National Day of Commemoration - Speech to the Diplomatic Corps
On behalf of the Government of Ireland, I welcome all of you here, particularly those of you who have travelled from overseas to join us today. I appreciate your presence at our National Day of Commemoration to honour all of the Irish men and women who died on service with the United Nations or in past wars.
During the past four months, I have already met with those of you who are resident in Ireland and I look forward to working with all of you here today to enhance the excellent bilateral relations which we have with all of your countries.
Trade and Promotion
The Government entered office with a firm commitment that it would get the economy moving, restore confidence, fix our banking system and support the protection and creation of jobs. I briefed many of you back in April and May on the challenges facing the economy and I am pleased to have this opportunity today to bring you up to date on developments.
In a matter of months we have already put in place an ambitious restructuring plan which will transform the landscape of the banking system here and we have announced a new jobs initiative with an emphasis on reinvigorating the domestic economy, within the limited resources available to us. The comprehensive spending review is already underway. It will feed into the budget process in December and will help us meet our overall fiscal targets.
New figures show that the economy has returned to growth, albeit modest growth, and revised figures now indicate that we had a balance of payments surplus last year, based on strong export performance.
We are meeting the quarterly targets set out by our funding partners in the IMF and the European Union and we are determined to use our unprecedented mandate to continue to meet those targets.
As many of you know, our European partners acceded recently to our request to look again at the preferred creditor status of the European Stability Mechanism and under new arrangements that status will not apply in the case of countries like Ireland which are in a financial assistance programme. We do not, of course, expect to have to avail of the mechanism when it comes into force in 2013 but the new arrangement is a further sign of European solidarity which we appreciate greatly and which will, in due course, help ease the pressure in the markets on our bond yields.
At a time of turmoil in the eurozone, Europe needs a success story. Ireland can be a success story and almost all of our partners recognise this. Movement on this issue would help hasten the day when we can emerge from the financial assistance programme and return to the financial markets. We will continue, therefore, to press the case for an interest rate reduction in order to mitigate the risks to our fragile recovery.
Over the past year, the European Union has faced an unprecedented financial and economic crisis and, in response, has introduced a comprehensive range of measures to confront it. A permanent stability mechanism with an effective lending capacity of €500 billion has been agreed, a strengthened system of economic governance has been introduced and a new approach to structural reform adopted. Underpinning these measures is an unequivocal and unwavering commitment to preserving the financial stability of the euro area.
One of the key commitments given in the programme for the new Government is to a process of re-engagement with our partners in Europe. It is worth reaffirming that commitment on a day when we commemorate Irish people who have died in past wars, so many on the battlefields of Europe.
We recall too that the European Union is not merely a set of economic policies but at its heart a project to make war in Europe impossible. It is appropriate then to welcome the progress Croatia has made in its long journey towards membership of the European Union and to underline the significance this has for the enlargement perspective of the Western Balkans.
In the coming months we hope to demonstrate our commitment to Europe by our constructive contribution to the agenda of the European Union. We are also already looking towards our Presidency of the European Union in 2013. This will be Ireland’s seventh time to assume the Presidency and will coincide with the 40th anniversary of our accession to the European Union in 1973.
In the past, Ireland has shown that a small Member State can run efficient, impartial and effective Presidencies. We welcome the opportunity once again to help shape policies which will influence the lives of millions of Irish and European citizens.
While our primary focus as a nation, and as a Government, has to be on tackling the most profound economic difficulties ever faced by this country, we must at the same time remain outward-looking. We will not neglect our role on the international political stage.
As one example of our readiness to take on international responsibilities, we will assume next January, for the first time, the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). With 56 participating States covering most of the northern hemisphere, the OSCE is the world’s largest intergovernmental regional security organisation, dealing with a range of issues in the areas of conflict prevention, democratisation, human rights and arms control. As Chair for 2012, Ireland looks forward to the opportunity to provide impetus and leadership for the Organisation and to make a tangible contribution to the resolution of the so-called ‘protracted conflicts’ within the OSCE region. Our Chairmanship will be a practical demonstration of our strong commitment to multilateralism and to the promotion of human rights and democratic values, aided by our own national experience of successful conflict resolution in the Northern Ireland peace process.
The promotion and protection of human rights is a central element in both our domestic and foreign policies. As a small State, we are acutely aware of the benefits and opportunities presented by a multilateral approach to tackling human rights issues around the world. With this in mind, we have decided to seek membership of the UN Human Rights Council for the first time for the term 2012-2015, to coincide with our next Presidency of the EU. We will be competing against some formidable opponents for one of three available seats at elections to the Council next year. The support of your countries for our candidature will be greatly appreciated.
