Skip to main content

Address to the Diplomatic Corps on the National Day of Commemoration

Your Excellency, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps,

Your Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Honoured guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, we honour those Irish men and women who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations. We remember, also, those who were injured and those who suffered.  In honouring them, we re-dedicate ourselves to the noble path of peace to ensure that they did not die in vain.

In Europe, we in this generation have been fortunate, for the most part, not to repeat the errors of the past, but to write instead a new history based on cooperation in place of conflict and collaboration for the common good. For many, and I count myself among their number, the greatest achievement of the European Union has been its enshrinement of cooperation as the basis for relations between its Member States. That achievement was rightly recognised by the Nobel Committee in its award of the Peace Prize to the EU. We are fortunate to live in a continent in which war is now unthinkable. It is an achievement that has perhaps allowed the souls of our fallen soldiers to rest a little easier.

The year since we last gathered here has been a busy one for Irish diplomacy. We have completed our term as Chair of the OSCE and, over the past six months, we have undertaken the Presidency of the European Union. We have also begun our term as a member of the Human Rights Council. Performing these roles has provided us with a valuable platform from which to raise our international profile and to reaffirm our commitment to multilateral engagement. At the same time, we have been working hard to promote our economic recovery, to boost our foreign trade and to deliver on the Government’s programme of job creation and growth. 

As we pause at the end of this intensive period of engagement, we have an opportunity to reflect and take stock and also to look forward.  Indeed, I intend to start a process of review to examine how our foreign policy can continue to advance Ireland’s interests abroad in a changing world.

Throughout my career as a public representative, I have sought to encourage a spirit of responsible citizenship. I firmly believe in the shared responsibility of all to shape a better society.  I believe this is particularly important at the international level, where it is not only the right, but also the responsibility of all States, whether large or small, to contribute to the functioning of the global order.

This guiding principle motivates our commitment to multilateralism, with the UN at its core, as the best path to finding solutions to the problems and challenges which face us as an international community. It is behind Ireland’s long-standing commitment to taking on leadership roles on the international stage. In carrying out these roles, we bring to bear the best that the Irish public service has to offer – a tradition for effective action, impartiality and creative solution-making. I am proud of the contribution Ireland is making to international life, as an active member of the UN, in our stewardship of the EU and OSCE and through our quiet, every-day engagement as members in many other international bodies and organisations. This is the true essence of international citizenship, a citizenship which we cherish and are committed to nurturing.

Our EU Presidency that has just concluded was no exception. We worked hard and I know that we kept you busy, too. I am very satisfied with what we have achieved.  We set ourselves the goal of securing an EU that is responsive to the needs and concerns of citizens across Europe. Over the six months, we prioritised growth and job creation, research and innovation and placed the Union on a secure financial footing for the period ahead through agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework. We tackled youth unemployment and significantly advanced the Banking Union and financial regulation dossiers.  We shaped and crafted decisions that are good for citizens and good for Europe’s future. It is an outcome I am proud of. We showed that the EU can deliver for its citizens. Those who predicted that it was incapable of doing so have been proved wrong.

We are celebrating forty years as members of the EU this year. Forty years after we joined, the European Union remains fundamental to the progress and prosperity of the Irish people.  We will maintain our strong Irish voice at the heart of EU decision-making and our commitment to the European vision. I was pleased to visit Zagreb two weeks ago to celebrate Croatia’s accession to the EU, the culmination of a process that started during our last Presidency in 2004. 

Now that we have passed the Presidency mantle to Lithuania - who I wish the very best for the period ahead - we can reflect on where we stand as a country and how we move forward. 

We will continue to engage fully in shaping the EU’s external relations while maintaining our distinctive foreign policy traditions and voice. That tradition is defined by a belief in international service and active engagement in pursuit of our interests and in promotion of our values.

We are making a contribution through our commitment to UN peacekeeping, which is as firm today as it was when we embarked on our first mission in the Congo fifty-three years ago. In the years since, our peacekeepers have served in Lebanon, in Kosovo, in Chad, in Liberia and in many other peacekeeping missions, earning a reputation for professionalism and service.

