Remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dermot Ahern TD at a Reception in honour of the Diplomatic Corps - Iveagh House, 11th November 2004 Part I
Your Excellency, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my honour to welcome you to Iveagh House on the eve of the re- inauguration of President McAleese. I am particularly delighted to meet new friends.
For the Government and for this Department, the first half of this year was dominated by our European Union Presidency. I believe we can take pride in the success of all aspects of the Presidency, in particular the negotiation of the European Constitution.
With the Taoiseach, I had the honour of signing the European Constitution on behalf of Ireland in Rome two weeks ago. The Constitution will provide a solid and enduring basis for the future development of the Union.
The focus turns now to ratification. In Ireland this will be by referendum. Before the referendum we are committed to the fullest possible national debate. I am confident that a strong majority of the Irish people recognise the Union’s continuing centrality to Ireland’s national growth and development. I believe that they will support the Constitution, once the case for it is put in a clear and effective way.
It is now time to maintain the momentum of the Presidency and to build on our success, while facing new challenges. It is my particular intention to focus on strengthening and deepening our bilateral relationships with each of your countries.
However, the challenges facing us today also require that the international community works collectively. This is how we can best address the threats posed by regional conflicts and international terrorism, as well as the scourges of human rights abuses, environmental degradation, disease and poverty.
Acts such as hostage taking, have touched the lives of all of our citizens in one way or another. You are all aware of the recent abductions of Irish citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week’s European Council condemned the taking of hostages, of whatever nationality, and the brutal killing of many of them. I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to a number of Governments and Authorities, including Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and the Arab League, for the help and support we have received in trying to secure the release of our citizens.
Next year Ireland will celebrate fifty years of membership of the United Nations. Our commitment to multilateralism and to the UN system remains as strong now as ever, as evidenced in the presence of 435 Irish troops serving the United Nations mission in Liberia.
I look forward to considering the report of the Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. The United Nations simply has to deal with politically sensitive, but important, questions, including the limits of sovereignty in situations of humanitarian catastrophe, as well as its own institutional reform.
Next year we will also review progress towards the Millennium goals.
Relative to a number of years ago Ireland’s overseas development budget has increased hugely. In 1997 we spent €158 million on ODA. This year we will spend around €475 million. This, by any standard, is a very substantial figure. Our aid as a percentage of GNP has also increased significantly. In 1992 the figure was 0.16%. Last year it was 0.4% of GNP. This makes Ireland the seventh largest per capita donor in the world. We are determined to make further progress with a view to achieving our objective of reaching the target of 0.7%.
The protection and promotion of human rights also remains a cornerstone of Irish foreign policy. Ireland continues to be a member of the Commission on Human Rights and I look forward to working to advance the level of protection which we afford to the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens around the globe.
The need to find a just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is becoming ever more pressing. It is vital that the international community continue to support efforts to move the Middle East Peace Process forward.
The European Council last week reaffirmed the Union’s commitment to a negotiated end to the conflict, leading to two states, Israel and Palestine, living at peace within secure and recognised borders. We continue to believe that the best way to achieve this objective is through the implementation of the Quartet Roadmap.
The Union also has a role to play in assisting in the preparation of the forthcoming elections in Iraq. As you know, the European Council met with Prime Minister Allawi last Friday and agreed a package of measures by the EU in support of the Iraqi Government and Iraqi reconstruction.
The humanitarian and security situation in Sudan still causes deep and serious concern to the Irish Government. The international community must maintain the most active pressure on all parties. I fully support the lead role which the African Union is taking in seeking to resolve the situation in Darfur. I recently announced that we will provide €500,000 in support to the AU for its mission. In 2004 to date, we have already provided €10 million in humanitarian assistance to Sudan.
I am hopeful that next month’s Conference on the Great Lakes region in Tanzania will see real progress towards resolving the instability which has plagued the countries of this region.
The June summit in Dromoland Castle demonstrated the strength and vitality of the EU-US relationship. Building on this, I look forward to further developing our economic and political relations with the United States, as well as with Canada. This will be a particular priority in the period ahead. Early in the New Year, I intend to visit Washington to review all aspects of our relationship with the incoming Administration.
I also look forward to strengthening the ties of friendship and cooperation which exist between Ireland and all our partners in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, as well as working to foster relations with the countries which border the enlarged European Union, including Russia.
In particular, I would wish to ensure that enlargement does not see the erection of any new barriers in Europe.
Closer to home, in December the European Council will face an important decision regarding the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey. Turkey has made remarkable progress in its reform process in recent years and I am confident that the conditions identified by the Commission will be in place for a positive decision in December. In the coming months, we also expect a decision on a date for opening accession negotiations with Croatia.Top