Speech by Minister Martin at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Ireland: its place in the international community

Remarks by Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Micheál Martin, T. D., at Beijing Foreign Studies University, 25 May 2010

Ireland: its place in the international community  

President Chen, distinguished professors, faculty and students, I am very honoured by the invitation to address you today. I wish to thank in particular you, President Chen Yulu, and your colleagues for this opportunity.

Beijing Foreign Studies University (BAY-WHY) is a prestigious and influential place of higher education in China and internationally. I understand that many distinguished graduates of this university have over the years helped form the backbone of the Chinese administration and economy. I will be meeting one of Bay-why’s alumni tomorrow morning, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi for important and friendly talks on the excellent relationship between Ireland and China, and other issues of mutual interest. I know also that the current students follow in the University’s long and illustrious tradition of service to China and its people.

Irish Studies Centre

Ireland has developed very strong connections with Beijing Foreign Studies University, including through the close links that our Embassy has established with the University; visiting scholars in both directions; and the setting up in 2007 of the Irish Studies Centre. The establishment of the Irish Studies Centre, which was part-funded by my Department, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, has been a success. It has held numerous lectures, including by academic and cultural speakers from Ireland, conferences and seminars, which have all deepened understanding of Ireland here on campus. I am particularly pleased that a native of my own city of Cork is on the staff, Dr Niall Keogh.

The development of a close relationship between NUI Maynooth and the Irish Studies Centre, through the provision of teachers and two way exchanges between faculties, is very welcome. I am pleased to see a representative from their Beijing Office here today. I know that students who have undertaken Irish studies have successfully graduated and still take a keen interest in Irish matters. I am also delighted that there are plans to begin the teaching of the Irish language this autumn and wish you well with the continuing expansion of the Centre. I look forward to later visiting the Centre and meeting with staff and current and former students.

In the four years since I was last in China. I have observed enormous changes taking place, including in Beijing. Beijing has become an even more thriving and vibrant city. The Beijing Olympics of 2008, and the current Shanghai EXPO, which I will visit later in the week, have opened windows for the world to see even more clearly the strides made by China in recent years.

Ireland Foreign and Economic Policies

I know that many of you today are familiar with Ireland so I will not enter into too much detail about our history, political structure and economic development. I do, however, wish to speak to you about Ireland’s outward looking economic and political policies that have been prominent since the late 1950s.

Since Ireland joined the United Nations in 1955, we have always played an active role in the General Assembly, the Security Council, and other UN bodies and multilateral organisations. The Constitution of Ireland affirms Ireland’s strong commitment to the goal of peace and friendly cooperation amongst nations founded on international justice. Irish foreign policy has always emphasised the importance of the rule of international law and norms. We continue to play a positive role in key areas, such as disarmament, conflict resolution and poverty reduction. Ireland’s most recent membership of the UN Security Council in 2001–2002 reinforced our commitment to working with the wider UN membership for international peace and security. Ireland’s clear commitment to these principles is reflected in the continuous participation in UN peace keeping operations by Irish Defence and Police Forces since 1958 and Ireland’s considerable contributions to UN Funds and Programmes.

Trade and investment have been key aspects of the development of the Irish economy. Ireland first fully began to develop a model of outward looking and trade based growth in the late 1950s. This was coupled with our first application to join the European Economic Community in 1958. The dismantling of tariffs, the creation of incentives for private investment and a strategy of welcoming foreign investment, were instrumental to the creation of the Irish model of economic development. Industrial development was subsequently led by sustained strong growth in exports, a high level of foreign investment and the diversification of our industrial base. The introduction of universal second-level education in the second half of the 1960s and an increasing focus on the development of the third-level sector was crucial to the development of a highly educated, highly skilled English speaking workforce, which was, and is, probably our single most important asset.

The policies of the previous 15 years prepared Ireland to take full advantage of the possibilities presented by membership, in 1973, of the European Economic Community, which has since evolved into the European Union. Membership opened a market which now numbers some 500 million people, over 100 times larger than the size of the Irish domestic market, to Irish goods and services.

Ireland as a small state must be nimble in its economic policies. The Irish economic model has been one of relentlessly developing our principal assets: our strategically central position between the continent of Europe and the US; our educated and young work force; the links that we have created between education, enterprise and innovation; and a strongly pro-business culture. We have developed strong records of success in software, in education and in pharmaceuticals, financial services and food. We are a trading nation: exports plus imports amount to over 150% of our national income.

But in the current interconnected world, our outward looking approach also means that we are particularly affected by the global financial and trading climate and we have been affected by the international economic downturn as well as some domestic problems in the banking area in particular.

Recent economic developments internationally have been very challenging. But Ireland’s own response to the global economic crisis has been proactive and resolute. We have tackled vigorously the imbalance in our public finances, we have introduced comprehensive reform of our banking sector and we are improving our competitiveness. We are repositioning ourselves, particularly through developing our innovation capability, to take full advantage of the next international economic upturn. There are already signs of recovery. Industrial production is up. Irish exports are strengthening and consumer confidence has improved. The latest indications are that the Irish economy will return to growth of 3% in 2011, one of the highest levels of growth in the EU forecast by the European Commission.

