Address by the Tánaiste to the "Google Summit Against Extreme Violence”
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank Google Ideas and the Council on Foreign Relations for inviting me here this evening to officially open this summit; it is a pleasure to be here.
I would like to pay tribute at the outset to the organisers of this innovative summit, ably led by Jared Cohen, who have assembled an impressive and diverse range of participants from all over the world to explore the role of technology in combating violent extremism. On behalf of the Irish government, I welcome you to Dublin.
I welcome in particular Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google and Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations; two great friends of Ireland, whose presence here this evening is testament to the importance of this event.
Google is at the heart of the information and communications revolution and is a welcome addition to our economy and our society in Ireland. Although an island, we in Ireland have always embraced new technology and have a long history of facilitating communication and connectivity across the globe. From transatlantic telegraph cables, Marconi wireless stations, from the ocean liners built in Belfast to transatlantic air travel, Ireland has been at the forefront of global communications infrastructure. Companies like Google are changing the way we connect and do business with each other and Ireland remains an essential link in the chain of international connectivity – the Internet Capital of Europe.
As we gather in the beautiful surroundings of the Royal Hospital, Ireland’s history of conflict cannot be far from our thoughts. This building was completed as a home for old soldiers after a particularly bloody 17th century, which saw a peace of sorts imposed by a victorious army. Our island has experienced significant violent conflict since that time but has never lost its desire to pursue a peaceful path. Today, we meet in happier circumstances. Today, Ireland is at peace with itself, and comfortable with its role on the international stage.
Here on the island of Ireland, the story of our own peace process demonstrates the potential for politics and the democratically-expressed will of the people, each given their opportunity, to deliver transformational change. By its very nature, the peace process here has had to be complex, sophisticated and above all comprehensive in its scope and in its methodology.
It emerged after many dark years in our collective history, during which over three thousand people were killed and from which many thousands more had been left injured and bereaved.
The path to peace was slow; it was painstaking; and it was the result of no small amount of sacrifice. And, it must be said, no small amount of generosity, on both sides. The place we have arrived at is one where different identities and aspirations are accepted as equally valid, able to exist alongside each other according to the principle of consent.
In 1998, the people of this island voted overwhelmingly to reject violence through their ratification of the Good Friday Agreement. Today, there is a viable and vibrant power-sharing structure in Northern Ireland, with an elected Assembly which is reflective of the community and which caters for a wide range of diverse political beliefs.
The achievement of full devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive in April 2010 was a further key step. This has cemented the progress achieved through the development of a police service, which is now more than ever before representative of, and directly accountable to, the community which it serves.
The most recent Assembly elections, as well as meetings held over recent weeks of the North-South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the British-Irish Council, all illustrate that the various strands and institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent key Agreements are continuing to perform strongly.
This movement from violent extremism to peaceful democratic co-existence has not been without setbacks and the challenges remain ongoing. A small minority continue to use violence in pursuit of what they claim to be their political objectives, but which only serves to highlight their own marginalisation in today’s Northern Ireland. In April of this year, we witnessed the tragic and brutal murder of Police Service of Northern Ireland Constable Ronan Kerr, a young Catholic police officer who was killed because of his desire to help protect his community. In recent days we have seen unwanted incidents of sectarian violence in Belfast. We must be vigilant to ensure that those who promote violence do not drag us back to the dismal past.
That work to sustain a peaceful society, where there are positive opportunities for young people, is ongoing. My own Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, operates Reconciliation and Anti-Sectarianism Funds which assist individuals and organisations involved in reconciliation work.
All those relations have grown in immensely positive ways over recent years, as was evident from the recent State Visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth II. The impact of that State Visit, and how it will shape our approach to key historical anniversaries that will arise for the entire island of Ireland, was the theme of a Reconciliation Networking Forum event hosted by my Department in Dublin earlier this month.
This Forum was attended by over two hundred community and youth workers from all sections of society throughout Ireland. It provided a platform for further discussion and debate on how to deal with both our shared past, and how to secure a shared future free from violence and hatred. I also availed of the opportunity there, and do so again here today, to call for the development of a ‘Version 2.0’ [TWO POINT ‘O’] peace process, in which the key focus is on the kind of society we want to build on this island, and on the way we relate to our neighbours.
Lessons which can be drawn from the Northern Ireland peace process, as it has developed to date, will continue to help us in this regard. The principle of respect between all the key stakeholders, demonstrated through dialogue and the institutions which were created by the Good Friday Agreement, will remain a further central feature.
