Africa Day 2017 Reception
Iveagh House, 25 May 2017
Remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan
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[Excellencies, Members of the Oireachtas, Ladies and Gentlemen]
I am delighted to be here with you this afternoon, to celebrate Africa Day. Across Ireland, people from all backgrounds came together last weekend to celebrate the richness and diversity of the cultures of Africa, and the vibrant contribution the Africa diaspora on this island has made to our society.
It also provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon the close relationships between Ireland and the countries of the African continent. We are all aware that the people of Ireland have long held a deep affinity for Africa. As far back as the nineteenth-century, Irish men and women travelled to Africa as part of the missionary movement, a phenomenon which remains central in our historical memory.
We share with countries in Africa the experience of colonisation, and the struggle for independence. Last year, we marked the centenary of the Easter Rising, and we continue to remember the various watershed events which form our Decade of Commemoration. We know what it is to experience violent conflict, and to come through it to a place of reconciliation.
This has given us some understanding of the challenges faced by other countries and regions affected by conflict, and a willingness to share our understanding of how such conflicts might be overcome.
Irish peacekeepers have also served in African countries over many years, some 64,000 since our first deployment to the Congo in 1960.
But, more recently, our relationship has matured, and broadened. It is no longer viewed primarily through the lens of the missions, of peace-keeping, or of our aid programme. The Africa Strategy adopted by the Government in 2011 sets out a holistic framework for the relationship, committing us to deepening our ties with the countries of Africa. Steady progress has been made since then, with eleven Irish Embassies now operating across the continent, and eight Embassies from African countries based in Ireland.
In that respect, I would like to welcome, in particular, the opening of the Embassy of the Republic of Sudan in Ireland, since we marked Africa Day last year.
Trade and economic development represents an increasingly important dimension of this partnership. Ireland Connected, the strategy for trade and investment adopted by the Government in March, commits us to a deepened engagement with Africa. Ireland’s Embassies in Africa, together with our state agencies, Irish businesses and our partners in Africa, in the state and private sectors, will continue to work together to develop our economic relationship in order that all our citizens can enjoy the fruits of increased prosperity.
2017 will be a defining year not just for relations between Ireland and Africa, but between Africa and the Europe. Later this year, Côte d’Ivoire will host the 5th EU-Africa Summit. It is increasingly clear that the future security and prosperity of Europe and Africa are fundamentally interdependent.
We can all benefit, if we seize the opportunity to learn from each other and work together in a revitalized partnership. If, however, we allow the opportunity to pass, we fail not just ourselves, but our young people, whose aspirations will be the focus of our discussions in Abidjan.
The Summit will also consider how best the European Union can work with together with Africa, to achieve the objectives set out in the African Union’s Agenda 2063. This is an ambitious framework, envisioning a peaceful, secure and prosperous Africa. Its vision is fully in line with Ireland’s, and Europe’s, hopes for the continent.
More importantly, though, it is a vision driven by the peoples of Africa themselves. And Ireland, through its membership of the European Union, will continue to play a central role in supporting the achievement of those ambitions.
In Africa Day, we mark the establishment of the Organisation for African Unity, where 32 countries came together and signed up to a new vision for Africa – dedicated to the welfare of all Africans, and ensuring that Africa countries would have a voice in world affairs.
My hope is that by this time next year, we will have seen another significant step forward in making that vision a reality.