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Speech by Minister of State Sean Sherlock at Irish Humanitarian Summit

MoS Sean Sherlock, Irish Aid, United Nations, Speech, Ireland, 2015

Closing Address by Minister of State Séan Sherlock T.D

at the Irish Humanitarian Summit,

O’Reilly Hall UCD, Thursday, 2nd July, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I bring this first ever Irish Humanitarian Summit to a close. Before I reflect on what I have taken from the day, I would like to firstly express my sincere appreciation to all of you.

I would like to thank all of the participants for taking the time to come here today to discuss pressing humanitarian challenges and help identify how Ireland can contribute to more effective humanitarian action. I would also like to thank all of the speakers, panellists and facilitators whose expertise and insights added greatly to the depth and relevance of the discussions today. Finally, I would like to most sincerely thank the organisers of today’s event, in particular UCD for hosting the event, and the Steering Committee for all of the work that has gone into the Summit, and the national consultations over the last year.

I have been greatly impressed by today’s event. I am encouraged by the passion, energy and expertise of all you have contributed to the discussions throughout the sessions. There is widespread acknowledgment that the humanitarian system needs to change in order to address present and future challenges. And today, Ireland’s humanitarian community has made real commitments to effect change.

It has been particularly encouraging to see new actors engaging in these discussions. The voices of diaspora communities, as articulated by Nabaraj Koirala, Salome Mbugua and others, are very welcome. These communities greatly contribute to humanitarian response, and I am glad that discussions are taking place as to how to include diaspora networks into humanitarian structures in a more formal and systematic manner. With this, and other changes proposed today, we can help to ensure that crisis affected communities are truly at the centre of every humanitarian response.

I am also encouraged by the presence and contributions made by representatives from the private sector today.  I am delighted to see that innovation has been a key cross-cutting theme of the consultation and today’s Summit. I think this is where the private sector can add real and tangible value to humanitarian action. As former Minister of State for Research and Innovation, I understand that innovation is a powerful means to bring about change, but it is not an end in itself. I believe that all of the humanitarian actors in the room today need to reflect on how best to involve the private sector in areas such as information management and technology, as the willingness of the sector to engage is very much in evidence. This must go beyond ‘corporate social responsibility models’ of corporate giving. We need to move our engagement to a more substantive and joined up footing.

I think this is an area where Ireland can provide significant leadership. It is critical that in doing so, all of us represented here today commit to work collectively rather than competitively. I hope that, in the run up to the World Humanitarian Summit next year in Istanbul, we can develop meaningful collaborations with the private sector for innovative investment in humanitarian assistance.  

The presence of Higher Education Institutions in such large numbers today and throughout the Irish Consultative Process is extremely important, and I hope that this collaboration will continue to thrive. Rigorous research and learning is key if we, as a humanitarian community, are to take forward the recommendations and undertakings discussed today. By harnessing the expertise of academic and research institutions, humanitarian actors will be better able to identify and respond to the needs of crisis-affected communities, ensure that all responses are in line with best practice and therefore use our limited resources to achieve maximum impact.

We have made real progress today, and in the past year of consultations, in articulating Ireland’s approach to humanitarian action.  This is an approach based on Ireland’s unique historical experience as well as our strong values.

For our part, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has used this as a driver to review and renew our own humanitarian policy.

The Government’s Humanitarian Relief Policy was developed in 2009. In the six years since that policy was developed, the world is greatly changed as we have recognised throughout this consultative process and in our discussions today.

The updated policy recognises the wider dimensions, causes and consequences of humanitarian crises, and the range of stakeholders involved. It reflects Ireland’s wider work on supporting vulnerable communities to cope with shocks, and prepare for and recover from crises. It also increases our focus on building a humanitarian evidence base and improving humanitarian response through research, good practice and a focus on effectiveness and results.

The updated humanitarian policy also reaffirms the Irish Government’s commitment in a number of key areas. The core humanitarian principles will continue to provide the foundation for Ireland’s approach to humanitarian assistance and we will continue to promote respect for International Humanitarian Law.  

We will continue to support the important role played by experienced and professional NGOs in the provision of humanitarian assistance, as well as the special role of the Red Cross Movement. The policy affirms our support for the central role of the United Nations in providing leadership and coordination of international humanitarian response, while also recognising the need to continue making progress in UN humanitarian reform efforts.  

The policy reaffirms our respect for the rights and dignity of crisis affected communities. The protection of vulnerable groups is a key priority for us, and we recognise that special attention must be paid to the differing needs of groups who may be marginalised such as children, the elderly, and the disabled. We also remain committed to ensuring that, where relevant to the context, cross cutting issues such as gender, protection, governance, the environment and HIV/AIDS are at the centre of response. The Policy also affirms Ireland’s commitment to the protection of women and girls in emergencies, including our belief that prevention of and response to gender based violence is a lifesaving action which needs to be an essential part of every humanitarian operation.

It is increasingly recognised that the international humanitarian system is struggling to cope with demands and that new ways of working are needed, including a more coherent approach between development, political, humanitarian and other actors. In light of this reality, Ireland’s updated Humanitarian Assistance Policy brings our humanitarian activities in line with our deepening engagement with fragile states. With the creation of a Fragile States Team which brings together relevant Units from across the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we will endeavour to assist fragility contexts more holistically.  Deploying skilled humanitarian experts and vital emergency supplies through our Rapid Response initiative remains a cornerstone of our operational response to humanitarian crises, and so I am also very happy to say that we have developed a Rapid Response Strategy which complements Ireland’s Humanitarian Assistance Policy.

At the end of 2014, the OECD Development Assistance Committee peer review rated Ireland’s aid programme extremely highly, and our humanitarian work was particularly commended. The review made suggestions as to how our humanitarian collaboration could be strengthened and made more effective, and these have been addressed in the new Humanitarian Assistance Policy. I believe that the Policy fully complements the critical issues discussed today.

We have gone to tremendous efforts over the last year in Ireland to come to a common consensus and collective approach on how best to work better together to save lives and ease suffering in the face of unprecedented global need. We know that both the frequency and intensity of natural disasters and conflicts are increasing and that the most vulnerable people are often the most severely hit. We have discussed today the recommendations and suggested undertakings which have emerged from this consultation process and this afternoon, you have identified ways to potentially realise this new way of working together. Over the coming year, we have an important opportunity to turn these recommendations into action, in order to strengthen the humanitarian system and develop an Irish Humanitarian Agenda.

We will do this on two fronts: firstly, we will work to ensure that Ireland influences and contributes to the global agenda on the future of humanitarian action through the World Humanitarian Summit. Secondly, we will work to ensure that this time next year, we will be a position to finalise an Irish Humanitarian Agenda, building on the consultations up to and including today, and informed by the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit. I want to work with you to make sure that both of these aims are realised.

We will build on the outcomes of today’s Summit to ensure complementarity between a future Irish humanitarian agenda and the world humanitarian agenda. This is the next phase of the Irish Consultative Process and will include a public outreach initiative with young people in Ireland on coming up with innovative solutions for humanitarian action. We will count on you –private sector companies represented here, the diaspora networks, our academic colleagues, civil society and the Government – to support us in these efforts. I very much look forward to our continued collaboration over the coming year.