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Africa Day 2019 Reception - Remarks by Minister Cannon

 

I am delighted to welcome you to Iveagh House today. Last year’s Africa Day reception was my first as Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, so it is a pleasure to be back with you again. Since then, I have visited Zambia and witnessed first-hand some of ways Ireland and our African partners are working together – in business, in development and in promoting our shared values, and met representatives of many African countries in the margins of multilateral meetings.

 

We are here to celebrate the 56th anniversary of Africa Day, a day that reminds us of the strong and lasting bonds of Ireland’s partnership with Africa. It is fantastic to see this partnership at the community level. I am delighted that local authorities throughout Ireland responded so positively to our invitation to engage in helping communities to celebrate Africa Day 2019 by leading their own events and celebrations.

 

The marking of Africa Day in Ireland has changed hugely from the initial celebrations over a decade ago. County Councils around Ireland have gotten more involved, showing the desire for real community engagement.

 

Reflecting on the positive engagements, we this year decided to refresh the Dublin celebrations, to root them much more in communities – the places where we live each day. We are working with the four Dublin councils, and with other institutional stakeholders, to put in place a new, more collaborative approach at local level will help to promote the concept and values of Africa Day on an ultimately larger scale. I also believe that it will help relations within communities here in Ireland and wider relations between Ireland and the countries of Africa to go from strength to strength over the period ahead.  

 

Indeed, it was wonderful to see the diversity and richness of African culture on display during the many events that were held to mark Africa Day throughout Ireland. This year, we have seen a record number of these events taking place around the country, with ten local authorities bringing communities together in celebration of Africa. Although many of these communities have been involved in Africa Day for a number of years, some are engaging with the celebrations for the first time, highlighting the growing appetite for integration and engagement by and with African communities around the country.

 

While Africa Day is officially celebrated on May 25th, many of the celebrations are still ongoing. I want to thank our colleagues from the local authorities concerned, many of whom are represented here this evening, for having organised such a wide-ranging programme of events which will run until next weekend and beyond. It is a mark of the importance of African cultures and traditions in communities throughout Ireland where the celebrations have become an annual event.

 

Some of the highlights from this year’s programme have included African-themed film festivals in Cork and Galway, as well as a school football tournament which focused on teaching students about Africa and the importance of combatting racism. Street festivals and family fun days took place across the country with live music with performances by African and Irish musicians, traditional African drumming, dance workshops and culturalperformances. I also look forward to the other events that are planned for the coming days, which will see the sounds and tastes of Africa brought to life.

 

In an ever more divided world, where certain groups are determined to divide people into an ‘us and them’, we must take every opportunity to celebrate the value of each other’s’ traditions and culture.

 

As the Minister of State for the Diaspora, I understand the importance that a diaspora plays in society. The Africa diaspora contributes so much to Ireland in terms of culture, business, and music and by broadening the horizons of our small island.  The recent Africa day events perfectly showcase your contribution to Ireland.

 

In February, we launched our new whole of government policy for International Development ‘A Better World’ which marks a step change in our approach. It provides the framework for Ireland’s expanding development programme, in line with our commitment to reach the UN target of allocating 0.7% of our GNI to official development assistance (ODA) by 2030. The new policy commits to strengthening, deepening and expanding Ireland’s existing partnership with African countries, to reflect the dynamism of the continent. Development cooperation is only one thread in the increasingly intricate fabric of our relations with Africa. At the core of this partnership, there is a commitment to promote inclusive economic growth and trade and support initiatives that seek to foster trade and investment.  Our approach sees two-way trade as a step towards supporting economic growth and creating jobs, both here and on the African continent, for the mutual benefit of all our citizens.

 

In October last year, we held the 6th Africa Ireland Economic Forum which focused on the complementary themes of agri-food and women in business. It is important that we continue to find opportunities for business people to come together to identify their shared interests and to forge real and lasting relationships.

 

We have already signalled our interest in expanding our footprint in West Africa. We are expanding our capacity in Nigeria to engage more effectively across the range of issues from conflict resolution to humanitarian action and development in the Lake Chad basin.  We have opened an Embassy in Liberia and we are in the process of joining the African Development Bank.

 

Ireland has now joined the Francophonie as an observer, with the intention of opening missions over the next few years in Francophone Africa.  This will build on our traditional relationship with English speaking countries on the continent, mainly in East Africa.  There is much Ireland can and should be doing in Francophone Africa.

 

Like Ireland’s presence across Africa, the African diplomatic community in Ireland is growing and we warmly welcome your active participation in these events and in forging mutually beneficial relationships between Ireland and African nations.

 

I hope that everyone here today had an opportunity to experience this year’s celebrations, and I wish you all the best for the remaining events. Happy Africa Day!

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