Address by Minister Martin at UCC Conference on the History of Irish Foreign Policy and Diplomacy
Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Micheál Martin T.D.,
to the Conference
‘The History of Irish Foreign Policy and Diplomacy’,
UCC, 7 January 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is always a pleasure to be back in College. And I am especially delighted to be able to address this conference on the history of Irish foreign policy and diplomacy.
As a politician and a Minister, I look forward -- to the policy challenges we have to address today and to those which we will be facing in the future. But at this time of the year, we have an opportunity to pause and also, Janus-like, to look backwards. In these few quiet days, we can perhaps reflect a little on the past and perhaps identify some lessons we might draw from our experience.
I would like to pay tribute to Professor Dermot Keogh for bringing together this gathering of diplomatic historians and, indeed, for the enormous contribution he has made, and continues to make to the study of Irish foreign policy.
The story of Irish foreign policy offers a rich vein for the diplomatic historian, amateur and professional alike. Ever since Robert Emmet’s clarion call for Ireland to “take its place among the nations of the earth”, the search for Irish independence and identity has been linked to the expression of an Irish voice on the world stage.
Nationalists of varying hues believed there was a distinctive Irish contribution which could be brought to bear in the international arena. The Skibbereen Eagle may famously have been keeping its eye on the Tsar of Russia, and Parnell’s supporters may have expressed Emmet-like demands for Knocknagoshel’s status, but they were not alone in taking a keen interest in the ebb and flow of international politics.
In its 1867 constitution for a future Irish state, the Irish Republican Brotherhood made provision for a Minister for Foreign Affairs of that state. Forty years later, Arthur Griffith, in his seminal work, The Resurrection of Hungary, called for the creation of a network of Irish consulates to promote Irish business and trade abroad. And more importantly, Dáil Éireann affirmed a clear and determined international vocation for the Irish nation with the adoption at its first sitting in January 1919 of a Message to the Free Nations of the World.
Since then, the exercise of a distinctive foreign policy has been closely associated with the sovereignty of our state and our people. The men and women who created the Irish state understood this well. Indeed, one of their first acts was to provide for a foreign minister and to create a diplomatic service to argue the cause of Irish independence.
It is also notable that from the very beginning, Irish foreign policy sought to follow a multilateral path. The Government elected by the first Dáil in 1919 sought admission to a multilateral process, the Paris Peace Conference of that year, and to the world’s first global organisation, the League of Nations, which that Conference established.
In so doing, it aligned Irish diplomacy with a set of principles and objectives from which we have never wavered, notably a deep commitment to a rules-based international order and to the equal rights and obligations of all states, large and small.
The first Irish diplomatic mission was established in Paris in March 1919 under the leadership of Seán T Ó Ceallaigh, with the aim of securing a hearing for Ireland at the Peace Conference. While the gates of Versailles may have remained closed to the Irish delegation, the multilateralism to which that Conference gave birth had a formative effect on the foreign policy of the new Irish State and underpins our view of the world to this day.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Ireland was a committed
member of the League of Nations, that first great exercise in
global governance. The League was the fulcrum of Irish
foreign policy; one newspaper described our mission in Geneva as
“our embassy to the world”. It was at
Geneva that we cut our diplomatic teeth, quickly becoming
recognised for upholding the rights of small nations and the rule
of law. We also played an important part in asserting
our rights and equality within the Commonwealth during our
membership of that group of nations.
Our war-time experience reinforced our belief in the need to strengthen multilateral mechanisms to build stability and to work towards a fair and credible system of global governance.
This approach led to active participation in multilateral organisations, including the Council of Europe in 1949 and the United Nations in 1955. It also informed our later decisions on participation in other multilateral organisations, including the then EEC and, more recently, the OSCE.
Membership of these bodies has provided us with platforms to pursue our interests and to project our foreign policy values, working in cooperation with like-minded states. It gives a chance for our voice to be heard and I believe we have used that voice in support of a better world.
Our strong investment in multilateral diplomacy and the perspectives provided by our development as a nation shape our policy and relationships both now and into the future. Ireland has possibly a unique position because of the special relationships we enjoy with, separately, the US, the UK and our continental European partners.
We also have a particular relationship with many African states as a result of many decades of Irish led Missionary and other development aid programmes. For example, Ireland was deeply involved in training the new civil service of Zambia after Independence in 1964. Over time these relationships grow and develop in various ways and our policy approaches should take account of these changes.
