Address by Minister Flanagan to Association of European Journalists04 September 2014
Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, T.D.
to the Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
I would like begin by expressing my appreciation to the Association of European Journalists for extending an invitation for me to speak with you here this afternoon, in particular, thank you to Chairperson Dr. Martin Alioth for his warm welcome. At the risk of sounding parochial, I must say that I am delighted to see my fellow Laois native, Ms. Eileen Dunne, here. As you all know, Eileen currently occupies the esteemed post of International AEJ President – only the second Irish person to hold that illustrious office, the first being Andrew Sheppard, who I am very pleased to see here today.
This is an opportunity I hope for a sharing of views and opinions between us on some of the international challenges which face us today.
I would like to focus on three major crises which have been to the fore in recent months, both for Ireland and the international community, and which have dominated my first fifty days in office as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Ukraine is the most significant and dangerous political crisis to occur in Europe for several decades.
While the conflict has wider geopolitical implications, we should remember first and foremost the deplorable violence that is being wreaked on civilians in Ukraine as we speak.
To date almost 2,600 people have been killed and the numbers who have become internally displaced is now approaching some 200,000.
This is a tragedy happening on the very borders of the European Union.
From the outset of the crisis the EU has sought to play an active role in seeking a peaceful resolution. However, continued Russian military action on Ukrainian territory is undermining efforts to achieve the political settlement we all seek for the Ukrainian people.
I have joined with my EU counterparts in publically expressing a deep concern about the unfolding conflict in Ukraine, along with our firm support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The Union is stressing the urgent need for Russia to demonstrate, by deeds and not just words, a genuine commitment to achieving a rapid de-escalation of the situation in Eastern Ukraine.
Unfortunately yesterday’s reports of a possible Russia and the Ukraine ceasefire between remain to be confirmed
As stated by the European Council last Saturday a mutually agreed and viable ceasefire must be accompanied by the re-establishment of Ukrainian control over its border, an immediate halt to the flow of arms, material and military personnel from the Russian Federation into Ukraine, as well as the urgent release of all hostages and prisoners.I hope that these actions will be taken without delay so as to create the conditions that can lead to the negotiated and peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine that we all wish to see.
The European Council also decided that preparatory work should be undertaken on further measures which could be taken by the EU against Russia depending on the evolution of the situation.
Ireland believes that carefully targeted sanctions are an effective means to build pressure to engage in negotiations, mindful of the impact that they may impose on all Member States.
We firmly support the path of diplomatic dialogue which we hope can lead us to de-escalation and the restoration of the ceasefire. It is also crucial that trilateral negotiations on energy see a breakthrough before the onset of winter.
For Ireland, the implications of the current situation in Ukraine for the viability and future of an international system that upholds the rule of law and guarantees the well-being and prosperity of all nations is of great concern.
The actions of the Russian Federation in Crimea, and now in Eastern Ukraine, clearly contravene a wide range of international agreements.
More fundamentally, they undermine the concept of sovereignty, as well as international legal norms, which are in place to protect the stability of all states, and ensure peace and prosperity for our citizens.
We must continue to do our utmost to support Ukraine at this difficult time, and seek an outcome whereby the Ukrainian people can freely choose, without external influence, their own future.
Gaza and the Middle East Peace Process
The Israeli-Palestinian issue is never far off the international agenda. It has also been a consistent priority for successive Irish Governments, fuelled by significant public engagement.
During the most recent conflict I stated clearly and repeatedly that the level of violence being used in Gaza, and the consequently very high civilian casualties, was simply not acceptable.
As I said in a debate on the subject in Seanad Éireann “Israel is entitled to defend itself, but it is not entitled to do what it is doing now.” Equally the continued firing of missiles into Israel by militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad was both wrong in itself and reckless; careless of the consequences for both the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Along with so many others, I urged both sides to cease firing, to consider the effect of their decisions on ordinary people, and to facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid.
The ceasefire which has now taken hold – at last – is of course very welcome.
We cannot however allow Gaza to again drift off the agenda because of other concerns.
Without continued engagement to bring about an agreement to relax the blockade, while also ending attacks against Israel from Gaza, we will simply replay this whole ghastly episode again and again, with tragic human cost.
