President Michael D Higgins has begun a three-day official visit to Italy, during which he opened the Irish National Day at Expo Milan 2015.

President Higgins, accompanied by his wife Sabina, is also expected to meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinale Palace in Rome.

The President was the guest of honour at a business dinner hosted by the Irish Embassy, in conjunction with Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, IDA and Tourism Ireland, in Milan this evening. 

Addressing the gathering, Mr Higgins said "there is a deep tradition of friendship between the Irish and Italian people, based on strong, centuries-old social and cultural affinities."

Mr Higgins pointed out the steadily increasing level of Irish-Italian trade, which "now is worth over €11bn".

The president also said both Ireland and Italy share a similar challenge in attempting to recover from the effects of the recession.