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Launch of Documents in Irish Foreign Policy, Volume XI

***Check aganist Delievery***

Remarks by

Simon Coveney, T.D., Tánaiste and Minister

for Foreign Affairs and Trade

at the launch of

Documents in Irish Foreign Policy, Volume XI

Iveagh House, 13 November 2018


Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to welcome you this evening to mark the launch of Volume Eleven in the series Documents on Irish Foreign Policy.


I’ll confess I was worried yesterday morning when I saw Colm Ó Mongáin tweeting that he had hold of confidential documents revealing tensions over the border. I relaxed when I heard they related to the period from 1957 to 1961.


It is twenty years since the first volume of Documents in Irish Foreign Policy was published and in that time the relationship between the National Archives, the Royal Irish Academy and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has gone from strength to strength.


At the outset, I want to express our thanks and congratulations to the dedicated team that made this volume possible: the editorial board, John McDonough, Director of the National Archives, Professors Bernadette Whelan, Dermot Keogh and Eunan O'Halpin, and especially, to the team of Michael Kennedy and Kate O’Malley, Executive Director and Assistant Editor of this project.


Also tonight I would like to pay particular tribute to Professor Ronan Fanning.  Ronan was one of the founders of the series and coedited volumes 1 to 10. Having devoted the greater part of his academic career to the history of Ireland’s foreign relations, in particular to British-Irish relations, Ronan’s deep engagement with Irish diplomatic history was indispensable to the first twenty years of Documents in Irish Foreign Policy.  It is perhaps fitting as we reflect on Ronan’s legacy, that I am announcing this evening that, as we look forward to future volumes, we have approved funding for a third researcher to join Michael and Kate. This investment is not only a vote of confidence in the sterling work of the existing team but also it will ensure that we will continue to have this invaluable series to track the development of Irish foreign policy in the second half of the twentieth century.


Volume elevencovers four and a half years between 1957 and 1961, a period that saw the leadership baton passed from Eamon De Valera to Seán Lemass and the first steps taken on the path to a modern Ireland.  The events it covers highlight issues and themes that resonate across the decades to the heart of contemporary Irish foreign policy.  


For me four themes stand out in this Volume:

Firstly, the prominence of the United Nations and Ireland’s activist role from the earliest days of our membership;

Secondly, the evolution of Ireland’s policy towards Europe and the centrality of European integration as the basis for a peaceful and stable continent;

Thirdly, the Irish government’s desire to improve and strengthen the relationships between Dublin, London and Belfast, even when events placed considerable strain on these connections; and

Finally, the early seeds of Global Ireland, covering a period that saw the expansion of our diplomatic network in Africa and Europe, as well as the broadening of the role of our Missions to cover the increasingly important trade and investment briefs.


These were issues of singular importance in Irish foreign policy as the 1950s turned into the 1960s.  We are shown, for instance, how internationalist activism at the United Nations has been a hallmark of Irish foreign policy for over two generations. 


In the late 1950s and early 1960s Minister for External Affairs Frank Aiken established this tradition of independent Irish activism in the General Assembly. Ireland placed the UN Charter at the centre of its UN policy, taking a leading role in areas ranging from the admission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN, to seeking to roll back the Cold War military forces in Europe. Ireland was also to the fore in opposing apartheid in South Africa and supporting the rights of recently independent states to a voice on the world stage via the UN, the world’s only truly global forum.


The years covered by this volume have justifiably been called a ‘Golden Age’ of Irish activism at the United Nations.  These were years of lively involvement across the widest range of General Assembly debates and committees.  It is striking how so many of these themes are still live issues for us in our engagement with the UN today.  For example, the Irish initiative that led to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 began in the period covered by this volume. The NPT remains a singular achievement for Irish diplomacy and remains a clear testament to Ireland’s desire for a more peaceful, safer world.


The period leading up to Ireland’s first term on the Security Council is covered in this Volume and coincided with the height of the Cold War. Ireland’s position in the General Assembly, military neutrality in the Cold War and an established United Nations track record provided a solid basis for us taking a seat on the United Nations’ main decision-making body in 1962. This was the first of three very successful terms on the Security Council. And we plan to ensure that proud tradition continues, by winning a seat at the top table again for 2021 and 2022.

The volume we’re launching this evening also traces the origins of Ireland’s engagement with that most important United Nations endeavour, peacekeeping. The despatch of personnel to serve in Sinai and Lebanon in 1958 was a new endeavour for the Defence Forces and for the Department of External Affairs. It created an experienced core of officers who two years later were to play a role in the much larger and epoch-defining Defence Forces deployment in Congo in 1960, in particular in Katanga province, and then from 1964 in Cyprus. 