We have also been fortunate to benefit from the substantial time and energy of successive US Presidents and their administrations, as well as from both Houses of the US Congress, since the mid-1990s onwards in support of the peace process. Presidential Special Envoys such as Senator George Mitchell, chair of the talks which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement, have also played a vital role in delivering clear and consistent messages. Richard Haass, Senator Mitchell’s successor as Special Envoy, also carried on this crucial work.
There remain significant challenges to be overcome, not least in terms of the small minority who continue to indulge in violent extremism, the theme of your conference, and in pursuit of their objectives by exclusive and sectarian means.
We must press on with this important and urgent work.
I welcome the opportunity today to hear about your exchanges on how best to counter violent extremism and am confident that they will add much to our own insights and analyses of the challenges that lie ahead here. The peace process in Northern Ireland has been neither quick nor easy, and it must be remembered that peace is not a destination. It is a journey that we must undertake every day.
Drawing on the success of our peace process, and our direct experience of resolving conflict, we in Ireland are in a position to share the lessons we have learned about conflict resolution. A dedicated Conflict Resolution Unit was established within my Department in 2007 to take the lead in this process of lesson-sharing. The Unit has helped to facilitate a number of visits to Ireland from parties to conflicts in Afghanistan, Nepal, Israel and Palestine in recent years. The visits brought together policy-makers, civil society representatives and former violent extremists to share the lessons of their respective conflicts.
Its work is now entering a new phase, with preparations underway for Ireland’s upcoming Chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), beginning in January 2012. The OSCE deals with a broad range of regional security issues in the areas of conflict prevention, democratisation, human rights, arms control and environmental security. During our Chairmanship, Ireland will offer our experience of peace-building in Northern Ireland as a case study in conflict resolution to all 56 participating States of the OSCE and, in particular, to those states suffering ongoing conflicts. We will also support work carried out by the OSCE in combating violent extremism and terrorism.
Ireland’s approach to combating radicalisation and recruitment also
forms part of the overall EU Strategy which focuses on three
-Disrupting the activities of the networks and individuals who draw people into terrorism;
-Ensuring that voices of mainstream opinion prevail over those of violent extremism; and
-Vigorously promoting security, justice, democracy and opportunity for all.
I also strongly endorse the call made by the G8 leaders in Deauville last month regarding the internet that ‘freedom and security, transparency and the respect for confidentiality, as well as the exercise of individual rights and responsibilities have to be achieved simultaneously’.
History shows that increased connectivity, whether by telegraph, railway or social media, has always had unintended consequences. New technology, designed to speed up global commerce, has always facilitated the spread of new ideas, which might otherwise have remained local and parochial. Enhanced connectivity in the nineteenth century facilitated the spread of democratic ideas but also allowed more radical and sometimes violent ideologies to reach a wider audience. Today we have unlimited information at our fingertips: how we use that information, for good or for ill, is one of the challenges facing us globally as Governments and as societies. How we respond to this challenge will say a lot about us as a people and as a society.
The answer is not in draconian censorship. Suppressing dissent or extremism does not mean that they no longer exist. Besides, radical ideas or radical politics on their own is not the problem: indeed, radical thought is to politics what innovation is to technology. The free exchange of ideas adds to the sum of human knowledge. It is what facilitates progress.
The problem is when radical or extremist politics translate into violence, and when they seek to deny the rights of others. The civil rights movement Northern Ireland in the 1960s was an example of radical politics in its time, seeking to achieve its aims by peaceful and democratic means. It was extremists who wanted to take a short-cut – to use violence instead of persuasion – who ultimately sidelined and sabotaged that democratic radicalism.
The experience of Northern Ireland is also a cold lesson in the state’s responsibility to deal with dissent in a way that does not radicalise a section of its population, and lead to violent extremism. Political parties or organisations that incite hatred or racism or violence will never be acceptable, but our democracies have to be open and confident enough to accommodate debate from across the political spectrum. Violent extremists have to be seen as those who have been marginalised by their own actions, not as victims of an undemocratic system.
By definition, most people are not extremists; they simply want a better life for themselves and their families. It is, therefore, the responsibility of those of us who believe in the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom and the rule of law to take these arguments to the new coalface of the information age and to make our voices heard. We must also support those who wish to move away from extremism by accompanying them on their journey.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Many of you here today prove that it is possible to turn away from violent extremism. We, and the international community as a whole, must continue to engage with all levels of society, from the grass-roots to policy makers, in order to ensure that ideological extremism cannot be allowed to fuel ongoing conflicts. We must be responsive to the opportunities that new communication technologies offer in this regard and continue to exchange ideas with our partners in the private sector. I trust that your discussions over the course of the summit will be lively and fruitful and I look forward to hearing its outcome.