There was an awareness that the previous ceasefire in Gaza, renewed in 2012, could not hold indefinitely if it did not result in the real relaxation of the blockade as it affects ordinary people there.
Current conditions in Gaza are perfect only for breeding extremism and militancy.
Ireland has made this point many times, in discussions at the EU, at the UN and elsewhere.
But because the difficulties were so apparent and other issues so pressing, attention drifted from Gaza. And then a series of events – including a number of terrible murders of youths – led to an exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas, which took on its own momentum and proved extremely difficult to bring to an end
This is the central lesson I would draw for the broader Israeli-Palestinian dispute. We should not be misled by a comparative calm while other countries in the region are in turmoil.
The status quo in the Occupied Territories is unjust and unsustainable, and there is an urgent need to move quickly to achieve a comprehensive peace before the situation becomes unmanageable.
There is still a window for such a peace agreement, but it is closing fast.
For much of the past year our attention on the peace process has been on the political talks brokered by the United States. For the moment, however, these talks have failed.
Renewed talks, when they come, will only be worthwhile if all parties come to the table seeking agreement, rather than just to pin the blame on the others for another failure.
Ireland, along with the EU, supports a renewal of talks, because only in direct negotiations can an agreement be reached. We are also considering what positive supports we can offer to both sides in the event of an agreement.
But first of all we have to get there.
In recent times, our concern has grown that the two state solution, which we have worked towards for so long, may be becoming physically unviable, because of the ramifications of the Israeli settlement policy.
This challenge has received additional focus with the recent very unhelpful settlement expansion announcement, on which I made a public statement on Monday.
It is a challenge we need to focus on within the EU, as we consider how to get all sides to the negotiating table. The Union is beginning to re-examine its response to the settlements policy and this is a debate I hope we can advance seriously with our partners in the coming months.
Iraq and Syria
Finally I would like to turn to the current situation in Iraq and Syria.
It has been clear for some time that the rising influence of jihadist groups represents a grave threat to the people of Syria and Iraq, to the stability of region, and to the safety of Europe’s citizens.
A broad and wide ranging response by the international community is required.
The Government of Iraq must be supported as it works to promote Iraqi unity, reach out to Iraq’s Sunni population, while at the same time taking effective measures to address the threat posed by ISIS.
There can be no possibility of negotiating or co-opting ISIS. It is a murderous, sectarian gang, whose own self-promotion highlights its horrific crimes. I do not seek to minimise the great challenge facing the Iraqi Government and new Prime Minister Abadi.
Addressing the crisis in Iraq cannot however be dissociated from the continuing tragedy that is unfolding in Syria.
ISIS has used the border between Iraq and Syria as a homeland, moving back and forth as the environment in the region changes.
Ultimately, it must be tackled in both Syria and Iraq, and denied the freedom to threaten the region.
In the case of Syria, it is clear that we do not possess a partner in Damascus. The Assad regime has tolerated, at very least, the rise of ISIS in the Sunni areas of Syria. It has focussed its campaigns against more moderate Sunni factions and it has exploited the crimes of ISIS to terrorise the Syrian people and legitimise its own appalling actions.
Restoring unity and peace to Syria will not be accomplished militarily by the Assad regime. A political transition is required. The new UN Special Representative, Staffan di Mistura, will have our full support to bring about an end to this most appalling of conflicts.
The Syrian conflict is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The death toll has now passed 190,000. Three million refugees have fled.
The conflict, irrespective of how soon it can be brought to a close, will irrevocably affect the region for many years to come.
To date Ireland has provided over €28 million in humanitarian relief for the victims of the Syrian conflict.
Each of these three crises presents a unique challenge to the international system and to a country such as Ireland which seeks to play an active role on the world stage.
They challenge us to work ever harder for peaceful and sustainable solutions to the many conflicts which blight our global community.
Ireland’s international engagement has always been based on values. Values such as: support for multilateralism, the peaceful resolution of conflict through dialogue, the primacy of international law, and working for, and promoting, human rights, development, and international peace and security.
These values will continue to be at the centre of our international engagement, and it is our conviction that in advancing these values we can play our part in bringing about a more just and peaceful world.