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Introductory Remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, TD,
on the Occasion of the Iveagh House Lecture by the Secretary General of the OECD, Mr Angel Gurría
15 September 2015
A French commentator [Jean Blanchard] in the late 1950s described Ireland as physically and psychologically an “island behind an island” [une île derriére une île]. Perhaps there was something in what he wrote. But at the time he was writing, fundamental changes in Ireland’s relationship with the outside world were already beginning to challenge and impact upon that “island behind an island” status.
Politically, Ireland was finally admitted to the United Nation in 1955. But it was our economic relations with the outside world, which saw the most profound changes in the latter part of the 1950s and early 1960s. In that period we moved rapidly from a closed economy mentality to embrace a new policy framework. A framework, which recognised that our economic development in future could only come from open and competitive engagement with the outside world.
Nothing demonstrated our shift in economic policy more concretely that our decision to become a founder member of the OECD in 1961. Since then the OECD has been a trusted partner of Ireland’s in our economic and social policy evolution, contributing to key decisions in the fifty four years since.
Next year, 2016, as we all know, is the centenary of the 1916 rising, a defining moment in shaping post colonised Ireland. Next year is also the fiftieth anniversary of the 1966 OECD report on Irish Education, entitled “Investment in Education”. Another defining moment for us. “Investment in Education” was the first major sectoral report of the OECD on Ireland. It set in train a new approach to education in this country and showed us how we could address economic and social development through education.
To meet the challenges and opportunities of international economic engagement, Ireland would thenceforth use education to help achieve economic development - so that our economic policy and work focus would move from bricks to brains. Free secondary education, which was introduced in 1967/68, was the natural first step in this process. But this also set off a profound positive social transformation – the sort of social transformation envisaged by the signatories of the 1916 proclamation, fifty years earlier.
As we prepare for these two anniversaries next year, it is fitting and timely that we have the Secretary General of the OECD, Angel Gurría with us tonight to deliver an Iveagh House Lecture. This lecture he has entitled: "Shifting gear: policy challenges for the next 50 years".
2015 is a critical year for all of us given that three major global agreements in the area of sustainable development will be reached which taken together have the potential to deliver a transformative agenda that can end poverty, achieve sustainable development and leave no one behind. The first of these three interdependent agreements, ‘the Addis Ababa Action Agenda’, sets out the financing framework for the new Sustainable Development Goals (the second of the global agreements) which will be adopted at a UN Summit later this month; the third is the climate conference in Paris in December, which will hopefully result in a legally binding and universal climate agreement.
The Secretary-General and I have had an opportunity before this talk to discuss the agreement on the new Sustainable Development Goals, which was brokered by Ireland and Kenya and which is intended to help set our course to deliver a more sustainable, prosperous and peaceful future for all, over the next 15 years . The OECD is in a unique position to assist and advise on maximising the impact and benefits of this new and we hope transformative agenda. The action shifts from New York to Paris in only a few weeks, where the climate aspects of the future of the planet move centre stage. These are important months for the international community to make bold and courageous commitments to secure the future of humanity.
For us here in Ireland, after seven years of painful but necessary economic reorganisation and repair, we too must now look to the next 50 years and prepare for the opportunities which lie ahead.
You, Mr Secretary General, are no stranger to painful domestic economic retrenchment. You were Minister for Foreign Affairs and later Minister for Finance of Mexico during the 1990s, when Mexico successfully repaired itself after its banking and debt crises. Indeed, you are justifiably proud that, as Finance Minister, you were able to pay off early the last part of Mexico’s IMF loan. Happily, we hear echoes of that positive situation here in Ireland today.
Mr Gurría you were also key to Mexico’s negotiations on the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and in your country’s accession to the OECD in 1994. Twelve years later, in 2006, you were elected Secretary General of the OECD. Next year, in May 2016, you will embark upon your third term at the helm of the Organisation. Your stewardship so far has been marked by enormous energy, addressing the gaps in our policy understanding brought so harshly to light in the crisis of the last decade. The OECD’s New Approaches to Economic Challenges agenda is particularly focussed on redressing our failings in economic and social policies of the past. You have brought the OECD to the forefront of the equality debate - especially gender inequality. The OECD has shown that not only is inequality of opportunity socially wrong, it is also economically counterproductive. Secretary General, you have also been a leader in moving the OECD and its member states forward to meet the challenges of the new emerging economic order. An order in which OECD member countries will no longer dominate the global economy. Rather they must be fully engaged as smart players, bringing the influence and logic of our standards beyond the borders of our membership.
To Ireland, a small island in a large ocean, this is, of course, nothing new. To others it is not so clear. We share with you the strong view that standing apart from engaging with the emerging economic balance is not an option. Part of the OECD’s outreach has been engagement with the G20 – a group which is becoming more and more influential in global economic policy making and governance. One part of that engagement with the G20, of which you are proud, is the OECD work on taxation transparency and countering Base Erosion and Profit Shifting, known to us all now as “BEPS”.
Ireland is fully supportive of the OECD’s positive leadership on BEPS. We have been involved fully in the work and successes to date. As a small open economy - a small player in the economic game – we welcome the level playing field that an international rules-based approach brings to these issues.
Psychologically, Ireland may no longer be an “island behind an island”. But physically and economically we are still a small island, on the periphery of mainland Europe. We thus have to be able to play to our full potential on the level playing field you create. That must allow us to use our best tactics to remain cost competitive. Crucial amongst these is the ability to determine our own tax rates. The capacity to determine our mix of taxation and spending, within the limits we accept as a member of the euro area, is not just a core matter of competitiveness but one which goes to the heart of the democratic contract with citizens.
Mr Secretary General, I understand that after this evening’s session here in Iveagh House you will deservedly go out to celebrate Mexico’s national day with your much loved Ambassador and friends here in Dublin. In those celebrations you will, I expect, you will no doubt relive tough military battles won in adversity by your gallant countrymen. However, in doing so, you will no doubt also acknowledge that for Mexico, as for Ireland, the modern challenges are not battles of independence but the policy battles to achieve better lives for our citizens. For that we must remain competitive in a tough economic environment. In that spirit of admiration and respect we look forward to your Iveagh House lecture: "Shifting gear: policy challenges for the next 50 years".