Green, of a branch of the Ireland Fund of Mexico, the first in Latin America. This fund will promote cultural and educational exchanges between our two countries, including, in particular, exchanges between underprivileged students.

In recent years we have also built closer links in academic and cultural relations. Trinity College Dublin has a cooperation agreement with the College of Mexico City. There is a Centre for Mexican Studies in University College, Cork.

Such ties are being reinforced at a more global level by increased co-operation and partnership between the European Union and the countries of Latin America. In June of this year, Mexico will co-host the first ever Summit Meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the European Union and of Latin America and the Caribbean. I welcome this initiative, which will reaffirm the historic and ever closer bonds between the New World and the Old Continent.

The EU Presidency, in inaugurating the first ever EU-Mexico Joint Council last July, set our relations firmly in the context of respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights, as proclaimed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Presidents Mary McAleese and Ernesto Zedillo during the state dinner
at the National Palace of Mexico
(Presidencia de la República de México)

No less than the European Union, Mexico has declared a clear commitment to these principles. You have the authority of your own history for the conviction that deep respect for human rights is an essential component of peace and security both in the world at large and within nations. We in Ireland share those values, for we know that smaller countries, outside the main power-blocks, have a vital role to play in strengthening those rights internationally. We look forward to future co-operation between our two countries, through the mechanisms of the UN, in playing an active and constructive role on the world stage.

Outside this Senate Chamber is a plaque to President Benito Juarez, who in the last century recognised with remarkably modern political judgement, that: Entre los individuos, como entre las Naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz. [4] May the wisdom of Benito Juarez, a Zapotec Indian lawyer from Oaxaca, be our guide as together we enter a new and closer relationship at the dawn of the new millennium.

May his words also guide us in Ireland, as we seek to bring peace and reconciliation to Northern Ireland. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement just over a year ago, has brought that prospect ever-closer. We do not yet have a perfect peace - isolated groups have continued to carry out acts of savagery which, being now so much rarer than they were, seem in some ways all the more shocking.

What is important is that, in working to resolve the difficulties which inevitably have arisen and will arise, we do not lose sight of the immense strides which have been made in so short a period, or of the enormous potential which will unfold over time. The values which inform the peace process are nevertheless universal in their significance. We believe that our experience can be of potential interest and value to those elsewhere who seek to resolve conflict through dialogue.

In our endeavours, we have been encouraged and assisted, in good times and bad, by the unfailing interest and support of the international community, and, on behalf of the Irish Government, I offer my thanks to the Government and people of Mexico.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The relations between Mexico and Ireland have long been characterised by shared feelings of respect and affection. It is my earnest hope that my visit will contribute to the further development of the warm ties that exist between us.

I am deeply conscious of the honour conferred on me by your invitation to address the Senate today. It has been my great pleasure to accept your invitation. I am equally conscious that my visit to your country has afforded me the unique opportunity to witness at first hand the innumerable achievements, over many generations, of the warm, vibrant and immensely diverse people of Mexico. That too has been an honour, eagerly embraced, and one that will endure in my memory.

Octavio Paz (1914-1998)

Let me leave you with one final thought which springs from the poem “Piedra de Sol [Fragmentos]”, by Mexico’s Nobel Prize Winner, Octavio Paz. In this poem, he asks: La vida. ¿Cuándo fue de veras nuestra? [When was life truly ours?]

He tells us: La vida no es de nadie - todos somos la vida.

In the end, life is ours if we make it ours. That is what our two countries are striving for: to make life, and the opportunities that life brings, something which belongs to all of us, to all our people. That is what brings peace and prosperity. This is what we must aim for and achieve in the coming Millennium.

Thank you, Mr. President



[1] Life is no-one’s - we are all life. Poem by Octavio Paz, Piedra de sol (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1957). Translated in English as Sun Stone, by Muriel Rukeyser (London: New Directions, 1962).

[2] Stubborn Men, redondilla (ca. 1680)

[3] Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967), major Irish poet

[4] Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace (this quotation from president Juárez is inscribed on Oaxaca's coat of arms).



I am grateful to Dr. Stephen Lalor and the Office of the President for kindly providing the text of this speech and the authorisation to publish it.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007
Copyright of the speech © Mary McAleese

Online published: 1 March 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Murray, Edmundo (ed.), 'La vida no es de nadie - todos somos la vida: Address by the President of Ireland Mary McAleese to the Senate in Mexico, 6 April 1999
' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:1 (March 2007), pp. 53-58. Available online (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


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