Speech by Minister Cowen to the Heads of Diplomatic Corps part 1
Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mary and I are delighted to welcome you all to Dublin Castle this evening.
This evening's dinner is our opportunity to thank you, Your Excellencies, for your assistance and support throughout the year. This, as you know, has been my first full year as Minister for Foreign Affairs. When we met this time last year, I was new to office and tonight I wish to record my appreciation to the Diplomatic Corps for helping me to settle in to my new responsibilities.
While it has been a year of great achievement, it has also been one in which we lost two of our resident Heads of Mission. The Dean of the Corps, Monsignor Storero, sadly passed away last year and we are very pleased to welcome his successor, Monsignor Lazzarotto, who presented credentials earlier in the month. Many of us were also present at the Mosque on Saturday last to bid farewell to Dr. Youssef Allan who represented the Palestinian people here with warmth, honour and dedication. Both of them will be missed by all of us.
Although tinged with sadness, as I have explained, it has also been a remarkable year with many achievements, and we can all be proud of them.
We could not have secured our election to the UN Security Council without your support and encouragement.
Many of you were instrumental in advising your capitals of the New Agenda Coalition's position on nuclear disarmament at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Review Conference in New York. The successful conclusion of the conference in May was a tribute to your diplomacy, as well as ours.
Last month we concluded the Treaty of Nice after days of tough negotiations. At Nice, the European Union agreed the institutional reforms needed to allow enlargement to proceed on schedule. I would like to thank the EU Ambassadors present for working with us towards a successful outcome.
We also endorsed a Strategy for Enlargement at Nice and re-iterated the view that the EU should be in a position to welcome new members from 2002. This means that many of the Applicant States represented here this evening now have the realistic hope of participating in the next European Parliament elections during Ireland's Presidency in 2004.
I wish to emphasise the importance to us here in Ireland of these achievements at Nice. In a very real sense, enlargement is central to our continent's future. The benefits of enlargement to the future of Europe cannot be overstated in terms of economic prosperity, stability and security. A broader Union will re-enforce the democratic achievements of the last decade, and provide a real rock of stability within a still- changing continent. During the year, I have met many representatives of Central and Eastern European countries and it is my intention to forge closer links with them during the year ahead.
Closer to home, extraordinary progress has been made by the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement in their first full year of operation. The Northern Ireland Executive has brought forward an imaginative and impressive Programme for Government. Just before Christmas, the Assembly approved the Executive's first budget, and Ministers, nationalists and unionists alike, have been pulling together on bread and butter issues which are of critical importance to their constituents.
At this juncture, I would like to say I was sorry to hear of Peter Mandelson's resignation today. He will be remembered for his important personal contribution to full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I would like to offer him my best wishes for the future.
The North-South Ministerial Council is taking forward an ambitious programme of action within the island. It has met twice in plenary session - in Armagh and Dublin - and on over 20 occasions in various sectoral formats. The Implementation Bodies, overseen by the Council, are also carving out new roles for themselves and a new tourism company has assumed responsibility for marketing Ireland as a single destination abroad.
As many of you know, the British-Irish Council is scheduled to meet here in Dublin Castle early next month to exchange information on tackling the scourge of drug abuse across these islands.
This work across the institutions is demonstrating to the people that the Agreement can be made to work for them. It is of immense importance in consolidating and securing the Agreement's future and provides us with a much healthier context in which to address the current difficulties we face.
None of this could have been achieved without the consistent and generous backing of the international community. As we encounter each difficult challenge to the process of building peace and trust, we are sustained by the encouragement of our friends throughout the world. We look forward to, and appreciate deeply, your ongoing support.
Looking forward, we can be sure that the year ahead will be just as challenging as the one gone by. We meet at a time when both Governments and the pro-Agreement parties in Northern Ireland are in ongoing discussions on difficult issues - policing, the question of arms decommissioning, demilitarisation and the proper functioning of the institutions under the Agreement on an inclusive basis.