The work of our Defence Forces is complemented by the contribution which our civilian experts are making to EU and UN crisis management missions, as well as efforts to resolve conflicts around the world. I have only to think of the role which Mary Robinson is playing as UN Special Envoy in the Great Lakes region, or the work of Erwan Fouéré and Pádraig Murphy on the protracted conflicts during our OSCE Chairmanship. There are many other examples.

These are contributions in which all Irish people can take pride, and I pay tribute to the men and women of this country serving on active duty today.

As a nation, we will continue to make a contribution to tackling the problems facing the international community. My experience of the OSCE Chairmanship and the EU Presidency has convinced me of the need for countries, small and large, to play an active role in international life - mindful of the broader interest, and in keeping with their capabilities and opportunities.

We are doing this by sharing the experience of building and sustaining peace on our island. We who have enjoyed the benefits of peace have a responsibility to share our experience with those seeking an end to conflicts elsewhere. Many of you attended the conference I hosted on this theme during our OSCE Chairmanship. We also shared our experience in a focused way, for example with negotiators in the Transdniestrian settlement process. While conflicts differ, we remain ready to share our experience in a more low-key way with others seeking to resolve them. 

Earlier this year in Brussels, I hosted a conference on ‘the EU as a Peacemaker’ together with the European Parliament and the EEAS which looked at how to strengthen the EU’s capacities for conflict prevention and mediation.  I firmly believe the EU can make a major contribution by drawing on its unique set of institutions and on the different experiences of its member states. 

I am convinced of the wisdom of Senator George Mitchell, who played such an important role in our own peace process, when he said that conflicts started by people can be solved by people.  For this reason, support for conflict resolution will remain an important element of our foreign policy.

There is an inextricable link between conflict and weapons. For decades, Ireland has been a proponent of global disarmament and arms control. As we remember the fallen from too many conflicts, let us also curb the armaments of war. I was heartened by the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty, which showed that the UN can deliver on its mandate to enhance peace and security if we work together. When it comes to nuclear disarmament, our record is less encouraging. Fifty-five years after the first of the ‘Irish Resolutions’ at the UN, the scourge of nuclear weapons remains.  We must do more to rid the world of this threat. 

To achieve a just world, we are working to promote and protect human rights.  I was delighted and honoured by our election to the UN Human Rights Council last November. I am aware of the trust that has been placed in us and thankful for the support we received.

We will honour that trust by being steadfast in our defence of human rights where they are under threat and by working to advance the universality of human rights.  That is why this September we will put the issues of child mortality and civil society space on the agenda of the Human Rights Council.

I was delighted that, during our Presidency, the EU adopted guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, and the human rights of LGBTI persons. These are important issues for Ireland and our world today. 

I believe our foreign policy is an expression of our values - a statement about who we are as a people. Nowhere is this more the case than in our commitment to the fight against poverty and hunger, which remains a central priority of our foreign policy.  I am proud that we have maintained our solidarity with developing countries, even in these difficult times.  Our new Policy for International Development – One World, One Future, renews that commitment and sets out the vision, goals and priorities for our engagement on international development.

We will maintain our focus on Sub-Saharan Africa and increase our focus on fragile states - countries recovering from the devastation of conflict, in an uncertain environment.  We will work to maintain the level of our aid budget, with a clear commitment to moving towards the 0.7% of GNP target, when our economic situation allows it. 

I firmly believe that international development is not just about how much we give. It is also about the quality of our aid, its effectiveness in empowering people, and the voice which we bring to the international stage. We are committed to maintaining the quality of our assistance and to giving voice to those who are imprisoned by poverty, fighting for basic human rights, and suffering the effects of a climate change they have not contributed to.

What we are doing to address hunger and under-nutrition, gender inequality and disempowerment at the multilateral level – at the UN, in the Human Rights Council and through the EU – is strongly connected to our efforts on the ground to reduce poverty and hunger in partnership with governments and some of the most disadvantaged people in the world.