When I participate in the General Assembly of the United Nations or engage in negotiations with my EU colleagues, I do so on the basis of values which are cherished by the Irish people and which are closely linked to our history and our development as a nation. I am also mindful of the many accomplishments of Irish politicians and officials who sought to promote not just Ireland’s interests but also our values and principles on the world stage.
I recall the words of Éamon de Valera in 1932 when, as
President of the Council of the League of Nations, he called to
account the great powers for their failure to uphold the equal
rights of all member states. If only this warning, and
those of many others, had been heeded, the course of history might
have taken a different path. However, the organs of
international governance were in their infancy and were not strong
enough to prevent the slide into conflict.
Notwithstanding the demise of the League, De Valera remained committed to the cause of multilateralism and sought in 1946 to secure our admission to the United Nations. In the event, we were not able to take up our seat until 1955 given the power politics at play during the Cold War.
Speaking here today, I feel it important to recall that foreign policy has been very largely non-partisan in this country. As Minister for External Affairs in the 1920s, Desmond FitzGerald guided our first steps on the international stage and laid the foundations for the professional diplomatic service of today. His son has also given great service to this country, both as Minister for Foreign Affairs and as Taoiseach.
In recent weeks our Ambassador in London, Bobby McDonagh, hosted an event at the Irish Embassy in London to mark twenty five years of intensive British Irish cooperation in pursuit of peace on this island.
The negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was a landmark in that process and Dr Garret FitzGerald attended and spoke eloquently at that event. I am pleased to see Garret here today (or I am sure you are looking forward to his address tomorrow).
Looking back at the history of Anglo-Irish relations over the past 25 years we have seen remarkable developments, from the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in Hillsborough in 1985 to the agreement on the devolution of Justice and Policing secured at Hillsborough last year.
There were many diplomatic landmarks in that journey: the Downing Street Declaration agreed by Albert Reynolds and John Major in 1993; the Good Friday Agreement secured by Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair in 1998; Dr Paisley’s handshake with Bertie Ahern at Farmleigh and the restoration of devolved Government in Northern Ireland in 2007; and of course the agreement on justice and policing brokered at Hillsborough last year with the support of both Governments.
The historic peace process has seen nothing short of a transformation in relations on this island and between these two islands. The transformation is such, that a visit here by the UK’s Head of State is now very much on the agenda, and is a question of when, not if.
Credit for all these momentous achievements is owed to many in the British and Irish Governments, the political parties and civil society. The Department of Foreign Affairs, having been closely involved in the Good Friday Agreement itself, continues to play a leading role in ensuring that the full promise of peace is realised.
I think also of the work done by another of my distinguished predecessors in office, Frank Aiken, who pioneered the cause of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation at the UN in the late fifties and early sixties. Ireland’s role in bringing about the Non-Proliferation Treaty was recognised by the UN membership in 1968 when he was invited to be the first signatory to the Treaty.
Another of my predecessors, Seán MacBride, played a key role in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights and went on to co-found Amnesty International and hold a series of senior UN positions. His international service was recognised in 1974 with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize.
There is an equally long tradition of service by the officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It was an Irish diplomat, Seán Lester, who kept alive the flame of international governance during the darkest days of World War II and who, as the last Secretary General of the League of Nations, was present at the birth of the United Nations to hand over that cherished flame.
Sean Lester was recently honoured by the City of Gdansk for his contribution as League Commissioner in Danzig and his efforts to confront the rise of the Nazi Party in the Free City during the 1930s. I had the opportunity to view some of his papers during a visit to Geneva last year and to meet members of his family.
I am reminded also of the pioneering work of the first Irish international civil servant, Edward Phelan, who played a key role in founding the International Labour Organisation in 1919 and in the development of an international framework for the protection and advancement of workers’ rights. Remarkably, he assumed the role of Director General of the ILO 22 years later, in the middle of the War. Although Phelan did not work for the Irish Government, he was an invaluable source of advice and information for Irish delegates at the League in Geneva. He, too, played a role in maintaining the infrastructure of international governance during the war years. This helped in turn to provide a platform for the UN system which emerged from the conflagration of World War Two.
These contributions and those of many others are not well-enough known. Yet they are something in which we can all take pride.
This contribution continues. For example, shortly after I became Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2008, Ireland hosted and chaired the Dublin Diplomatic Conference which negotiated and adopted the Cluster Munitions Convention, a notable diplomatic success for Ireland built very much on the work done by my predecessor, Dermot Ahern T.D..
