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Minister Flanagan speech to the Global Irish Economic Forum

24th November 2015 - Charles Flanagan TD

Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan TD.

The Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World, 20 November 2015


Ladies and gentlemen, Members of the Global Irish Network.

Good morning once again!

When I made my introductory remarks a little earlier, I spoke of the importance which we rightly attach to commemorating the turbulent history of almost a century ago which set us on the path to take our place among the nations of the world.

Our hard won sovereignty €“ that ability to choose and pursue our own course in the world – which we cherished through good times and bad in the decades that followed, faced one of its greatest tests during the international financial crisis of recent years.

Since 2009, this Forum has marshalled the talent and goodwill of members of the global Irish community, as an important part of the government’s response to the perilous economic situation which we faced.

During a period of immense difficulty for the Irish people, you have made an important contribution to the work of recovery.

I know that you will continue to be there for us, as we move with confidence into a period of renewed prosperity and opportunity.

And as we move forward, as our fortune changes and we work for a future of prosperity and resilience, we want the Global Irish Network and Global Irish Economic Forum to continue to be a vital part of this project.

The Government’s relationship with the GIN is greatly valued, grounded not on interests but on kinship and affinity.

You and the global Irish bring a special dimension to the definition of being Irish that enriches us all precisely because it is forged through engagement in the wider world.

Without you and the global Irish we could not possibly be or have become the ‘Global Island’.

The Global Island is our foreign policy statement outlining how we engage with the world but, before considering this further, I would like to say a few words about why we are here today.

We are here to explore the next part of our journey, about how we, in partnership with you, create economic resilience and prosperity. We do this in a fast changing world. And we do this better together. Our mutual perspectives, the global island and the global Irish, give us each added value and added strength.

We should also take this opportunity to take stock of how we work together as we set ourselves new ambitions.

One way that I think would be valuable is to explore how we set ourselves tasks to achieve defined ends. However, I do not want to prescribe outcomes and look forward to the ideas that you will generate during this Forum.

I am sure that you are all looking forward to the panel discussion later today on “Ireland’s Place in the Global Economy”. I will try to avoid pre-empting that detailed discussion in my remarks this morning. Instead, I want to share some reflections on the broader question of Ireland’s foreign policy in a fast changing world.

Reviewing our foreign policy

Since the last meeting of this Forum in 2013, with the crisis receding and recovery taking hold, we have turned to the task of ensuring that our foreign policy is fit for purpose now and into the future.

In 2014, my Department, initially under the leadership of former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and later myself, began the process of a root and branch review of our foreign policy, assessing our priorities and capabilities against the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing world.

We did so in the shadow of the unprecedented economic collapse which we had experienced in 2008 and the years following.

This seismic event provided a stark illustration of our vulnerabilities as a small open economy, but also pointed up our strengths, such as our strong and longstanding relationships with our European partners, whose support was an important factor in the stabilisation of our national finances, enabling the economic recovery that followed.

During those years, the Department of Foreign Affairs acquired a new enhanced trade promotion role, and went on to play an important part at home and abroad in the work of building national recovery and helping to restore our international reputation.

A changing world

More than fifty years ago, with the world on the cusp of a tumultuous decade, President John F. Kennedy declared that “Time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life”.

Today, we must go further and acknowledge that extraordinary and rapid change is the law of our lives.

Consider that, in addition to the severe economic impact of the international financial crisis, we have seen, in the last few years alone:

– The rise of new transnational security challenges, including threats in cyber space, health security threats and deadly new forms of terrorism, exemplified by the indiscriminate slaughter of so many innocent people in Paris just one week ago

– The hopes raised and dashed in the Arab Spring, with increased conflict and destabilisation across the Middle East and North Africa spurring the largest movement of refugees since the Second World War

– A new crisis in Ukraine, and Russian actions which have posed a significant threat to the post-war international order

We have also seen enormous and complex societal change, driven in part by the rise of social media which connects people and ideas, and which poses new challenges for the relationship between government and the citizen.

This is a picture of a world in flux, in many ways more interconnected than ever, but also characterised by increasing fragmentation at state level, and by a growing atomisation of society.

We cannot know where the pieces will settle, nor what all of the long term implications may be.

However, the world is also now full of startling possibilities thanks to the digital revolution.