Our conference on Hunger-Nutrition-Climate Justice highlighted the links between hunger, under-nutrition and the effects of climate change, through the testimony of those most directly affected in some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world.

We are supporting countries to address their own poverty and build their own economies.

Given the potential for real economic growth to raise the quality of life of people living in developing countries, our new Policy places greater emphasis on ensuring that this growth, especially in Africa is sustainable and inclusive. I also see a role for increasing two-way trade and pursuing more rounded partnerships with our Key Partner Countries. Our path to prosperity through trade is an experience that we can share with these partners.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These are just some of the issues on which we are working to promote a better world. The pursuit of these important objectives sits alongside our work to promote economic recovery and growth in Ireland.

On a daily basis, we are working to find creative ways to boost trade, tourism and investment, open markets and create jobs. During the Saint Patrick’s Day period alone, our embassy network, together with our state agencies, were involved in organising over 180 public diplomacy events involving over 85,000 attendees to promote Irish trade and investment, tourism, food and culture. We even turned some of your most famous landmarks green. As we continue along the path of economic recovery, our focus on building new relationships in the global marketplace and on projecting a positive image of Ireland will continue. Ireland is open for business. 

I see our multilateral diplomacy contributing to our trade and promotion efforts by projecting the image of a responsible and reliable partner.

As a country that exports in the region of 85% of the goods we produce, we have an interest in a stable and peaceful international environment and an equitable and rules-based international trade regime. That is why securing a mandate for the start of negotiations on an EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was so important. If successful, a deal will bring significant benefits for both. I was pleased, also, that progress has been achieved in other trade negotiations, including with Japan and other Asian and Latin American partners.

While Europe and North America remain key markets for us, the focus of our trade and investment is global. As we develop our economy, we wish to deepen existing ties of friendship and cooperation and to forge new relationships and partnerships.

Earlier this month I had the honour to attend a citizenship ceremony at which over 4,000 people became citizens of Ireland. These people will bring their talents, energy and experience to bear in the life of our nation and we are enriched in the process. These new citizens are also a bridge between Ireland and the countries from which they hail, helping us to forge new and valued ties with countries around the globe.

We are a global island, home to a global people.

As our country develops and changes, so, too, do our interests in the world. We must find ways to adapt to these changes while preserving our strengths and delivering value for money for our citizens. 

As a politician, I am convinced of the importance of personal ties and connections and of the differences which individuals can make to the life of our nation. This is why I value so strongly the contribution which the global Irish family is making in so many areas. The recent celebrations marking the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland were a reminder of the global nature of the Irish Diaspora and its evolving relationship with Ireland.   Our people abroad have made a remarkable contribution to this country’s development.   In October, the Taoiseach and I look forward to hosting the third Global Irish Economic Forum for two days of intense engagement with key leaders from the Disapora on current economic challenges and opportunities. I am pleased, also, that Diaspora-engagement has become an increasingly important international policy area and one where Ireland is playing a leadership role.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Much of the progress that has been achieved has been made possible by the achievement of peace on our island. This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a milestone which provides us with a further opportunity for reflection, this time closer to home. In April, together with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, I met a group of young people who have no memory of the time before the Agreement. It was a refreshing experience. Those of us who remember the darker days can appreciate the changes peace has wrought, but these young people had a different view and I was interested to listen to their fears and expectations. Some of them spoke of how their communities are still blighted by paramilitaries. Others spoke of how their city remains physically split along old divisions. What is encouraging is that they all hoped for a better future. The successful hosting of the G8 in Fermanagh is further testament to how much Northern Ireland has been transformed for the better.

These conversations are a useful reminder of the work that remains to deliver a lasting peace and a shared community in Northern Ireland.  In May, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness announced a strategy to create a united community, with a special focus on young people. I hope this strategy will lead to a new and better future for all. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to say a few words about the situation in the Middle East.

