Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern T.D., responds to Seanad Private Member's Motion on Irish Foreign Policy
Motion: "That Seanad Eireann recognises the success of the Government in maintaining and developing a foreign policy based on the values of the Irish people which also protects and promotes Irish national interests."
I welcome the opportunity to set out the principles that underlie our foreign policy. I believe that any objective judge of that policy would affirm that in its conception and execution it is indeed an ethical one, based firmly on the values of the Irish people and serving their interests.
Ethics is a system of moral principles. It deals with judgements as to what constitutes good conduct and bad conduct. But one also has to distinguish between intentions and outcomes.
I make this point because having good intentions is not enough. We live in the real world and we must, to the best of our ability, try to anticipate the outcome of our actions.
Are we likely to make things better or worse? How do we maximise the chances of our good intentions having the desired effect?
Posing such questions does not mean surrendering to what is called the “realist” school of foreign policy, where simple, narrow self-interest dictates a state’s actions - far from it.
But it is to say that an ethical foreign policy is best advanced by an awareness of the environment in which we operate.
I believe that
What are those principles and values?
Foreign policy, like all our national policies, is based on the foundation laid out in Bunreacht na Éireann.
Article 5 defines what
Article 29 on
Aside from its articulation of the principles underlying relations between states, Bunreacht na Éireann affirms in Article 40 a series of rights that pertain to the individual which it terms personal rights. We would today call them human rights.
Since 1937 of course a body of international law on human rights has developed and
Alongside support for the United Nations and international law, successive governments have pursued a policy of military neutrality. The State has chosen not to enter into military alliances or a mutual defence pact with other countries. Indeed, the amendment of the Constitution in 2002 to allow for the ratification of the Nice Treaty precludes
Every dispatch of a contingent of the Defence Forces abroad – whether UN, EU or NATO led - is a sovereign decision of the Irish Government, and is subject to the requirements of the so-called ‘triple-lock’ of Government decision, Dáil approval and UN authorisation.
If the origins of our policy of military neutrality lie in our history as a state and in the particular circumstances of partition, it has evolved as a key feature of our foreign relations. It has acquired particular value for the Irish people as an expression of our ethical views on the use of military forces – that the deployment of military forces should be undertaken only within the framework of the UN Charter and with the approval of the United Nations itself.
The expression of these principles and values – ethics if you will - can only take place within a multilateral framework. That framework is provided by the United Nations.
Indeed while I was personally honoured to act as one of the Secretary General’s envoys in support of the UN reform process, I fully appreciated that being asked to undertake this role reflected the high standing of
Acting within the parameters set out in the Charter assures us of the ethical intent of the military actions undertaken on behalf of the international community by the United Nations.
Since our first UN peacekeeping mission in 1958, our troops have performed over 55,000 tours of duty on some 60 UN peace support operations worldwide. Defence Forces personnel have served throughout the world, notably in the Middle East, Africa, the Former Yugoslavia and
The United Nations of course is not the only multilateral framework available as means for
As a founder member of the Council of Europe,
The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms remains the essential reference point for the protection of human rights in
The European Union itself has also provided us with a platform to shape the international environment through the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The essential objectives of the CFSP very much reflect
While naturally decision-making in the CFSP involves compromise, I am absolutely satisfied that we have a much greater capacity to influence events within the
One key example of how we have utilised the multilateral framework in pursuit of the common good is our engagement with the issue of nuclear weapons.
Its Article 6 contains the only multilateral legally binding commitment from the Nuclear weapon-States to nuclear disarmament.
We have taken a similarly vigorous approach to the codification and implementation of human rights norms. We believe profoundly in their universality. They are central to our foreign policy.
Later this week, in New York, Ireland will sign up to the two most recently adopted United Nations instruments, the UN Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Active participation in multilateral organisations such as the EU, UN and the Council of Europe provides an opportunity for
Some have suggested that the Government has not met its own standards of human rights in relation to allegations of extraordinary rendition through
These allegations have no basis in fact. There is no question of prisoners having been transferred through Irish airports as part of an extraordinary rendition operation. The Government has received explicit assurances in this regard from the
Even the recent European Parliament report on extraordinary rendition is clear on this fact: nowhere does it allege that prisoners might have transited through
Moreover, as friends, we have never been in any way unwilling or hesitant to convey very clear views to the
There can be no clearer example of our belief in the essential value and necessity of human rights, and in our willingness to advocate them, than in our support for action on the crisis in
The UN Human Rights Council held a Special Session in December 2006 to consider the urgent human rights situation there.
Given his treatment at the hands of the authorities earlier this month, we must be concerned about his human rights and his physical safety.
I join my EU colleagues in holding the Government of Zimbabwe responsible for his safety. On behalf of the Irish Government I call for his immediate and unconditional release and that of his colleagues.
However our concerns about his arrest do not stop there. His arrest and the actions of the authorities raise fundamental questions about President Mugabe’s respect for basic democratic norms, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.
A policy of suppression and intimidation of lawful opposition can only make the situation there more unstable.
The deteriorating economic, social, and political situation needs to be urgently addressed through dialogue, between government and society, not presidential dictate.
I call on the Zimbabwean Government to change course, respect the rule of law and respond to the clear suffering of its people.
The meeting of the Southern African Development Community this week is a timely opportunity to address the situation. I urge the regional leaders to use their influence to halt the descent toward a political and humanitarian disaster.
Our approach to Darfur –or to
We must point to their grievous absence and measure progress by their application and enforcement.
Aside from peacekeeping, perhaps the most tangible example of the ethical basis of our approach to foreign relations is our commitment to overseas aid. Irish Aid, with its focus on
We spend this money because, as the Taoiseach writes in the foreword to the White Paper on Irish Aid, “….Ireland can rightly claim to empathise with those who are suffering from disease, poverty and hunger every day around the globe. But empathy is not enough.
“Our actions must speak louder than our words….Our aid programme is a practical expression of the values that help define what it means to be Irish at the beginning of the 21st Century.”
As our aid programme illustrates, the values that inform and motivate our foreign policy are not static. Though based on firm foundations, they are dynamic and evolving, responding to the changing circumstances of the world we find ourselves in.
The establishment of the Rapid Response Initiative is another example of this dynamism. The Initiative aims to improve and enhance
Similarly, the creation of the Conflict Resolution Unit will allow
In the context of our expanding aid programme, both initiatives will improve our capacity to become a model United Nations member.
In conception and operation then, as I have outlined here, I believe that
Through our commitments and actions we have sought, I believe successfully to give expression to the values and interests of the Irish people.
This Government has built on the endeavours of previous governments and earlier generations to ensure that