Opening Remarks by Minister Joe Costello, TD, at the ICTU Global Solidarity Summer School, 24 August, 2012
Opening Remarks by Minister Joe Costello, TD, at the ICTU Global Solidarity Summer School
Wexford, 24th August 2012
Secretary General, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to come to Wexford to open the 2012 ICTU Summer School.
Summer schools are a great opportunity to bring together people from all walks of life, politicians, trade unionists, academics to debate current matters of national and international importance. I am sure this event will be a major success.
The theme of your event, Internationalism, Globalisation and Trade Unions, is timely and relevant. The impressive economic growth the developed world witnessed in the early years of the new millennium and the financial crisis which has followed has reminded us how interconnected our lives are; and that challenges remain to ensure that we can all benefit from greater economic and political cooperation among nations.
The trade union movement globally, and here in Ireland, are important partners in arguing for the benefits of globalisation to be shared fairly.
Congress has been a key partner for Irish Aid. Your engagement in development education in Ireland has contributed to the Irish public’s understanding of the political and policy changes necessary for eliminating global poverty and tackling complex problems such as hunger and inequality.
Through its work in solidarity with the international trade union movement, the ICTU is making an important contribution to strengthening core labour standards internationally and tackling poverty and inequality.
Our joint concern for the Decent Work Agenda, has led to a new partnership between Irish Aid and the International Labour Organisation, with a focus on enhancing economic opportunities for women; promoting work opportunities for people with disabilities, and improving policies to address child labour, in developing countries.
Your public support for the Irish Aid programme is also greatly appreciated and is more important now than ever as we consider Ireland’s future role in international development.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are living through huge change domestically and internationally. Over the last four years we have lived through a period of significant economic difficulty and adjustment in Ireland and in much of the western world.
At the same time, the world’s centre of gravity is changing and developing economies are now among the key drivers of global economic growth. This dynamics and growth can be seen most notably in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (collectively known as the BRICS).
But while the developed countries of the world have been embroiled in a severe financial crisis, many countries in the developing world continue to flourish.
Africa, for example, is changing and developing faster now than ever before. In the first years of the new Millennium, despite the financial crisis, annual economic growth in Africa was almost 5 per cent. And with this growth and development comes opportunities for trade, and a stronger role for emerging economies in world affairs.
Responding to a changing Irish domestic context
These changes in context, both domestic and international, have thrown up a range of very significant challenges - and some opportunities - for all areas of our public policy engagement in Ireland, not least for my own portfolio area of Trade and Development Policy.
A top priority for the Government has been restoring Ireland’s international reputation, and we have made steady progress in this regard leading to significant increases in investor confidence in Ireland. This in turn has led to new investments and these investments are creating new jobs for our people.
Our commitment to fiscal responsibility and strengthened rules to regulate economic activity is an important element of this effort. Ratification of the EU Stability Treaty in particular was important in allowing this flow of investment to continue and expand.
There are still serious problems facing the Eurozone, but we are moving closer to a situation of stability, confidence and growth.
And I would emphasise that our focus has not been only a narrow one on our economic and fiscal reputation. I and my colleagues in Government have recognised that the strength of our international reputation has been in its underpinning by our values and our recognised commitment to the causes of peace and justice in the world.
This is reflected in our determination in promoting conflict resolution, disarmament, human rights and equitable economic and social development.
Our continuing commitment to these objectives is clear from the Programme for Government, from the new Strategy Statement for my Department, from our recently launched Africa Strategy, from our continuing commitment to a strong official development programme, Irish Aid, from our role as Chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and our decision to pursue election to the UN Human Rights Council.
We are showing, in very practical ways, that priorities of peace, human rights and development remain at the heart of our foreign policy.
Importantly, we are demonstrating that the pursuit of these goals is compatible, coherent and indeed interdependent with the priorities of global economic stability, growing international trade and investment flows and improving Ireland’s own trade and investment relationships worldwide.
Strengthening trade and investment
Against this background, I see my responsibility for leading the Government’s trade promotion efforts as particularly important.
· We are redoubling our efforts to strengthen our competitiveness and market penetration in the US, Europe and established markets in Asia and elsewhere.
· Our Embassies are playing a leading role in this effort, working closely with Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and other Agencies and stakeholders.
