European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has told a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas that there can be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

Ms von der Leyen said that Brexit "will not become an obstacle on the path of reconciliation in Ireland".

She said any solution must ensure that the single market continues to function, and if both sides "are sensitive to this careful balance, a workable solution is within reach".

She added that her contacts with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak "are encouraging".

Ms von der Leyen said: "Europe was the incentive to look beyond the barbed wire" and heal North-South divisions.

She quoted John Hume who said that the EU was practical and inspirational.

"This has made Brexit even more painful for all of us", but has thrust the EU and Ireland closer together.

"All Europeans immediately understood how important it was to preserve peace on the island of Ireland".

A clean energy future

Ms von der Leyen said Europe needed Irish "stubbornness" to support Ukraine and break free of the reliance on Russian energy.

"We are safe for this winter, but let's look beyond. It is no exaggeration to say that we stand at a crossroads", as we can "use this crisis to leapfrog to clean energy".

"Here too, Europe has much to learn from this green island", which "is a wind energy super-power".

Last year, 31% of electricity came from wind, which is only topped by Denmark.

The "landmark climate act" of 2021 sets out the goals: "You can become a net exporter of energy" and help the EU replace Russian fuel.

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Europe's 'best face'

Ms von der Leyen said that "Ireland lies at the heart of Europe".

"Today all other Europeans look up to Ireland" as we show "Europe's best face".

"You are inclusive, loyal to your history and open to the future and the world," she said.

Ms von der Leyen said, "Ireland has made Europe a better place. Europe owes you."

She came not to praise the union, but "to thank you". "Go raibh maith agaibh", she added.

"Joining the EU has unleashed Ireland's immense potential and has profoundly transformed this country", she said.

Ireland's GDP has gone from half to double the union's average. The ingenuity of the Irish people has "made the best of all the opportunities".

She said that married Irish women were banned from working in the public sector when she was a teenager.

Quoting former president Mary Robinson, she said; "Irish women went from rocking the cradle to rocking the system".

'Unswerving solidarity with Ireland throughout Brexit'

The Taoiseach has said the part played by the EU in the journey towards peace and reconciliation on this island has been significant.

Speaking to the joint session of the Dáil and Seanad, he said European partners have stood with Ireland and Northern Ireland to manage the unique challenges resulting from the UK's decision to leave the EU.

He said this involved sustaining peace, avoiding a hard border, and protecting the all-island economy which has been an EU priority from the very beginning of negotiations.

He thanked Ms von der Leyen for the European Union’s unswerving solidarity with Ireland throughout Brexit.

"Like you, we want to see a new and vital partnership with the UK. That will only truly be achieved if we can resolve the issues relating to the Protocol, as I know we can if the right political will is there," he said.

Irish people 'opened their hearts' to Ukrainian refugees

Speaking on the steps of Government Buildings earlier, Ms von der Leyen thanked the Taoiseach for his "excellent co-operation" in the last two-and-a-half-years, and said he has "steered very skillfully Ireland through the pandemic and out of the pandemic".

"Now, indeed, we are in difficult times because Russia unleashed an atrocious war against Ukraine. First and foremost, I want to thank the Irish people, for opening their hearts and their homes to Ukrainian refugees. This is outstanding.

"I want to thank you for the strong support for Ukraine to become a candidate member of the European Union."

Ahead of talks with Ms von der Leyen today, Micheál Martin said the discussions would focus on the war in Ukraine, the Northern Ireland Protocol and the energy crisis.

"We will discuss today how we can continue to make real our unequivocal support for the people of Ukraine, as they face into a very cold and difficult winter and face the ravages of a terrible, immoral and illegal war. Of course, we will discuss the energy crisis, the slowing global economy.

"But above all, knowing the president's strong commitment to intensifying the green transition, we will discuss that and of course, our relationship with like-minded countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. We will discuss the ongoing situation in terms of the Northern Ireland protocol.

"We appreciate the solidarity that has been shown. But of course, we all want to have a constructive and solid relationship with our neighbours, the United Kingdom. So that will form the basis of our discussions today as we mark 50 years of Ireland's transformative membership with the European Union."