Ireland – An island at the centre of the world and at the heart of Europe

Fine Gael believes in an Ireland at the heart of the common European home that we helped build. We brought Ireland into the Single European Act and Single Market and we are a pro-European party. Our commitment to Europe is aligned with our ambition to be an island at the centre of the world. On the international stage, we must be a voice for peace, multilateralism, free trade, free markets, security, sustainability and social justice.

Our policy therefore is:

  • the building of a strong European Union focused on further integration where that benefits citizens and greater subsidiarity where appropriate;
  • maintaining a close partnership with our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, after Brexit;
  • expanding our links with and presence in all parts of the world; and
  • taking a leadership role in multilateral bodies like the United Nations and on issues such as international development, hunger and education.

Among the actions that will be brought forward to meet this ambition are:

Delivering Global Ireland – Ireland’s global footprint to 2025

Fine Gael is fully committed to implementing ‘Global Ireland’, the ambitious plan for the doubling of Ireland’s overseas impact over the next seven years. The world is changing rapidly with events like Brexit; changing attitudes to trade, tax and migration; and the shifting of political and economic power to the global south and east. As a small country reliant on international trade, Ireland must respond to these trends now, not in five or ten years’ time. That is why Global Ireland must be implemented now. It will be done by doing things differently, doing things better, and harnessing all the overseas activities of government together to the greatest possible extent. In practice, this means:

  • opening up new embassies and consulates in important locations around Europe and the world;
  • strengthening existing missions;
  • investing more in our agencies, such as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Tourism Ireland to avail of new markets and opportunities;
  • sharing our culture more widely around the world and deepening links to our global diaspora;
  • building new air and sea connections; and
  • welcoming more international students to Ireland.

We are also fully committed to Ireland’s campaign to seek election to the United Nations Security Council for the 2021-2022 term.

The future of Europe

Irish people are among the most pro-European citizens in the EU. We want to shape the Europe of the future, to share our designs and ideas and not just respond to the plans of others.

In looking at the future direction of Europe, Fine Gael believes it must be guided by the following principles:

  1. continuing to do well what it currently does well;
  2. focus on the big new challenges facing Europe and its citizens;
  3. where appropriate, devolve some powers back to member states, municipalities and regions; and
  4. engage citizens more and engage them more directly.

The solidarity of our EU partners throughout the Brexit negotiations has been, as expected, strong and united. The strength of support from the 26 member states demonstrates that our international standing is stronger now than it was at any time before we joined the European Union or since. That solidarity brings with it a responsibility to help face our collective issues, and to lead and shape the future of Europe.

Encouraging greater engagement with Europe

If Ireland is to better shape Europe’s future direction, then we require a greater level of engagement between Irish citizens and the EU. Promoting European education programmes such as Erasmus and Horizon 2020; encouraging more Irish people to work in the EU institutions; and crucially, increasing the linguistic abilities of the Irish people will give Ireland more credibility at a European level while offering Irish citizens even more opportunities to live, work and travel across Europe.

We are fully committed to implementing the ‘Foreign Languages Strategy 2017-2026’. This sets out a roadmap to put Ireland in the top ten countries in Europe for the teaching and learning of foreign languages, through a number of measures to improve proficiency, diversity and immersion.

Forging new alliances in the post-Brexit European Union

From the moment Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, we were closely aligned to the actions and influence of our nearest neighbour, the UK. Now that the UK is leaving the EU, we must forge strong alliances with other member states with whom we share common goals and interests.

Ireland has much in common with the Benelux countries, the three Nordic countries and the three Baltic countries, particularly with regard to tax, trade and enterprise. We believe it is in our national long-term strategic interests to closely align ourselves with those nations and develop deeper bonds in the years ahead. However, we should not confine ourselves to any one bloc. We are close to France on agriculture, are an island nation like Malta and Cyprus, and neutral like Austria for example.

These alliances can only be secured through regular contact and communication at a ministerial, administrative and political level.

Presence in the European Union

‘Global Ireland’ commits us over the next seven years to strengthening our permanent representation in Brussels, as well as our embassies in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and the Nordic/Baltic countries and to open a new consulate in Frankfurt, among other actions. We will also examine the possibilities of secondments between the Irish civil and public service and the civil and public services in other EU member states to build up these links and also allow for exposure to different and potentially better ways of doing things. While a small number of these schemes are already in places, there is scope to do much more.