I remain gravely concerned at the spiralling violence in Syria, at the appalling loss of life there and at the growing assaults on human rights, for which there must ultimately be full accountability. A political resolution remains essential, as do greater efforts by donors to address the dire humanitarian situation. Ireland strongly supports the proposed Geneva II conference, which I hope will enable concrete progress to be made towards the peaceful and democratic transition to which all Syrians aspire.

The situation in Egypt, following last week’s military intervention, is also of great concern. The need for restraint, dialogue and reconciliation on the part of all Egyptians is clear. All sides in Egypt need to dedicate themselves urgently to the task of charting a political way forward, which must be inclusive and lead to the earliest possible restoration of civilian-led government and the holding of free and fair elections. For our part, we remain fully supportive of Egypt and its people as they continue on the not always easy path of transition.

The search for peace in the Middle East is a key priority for us, as it is for many partners. I strongly support Secretary of State Kerry’s current efforts and hope they will succeed. There is also much the EU can do to provide momentum and leadership on this issue. If there is to be any prospect of getting meaningful peace talks resumed, we cannot ignore the deteriorating situation on the ground. I very much hope that the European Union will address the situation in its entirety when Ministers meet later this month.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to conclude my remarks today by looking forward. I believe our foreign policy has served us well. It is distinctive, it is based on our values and it has enabled us play a role on the world stage in pursuit of our interests and values. If we are to advance these interests and values, our policy must be a reflection not only of the people that we are, but take account also of the world in which we operate. That world is not static.

In my work as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I see at first hand the changes that are re-shaping our world. The rise to global prominence of Asian, Latin American and African countries; a fast-changing global economy driven by the accelerating pace of technological advances; security threats posed by non-state actors operating across borders; and the emergence of individuals and networks of citizens as global actors are just some of the factors driving global change and transforming the environment in which we operate.

Too often, these changes are seen as challenges to our way of doing things. I believe they also present opportunities. Our country is itself changing. Though an island, we are connected to the global community in a multitude of ways that only a generation ago would have seemed fanciful. These connections can only grow as we develop as a people. If we are to ensure the best future for our people, we must adapt to these new situations, we must develop our policies to match a changing world, and we must deepen our engagement on global issues and with new partners as well as old.

I believe that the European Union should also be centrally engaged in shaping this new world. Despite what some would have us believe about Europe’s place in the world, a European Union based on fundamental values and trading with the world has much to offer. As one of the most globalised economies in the EU, Ireland will be at the heart of this debate.

With our Presidency responsibilities behind us, I have begun to reflect on these questions. 

-          How do we position ourselves to benefit from existing relationships while building new ones as our interests diversify and expand?

-          As an international community, what is the correct way to respond to challenges such as North Korea’s nuclear ambitions or the threat of armed violence in the Maghreb and Sahel?

-          How do we ensure a distinctive Irish voice is reflected in the EU’s foreign policy and at the UN?

-          How can we best remain at the heart of decision-making in the EU so that the interests and the prosperity of our people is assured?

-          How can we best support economic development and growth and contribute both to the well being and prosperity, peace and security of our people?

We are already dealing with some of these new challenges. The conference on internet freedom I hosted during our OSCE Chairmanship is an example. The message that emerged strongly from the debate was that rights offline should also apply online. This is a fundamental principle which cannot be eroded.

How we respond to issues such as this, as well as challenges such as resource competition, cyber security, and climate change to name but a few,  as well as the over-arching need to ensure sustainable development that benefits both women and men, will define our foreign policy as much as more traditional interests and concerns. We also must consider how to provide services to our citizens in an increasingly diverse number of destinations where we lack a traditional footprint.

These are some of the issues that will be addressed as we reflect on our work advancing Ireland’s interests abroad.  I am convinced that the fundamental values, ingenuity and international spirit of the Irish people will enable us to craft the right policy mix to ensure the continuing prosperity and well-being of our global island. 

I thank you all, once again, for joining us here to mark the National Day of Commemoration.

I would now like to offer a toast to the Heads of State represented here today.