Minister Micheál Martin T.D.welcome remarks at Trilateral Commission (Europe)
Minister Micheál Martin T.D.
Welcome remarks at reception for Trilateral Commission (Europe)
Chairman, distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.
You are all extremely welcome. I have no doubt that this plenary conference of the Trilateral Commission, the first to be held in Ireland, will be a resounding success. The organizers are to be congratulated on bringing this distinguished gathering together – and on doing so despite the logistical problems created by the volcanic ash crisis.
I am delighted that you have chosen Ireland as the venue for your meeting. Many of you are visiting us for the first time and you are particularly welcome. I know that delegates from China and India are with us this evening, attending for the first time as members of the Commission rather than as observers. I congratulate the Commission on recognizing in this way the major contribution which these two great emerging states are making to global affairs.
The political and economic role played by China, India and other emerging economies is expanding steadily and will have a profound impact on policy-making processes over the coming years and decades. (I look forward to a visit which I myself will be making to China in the next couple of weeks).
Many other guests this evening are long-standing friends of Ireland whose friendship we value greatly and who know us and our country well.
No matter where you live in the world, and even if you have never set foot in Ireland before, you have probably met or done business with someone of Irish descent. Out of our past experience of forced emigration has developed a global Irish family of some seventy million people. Thanks in no small part to their endeavours and their willingness to remain engaged with the land of their ancestors; Ireland today enjoys a profile and level of goodwill disproportionate to its size. [Our good friend, Speaker Tom Foley, is the very embodiment of this compelling human story and I am delighted that he is with us this evening].
The Irish Government is working actively to develop a greater level of strategic engagement with our global diaspora. Last September, I convened the Global Irish Economic Forum, which brought together for the first time some of the most influential members of the global Irish community, people with a record of high achievement in business, culture and politics. The event and the follow-up process have revealed the enormous ‘soft power’ of the global Irish. I firmly believe that, in the modern globalised world, countries such as Ireland can achieve a significant competitive advantage through mobilising the influence available to us through the global Irish community. The Irish diaspora is an invaluable resource for Ireland which can play a key role in our economic growth and development.
Our historical experience has also included conflict on this island and a painful legacy of distrust and discrimination. One of the great success stories of recent times has been the Northern Ireland peace process. With the intensive involvement of the Irish and British Governments, and with strong support from successive US Administrations, this process has delivered deep political and constitutional reform within Northern Ireland and has put an end to three decades of violence. Particularly with the recent agreement on the transfer of policing and justice powers, we now have a framework for lasting peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Some people in this room have played their own part in getting us to where we are and for that we are deeply grateful. The Northern Ireland peace process must be counted as one of the most successful efforts yet in conflict resolution and the overcoming of deeply-rooted divisions.
Arising from this success, we have explored whether there are lessons which can be shared with other conflict zones around the world. While each conflict has its own specific features, nevertheless there are a number of broad concepts which, we believe, may have relevance and usefulness elsewhere. The Irish Government has, for example, been engaged in a cooperative project with East Timor and Liberia to see whether the role played by women in conflict resolution in Northern Ireland can be instructive for the peacebuilding work which is underway in East Timor and Liberia. We plan to present conclusions from this initiative to the UN Secretary-General next October, marking the tenth anniversary of a Security Council resolution which addresses these issues.
More broadly, Ireland’s historical experience has tended to shape our approach to international relations and to influence our foreign policy priorities. Our traditional policy of military neutrality has also been an important determinant.
This policy and the values it encompasses, together with our lack of a colonial past, have enabled us to speak with a distinctive and independent voice on global affairs and to serve the international community in a variety of ways.
Among the areas of greatest importance for Ireland have been the contribution we can make to global peacekeeping efforts; a close engagement with human rights issues; a deep interest in disarmament and non-proliferation policy; and a development cooperation programme which has grown significantly in volume and reach in recent years.
Our involvement in peace-keeping operations goes back for over 50 years. We served initially with the UN and more recently also with UN-mandated missions led by the European Union or NATO. Since we first sent military observers to Lebanon in 1958, the Irish Defence Forces have been deployed continuously in crisis areas all over the world. In the process, they have made an important contribution to Ireland’s positive international profile and have built significant goodwill towards us in the Middle East and other conflict regions. In more recent years, members of the Garda Siochana (the Irish police force) and other Irish civilians have provided expertise for a variety of UN and EU missions.