Having regained our forward momentum, we should begin to reap the benefits of our re-positioning. As we continue to build our knowledge-based economy – what we call the “smart economy” - on a foundation of high quality research and development, Ireland will remain the most attractive place in Europe for doing business.

In addition to the economic prosperity that EU membership brought, it has altered the way in which we related to each other and to the rest of the world. The impact socially of EU law has been profound and positive, especially for women in the workplace but also in making it easier for people to travel, study and work throughout the European Union. As a member of the EU, Ireland has been better able to make its voice heard on the international stage. Ireland has had the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in 1975, 1979, 1984, 1990, 1996 and, most recently, in 2004. When we sit down with the 26 other Member States to agree important common policies in areas such as foreign policy, agriculture, consumer law, energy and trade we build a strong and coherent consensus. The implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon will streamline that decision making process and increase the strength and influence of the European Union internationally. Ireland will be at the heart of that process.

One key lesson we have learned over the past fifty years or so is that an internationalist, outward looking and forward thinking approach is essential, as is the ability to take stock and respond quickly and innovatively to emerging trends in technological innovation, structural economic change and international macroeconomic developments.

Ireland’s commitment to multilateralism remains very strong. We believe that it is only through such a framework that the global community can respond rapidly and effectively to current global and regional challenges.

Ireland /China Relations

Last year, Ireland and China celebrated 30 years of diplomatic relations. Bilateral relations between Ireland and China have developed at a rapid pace in recent years and we have witnessed both a widening and deepening of our ties. We are committed to keeping up the momentum in the relationship.

One of the most important elements in the enhanced relationship between China and Ireland has undoubtedly been the high-level exchanges of visits. In addition to my visit, our President will visit China next month. We in Ireland have watched China’s economic progress over the last three decades or so with admiration. A specific programme – the Irish Government’s “Asia Strategy”, with China at its heart – has been central to our efforts. Building on the strong and friendly bilateral relationship, and the commitment of both Governments to develop that relationship even further, we can look forward to continued growth of political, commercial, cultural, human and education initiatives and exchanges between our two countries. Let me give you some examples of progress.

China is now the largest market for Ireland in Asia. There are currently some 109 Irish companies with a presence in China. There were fewer than 45 present in China in 2005.

Education is also a major element in our relationship: the development of contacts between Chinese Universities, and their Irish counterparts will enhance cooperation in education to our mutual benefit. The establishment of Confucius Institutes in Dublin and Cork will help to cement those ties. The Irish Government actively promotes Ireland as a destination of educational excellence, and the number of Chinese university students in Ireland is second only to those from the US in Ireland, from outside the European Union. I would also like to see more Irish students coming to China, including to Bay-why.

Global Irish community

People from Ireland and from China have travelled and worked throughout the world and frequently achieved extraordinary success outside their home countries, often playing key roles in the economic, intellectual and social development of their new places, but also supporting the development of their native countries. It is estimated that over 50 million people across the globe can claim Irish descent.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I pay great attention to this issue. When travelling abroad I see firsthand the remarkable careers many Irish people, including both Irish born people and people of Irish descent, have carved out for themselves. Fifteen Presidents of the United States were of Irish descent.

I greatly admire the way in which the overseas Irish contribute to their countries of residence, including China. Many of them have retained a strong sense of their Irish heritage and have established Irish community associations and organise Irish sporting and cultural activities. Increasingly, too, people of Irish descent value their Irish roots, and this has contributed to a boom in Irish culture, language studies, history, music and dance in recent years. Riverdance, which is so popular in China, is a shining example of this. Through the contributions which the overseas Irish make to the countries in which they have settled and through their continuing links with Ireland, they act as an important channel for promoting a positive image of Ireland abroad. The Irish government has been providing substantial funding to support Irish community, cultural and heritage projects across the world.

I took the initiative in September 2009 to organise and host a Global Irish Economic Forum, in Dublin. At that forum, which was attended by highly successful and dynamic Irish and Irish-descended people from around the world. I proposed that a new Global Irish Network be established to maintain and build upon the support and expertise of these people.

We, in Ireland are very aware that countries, if they are to continue to be successful, must constantly re-examine and update policies and also use all their resources, including human talents, as effectively as possible. I am pleased that many influential people, based all over the world, but all with a strong connection to Ireland have now accepted my invitation to participate in the Global Irish Network. I will be meeting in Shanghai later this week with some of the Global Irish Network members who are based in Asia.

Let me conclude by congratulating the university on its continued and impressive high standard of courses and research available to its students. I welcome the fact that the Irish Studies Centre is thriving. I wish the faculty and students present here today every success for the future.

Thank you.


25 May 2010


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