Remarks by Minister Cowen during his visit to South Africa, 22 November 2003
Ireland and South Africa are close and good friends. We in Ireland value this friendship.
There is enormous goodwill between our countries supported by the long history of Irish missionary work here and in the region, our ever growing trade links and through a common policy approach to many international issues.
Above all, we share a core belief in effective multilateralism and the primary role of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security. In pursuit of this, troops from South Africa and Ireland have seen service together in peace-keeping missions, and we are both members of the New Agenda Coalition for a nuclear-free world.
Ireland has long been a constructive partner in development in Africa. We first sent
peacekeepers from our Defence Forces to the then Congo in the early 1960s. Today our
latest contingent of peacekeepers are taking up their difficult task, under a UN mandate, in Liberia.
I want to emphasise that Ireland's approach to conflict resolution, at home and abroad, has always been emphatically multifaceted. Yes, security is critical. But it must be accompanied by peacemaking and by development measures dealing decisively with the causes of conflict. This is the approach we will seek to have put in place in Liberia. I look forward to working closely with South Africa on its delivery.
South Africa is of pivotal importance in this whole region. Ireland greatly admires the political and moral leadership you bring to issues, however complex and difficult they may be. The successful peace processes in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the most positive reflections of this leadership.
International engagement in support of these two peace processes remains crucial. The Irish Government, including in its role from January next as President of the Council of the European Union will, I can assure the South African Government, not be found wanting. We will in particular work to mobilise and coordinate the EU and international support for next year's Great Lakes Conference on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development.
We have, of course, a direct bilateral commitment to the region through the Irish Government's extensive development cooperation programme in Uganda, one of our priority countries for ODA. Ireland is also a member of the Group of Friends of theGreat Lakes.
The Irish Government is a staunch supporter of the African Union and of NEPAD. The establishment of both organisations reflects the great vision and determination of President Mbeki. And to show our admiration and our solidarity, I was particularly pleased on this visit to be able to announce Irish Government support of €300,000 (some 2.4 million Rand) to help build the capacity of NEPAD.
Ireland's Presidency of the European Union in the first half of next year is both a great challenge and a great opportunity.
We will be looking to work closely with African partners through the EU-Africa dialogue as well as bilaterally and with regional organisations such as SADC and ECOWAS.
Both on African and global issues it is vital for there to be regular and open dialogue between Europe and Africa. But, in addition, there must be qualitative movement forward and delivery on issues. We very much look forward, therefore, to the most active contact with South Africa during our Presidency. Your input and counsel will be welcomed at all times.
There is at this time one particularly difficult and sensitive issue on our agenda – the situation in Zimbabwe. This is of deep concern to both of us. The EU appreciates South Africa's efforts to achieve progress across the range of complex issues involved.
We see in particular an urgent need for the parties to engage constructively with each other. We know, from our own experience in Northern Ireland, that there is no alternative to direct discussion and dialogue. Politics, not violence and the abuse of human rights, must be the only way forward. And, as elsewhere, the involvement and encouragement of an outside party can be critical to success. For our part, we do not wish to see this one issue continue to inhibit the full development of the EU-Africa dialogue.
Our bilateral development cooperation programme with South Africa continues to grow, with a budget of some €11 million annually for the next three years. And this cooperation on education, health and clean water and on AIDS, will be sustained and developed in the future.
We are also eager to build on the good trade relations between Ireland and South Africa. I know that the last year has seen trade delegations in both directions, and that there is clearly much scope for growth. I want to see this developed at an early date.
We value our natural links of friendship and trade greatly. However, we do not take them for granted. We have much to learn from each other's experiences. I hope that the years to come will see even greater cooperation between our countries: ours should be a special partnership resting on all the ties that unite us as well as our similar views on many issues.
And in order to deliver effectively on this, I am very pleased that we have agreed in principle this evening to establish a Partnership Agreement between our two countries. This reflects our common commitment to prioritising our relationship. Officials will now take this work forward as quickly as possible
Finally, I would very much hope that I will be able to welcome you at an early date to Dublin.