The Irish people are justly proud of this peacekeeping and peacebuilding tradition and it will remain an important part of our international engagement.
Ireland’s long involvement in UNIFIL in southern Lebanon is one of the factors which contribute to our close interest in Middle Eastern developments. The strong engagement of President Obama and George Mitchell in the search for a way forward is encouraging renewed hopes for the Middle East peace process at present. We all know the scale of the difficulties; I firmly believe, however, that the key issues are resolvable, and a comprehensive settlement achievable, if sufficient political will is forthcoming on all sides.
In Ireland, we had the good fortune to see at first hand the resolute negotiation and persuasion skills of George Mitchell. Ireland and our EU partners will do everything we can to support him and President Obama in their current efforts.
A personal priority for me has been the appalling plight of the people of Gaza. This is an issue which I have worked to highlight in the EU and elsewhere. When I visited Gaza several weeks ago, I was shocked at the condition to which much of Gaza and its population have been reduced.
The continuing blockade there is inhumane, unacceptable in human rights terms and also politically counter-productive.
This week saw the opening in New York of an important conference on another issue of vital concern. Last Monday, I was one of the first speakers at the opening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Ireland has a long association with this Treaty, which came into existence forty years thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of one of my predecessors, Frank Aiken. Providing the main bulwark against the spread of nuclear weapons, the NPT is an extremely important piece of international law. I hope that the Review Conference which has just begun will succeed in reaffirming and strengthening the NPT regime. One of the key objectives will be to make progress in relation to the Middle East resolution of 1995. Ireland has agreed to chair a subsidiary body dealing with this issue. We look forward to doing everything we can, in an honest broker capacity, to secure a positive outcome in this and all other areas of the Conference.
There is another important responsibility which will shortly fall to Ireland. In 2012 we will be assuming the Chairmanship of the OSCE. This is a signal honour for the country and a challenge to which we are very much looking forward.
We will bring to this task the key insights gained from our experience of conflict resolution on this island together with the wider values and objectives which underpin Irish foreign policy and our evolution as a State.
In conclusion, let me refer briefly to Ireland’s response to the global economic crisis. The Government has been proactive and resolute in dealing with this unprecedented challenge. First, we have tackled vigorously the imbalance in our public finances, taking difficult but necessary decisions. Second, we have introduced comprehensive reform of our banking sector. Third, we are addressing the issue of competitiveness; unit labour costs, energy costs and prices are falling. Industrial production is up, consumer confidence has improved and we are confident that our industry will be in a position to benefit from the global recovery. Fourth, we are continuing to invest heavily in research and development. And fifth, we have maintained our commitment to infrastructural development, which stands at twice the EU average.
We are already seeing some results from these actions. Irish exports are strengthening and we believe that our improving global competitiveness will provide further benefits. There are indications that the Irish economy will return to growth this year.
The European Commission projects that next year Ireland’s GDP will grow by 3%. This is one of the highest levels of growth forecast for 2011 by the Commission.
Current projections are that our general government debt will peak, as a percentage of GDP, in 2012 and that it will be equivalent to the eurozone average this year and next year.
Indeed, the Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Olli Rehn, said this week that “Ireland’s bold and credible measures are paying off…. [T]he worst is over and the Irish economy is now recovering.”
This is our plan for dealing with the effects of the global economic crisis and our plan is working. We have also been re-positioning ourselves over the last ten years to address the long term challenge posed by globalisation. We recognise that innovation is key to productivity and that is why, as I have mentioned, we have been investing heavily in research and development.
Our strategy is based on building a “smart economy”, one where Ireland will remain the most attractive place in Europe for doing business. This is not just our view, it is also that of global business – whether in the financial services, life sciences, pharmaceutical or IT sectors. We are confident that we can continue to benefit from the synergies between the leading multinationals located in Ireland and our world-class indigenous companies, drawing on the acclaimed research capacity in our third-level sector.
Chairman, distinguished delegates
I am delighted to have this opportunity to welcome you to Ireland. I wish you every success with what I am sure will be valuable and stimulating discussions over the next couple of days.