At the heart of the Convention is an immediate and unconditional ban on the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention or transfer of all cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
This outcome was secured through close cooperation with a network of like-minded states and with non-governmental organisations. It was accomplished in the face of considerable opposition from some powerful nations and shows that, sometimes at least, small countries can still achieve big things. The Convention came into force on the 1st of August last, representing a fairly rapid ratification process for an international convention.
Indeed, I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Political Division at my Department, in particular former Ambassador Dáithí O'Ceallaigh (now Director General of the Institute of International and European Affairs), who chaired the Croke Park meeting and played key roles in bringing about this Convention.
Ireland has also played an important role in directing international attention towards the plight of the people of Gaza. During my time as Minister, I have worked hard to highlight a state of affairs in Gaza which is completely unacceptable in humanitarian terms as well as entirely counter-productive in political terms. In February last year, I visited Gaza to see the situation for myself; I was the first Foreign Minister of an EU member State to do so in over a year. I have missed no opportunity since then, within the EU and more widely, to expose what is happening in Gaza and to call for more effective international action which might bring about an end to the blockade.
This pressure has, I believe, had an influence on other colleagues; the concerns I have been voicing are now being echoed by a steady stream of high-level visitors to Gaza, including in recent months High Representative Ashton and the German, Finnish and Italian Foreign Ministers.
In doing so, I believe I am giving contemporary expression to those values concerning the international order and the equal rights and obligations of all, which have been espoused by my predecessors since the foundation of the State.
Within the United Nations, Ireland continues to be a very active and respected member. During my visit to the General Assembly last September, I co-hosted with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, a side-event on the theme of global hunger which drew attention to the terrible affliction of under-nutrition among children in developing countries. Ireland has also provided international leadership on the issue of peace-building, providing one of three co-facilitators of the Review of the UN’s Peace-Building Architecture. The Recommendations of this Review were positively received and were endorsed by the UN Security Council and the General Assembly.
In addition, building on Frank Aiken’s legacy, Ireland played a prominent role at last May’s Review Conference of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. We can certainly take a share of the credit for the positive outcome of that conference and for the significant achievements in relation to nuclear disarmament, which, as you know, has been a key policy priority for successive Irish Governments. Ireland, in the person of Alison Kelly, Deputy Political Director and Director for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at my Department, chaired the body charged with making progress on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
The establishment of such a zone was agreed back in 1995, but no progress had been made in this very difficult area until we secured a major breakthrough. A Conference on the establishment of the zone is now planned for 2012.
Ireland continues to assume important international responsibilities. For example, in taking on the Chairmanship of the OSCE next year, we will be in a position to make our own contribution to the ongoing promotion of comprehensive security across the OSCE region. Our experience of conflict resolution in the Northern Ireland peace process will be a particular asset in that context.
Ireland has had a long and successful involvement in the European project. Last year, we marked the twentieth anniversary of the reunification of Germany. It was in Dublin Castle during Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union in 1990 that key decisions relating to that process were taken. Later during our 2004 Presidency, we had the honour to welcome 10 new members into the union, many of them small states which for too long had been excluded from the international community as independent countries. In 2013, the 40th anniversary of our membership, we will undertake our seventh Presidency of the European Union. It will in some aspects be a different experience than previously, now that the President of the European Council and High Representative Ashton are in situ. But the opportunity and the responsibility to manage efficiently a wide swathe of the Union’s business, and the credit that comes from a job well done, are constants.
There can be no underestimating the relevance and importance of the EU framework, both for our domestic policies and for the added strength the Union gives to Ireland’s projection in the world. Over the past year we have seen the European Union respond to the greatest test it has faced since its establishment and in the coming period we will be contributing with partners to putting in place measures to ensure economic stability in Europe and to sharpening our competitive edge in the world.
I do not believe that we can ever take our relationship with the European Union for granted and, as the Director of Elections of my Party in the last Lisbon referendum campaign, I say this with some feeling.
It is now a little over a year since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty through which we have seen a patient implementation of the range of reforms designed to make the Union work better. The European Council is getting into its stride in providing strategic guidance to the Union, and the External Action Service is helping to develop a more coherent EU presence in world affairs.
There was a lengthy and extensive debate in Ireland and in Europe over the course of our two referendum campaigns. Interest ranged from the well funded involvement of Declan Ganley and others during the first referendum, to more distortive and disturbing interventions by groups such as the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) during the second debate.
