Lunch for the Diplomatic Corps, Speech by Minister Cowen, Dublin Castle
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, my wife Mary and I wish to extend a very warm welcome to all of you today.
We deeply appreciate your presence at our National Day of Commemoration, a day on which we honour all of the Irish men and women who died in past wars, or on service with the United Nations. Today we also honour peacemakers and their work throughout the world.
We also remember those who lost their lives in the troubles in Northern Ireland. The past year has seen many developments in the ongoing implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Some have been immensely positive – such as the ongoing process of change that is transforming policing in Northern Ireland and the good work that is being done, on all sides, to maintain calm at community interfaces during the tense summer period.
On the political track, it has to be recognized that, given the complexity and depth of the historical divisions we are striving to overcome, it is inevitable that challenging periods are an occasional reality in this process of conflict resolution. With the British Government, we published our Joint Declaration on 1st May, which provides a blueprint for the implementation of outstanding aspects of the Agreement.
Both Governments are determined to work with the parties in the weeks and months ahead to restore political momentum in the process and successfully address the key outstanding issues which have, thus far, frustrated the full realisation of our ambitions – namely, establishing confidence that paramilitarism is being brought to an end and that the political institutions are operating on a stable and sustainable basis.
This December will mark the tenth anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration when the Irish and British Governments solemnly committed themselves to the fundamental principles underlying the peace process. Its objectives included “healing divisions in Ireland and of ending a conflict which has been so manifestly to the detriment of all”. The full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement would fulfil this vision and would represent a very apt way to mark this forthcoming landmark anniversary.
Your Excellencies, since last we came together on this day Ireland has completed its period in office as a member of the UN Security Council. We are now readying ourselves to assume a different responsibility, that of Presidency of the European Union, in just under six months time. We greatly valued the advice and assistance of your Governments during our period as a member of the Security Council and I hope we can rely upon similar good will and assistance when we take over the EU Presidency next January.
The past twelve months have been a time of international difficulty and sometimes strain, with many challenges facing the international community. These challenges are manifold - from questions of international peace and security to equally pressing issues such as sustainable development, environmental protection, the fight against HIV/AIDS and the eradication of poverty. It is essential that we seek shared solutions where we can to these challenges as they affect us all. In this context, Ireland remains fully committed to the role of the United Nations and I am proud of the service which Irish men and women contribute to its work in countries around the world.
I have recently returned from a visit to the Middle East, where the situation remains a concern to the international community as a whole. Efforts must be re-doubled to end the spiral of violence and despair. I welcome agreement in the region on the content of the Quartet Road Map for Peace and I urge all involved to move forward with its implementation. Iraq is also high on the agenda – the international community must come together to help the Iraqi people rebuild their country and sow the seeds for a representative government.
Overseas development is an integral part of our foreign policy and represents one of the Government's priorities. Ireland has a proud record in the field of development cooperation. Against that backdrop, it is appropriate that Ireland should have in place a national programme of support to developing countries. Our programme has grown substantially in recent years and it is expected that total ODA will exceed €450 million this year, the highest ever level of assistance in the history of the programme. Our contribution equates to 0.41% of GNP making Ireland the seventh largest contributor in the world in percentage terms.
Partnership is a key principle of our approach to development. The term “aid” can signify a one way relationship rather than the partnership approach to which we are committed. To reflect this approach, my colleague Minister of State Tom Kitt decided recently on a new name for our programme – Development Cooperation Ireland.
In the area of trade and development, Ireland will play a constructive role, with our EU partners, in the formulation of a new World Trade Agreement. Our approach to negotiations later this year in Cancun will be to seek a balanced and successful outcome that reflects the Doha undertaking to improve the effective participation of least-developed countries in international trade on a fairer and sustainable basis. We will continue to work to keep the crippling burden of debt repayments on the development agenda and to play an advocacy role with regard to development and human rights.
It is just over a year since the entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This historic event represented the culmination of almost a decade of work by the international community, during which jurists from all the world's regions and legal systems came together to create an international framework to end impunity for the most heinous crimes of international concern.
I have been delighted to see that this spirit of cooperation and dedication to a common goal held by supporters of the ICC has continued during the past year, as a result of which the Court is now fully functional. I wish here to reiterate Ireland's ongoing commitment to the Court.
Next May will see the sixth – and largest – expansion in the history of the European Union. I am very pleased that Ireland's strong commitment to Enlargement and to the Union was demonstrated last October in the referendum on the Nice Treaty.
The aim of the European Convention, which has just concluded, was to prepare a draft Constitutional Treaty equipping the Union for the challenges which lie ahead, and to make its operation more transparent and democratic. The Convention has been, in terms both of substance and process, an outstanding success. While Ireland, like other countries, has a number of concerns which we will pursue further, we regard the Convention's report as balanced and comprehensive, and an excellent basis for starting work in the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference. I believe that the Constitutional Treaty will rightly come to be seen as a seminal point in the evolution of the Union.
We look forward to the completion of the IGC as soon as possible. If it should run into our Presidency, which of course begins in less than six months, in January 2004, we are determined to steer it to a successful conclusion. We like to believe that Ireland has an excellent track record in the running of European Union Presidencies and has consistently shown that small EU countries can successfully exercise the leadership role which the Presidency confers.
This next Presidency – our sixth - presents us with unprecedented challenges and opportunities. It will be Ireland's great privilege to preside, in May 2004, over the expected accession to the Union of the ten new member States. We look forward to welcoming the new members on board and celebrating their accession in a manner appropriate to the significance of this occasion for the future of Europe. We will also of course need to manage and organise the transition from a Union of fifteen to twenty five.
This will be a major challenge for our Presidency and, if successful, will be an enduring legacy for the continued progress and development of the Union. As with all our previous Presidencies, our objective will be to carry forward the work of the Union in an efficient, effective and impartial manner.
Finally, I would also like to thank you all again for joining me here today to mark our National Day of Commemoration. The prevention and resolution of conflict is the noblest objective of diplomacy. I appreciate the role that you, and the countries that you represent, have played in the search for peace throughout the world and, in particular, for the contribution you have made to helping us achieve peace in our own land.
I would now like to offer a toast to the Heads of State represented here.