These records make all too clear the human costs of peacekeeping. The volume starkly reveals the horror of the deaths of soldiers in the Niemba Ambush, which we commemorated last week. And it reminds us of the dangers Ireland’s peacekeepers faced, and continue to face, on UN service, including while covering the UN’s military operations in Katanga in the autumn of 1961.

This proud record of peacekeeping continues.  We are Europe’s largest per capita contributor of troops to UN Peacekeeping Operations, and today, our Defence Forces personnel serve in almost a dozen locations across the globe. Since 1958, not a day has gone by that Irish troops have not been on duty for the UN.


Volume XI charts the role played by Ireland in the early sixties, when, barely six years after we were admitted as members to the UN, Ireland took on the Presidency of the General Assembly in 1961.  Then, as now, no challenge was too daunting for our ministerial and diplomatic team! My predecessor and Minister of the day, Frank Aiken, played a big role, as did Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Frederick Boland.  The 1961 session of the General Assembly was a stormy one, with Boland bearing the wrath of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and most memorably breaking his President’s gavel in one particularly troublesome session, trying to silence an unruly delegate.

Possibly one of the best-known figures in this volume is Conor Cruise O’Brien, whose role as an intellectual driving force behind Ireland’s fearlessly internationalist United Nations policy is so well known.  If a work of history can end on a cliff-hanger, this volume does just that. It closes as the future of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s impossibly difficult task as the representative of the UN Secretary-General in Congo’s Katanga province hangs in the balance. Irish soldiers found themselves defending their position under siege in Jadotville, in events which have been recreated memorably by film-makers in recent years.


All this as the Government of the day faced into a General Election in October 1961. It was the perfect foreign policy storm!


WhileFrank Aiken championed Ireland’s independent engagement with the United Nations, back home, Taoiseach Sean Lemass provided the strategic guiding vision for Ireland’s foreign relations. Ireland’s involvement in European integration became a central pillar of Irish foreign policy during this era. Improved cross-border relations, a better relationship with London and an Ireland exporting its way to economic growth, in part via the economic plans of Ken Whitaker, paved the way for Lemass’s ultimate foreign policy goal for Ireland: membership of the European Economic Community.


Showing the centrality of the British-Irish relationship to Ireland’s relations with Europe, an Irish application for EEC membership took on a greater level of reality when it became clear that Britain was seriously considering Community membership.


By June 1961, Dublin was prepared to submit its application for full membership of the EEC to the President of the Council of Ministers in Brussels. As is the case today within the EU, Irish diplomats worked tirelessly with their counterparts in the capitals of EEC member states to ensure that they understood Ireland’s desire for EEC membership and the state’s willingness to play its part bringing Europe ever closer together as a common home. The first roots of European solidarity were taking hold for Ireland.


Closer to home, the Volume 11 documents also show how Lemass sought to improve both cross-border relations on the island of Ireland and the most central relationship in Irish foreign policy, the British-Irish relationship. This Department was developing new ideas on relations with Northern Ireland, in particular the principle of consent, and persuasion and co-operation began to replace propaganda as the driving forces behind building a new relationship with Belfast.


The role of diplomats was changing too. From the 1960s, the demands of developing Ireland’s global trading position meant that Ireland’s diplomats increasingly took on economic responsibilities.  We see the role of Embassies as promoters of Ireland’s economic interests becoming embedded for the first time during the early 1960s. The Department began to work with counterparts in semi-state bodies promoting trade and industrial development - in addition to the political and cultural promotion of Ireland they had engaged in since 1919. European integration meant economics was joining politics at the core of Irish foreign policy. 


In this Volume, we are entering into a period of expansion in the Irish diplomatic service with the opening of Ireland’s Embassy to the European Economic Community in Brussels (as part of the Irish Embassy to Belgium) and the opening of the Embassy to Nigeria in Lagos.  Once again, the Department’s direction of travel during this period resonates strongly with our global ambition in this century, as set out in our recent Global Ireland strategy, and as we embark on an unprecedented expansion of our international network.


There is so much richness in this Volume. Let me thank the editorial team for bringing together these voices of colleagues past, some of whose family members are here this evening. Collectively, the sense we get is of a diplomatic team at home and abroad that is instilled with an extraordinary sense of ambition for such a small country. It is a legacy that continues to inspire us today.


I am delighted to officially declare that Volume Eleven of Documents on Irish Policy will now take its place in this fine series. I am sure it will be a valuable resource for us all for many years to come.


Thank you for joining us here tonight.




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