But, while, I clearly cannot go into the detail of the work in progress, I remain convinced that all parties are committed to finding an agreed way forward and that we will succeed in doing so.
In part, my conviction stems from an awareness of the extraordinary progress that has been made by the institutions under the Agreement in less than a full year of operation.
We have come a long way. What were fledgling North/South institutions and structures, when I met you last, are now well established and are having a dynamic impact on how we do business and interact with one another on this island. We have six all-island Implementation Bodies, with staff recruited from both parts of the island, taking forward a range of cultural, social and economic activities.
Under the aegis of the North South Ministerial Council, ministerial colleagues from North and South have held meetings on almost two dozen occasions since devolution, a level and intensity of engagement never before attempted or experienced. And each of those meetings has taken place in a positive and constructive atmosphere, with genuine acknowledgement of the practical mutual benefits to be explored.
The two administrations on the island are currently jointly engaged in a number of key studies around core issues such as enhancing economic competitiveness and addressing barriers to cross border mobility. These should help to further stimulate our strategic thinking and ensure that our future planning is appropriately joined up rather than taking place in isolation from one another. Contrary to the suspicions of some, there is no reason to fear the dynamics of North/South co-operation. The only agenda here is one of genuine collaboration and partnership, for the benefit of all of the people of this island, an agenda that clearly threatens no one, since it moves forward by mutual agreement.
The principles of co-operation, equality and partnership have also, in large measure, characterised the operation of the new institutions within Northern Ireland itself. While obviously reflecting the fault lines of political division in Northern Ireland, the Northern Assembly has nonetheless proven to be an effective forum for debate, deliberation and accommodation. The members of the Northern Executive, which comprises all shades of political opinion, have diligently served their community in an accountable and democratic way and have delivered together an imaginative and progressive Programme for Government, supported by an effective and well drafted Budget.
The encouraging operation of the institutions within Northern Ireland and between both parts of the island have been complemented by the progressive development of the wider relationships between these islands. This has taken place both in the context of the deepening of bilateral contacts and links with the new devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales and, collectively, within the further development of the British-Irish Council. The underlying template for this dynamic East-West relationship is, of course, the close and enduring partnership between London and Dublin.
Excellencies, I do not believe that the majority of the people on this island who voted for the Good Friday Agreement and who now see it delivering in practice on a whole range of fronts, will permit us to turn our backs on the success of the present and the potential of the future. So how are we to take the final and the widest step?
The core issues of difficulty have not changed. Fundamentally we are talking about the level of trust necessary to see a society move from division to democracy, from violence to peace. Not surprisingly, the key factor here is to develop the necessary sense of trust and confidence that violence is over for good, that equal citizenship is being entrenched in the fabric of Northern Ireland and that its institutions of governance fully accommodate both traditions.
We have the opportunity to deliver a large part of this new dispensation if the arrangements for future policing in Northern Ireland are got right. I believe there is now a genuine and determined focus to resolve the outstanding concerns in this area. In addition, in validating that violence is truly a thing of the past, we must make progress on the normalisation of life on the ground in Northern Ireland, both through demilitarisation and progressively putting beyond use the stock-pile of illegal weapons.
The enabling commodity for all of these issues to be resolved is trust. It is not won easily or lightly and the battle must be fought for the hearts as well as the minds of the people we wish to persuade. But in that process of persuasion, there is a clear and encouraging balance sheet to which we can point, one where the positives considerably outweigh the negatives. In the Good Friday Agreement we made a promise of a new beginning. We have now conclusively experienced the dawn of that new beginning. We know what work remains to be done and I am convinced that the two Governments and the pro-Agreement parties have the collective will and determination to finish the job. I know and am grateful that we enjoy the continued support and goodwill of our friends in the international community in this endeavour.
Our goal is clear: to a secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. To achieve this, we must convince all sides that the agreement can deliver real change, and I remain optimistic that we can do so.Top