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Minister speech to the Diplomatic Corps

Commemorations, Diplomatic Relations, International Relations, Ireland, Minister Charles Flanagan, Speech, Ireland, 2015

Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
Lunch for the diplomatic corps,
National Day of Commemoration
Dublin Castle, Sunday, 12 July 2015

Your Excellency, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps,

Your Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Honoured guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, on Ireland's National Day of Commemoration, we honour all Irish men and women who lost their lives in war or in service to the United Nations.

War, whatever its form or origin, is the ultimate reminder of the ever-present need for the profession you all represent - the profession of diplomacy. I very much appreciate your participation here today, while I welcome especially those for whom this is your first time here at this ceremony.

Last year when we gathered here, I spoke of four ways in which we should reflect on our experience of the First World War:

  • its significance for international relations
  • how it transformed Europe
  • how it transformed the course of Irish history
  • and finally, how these events had such an impact on people and families across this island.

Then, I addressed this audience a few short days after my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Now, one year on, I want to talk again about international relations, to reflect on this past year and to outline briefly how Irish diplomacy might work with you in the period ahead.

I also want to offer an update on Irish plans for this decade of centenary commemorations, with focus on the coming year and our international programme.

During the past twelve months I have spent a significant amount of time in two cities that these days feel like home: Belfast and Brussels. In between I have visited Beijing, Boston, New York, Washington, Strasbourg, Luxembourg, London, Edinburgh, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Beirut, Berne, Zurich, Geneva, Milan, Riga, Toronto, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah. And the list of destinations goes on, with Kiev my next destination in the coming days.

I’ve developed an aversion to packing and unpacking…..and if you have any tips and pointers in this regard, I would be happy to hear them. Because travel is part of our jobs and must remain so - there is no substitute for direct, face-to face engagement and direct, first-hand experience of the world in which we live. Irish people are renowned for their ability to talk, to strike up friendships, to persuade – I hope that has been your experience of us during your time here. The Irish diplomacy I want - and our diplomatic service wants – is an active diplomacy. An engaged diplomacy. A focused diplomacy.

With these principles in mind, earlier this year I published the Global Island, the first comprehensive review of Irish foreign policy in almost 20 years. We also published significant policy and strategy documents on Irish Aid and on diaspora.

Our five core principles are this:

First, our people – looking after Irish citizens, promoting our culture and working to secure the hard-won peace and reconciliation on this island.

Second, our values – our policy focus on a fairer, more just, more secure and more sustainable world, including through amplifying our voice through the EU and the UN.

Third, our prosperity – continued work on Ireland’s recovery and development as a truly sustainable and fair economy. Unemployment continues to fall and growth is strong, but our work continues.

Fourth, our place in Europe – promoting Ireland’s interests and shaping the EU and its global engagement.

And finally, our influence – using our available resources for the benefit of Irish people through international engagement.

These principles guide what we do, but I am determined that we have concrete actions to match these words. I offer some examples:

We advance peace and reconciliation on this island through implementing the Stormont House Agreement which we helped to facilitate late last year, and through hosting the successful and reconciliation-themed visit by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall two months ago.

Engagement across the world – I mentioned some of my visits abroad already, while recent visitors to Ireland have included the Polish Foreign Minister, the President of the World Bank, the Premier of China, the UN Secretary General and the Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Our humanitarian work is visible from the deployment of a navy vessel to the Mediterranean to assist with the migration crisis to our work on Ebola in Sierra Leone.

The priority we attach to development aid is reflected in our work as co-facilitator of the final stage of UN negotiations for the world’s new global development agenda.

Our commitment to the UN is made manifest in our membership of the Human Rights Council and our candidacy for the Security Council early in the next decade – on which, as you can imagine, we’ll be in contact!

The vital importance we attach to the European Union has necessitated our active involvement in the debate around our neighbour, the UK, and its membership of the EU.

Likewise, in relation to Greece, these are currently important days in terms of the Eurozone and all of us who are committed to the founding ideals of the Union are hoping that this weekend will bring the certainty and stability we need.

And, as a globally minded people, we wish to share ideas with all partners on foreign policy issues including conflict resolution, on how diplomatic services work, on diaspora policy, on economic and cultural diplomacy, and many other matters on which partnerships can be forged.

With your help – whether you’re based in Dublin, London or elsewhere – this Global Island of ours can work with you to make a difference in the future.

And in mapping out a diplomacy for the future, we continue to remain conscious of the past. Recent months have taken me to join British, Turkish, Australian and New Zealand colleagues in Gallipoli for the most moving and powerful centenary commemoration ceremonies. Also, with the centenary of the Battle of the Somme approaching, I participated at a ceremony in Northern Ireland earlier this month marking the 99th anniversary of that awful conflagration.

For Ireland, this is a decade of centenaries.

In recent weeks I and government colleagues launched Ireland’s international commemorations programme for 2016.

The lead-up to the centenary of the Easter 1916 Rising in Ireand presents many opportunities to reflect on the diverse and complex history of this island. And thinking about the many strands of our national narrative is also an opportunity to look at our place in the wider world, then and now, and to consider the international dimension of events in Ireland a century ago.

The 1916 Rising took place within a global context of social and political change. This included the international labour movement, the campaign for women’s suffrage and the highlighting of human rights. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic sought to guarantee “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all”.

The Rising also reflected the instability of the then world imperial order, which was collapsing as the battlefields of the First World War witnessed carnage on an industrial scale. Indeed, the Rising occurred at a moment when, as WB Yeats observed, “things fall apart”.

The influences of the leaders of the Rising had their source both in their local experience and their intellectual engagement in the wider world. Ireland in 1916 was, as it is now, a global island, a nation that both reflected and was engaged in the bigger international issues of the day.

This is why I asked Ireland’s network of embassies and consulates – together with the Irish diaspora - to plan events which will engage our diaspora and friends abroad, as well as to present the Ireland of today to the world.

Our international programme includes flagship events that will showcase the best of traditional and contemporary Ireland across the full range of the arts. In many ways it is already underway, with events having already taken place in locations such as Hong Kong and New York.

I might finish today by recalling the words spoken just over ten years on from the rising by Ireland’s first head of government following independence, W. T. Cosgrave. He was reflecting on those early years which followed a terrible civil war in the early 1920s and when the foundations for a lasting democracy were built here in Ireland.

He said “we have lived from a time fraught with the consciousness of danger to a period in which we have enjoyed the consciousness of peace”.

In this he has, I think, defined the fundamental foundation of the work of diplomacy – to work first for the consciousness of peace, and proceed onwards to lasting peace and sustainable prosperity. That work never stops and this year – this decade – and this national day of commemoration – serves to remind us of this.

Let me conclude by extending my thanks to you for joining us on this, our National Day of Commemoration, and as a token of sincere respect and appreciation, offer a toast to the Heads of State represented here today


12 JULY 2015