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Remarks by Minister Costello to Good Friday Committee on Foreign Policy Review

Oireachtas Joint Committee on Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

26 February 2014

Opening Remarks by the Minister of State for Trade and Development Joe Costello T.D., on the Review of Ireland’s Foreign Policy and External Relations


Mr Chairman, Members of the Committee

Review of Foreign Policy

At the outset I would like to say that the Tánaiste regrets that he could not be here this morning to discuss the Review of Foreign Policy with you and asked that I convey to the Chair and to members of the Committee his regrets and also his assurance that it is his intention to meet with the Committee on an early mutually convenient date to discuss recent developments in Northern Ireland and North South issues.

On my own behalf, I welcome the opportunity to address the Committee on the Review of Foreign Policy and External Relations.

The purpose of the review, which the Tánaiste launched last 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.

Our foreign policy and external relations are fundamental aspects of Government.

They are 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.

Our foreign policy is also a statement of who we are as a people, and how we wish ourselves to be seen by the outside world.

Following our successful EU Presidency last year, the Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2012, and our election to the UN Human Rights Council, we have an opportunity to reflect on the future direction of our foreign policy, the values and interests we seeks to promote through it, and how it contributes to achieving Government objectives.

The vital work of restoring our international reputation and promoting our economic recovery are priorities for the Government. The international leadership roles which we have undertaken as a country have done much to achieve this goal.

Our embassies and other diplomatic and consular offices around the world are making a vital contribution.

They are working hard to realise our goals - presenting the best case for Ireland, influencing decisions that affect us; together with the State Agencies, working with Irish business, promoting our trade, tourism, education and investment in addition to providing a full range of services to our citizens abroad, sometimes in difficult and tragic circumstances.

As we look to the future, and having exited the EU / IMF programme, it is timely to reflect on the future direction of our foreign policy.

The Review 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.


Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is not a foreign policy issue but one with distinct foreign policy aspects that touches closely on a broad range of domestic policies and on the objective of national reconciliation. In this regard, the review will look at a number of aspects of the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the area.  

Our work with regard to Northern Ireland operates at three levels.  Firstly, as part of a whole of Government approach we support an all-island policy across sectoral areas.  Secondly, as guarantors of the Agreements, we are responsible for overseeing the implementation of and maintaining support for the principles, values, institutions and other bodies envisaged in those international agreements.  Thirdly, we are responsible for the articulation of Northern Ireland interests and of our Northern Ireland policy to other governments, particularly the US administration and our EU partners.

North/South co-operation is promoted through the North South Ministerial Council in Armagh, through other bilateral Ministerial and official engagement and through engagement with the wider business and civil community.  It is a priority to complete the review of North South cooperation.  Part one of the review, which deals with the value for money of the North South Bodies, is now essentially complete and attention has now turned to the forward-looking elements of the review.  In this respect, Ministers in the North South Ministerial Council are considering their priorities in their respective areas of cooperation with a particular focus on efforts that will help economic recovery, job creation, and the best use of public funds and the most effective delivery of services to those on the island.

The Good Friday Agreement has already contributed to creating a sustainable peace and provides the mechanism to develop a strong all island economy by presenting opportunities for beneficial cooperation on these islands.  The St Andrews Agreement Review provides a further mechanism to explore specific areas that including growing exports, improving and upgrading of services, job creation, higher and further education and cooperating to improve access to international funding such as the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme which focuses on R&D and innovation. 

The government is firmly committed to supporting reconciliation.   We progress this in a number of ways. 

Firstly, there are some areas and principles of the Agreements which underpin the peace process which have not as yet been implemented fully. This government is committed to the full implementation of all aspects of the Agreements as the best framework for reconciliation. 

Secondly, the government takes seriously the need to deal sensitively with the legacy of the past including meeting the needs of victims.   It is clear that the legacy of the past continues to have a corrosive and disruptive affect on politics and community relations in Northern Ireland.  This informs our support for the ongoing political talks in Northern Ireland.   The Tánaiste has made clear the Government’s commitment to playing an active and constructive role in dealing with the past and in encouraging Agreement on a new architecture for dealing with the Past to be agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive parties.  

Thirdly, my Department through its Reconciliation and Anti-Sectarianism Fund supports cross-community and cross-border projects. These funds work with a broad range of partners with the aim of challenging sectarianism, and promoting respect and reconciliation across traditions in Northern Ireland, between North and South and between Britain and Ireland.  A new strategy for the Funds is being prepared and will be launched in 2014.  The purpose of this strategy is to outline priorities for the funds in the next three years and a new funding framework to match these priorities, to ensure the Funds remain relevant, effective and efficient in the coming years.  

The decade of centenary commemorations, already underway, has the potential to present risks to the peace process by enhancing division and igniting sectarianism. However, it also has the potential to enrich narratives and provide opportunities for acknowledgement and reconciliation.   The Department’s approach is guided by the principles of historical accuracy, mutual respect, tolerance and inclusivity.  The Reconciliation Fund provides support for a number of commemorative projects as part of its regular funding of community and voluntary groups.  In total, €116,000 was awarded by the Reconciliation Fund for expressly commemorations-related projects in 2013. 

I know some of your Parties have already made submissions setting out your thinking on all aspects of Review, including those related to the Good Friday Agreement. I thank you for these contributions, and they will be examined carefully in terms of preparing the outcome of the Review.



Mr Chairman,

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.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is facilitating a broad-based consultation process, involving all Government Departments, the State Agencies, academics and experts, business organisations, interested stakeholders and civil society.

A public consultation exercise has produced a wide range of views and submissions, reflecting the breadth and depth of our foreign policy.

We will take these submissions into account as we proceed with the review.

It is important that the Oireachtas should make its contribution to the review, as it does to the process of shaping and overseeing our foreign policy, through the work of this and other Committees on a ongoing basis.

The Tánaiste has discussed the review with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Minister of State Donohoe has met with the Joint Committee on EU Affairs.

Issues raised here today, as well as at these other meetings, will constitute an important input to the review process. We also welcome written inputs from this Committee and from individual members of the Oireachtas.

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 2013; the White Paper on Defence currently being prepared by 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 engagement.


Mr Chairman,

This is a timely and important review. Its outcome, scheduled for the second quarter of this year, will be a policy document setting out the core objectives of Ireland’s foreign policy and the measures and instruments required to secure their delivery. 

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.