However, increasing our diplomatic presence without ensuring strong political engagement is a recipe for failure. As long as Fine Gael is in government we will place a premium on ministerial attendance at European Council meetings. In the 2000s, ministerial attendance at European meetings dropped off, and this damaged our standing in Europe with other member states and with the EU institutions. We must ensure that our engagements with Europe are sustained. Only Fine Gael, as the most pro-European party can be relied upon to maintain this engagement which is essential to our long term interests.

Irish people have occupied some of the most senior positions in the EU civil service over the past four decades. It is important that we maintain and build on that record. Fine Gael in government will actively encourage and facilitate Irish civil servants and private sector workers to pursue careers in the EU institutions. We will continue efforts to familiarise graduates with the Stagiaire programme and the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), the EU’s recruitment service.

Fine Gael, a committed member of the European People’s Party

Fine Gael is a founder member of the European People’s Party (EPP). The EPP brings together the centre and centre-right political parties from across Europe and advocates in favour of a strong, transparent and efficient Europe at the service of its citizens. It is the largest and most influential political grouping in Europe, spread across dozens of countries, with many EU heads of state and government, European Commissioners, as well as Presidents Tusk and Juncker among its members.  Fine Gael’s membership of the EPP means that Ireland has a respected voice within this important and influential bloc and also has the opportunity to shape its direction.

Fine Gael is fully committed to the fundamental values on which the EU was built – human dignity, the social market economy, freedom, democracy, equality of opportunity, respect for human rights and the rule of law – and we will fight for those values in our engagement with EU institutions and the EPP.

Continuing our deep and close relationship with the United Kingdom

Fine Gael believes that our relationship with our nearest neighbour is more profound and enduring than the issue of Brexit. Our common history is complex and ever-changing and our economies are interwoven. The United Kingdom is the place that so many of our diaspora, our family and friends, call home, where they live, work, and study.

Post-Brexit, regular meetings with UK ministers simply will not happen as a matter of course, like they do now. It will be a priority for Fine Gael that regular contact and communication between the Irish and British governments is maintained at all levels. In parallel with our efforts to get the Northern Ireland Executive back up-and-running, we have sought to revive structures of the Good Friday Agreement which fell into abeyance under Fianna Fáil. For example, we have successfully reinvigorated the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which most recently met in November.

New structure for Irish-UK cooperation

Following the latest meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, the Irish and UK governments have agreed to work up new proposals on how to maintain and strengthen a high level of bilateral cooperation post-Brexit. The new model would include summits led by the Taoiseach and UK Prime Minister. It would involve senior ministers and alternate between Ireland and the UK. An annual summit of all senior Ministers would allow for cooperation across a broad range of issues of shared interest – everything from energy to environment, and from transport to technology and employment. The details of the new model will be finalised early in 2019. These structures matter as much because of the personal interactions they help facilitate as any kind of formal agendas. British and Irish politicians and officials need to keep working and meeting together, to ensure the understanding we have of each other does not diminish.

Once the final nature of Brexit is understood, we will review all aspects of our relationship with the United Kingdom and identify the areas which require greater strengthening and focus.  As a first step in this, we will strengthen our representation in our embassy in London, and open up two new consulates, one in Cardiff and another in northern England.

Leading on international development

Ireland has a proud history when it comes to the developing world thanks to the historic efforts of our missionaries, our NGOs and Irish Aid. This embodies our values, but also reflects our interests. Our values recognise that preventing war, ending hunger, tackling climate change and bettering the lives of those around the world that are less fortunate is simply the right thing to do. Our interests dictate that by doing this, we will be creating the trading partners of tomorrow, dealing with the source of Europe’s migration problems and demonstrating to our peers in the developed world that we are prepared to give as well as to receive.

We are committed to making incremental, sustainable progress towards the UN target of providing 0.7% of GNI* in ODA by 2030. Already progress has been made with an increase from €707m in 2018 to €818m in 2019. To reach the 0.7% of GNI* target, that will need to increase to €2.45 billion by 2030 on current projections. Given the scale of this commitment, we will seek to establish all-party support for this commitment in the Oireachtas. Budget 2019 marked a significant first step on this journey in allocating an additional €111 million for overseas development assistance – the highest increase in over a decade.

