Civil Society Week: International Conference on Civil Society - MoS Ciarán Cannon, T.D.
Speech26 November 2019
A Chairde, Dear Friends,
Fáilte chuig an Roinn Gnóthaí Eachtracha agus Trádala!
I would like to welcome you all to Iveagh House which is the home of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade here in Dublin.
On my own behalf and that of our team across the Department, I’m delighted to welcome so many visitors who have travelled to Dublin this week for a series of meetings on civil society. We have visitors from over 30 countries here tonight and, I’m sure, from most counties in Ireland too.
As some of you will know civil society organisations, partner countries and donors come together every six months or so in the formal format of the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment. This gathering is also the occasion for informal engagement with the International Donor Group on CSOs, many of whom are already here this evening and this Group will hold its formal meeting tomorrow. This bi-annual gathering in Dublin also brings together another new group, the OECD-DAC’s Community of Practice on CSOs, which will be meeting in Farmleigh House on Thursday.
I would like to congratulate the participants of the Task Team who are coming to the end of their first decade of operation and I hope that you have had a fruitful two days of discussion here in Iveagh House. Having taken over last year as the donor co-chair of the oTask Team from our Dutch colleagues, Ireland is committed to engaging with all stakeholders to promote and preserve civil society space and to enable civil society organisations to contribute effectively to global development.
Thus far, this coming together of a wide range of international actors on, for and of civil society hasn’t always engaged with local civil society. That was why we decided to bring you all together here this evening to meet with some of our own civil society leaders in Ireland working on both domestic and international agendas just as the Sustainable Development Goals connect the local to the global.
Everyone here is working in their own context on how we can promote an enabling environment for civil society as well as ensure the effectiveness of civil society in development. This is a shared enterprise. Our own experience of development in Ireland, has shown us the value of a plural and open environment for civil society. It has been during those moments in our own journey of development where civil society was shut out, or not listened to, that our progress towards development wavered. I’m sure our colleagues from Irish civil society here tonight can be very eloquent on this point.
As we approach 2020, we have just a decade left to realise the promise of Agenda 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals set out the clear path ahead. SDG 17 on Partnership for the Goals, which enables all the other goals, makes clear that the international community will only realise this ambitious agenda through partnership. That is why the role of civil society, not just as an enabler of development, but as development actors in your own right, is so important. Civil society advocates have a key role to play in ensuring no one is left behind and reaching the furthest behind first. Your capacity to bring the voices of those on the frontlines of poverty, inequality and vulnerability into development processes is vital.
I would like to take a moment to reflect on the current context around the world which faces civil society. While there are many examples of innovation, good practice and, indeed, new opportunities for civil society, there is also a serious and worrying trend of narrowing civil society space which is evident on every continent.
Agenda 2030 is clear on the need for civil society engagement in implementation and monitoring of the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Many of you here are closely involved with the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (the GPEDC). The third Monitoring Round of the GPEDC clearly points to a decline in the quality of government consultations with CSOs. It also provides evidence that there has been a weakening of the legal and regulatory frameworks to facilitate CSO operations. The effectiveness of Development Partner work with CSOs was also assessed as having deteriorated over the past few years. CSOs have an important role in delivering services and strengthening country ownership of the development process and it is vital that they are enabled to do this.
While these findings are focused on the context in developing countries, we know also from other contexts including, for example, the work of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and of the Council of Europe, that civil society space is facing restrictions across this continent too. In particular, the rise of populist rhetoric, misuse of media to spread disinformation, and above all, othering of migrants and minorities is a phenomenon we cannot ignore.
In Ireland, particularly in recent weeks, we have experienced these trends, as well as calls to tackle these issues with greater urgency. Reversing these trends will have to be a shared enterprise involving civil society, Governments and the multilateral system. Everyone in this multi-stakeholder coalition has a role to play in reversing these concerning trends. The Task Team’s toolbox of practical guidelines to help partners deliver on the dual mandate of promotion of an enabling environment for CSOs and ensuring the development effectiveness of CSOs will play its part in delivering on the broader Sustainable Development Goals.
Ireland consistently provides one of the highest percentages of bilateral development assistance to and through civil society organisations – about 40% compared to the OECD DAC average of 15%. As such, we feel a responsibility to ensure the promotion and protection of civil society space around the world.
Earlier this year when the Irish Government launched a new policy for international development called A Better World, we reiterated Ireland’s firm commitment to support civil society to help deliver the SDGs and to protect civil society space. While serving on the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this decade, Ireland facilitated the first Human Rights Council resolution on civil society space. Next year, we will be working again through a cross-regional alliance to bring the next resolution on civil society space to the HRC in Geneva in June 2020.
We recognise that it is only through partnerships with all of you – from Government and civil society, both donor and partner countries, at home and abroad – that we can all ensure that the promotion and the protection of civil society space is not just a theoretical objective but a lived reality.
Less than one month from now, I’ll be welcoming our Irish civil society partners working on international development cooperation and development education back here for our annual get-together. As part of the review of Ireland’s development cooperation programme in September by the OECD-DAC, we heard the message that a more structured dialogue with our own civil society partners would be welcome. We are committed to delivering on that request throughout 2020. I look forward on that occasion to considering the outcomes of the discussions in Dublin all this week across all three international meetings and to see how we, in Ireland, can continue to support civil society at home and abroad to achieve Agenda 2030.
I’ll finish by leaving you with an old Irish proverb ‘Ní neart go chur le chéile!’ which is certainly an endorsement of multi-stakeholder coalitions and which means ‘We’re strongest when we work together!’
Thank you very much.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.