This has been an immensely valuable tool for Ireland because it allows our emigrants to stay in touch in ways that were inconceivable less than five years ago: Skype, Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, to name but a few.

It allows us to network with the global Irish in new ways that we are only beginning to grasp and to utilize. In many ways, the Global Irish Network is a pioneer in this great leap forward.

The digital revolution is transformational, revolutionising how we live and particularly how we spend. It is interceding in that vital space between producers and consumers in novel, disruptive and ever more cost effective ways. It is fundamentally empowering the end user, the consumer.

And it is transforming the public space where ideas are born and politics shaped. The world is now truly a digital village.

What the changing world means for our foreign policy

For those of us engaged in Irish foreign policy, the challenge is to understand and interpret this uncertain and transformational world as best we can, and to shape our foreign policy accordingly to best serve the interests of the Irish people.

Here is what we can say with certainty.

Today, our security, our prosperity and the wellbeing of our people are connected to the wider world as never before.

In 2015, nothing is entirely foreign or wholly domestic.

It follows that our foreign policy is more important to the Irish people now than at any time in our history.

Through it, we safeguard our peace, security and economic prosperity, and promote reconciliation and cooperation at home. At its core are the protection of our citizens and the promotion of our values abroad.

When we reviewed our foreign policy, we understood that we were not starting with a blank sheet of paper.

Irish people are rightly proud of our tradition of principled engagement on issues such as peacekeeping, development, human rights and disarmament.

We believe that such engagement is more important now than ever before, and it will remain an integral part of our foreign policy and a distinctive element of our contribution to international relations.

Because Ireland’s foreign policy is more than the sum of its engagements with the outside world. It is also a clear statement of who we are as a people.

Our values must therefore be at the heart of our approach to international relations.

Values vs Interests €“ A false choice

There are those in the world of foreign policy who argue that there is an inherent contradiction between the pursuit of national interest and the promotion of values.

From an Irish perspective, I cannot subscribe to this view.

For there is a great deal of commonality between Ireland’s values and our interests.

As a small state, we are instinctively sympathetic to the problems faced by those whose size, situation or history leaves them relatively powerless; as well as those who are afflicted by poverty or prone to natural disasters.

This can be seen in our approach to issues of justice and human rights; and in our strong commitment to development and humanitarian aid for least developed and disaster and conflict afflicted countries.

This is an expression of our solidarity, but as a small state, we also have a strong interest in working for the maintenance of a rules based international order, based on human rights, justice and development for all.

A multilateral rules based international order is our best guarantee of security, independence and freedom.

And if our prosperity relies on our ability to export goods and services, this in turn depends on the security and predictability of agreed multilateral rules, and on conflict prevention and resolution.

The economic wellbeing of our trading partners, on whom we as a trading nation rely for our own prosperity, also depends on global security and stability.

If Ireland is “a small cork bobbing on an open sea”, we must do all we can to help ensure that the sea remains as calm as possible.

Framing a foreign policy to meet challenges and take opportunities

Ladies and Gentlemen

The principles which I have described are at the heart of the new statement of our foreign policy priorities which the Taoiseach and I launched earlier this year, the first such statement in almost two decades.

Titled “The Global Island”, it offers a progressive and forward looking vision of our foreign policy and our place in the world.

That vision would simply not have been possible without the global Irish, those who through emigration or profession are engaged in the world; from our peace keepers, missionaries and NGOs to our emigrants of past and present generations.

The ‘Global Island’ sets out the detailed basis for our global engagement to safeguard a secure and prosperous future for the Irish people, and to make a principled, effective contribution to the collective international effort to build a better world.

It frames our future global engagement under separate but overlapping themes.

With a focus on our people, it rededicates us to the work of pursuing peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. It underlines our commitment to support Irish citizens travelling, working and living abroad. And it prioritises further development of our engagement with you, our global diaspora, and the promotion of Irish culture abroad.

Addressing our values, it makes clear our principled support for a fairer, more just, sustainable and secure world, and sets out how we will undertake to deliver on these principles, including through our development programme and our human rights, peacekeeping and security policies.

Building on the enhanced emphasis on economic diplomacy which delivered such value during the years of economic crisis, the statement directly connects the national and global efforts in support of recovery, growth and job creation.

Our global efforts to safeguard our prosperity and resilience will prioritise in particular the promotion of trade, tourism, education and investment, and the continued enhancement of Ireland’s reputation abroad.