· We are also devoting attention to the necessary groundwork, research and preparation that will enable us to make the most of opportunities for trade and investment that exist in high-growth economies and regions of emerging economic potential, including in Africa.
· Our approach is guided by the Government’s Trade Strategy document - Trade and Investing in a Smart Economy – and is being steered by the Export Trade Council, in which I participate.
I believe that we will be successful in continuing to grow Ireland’s exports over the coming years. Not only because we have the right Strategy and Government structures in place, but also because Irish companies and workers are producing high quality goods and services that are in demand worldwide.
The integrated nature of our international relations approach, and our efforts to ensure coherence between the different strands of our foreign policy – political, economic and development – is demonstrated in our Africa Strategy, launched in September 2011 at the first-ever Africa-Ireland Economic Forum.
This Strategy makes clear that our paramount priority in Africa continues to be our development programmes.
These continue to be focused on reducing poverty and hunger, building the capacity of local systems and emphasizing the cross-cutting themes of gender equality, climate change, HIV/AIDS and governance.
Crucially, the Strategy recognises the importance of coherent political action to respond to issues such as conflict and terrorism, and to promote and protect democracy, human rights and good governance, all of which are essential to equitable and sustainable development.
The Africa Strategy also reflects the reality that aid alone will not lead to development and that we need to enable and empower developing countries to mobilise the full range of sources of funding for development, including domestic tax revenues, Foreign Direct Investment and export earnings.
Responding to this, we are placing an enhanced emphasis on supporting improved business and enterprise environments in our partner countries and are working to expand two-way trade and investment between Ireland and African countries. We are doing so in ways that are mutually beneficial and respectful, and compatible with our obligations in relation to human rights and ethical business.
The Africa Strategy has been very well-received by our African partners, and has given a new dimension to the work of our Embassies in Africa.
Since its launch last year, one of the most welcome developments has been the opening by Enterprise Ireland of that Agency’s first African office, in Johannesburg, and I look forward to seeing at first-hand the results that that office is achieving when I lead a trade mission to South Africa in November.
International Development Cooperation
Let me say a few words about the government’s commitment to international development cooperation – and how we are planning to reposition Irish Aid, the Governments official aid programme, to meet the challenges of to-days world.
Since the launch of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, millions of child deaths in poorer countries have been avoided thanks to greater access to vaccines. 40 million more children are going to school today than was the case just 15 years ago. In many countries, key democratic institutions are now in place and the rule of law has been strengthened.
There is no doubting that International Aid has played a part in these successes. And while aid can and does make a difference, we also know that countries drive their own development, primarily from their own resources. It is hugely important that overseas aid complements and does not dispIace a countries own capacity and resources in pursuit of national development goals.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ireland’s experience of famine has shaped our society, instilling in us the values that we have come to represent at home and abroad. Our history will not allow us to ignore those living in hunger. We will not stand idly by.
Former Foreign Minister and Taoiseach, the late Dr. Garret FitzGerald, recognised that placing development as ‘one of the basic objectives of Irish (foreign) policy' was not only morally justifiable - but also in Ireland’s interest - when he established the first Irish development cooperation programme almost forty years ago.
While Ireland’s economic reputation may have been tarnished in recent years, the fundamental values of our society – represented by our aid programme – have not been questioned, and are contributing to our efforts to rebuild our reputation overseas.
Our commitment to overseas development is, and will remain, a hugely important aspect of Ireland’s foreign policy. It demonstrates, to the global community, the values of the Irish people. It profiles an already widely recognised international reputation of solidarity, among Irish people, for the poorest people on the planet.
White Paper Review
Though our commitment to international development remains strong, the world has changed considerably since 2006, the year in which the first White Paper on Irish Aid was launched. It is imperative that we must adapt our approach to overseas development, in order to remain effective and at the vanguard of international development.
That is why a Review of the aid programme was included as one of the commitments in the Programme for Government. We thought it was necessary and prudent to step back and assess the progress we have made and the challenges we have faced.
We needed to assess the changing context at home and abroad and reassess how key issues, such as hunger, climate change, governance and human rights and gender equality are impacting on poverty. We recognised that it was time to set out future priorities of our aid programme.