The Lisbon debate not only put the case for the merits of the Treaty to the people but also facilitated a broad discussion of our place in Europe and the sort of Union we would like to see evolve in the future.
It is clear, that the debate we had in Ireland was of relevance beyond our shores and that the careful communication of what the EU is for, and what it does, is a preoccupation and a continuing task for all Member States.
However, debate on Europe should not just occur when we have a referendum; it needs to be ongoing and to evolve as the Union evolves. It needs to address our relationship with Europe and the sort of European Union we want our children to live in and I hope that all of you gathered here will continue to take part in that debate.
The global economic downturn has brought home the reality that the world has become a more competitive place and that we have to work hard to protect our share of world markets. That is why it is essential that the Department of Foreign Affairs continues to play a full and active role in our national economic recovery.
There are some who may question the value of our international activity and who may, particularly in these difficult economic times, suggest that we concentrate our efforts and our resources at home.
For the record, I do not agree with the ‘rationalisation of Ireland’s network of overseas missions’ (from 76 to 55) as proposed in the 2009 report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes.
I am strongly of the view that as a small country with an open economy, a strong export sector and a global Diaspora, we need an effective international presence to get our point across, support our citizens and maximise trade and investment opportunities. Now more than ever, we must be seen to be “open for business”.
These are difficult times, but short term responses will have longer term implications for Ireland. The scale of our network is modest compared to other European States of similar size and international profile. The network is kept under ongoing review by the Government and has evolved historically in response to national priorities and available resources. Expansions during the last decade were driven by EU enlargement, the growth of our Development Co-operation Programme, and trade promotion. Our diplomatic representation plays a crucial role in enhancing and facilitating existing trade relations and laying the foundations for future economic relationships. The main rationale for the opening of an Embassy in Abu Dhabi in 2009 and a Consulate in Atlanta in 2010 was the significant potential economic value to Ireland.
For these reasons, I believe we should continue to review and reconfigure rather than rationalise in 2011 and beyond. We should always look outward and seek opportunity. There are a number of locations under consideration at present; I would certainly see Indonesia, for example, as a country where we should have a diplomatic presence.
Regardless of location, promoting Ireland’s economic interests abroad has been the highest priority of our Ambassadors for some time now. Irish diplomats have a proven track record in building relationships. It was crucial to the success of the Northern Ireland peace process and it has been the salient feature of our experience in the European Union and the United Nations. Our focus now is to bring these skills to bear on the economic challenges we face today. Of course, our Ambassadors do not operate in a vacuum. They work closely with my Department’s Promoting Ireland Abroad Division and with the promotional agencies abroad such as Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland, the IDA, Bord Bia and Culture Ireland. Ours is a team effort where each player brings his or her expertise to the table.
Last year I set up the Global Irish Network, an initiative which emerged from the Global Economic Forum in Farmleigh and brings together the talent and expertise of many prominent members of the Irish Diaspora. The Global Irish Network creates a more dynamic relationship between Ireland and the global Irish community. We have already had very positive meetings with Network members in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the United States and Canada and I believe the Network is valuably supporting our collective promotional efforts. It has strengthened our links with key members of Irish communities abroad, many of whom are involved in other business networks and associations around the world.
I have also instructed my Department to bring forward a strategy which addresses our relationship with Africa in a more comprehensive way than heretofore. As I mentioned earlier, Ireland has a long tradition of bilateral ties with many African countries and a focus on development and nation building. As these states begin to emerge and grow after many decades of difficulty, including conflict, it is important to re-examine how we can move to a post aid relationship, one that reflects a partnership where both parties trade and do business. This strategy will build on the strong relationships Ireland has developed in Africa through missionaries and official aid programmes over the last forty years.
I will host the (first ever) Africa-Ireland Economic Forum next month in Iveagh House with the objective of stimulating business to business links between Ireland and African countries. This event will involve an innovative partnership with the UCD Michael Smurfit School of Business. The McKinsey Global Institute will make a presentation of their 2010 publication, “Lions on the move: the progress and potential of African economies”. I hope it will offer an important opportunity for Irish and African businesses to enhance and grow trade links through stronger bilateral and trilateral relationships. Trade will become a key part of our relationship with Africa in the future.
