"Ireland: A Place Among the Nations": Speech by Minister Roche to the Emmet Summer School


Even though the peace process in Northern Ireland has experienced some temporary turbulence, as reflected in the current suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland, the British and Irish Governments continue to work in close partnership to overcome the difficulties. The most recent manifestation of that partnership was the publication on the 1st May of their Joint Declaration aimed at implementing all outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.

Partnership does not, of course, mean that the partners always agree on everything. The two Governments did not agree on the question of the postponement of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections. However, once that decision was taken by the British Government, we could either move on and pick up the pieces or indulge in sterile recriminations. Even if we opted for the latter, we would eventually have to come back and pick up the pieces.

The partnership between both Governments has been a major asset in the peace process in Northern Ireland and will continue to be. As in all areas of life, partnerships have their rocky moments. The key thing is to survive those moment in the interests of the larger project and keep our eyes on the prize of a permanent and lasting peace.

For many, Ireland's role in the League of Nations under De Valera, and then since 1955 in the United Nations, have been central to playing our part on the international stage. Ireland's membership of the United Nations has always been a defining element of our foreign policy. The purposes of the United Nations - to promote peace, economic and social development, and respect for human rights - are fundamental to our conduct of international relations. So also are its principles - the sovereign equality of states, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the avoidance of the threat or use of force.

Our commitment to the United Nations is reflected in our high profile in disarmament, development and human rights issues, and in our continuous participation since 1958 in UN peacekeeping operations. We have never failed to assert and support the primary role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security. We are committed to reaching the UN development cooperation target of 0.7 percent of GDP by 2007, a commitment made by the Taoiseach at the UN Millennium Summit, and we have made major strides towards it.

This commitment to the United Nations is well and widely recognised in the international community. It was endorsed by the UN member states in our election to the Security Council in 2000, when 131 of them gave us their vote. It is also reflected in our regular election to the Commission on Human Rights.

As a member of the Security Council during 2001 and 2002, Ireland worked hard to achieve practical outcomes on the wide range of issues that are on the Council's agenda. Many of these issues are longstanding and difficult, and the regrettable failure of the Security Council this year to maintain its unity on Iraq is prominent in people's minds. It is as well to recall, therefore, that the great majority of the Security Council's decisions on issues of peace and security are reached by consensus, often through a long and difficult process in which member states interests and concerns have to be reconciled. The government welcomes the agreement that has now been reached by the Security Council on the immediate way forward in Iraq.

There are few bigger challenges to a Security Council member than to hold the Presidency of the Council at the outbreak of hostilities. Ireland found itself in this situation in October 2001, when military operations against Afghanistan commenced, in the wake of the September 11th attacks. It is widely recognised that on that occasion Ireland protected the prerogatives of the Security Council and ensured that it would have effective oversight of the military operations, and that humanitarian concerns would be taken fully into account.

Ireland pressed strongly for increased Council engagement on African issues - the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, among others. It was particularly active in bringing about increased UN engagement with Somalia, rejecting the so-called “failed state” analysis shared by some in the international community.

The European Union, together with the acceding and associated states, has become a major and cohesive group in the United Nations General Assembly, in the subsidiary UN bodies and at UN and other international conferences. It exerts influence over many more states. It is therefore the key negotiating bloc. We look forward to being the focal point of this bloc during our forthcoming Presidency of the European Union, and will endeavour to make it even more cohesive and effective.

One concrete measure of how seriously Ireland takes its international responsibilities is our commitment to development aid. Over the past three decades, successive Governments have built upon the modest foundations laid in 1974 with the establishment of the Ireland Aid programme. Our programme has grown substantially with increases in funding recorded in every year since 1992. Funding has increased from €51 million in 1992 to reach €374 million this year. This means that in 2003 we will spend more than 13 times what we spent on ODA in 1992. When contributions from other Government Departments towards ODA are factored in, the total allocation this year is likely to exceed €450 million.

We have also achieved impressive growth as a proportion of our GNP. OECD figures show that for the period 1990/91, Ireland's aid programme stood at just 0.16% of GNP. This placed us firmly in the relegation zone of the league table of OECD member states – 21st of 22 countries. Figures released by the OECD last April show that in 2002 we had risen to seventh among OECD Member States and well above the EU average.

This is a record of which Ireland can justifiably be proud, especially because it has been achieved against a background of stagnant or falling levels of aid in many other donor countries. Aid levels from a number of wealthy member states, including the USA, Canada and Finland, have fallen over the past decade. Along with a handful of others however, Ireland has made significant progress towards the UN target of 0.7% of GNP.

The allocation for 2003 of €374 million should enable us to reach 0.41%. In the context of current difficult financial circumstances, there would be a temptation, as has in fact happened in other countries, to reduce assistance to other countries when circumstances at home become more difficult. However, we have not done this, and rightly so. We remain committed to further expansion of our aid programme in the years ahead.

If anyone has any remaining doubts about Ireland's place in the world, our forthcoming Presidency of the European Union for the first half of 2004 should answer them. This will be our sixth Presidency and it presents us with unprecedented challenges and opportunities. It will be Ireland's great privilege to preside, in May 2004, over the expected accession to the Union of the ten new member States. How we, as Presidency, manage and organize the transition from fifteen to twenty five member States, will be a major challenge of our Presidency and will be an enduring legacy for the continued progress and development of the Union.

The Accession process of course goes hand in hand with the major consideration of institutional reform of the Union's structures, currently underway in the Convention on the Future of Europe. While the exact timing of the Inter-Governmental Conference will be for the European Council to determine in the light of the outcome of the Convention, should the IGC not conclude during the Italian Presidency as now seems likely, it will fall to Ireland to chair these complex and important negotiations during our Presidency.

Ireland has, as you will be aware, an excellent track record in the running of European Union Presidencies. From 1975, when Ireland successfully presided over the conclusion of what was at that time a landmark development agreement between the then European Economic Community and the African and Caribbean States, the Lome Convention, through to our chairing in 1996 of the IGC which eventually in the subsequent Dutch Presidency adopted the Amsterdam Treaty, Ireland has consistently shown that small EU countries can successfully exercise the leadership role which the Presidency confers.

Ireland enjoys a good reputation within the European Union as an example of how a small member state can run an efficient and impartial Presidency. Against the background of on-going discussion in the European Convention on the Presidency function in an enlarged Europe, expectations will be high that Ireland can, once again, deliver an effective Presidency.

The Government are therefore committed to delivering a pro-active and efficient Presidency of the European Union in 2004. The Taoiseach, Minister Cowen and myself, as well as other Ministers, have undertaken an intensive programme of visits to the present and accession members of the Union in preparation for the Presidency. Planning and preparation are at an advanced stage across all Government departments and the necessary resources are being made available. I have no doubt that we will again conduct the Presidency in a way that reflects well on our foreign policy traditions and priorities, and confirms our good international standing.

A place among the nations? Certainly. Emmet's epitaph ? Not for any one generation to dictate, but for each generation to live up to and honour in its endeavors and pass on the flame and the challenge to the next generation.

Thank you.

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