Our commitment to significantly increase the ODA budget will keep us on track towards achieving our commitments under the 2030 Agenda and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Re-imagining the relationship of Ireland and the EU with Africa

A much more intensive and meaningful EU-Africa partnership is required if we are to deal effectively with our shared challenges. Fine Gael in government wants to move beyond our traditional focus on aid towards building new multi-faceted partnerships with a young, swiftly growing African continent including trade, security and education. It should be one based on mutual respect and which, through partnership, helps the two continents deal with the multiple challenges of climate change, food security, energy security, water security, migration, corruption, and regional conflict. We support an EU Marshall Plan for the countries of Africa.

Advocating for a renewal of the Middle East peace process

Fine Gael believes in a two-state solution to the Middle East Peace Process, which will allow Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace and security. Ireland will support international efforts to deliver in good faith on these long-overdue objectives. Ireland will play a leading role in strengthening the EU’s response to the construction of settlements on Palestinian territory in order to help create the political and physical space in which a two-state solution can be achieved. We will also seek to build consensus at EU level. It is through multilateral engagement and maintaining open lines of communications that Ireland can act most effectively on these issues. We will deliver on our commitment to recognise the state of Palestine as part of a lasting settlement or if we feel it makes a constructive contribution to the Middle East peace process.

Being the European ‘bridge’ to the USA

The Irish and US economies are closely intertwined with 150,000 people employed in Ireland by US companies and 70% of FDI into Ireland originating from the US. In the other direction, more than 100,000 people are employed in Irish enterprises located across all 50 states in the US. Policy, taxation and trade changes may present obstacles in the years ahead, but we are committed to strengthening and deepening that relationship culturally, diplomatically and economically.

Under Fine Gael in government, we have already expanded our network in the United States from its traditional base, in cities such as Washington, Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, and economic hubs such as Austin. We are committed to the ambitious expansion of our diplomatic, enterprise and cultural footprint in the USA as outlined in ‘Global Ireland’. We will be publishing a new US and Canada strategy early in 2019, which will flesh out new initiatives to strengthen the transatlantic relationship. This will see us broaden our engagement with the diaspora, expand the IDA’s presence in Washington DC, New York, Seattle, Raleigh Durham in North Carolina, and Mountain View in California, expand Enterprise Ireland’s presence in New York and Boston, as well as increase resources for Tourism Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland.

In the context of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, we will position Ireland as the EU’s bridge between Ireland and the United States, acting as a strong advocate for free trade, as well as closer economic and cultural ties across the Atlantic. We shall seek to lead within the EU on creating a common transatlantic approach to data protection, privacy and the protection of intellectual property.

Connecting with our Diaspora

Fine Gael will develop a new policy and strategic approach to improving linkages with our 70-million strong Irish diaspora overseas, including the publication of a new diaspora strategy in 2020.

The Office of the President represents more than just the citizens living in Ireland, it represents all Irish citizens. That is why we support extending the franchise at Presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the state. This referendum will take place on the date of the local and European Elections in May 2019.  If passed, this will allow Irish citizens – no matter where they live – to vote in the next Presidential elections. This will be a tangible demonstration of the import that Fine Gael attaches to our diaspora.

Fine Gael will continue to support Irish citizens in the US by (i) increasing pathways for legal migration by Irish citizens to the US and (ii) finding a solution for undocumented Irish citizens to regularise their status.

Maintaining our commitment on peacekeeping

Since 1958 Ireland has had a continuous presence on United Nations peace operations.  This is one example of the patriotism and professionalism displayed by members of the Defence Forces, both at home and overseas, that is of great pride to the Irish people, as well as being a real source of international leadership.  We will continue to ensure that the Defence Forces have the appropriate resources to maintain that commitment in the time ahead.  Utilising this experience and Ireland’s position of military neutrality we will actively engage on the international stage and continue to espouse the importance of multilateralism in support of international peace and security.  As part of this, we will also develop a new Institute for Peace Support and Leadership Training in the Curragh.