Remarks by the Tánaiste on the Review of Ireland’s Foreign Policy04 December 2013
Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
4 December 2013
Opening Remarks by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the
Review of Ireland’s Foreign Policy and External Engagement
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee
I welcome the opportunity to engage with the Committee on the Review of Ireland’s Foreign Policy and External Engagement, which I have asked my Department to undertake.
Ireland’s foreign policy is an essential element of Government.
It is the means by which we promote our values and pursue our interests abroad. Through it, we pursue Ireland’s economic prosperity, and promote peace and security, both at home and in the wider world.
These are important tasks that require careful reflection and targeted action for a small state such as ours.
Our foreign policy is also a statement of who we are as a people. It projects an image which shapes how others see us and engage with us. It also affects how we see ourselves and our place in the world – our place among the nations, as Robert Emmet famously declared in his speech from the dock.
How we use that place, how we shape our international engagement, the relationships we seek to build, the goals we set ourselves and the resources we provide to pursue them, are at the heart of this review.
We will all agree that we have come through an extremely busy period in Irish diplomacy.
Our successful EU Presidency in the first half of this year, our Chairmanship of the OSCE last year, and our election to the UN Human Rights Council, enabled us to raise our profile, build our international reputation and demonstrate the positive international contribution we make.
The Government is committed to strengthening relationships with our partners in Europe and around the globe: through interaction at political level, developing personal ties with key leaders; and through renewal of our policy engagement across a broad range of issues.
As political representatives, we all recognise the value of building strong relationships that enable us to influence decisions which affect our interests.
This approach has paid dividends in our policy within the EU, as evidenced during the Presidency, and our work in other areas.
The Taoiseach is in Japan today, as we speak, leading a trade mission and meeting with Prime Minister Abe and key business leaders. To mention just a few of my own recent meetings, I hosted the visiting Chinese Vice Premier, Ma Kai, in October for a series of in depth discussions on the economy, on our bilateral trade, international issues and facilitated meetings with Irish companies. Last month, I hosted the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah, and discussed the international situation, trade and economic relations. I speak with my European counterparts on a range of issues at our regular meetings in Brussels.
We are relentlessly promoting our trade, tourism and investment, using the embassy network and working with the State Agencies to support Irish business and contribute to the Government’s agenda for jobs and growth.
Our embassy network is engaged on a daily basis providing services, support and assistance to our citizens abroad, sometimes in difficult or tragic circumstances.
As we look to the future, and as we exit the EU / IMF programme, it is timely to reflect on the future direction of our foreign policy, the values and interests we seek to promote through it, and how it contributes to achieving Government objectives.
We are also all aware that our external environment, and the international system in which we operate, are experiencing rapid change.
For some time, economic and political power and influence has been shifting from the west to the east and to the south. The increasing influence of Asian, Latin American and African countries is reshaping the way the world works. So, too, are groups of countries working together in formats such as the G20, or on an informal and ad hoc basis. The global financial crisis has accelerated these trends.
Many of today’s challenges, such as cyber security, climate change, and migration, are not defined by borders and regions, but require global solutions.
These facts are not new, but they are coming into ever sharper focus.
The fast-moving pace of the global economy and the need to keep pace with technological change and innovation are also factors with which we are familiar.
Through my work as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I am conscious of what these changes mean for how we pursue our international goals.
This is the context in which the review of our foreign policy is taking place.
The purpose of the review, which I launched on 8 October, is to provide an updated statement of Ireland’s foreign policy and external relations, and to identify a series of recommendations for its conduct.
It will consider a broad range of issues, reflecting the breadth of our external engagement:
- How we set our external priorities;
- How we engage as an EU member state;
- How we contribute to economic recovery and growth through promoting our trade, tourism and investment;
- The pursuit of peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland;
- The services we provide to our citizens abroad and our relationship with the Irish Diaspora;
- The contribution of our International Development policy; and
- How we ensure Ireland is a respected international actor.
These are all important issues, as are other aspects of our foreign policy which the review will consider.
Membership of the European Union is fundamental to our national interests, both in foreign policy and domestic terms. Indeed, our EU membership is inseparable from the pursuit of our foreign policy, as it is from so many aspects of domestic policy.
As our engagement with the European Union is wider than the foreign policy sphere, being at the core of the day-to-day business of all Government Departments, the review will not examine our EU Policy in detail.
Instead, the focus will be on the contribution of our foreign policy and external relations, as well as the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade across Government, to the promotion of Ireland’s interests within the EU, on the one hand, and to ensuring that Europe’s voice is stronger at a global level, on the other.
At times, diplomacy can seem remote from our daily lives. But as the recent breakthrough in the talks with Iran has shown, quiet and skilled diplomacy can yield results. We know this from our own experience – in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland, during our EU Presidency and in the important negotiations in Europe on banking and fiscal issues.
These are important skills which we must preserve and develop if we are to advance our strategic interests, including in the EU and on issues directly related to the growth and development of our economy.
Our embassy network is making a vital contribution to these efforts, building relations, supporting Irish business and influencing decisions that affect us. It is an important national resource at the service of Government and the Irish people.
I believe we must be both flexible and adaptable if we are to influence the international agenda. While international relations can often favour the large, Ireland’s flexibility and adaptability has traditionally been one of our strengths; an advantage we enjoy as a small state, which I believe we have used well.
Let me say a few words about how the review is being taken forward.
Given the wide-ranging nature of our foreign policy and external relations, it is important that we consult widely.
I have asked my Department to facilitate a broad-based consultation process, involving all Government Departments, the State Agencies, academics and experts, business organisations, interested stakeholders and civil society.
This is being complemented by a detailed process of consultation and analysis being undertaken within my Department, involving our network of embassies and other offices abroad.
Earlier today, I launched a process of public consultation, inviting written inputs from members of the public and stakeholders with an interest in Ireland’s foreign policy. Details about the review and how to make a submission are available on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
As I said at the start of my comments, I believe our foreign policy is a statement of who we are as a people, and I encourage members of the public and anyone with an interest in our foreign policy to contribute views and inputs.
The review will also take account of a number of recently concluded or ongoing review processes, including the Government’s new policy for International Development – One World, One Future – adopted in May this year; the Green Paper on Defence currently being prepared by my colleague, the Minister for Defence; the review of the Government’s Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy, Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy; and the review of our Diaspora Policy, which I announced at the Global Irish Economic Forum in October.
The Oireachtas has traditionally played an important role in shaping our foreign policy and holding the Government to account for its conduct and implementation, through debates in both Houses and through the work of this Committee and its counterparts dealing with different aspects of our external relations. I believe our foreign policy is the stronger for this oversight and engagement.
Today’s meeting is a valuable opportunity to have a first exchange of views and hear inputs on the issues covered by this review.
I also welcome written inputs from this Committee and from individual members of the Oireachtas.
In addition to today’s meeting, meetings will also take place with the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, and the Joint Committee on Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, to discuss the Review. Issues raised at these meetings will also constitute an important input to the review process.
Our foreign policy is important. Much depends on our getting it right – our peace and prosperity; growth in our economy; our place in Europe and the world; and our well being as a people.
This is a timely and important review. Its outcome will guide our external engagement in the years ahead.
I look forward to working with you, Mr Chairman, with Committee members and with the Oireachtas to ensure we craft the right polices to promote our values and our interests.
I look forward to today’s discussion, to hearing the views of members, and to receiving further input in due course. With your agreement, I do not propose to respond in detail to policy suggestions at this time. I can assure you, however, that I will take careful note of all proposals, as will the officials with me today, and that these will be fully taken into account when preparing the outcome of the review.