Ireland has a long and distinguished record of service with the United Nations in peacekeeping operations around the world. In the last 53 years, Irish peacekeepers have served under the UN flag in many countries, including Lebanon, Liberia, Timor Leste, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Chad. The recent deployment of a battalion of 437 Irish peacekeepers to UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, is testament to our continuing strong commitment to the principles enshrined in the UN Charter.
Furthermore, thirty-six members of An Garda Síochána are currently deployed on both UN and EU crisis management missions, while my Department is providing nine civilian specialists to EU missions in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Afghanistan. I believe these civilian contributions are valuable complements to more traditional military contingents, and will play an important role in our crisis management activities in the coming years.
Turning to the Middle East, the search for a lasting and just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a key foreign policy priority for this Government. We are also following with close attention and sympathy the unfolding of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring. With our EU partners, we are strongly supportive of the democratic transformations underway in Egypt and Tunisia and of the momentum towards democratic change which is visible elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East. We share the values of democracy and of respect for fundamental rights which are at the heart of these movements. We recognise the thirst for economic freedom which also underlies them and we understand also that the process of change which is underway needs to be locally-led, with the EU working in active partnership and support.
It is vital in difficult times that we do not lose sight of the many strengths which we have as a nation and the breadth of what we can and have achieved, particularly when we look outward and work cooperatively with our friends and partners in Europe and the United States. The single greatest example of this is the peace process in Northern Ireland.
There are those who try to undermine these achievements but they will not succeed. Those who murdered young policeman Constable Ronan Kerr, in April, sought to reopen old wounds and divisions. They failed because the people of this island refused to go back and all sides of the community from the GAA to the PSNI showed their solidarity not just with Ronan himself but with all that he represented – a new and better future for Northern Ireland. Their answer was simple and powerful; “stop” and “not in our name”.
Building that future remains a challenge for all of us and there is still work to be done particularly in the area of combating sectarianism and building a truly shared and reconciled society both in Northern Ireland and on the island as a whole. This is the work of a generation and we are in it for the long haul. Our friends in the European Union and in the United States as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been steadfast supporters of work in this area through the EU PEACE programmes and the International Fund for Ireland. I want to express the Government’s appreciation for their support and engagement which is so vital to unlocking the full potential of the peace process.
The engine of that peace process was the relationship between the British and Irish Governments. The close partnership and cooperation required – then and now - by the two guarantors of the Agreement was a clear signal to quote WB Yeats that “all [was] changed, changed utterly”. Ireland and Britain – close neighbours and old enemies – were operating as true partners and acknowledged equals. It was that transformation and the steady progress in Northern Ireland which paved the way for this year’s visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland. This visit celebrated the close bonds of friendship between Britain and Ireland and will, I believe, mark the beginning of a new era in British Irish relations.
We also appreciate the consistent support shown by successive United States Administrations for the peace process and the recent visit of President Barack Obama was testament to the extraordinary friendship between Ireland and the United States.
Ireland’s continuing commitment to development cooperation as a central element of our foreign policy is affirmed in the Programme for Government. Our development programme is a very practical expression of the core principles of our foreign policy, and of our values as a people.
In all our decisions, the Government is guided on the kind of society we want to create and how we want to engage with the world by some key principles and values. These include a sense of solidarity, of justice and of respect for human dignity and fundamental human rights. Our development cooperation programme builds on our best traditions and reflects the kind of country we aspire to be and our international commitments and longer-term interests.
We will continue to strive to meet the targets we have agreed for ODA, challenging as this may be in the current economic climate. Ireland is committed to the 0.7% of GNP target for ODA, and we will work to achieve it by 2015.
The Government has announced a review of the 2006 White Paper on Irish Aid. It will ensure that our aid programme remains at the cutting edge in reducing poverty and vulnerability. Whatever the outcome of the review, food security must be central to any approach to development. Combating global hunger is a central plank of the Irish Government’s foreign and development policies.
One of the most important international meetings on development issues this year will be the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, to be held in Busan, in the Republic of Korea, in November. It will be an important opportunity to discuss the framework for development in the run-up to the 2015 target date for the Millennium Development Goals, and beyond.
Ireland has been at the forefront internationally, and in our Programme Countries, in strengthening the impact of aid. I will ensure that Ireland’s experience and evidence from our work on the ground -where it matters- is brought to Busan.
Likewise at home, we will continue to focus our efforts on improving the economic well being of our country and its citizens.
I would like to thank you and your colleagues for the cooperation which you afford this Government, and particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Finally, I thank you all once again for joining us here today to mark the National Day of Commemoration.
I would now like to offer a toast to the Heads of State represented here today.Top