These types of diplomatic and trade focused missions are relatively new for Ireland. Ours is a small, open economy whose future depends increasingly on developments in emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China and, as a former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I have always taken the view that the Department of Foreign Affairs and the mission network have much to offer in the formulation and implementation of outward looking economic policies. Historically, the role of a diplomat has been to gather and report information from abroad. Diplomats have been our eyes and ears, telling us about developments of significance in the wider world. They continue to do this, of course, but today they operate on an information highway where the traffic runs – and runs fast – in both directions.
Economic diplomacy, therefore, is also about talking, not just listening. It is about strategic engagement with key opinion formers in governments, in business networks and in the media. The clichéd image of an Ambassador sitting down comfortably to write his or her weekly telex on the great political events of the day is a thing of the past. Yes, we still depend on Ambassadors for their analysis but today our Ambassadors are more likely to be found in TV or radio studios in Rome or Beijing or addressing banking conferences in Frankfurt, outlining and discussing our economic policies.
The pace at which our diplomats operate has changed and new technologies are helping us stay the course. On 30 September last, for example, the Governor of the Central Bank and my colleague, the Minister for Finance, made a series of statements on the re-capitalisation of the banks at 6:30am before the markets opened. Every diplomat in our system was fully briefed within the hour through my Department’s internal network. The pre-planned lobbying exercise across the globe which began at 7:30am in many capitals and ran for days afterwards will make for impressive reading when the archives are opened to historians.
The morning after the publication of the National Recovery Plan last November, our Embassies secured space in the Financial Times in London, Les Echos in Paris, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, El Pais in Madrid, Corriere della Serra in Milan and Diario Economico in Lisbon for an article by Minister Lenihan. As the first of the financial resolutions was being voted through on the night of the budget on 7 December, our Consulate in New York was handing over the text of an article by the Taoiseach which appeared the following morning in the US and European editions of the Wall Street Journal.
Altogether, our diplomatic service secured space last year for articles by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and myself, emphasising the strong fundamentals of the economy, in key business newspapers across the world with an estimated combined circulation of almost 6 million. Readership, both on-line and in print, would, of course, be a multiple of this figure.
At a time, therefore, when much of the country has been pre-occupied with ‘what-the-markets-might-say,’ our focus at the Department of Foreign Affairs and across our Embassies and Consulates has been on ‘what-we-say-to-the-markets’ and to the media, to our friends in the international community and, indeed, to our critics.
Our message is the same, whether it is delivered in Chinese, in Japanese, in French, in Spanish or in German and the message is that:
· the fundamentals of the Irish economy are strong;
· we are returning to growth;
· exports and industrial production are up;
· prices and rents have fallen;
· our competitiveness is improving;
· our corporation tax rate of 12.5% will not change; and
· we have a National Recovery Plan which will remove barriers to growth, boost competitiveness and restore order to our public finances.
Working with the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Culture Ireland and Bord Bia, my Department and our Embassy network are driving home the message that Ireland is the best location in Europe for turning smart ideas into world class goods and services.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a rich tradition of foreign policy in the service of the Irish people, one we can be rightly proud of. I am pleased that the study of this tradition, and of our place in the world, has undergone a renaissance in recent years. There now exists a fine body of research on the international relations of the Irish state over the years – much of it contributed by people in this room. I can see from today and tomorrow’s presentations that this resource is expanding all the time, as new fields of research are tilled.
I am pleased that my Department is playing its role in promoting this study though the Documents in Irish Foreign Policy series, published jointly with the Royal Irish Academy and the National Archives. Last November, I launched Volume 7 in this series, dealing with the Second World War period – on which Dr. Michael Kennedy, one of the series’ editors will be addressing you tomorrow. I trust many of you found its weighty bulk in your Christmas stockings. If not, I’m sure Professor Keogh or Dr. Kennedy can help you out. The Documents series distils thousands of documents by hundreds of authors and brings original sources to a wider audience of readers. These volumes have contributed to the understanding of the evolution of Irish foreign policy over the years and represent a resource for students and analysts of current policies.
In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, maybe I can return to Janus and look forward into 2011. Already our diplomats are active in different locations building on their work last year. Likewise, the Dáil will soon resume its work and, as indicated by An Taoiseach, before long we expect to have a general election. And here in this College and in your individual fields, I am sure that you will resume your work, thawed out and recharged for what will undoubtedly be an interesting year in our nation’s history. Perhaps at some future date, we will be gathered here again to consider 2010 and 2011 from a longer-term perspective.
Thank you for your attention.