From the launch of the review in February, we consulted widely, and in an open and transparent manner. Our objective was to hear the views, suggestions and recommendations from those who own the programme – the people of Ireland.
During the consultation we had meetings with members of the Oireachtas. We met over 1,000 people and conducted 4 public meetings in Cork, Sligo, Limerick and Dublin.
We received 160 written inputs, including an excellent submission from Congress. These contributions are being used to shape the future direction of the programme.
The national consultations were hugely important in allowing Irish people have their voice heard about the future direction of the Irish Aid programme.
Among the key messages that emerged from the consultations is that there is huge support from the Irish people for the Governments aid programme, even at a time of economic difficulty in Ireland.
In planning for the future, there is very strong support for keeping Irish aid untied to Irish goods and services; for ensuring our aid is targeted at those countries and people who need it most; for responding effectively to humanitarian emergencies; for keeping the reduction of hunger as a core policy priority; for ensuring there is a sharp focus on value for money and for results; and for better engaging Irish people, organisations and institutions.
There were calls for a sharper focus on human rights, for stronger cooperation across Government Departments, and for continued support for Irish missionary and Non Governmental Organisations.
We will continue to improve the quality and impact of our aid by implementing international agreements which aim to deliver better results - such as the new Global Partnership agreed in Busan, Republic of Korea last year.
We take these commitments seriously. And because we do, our aid programme has been consistently ranked as world class.
We are planning to complete and get approval for the White Paper Review Report, this autumn. By this time, it is my full expectation that we will have a fresh policy direction for Irish Aid, appropriate for our changing circumstances, which will set out a clear vision and priorities for how Irish Aid can continue to deliver real and lasting results for people living in poverty.
Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union
Let me conclude by looking forward to what promises to be a very exciting next twelve months as Ireland assumes the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on the first of January 2013. It is worth recalling that Ireland will assume the Presidency on the 40th anniversary of our accession to the EU and 2013 will also mark the 40th anniversary of the development aid programme.
Ireland has rightly won a high reputation on six previous occasions for maintaining its flexibility and for managing an efficient, effective and impartial presidency, with clearly defined, realistic and achievable goals. These will also be the hallmarks of the coming Presidency.
In the post-Lisbon institutional framework, we are conscious of the need to work more closely than ever with partners and with all the institutions of the Union if we are to successfully reach our objectives.
In the area of external relations, Ireland will build on our national priorities. We will seek to promote and to protect human rights and to shape the EU’s position on disarmament and non-proliferation.
We have gained valuable experience from our current Chairmanship of the OSCE in the areas of conflict prevention and resolution and we will harness this experience and actively contribute to the development of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, taking Ireland’s interests fully into account.
Ireland is planning an active Presidency in my own area of development in what is a crucial period for shaping the post-2015 development framework.
A Special Event on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is due to be held during the 68th session of the UN General Assembly which will consider the progress to date on the MDGs and consider for the first time the shape of the post-2015 development framework.
A key priority for Ireland will be ensuring that the EU adopts a strong, coherent and above all credible position for what will be the most important international development meeting in 2013.
In discussions on the post-2015 development framework, we will build on our commitment to eradicate hunger and seek to highlight the important linkages between hunger, nutrition and climate change and to have these linkages adequately reflected in the international discussions.
Ireland will also seek to forge stronger links between humanitarian relief and development aid.
Drawing on lessons from the Horn of Africa emergency in 2011 and with input from our partners in developing countries, we will explore the practical application of these principles and showcase examples of best practice.
We will place particular emphasis on the EU’s approach to disaster risk reduction. We will progress the implementation of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid and work to develop new and innovative ways in which to ensure that the common set of humanitarian principles and commitments can be put into practice.
In conclusion I’d like to state that I am very pleased that the ICTU in collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation will support the development of the nascent trade union movement in Burma.
I understand that work is already underway to assist agricultural workers facing issues such as land confiscation and low fixed prices for their produce even though their costs are very high. Others who will stand to benefit from this work will include workers in the mineral and clothing sectors.
I am proud to announce to-day that €40,000 of Irish Aid funds will be provided to the ICTU in the coming weeks to support this important work in Burma.
I look forward to continuing the partnership with ICTU in the coming years and thank you again for the opportunity to address you to-day.