The means to achieve our ambitions

The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that “If you will an end, you must will the means”. Of course, living some 200 years ago, he never had the pleasure of taking part in budget estimates discussions with our Department of Public Expenditure and Reform!

Still, his logic holds true today. Do we have the means to match our ambitions for our global engagement?

While we have been able to expand the footprint of our diplomatic network a little in recent years, our resources, though of high quality, are modest in size when set against those of comparable states such as Denmark and Finland.

Fortunately, we also have strong intangible assets that we bring to bear in our global engagement.

One of these is the strength of the international relationships which we have developed over many years.

Our bilateral relationship with the UK, our closest neighbour and most significant trading partner, is in better shape than at any time in our history.
The bond between our two countries has grown ever stronger on the foundation of our joint work for peace in Northern Ireland, bolstered in turn by our close partnership in the European Union.

Our relationship with the United States is one of extraordinary depth and energy, with ever stronger economic links, underpinned by ties of friendship based on history and culture.

We maintain strong political and economic relations with all of our partners in the European Union, while the Government’s enhanced focus on trade and economic diplomacy has seen the deepening of bilateral relations with a range of key global partners, including China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the Gulf States among others.

The fact that we have participants here this weekend from 29 countries is indicative of the reach of the Irish nation.

Our membership of the European Union has shaped and amplified our foreign policy for more than 40 years. It has transformed our economy and society in that time, and touches all areas of government with national and EU policy-making frequently interlinked.

It is fundamental to our interests, our security and our prosperity.

Through the EU, we possess an enhanced capacity to promote our values and advance our interests through the projection of our own foreign policy.

Working with partners who share our values, we can achieve immeasurably more than by acting alone.

As it has done for 60 years, our membership of the United Nations remains central to our foreign policy.

At the UN, we strive as we have always done to vindicate the principles and values enshrined in the UN Charter. We work for international peace and security; for human rights and fundamental freedoms; for economic and social development, and to tackle to threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change; and to eliminate the scourge of global poverty.

And we will bring our principles and values, plus an experience and understanding born of our own troubled history, to our campaign for election to the UN Security Council in 2020.

Delivering on our promise

The international relationships that we have painstakingly built and maintained, allied to our hard won reputation for principled and effective engagement, could be said to constitute the sum of the “soft power” that we can bring to task of delivering our foreign policy objectives.

But there is another critical element, which helped build this soft power and which is critical to its effective use.

This is the quality of our diplomacy.

Irish diplomacy has gained a reputation for professionalism, integrity and effectiveness over many years.
By our diplomacy, I mean our engagement in international relations in its widest sense: the President, Taoiseach, Tánaiste, members of the Government, as well as the diplomatic and civil service, and the state agencies, all working in concert in support of Ireland’s foreign policy objectives. The members of the Global Irish Network enhance and support our diplomatic efforts.

It is only such unity of effort, forged like never before in the white heat of the economic crisis, which can enable a small country to achieve its foreign policy goals in a turbulent world.

In reviewing our collective efforts, I believe that we have much to be proud of – but nothing to be complacent about.

The pace and scale of change which I have described will continue to transform the international environment in the years to come. We will need to be smart, agile and responsive: ready to adjust our approach as necessary, even as we maintain unity of effort, and always keeping our goals in view.

Ladies and gentlemen,
There is one final indispensable asset which amplifies our foreign policy and helps us to achieve our goals in the wider world
And that is you.

For woven throughout these relationships are the global Irish:
– the descendants, children and new emigrants to the UK give so much to its cultural and commercial life, including some 50,000 managing directors.

– the forty-odd million Irish Americans who built not only its cities and economy but much of its culture and gave a whole new dimension to its politics.

– those Irish working and living aboard in some far flung and often challenging environments, often relieving poverty or helping bring peace, who enhanced our reputation and standing in the developing world.

Ireland’s foreign policy is carried out on behalf of the Irish people.

It can only succeed with the support of the Irish people, including our global diaspora.

We are grateful for the vital role which the Global Irish Network and this Forum have played in supporting Ireland’s recovery from the depths of economic crisis.

I believe that you have an equally valuable part to play in the years ahead in helping Ireland to promote our values, protect our interests and safeguard our prosperity in a rapidly changing world.

I know that we can count on your support.

Thank you.


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