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Address by the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin TD Global Ireland Summit

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A dhaoine uasail

Tá lúcháir orm a bheith anseo ar maidin ag an gcruinniú speisialta seo de cheannairí ó gach cearn de shaol na hÉireann. Is am an-dúshlánach é don domhan, agus pléifidh comhdháil an lae inniú an ról atá ag an gclár Éire Ildánach maidir le tionchar ár dtír ar an domhan a chur chun cinn ar mhaitheas na tíre seo agus ar mhaitheas na cruinne agus, i ndeireadh na dála, gur ionann an dá rud.


I am delighted to be here this morning at this special gathering of leaders from across Irish life. 


Our purpose today is to explore the role of the Global Ireland programme in building our country’s influence and impact in the world.


However - my personal focus today is not so much on what we are doing - but whyWhy it is right for Ireland to play a greater role in the world.


Why do we seek to exert influence abroad, and why do we seek to make a greater impact on global affairs.


And why is now the right time to show ambition in our role in international affairs.


Secondly, I want to reflect on the international context and the challenges and opportunities facing us as we pursue that ambition.


And thirdly to do a sense check – to consider the counterfactual of not having ambitions in global engagement.


Why Global Ireland matters


With influence and impact come responsibility:  So why do we do it? 


At root, the idea is simple.   If we believe we have something to bring to the table, it is important to be in the room when negotiations takes place; where first hand testimony is heard; when there is a shift in thinking;  where innovation happens; where we can be a positive part of the decision-making; where we contribute to events of cultural significance; or give clarity at a moment of political focus. 


A simplistic expression of the Global Ireland ambition is that we want to significantly increase the scope and impact of our global footprint by 2025. 


Impact is, of course, notoriously hard to measure.  But the kernel of the Global Ireland ideal is that it’s not only about diplomatic impact.  It’s about Ireland’s impact - the kind of impact that comes from human connection and human relationships.


And Global Ireland has to be by its very nature about all of us, all-of-Government, all of our agencies, our cultural institutions - and, crucially, about individual people - you, me, the academics, the artists, the musicians, the educators and thinkers, the public servants, the innovators, the makers and the service providers. 


The operationalambition of Global Ireland is to grow our international footprint, to be present and active in new cities and countries in the world, to build new partnerships, new business links, new alliances and new friendships. 


The strategic ambition is to make Ireland’s voice count for more on the international stage, to build our national reputation, to exert more influence, and to be a strong participant in global enterprise, trade, culture, diplomacy, peacebuilding, and development.


That is why the Global Ireland programme is necessarily ‘all of Government’. Yes, it’s Foreign Affairs, but it’s also Education, Environment, Enterprise, Arts and Culture – it’s Local Government, it’s our Universities, it’s trade and enterprise. It’s all of us. Working together.


A chairde, each of you is here because each of you is engaged every day in the process of making our country better and stronger.    You know that we need to value and to project an Irish identity that is enduring and authentic, and yet dynamic.  An Irish identity and voice that matters.   None of us can do it on our own - and the work that each of us does is a necessary part of the greater effort.


We build international relationships through trade, investment and partnership.  We strengthen those relationships through cultural exchange.  We are an educational powerhouse: our overseas students will be our friends and ambassadors long into the future.  We welcome the visitor, the traveller to our shores - they too become lifelong friends.


That is the essence of the Global Ireland programme: it is about all of us, working together towards a common aim - an objective that is ambitious but also honourable and necessary. 


Each of you here today - personally and as leaders of your organisations - is making an important contribution to delivering the mission of the Global Ireland Programme – one of the most ambitious all-of-government programmes in the history of our State.


The International Context


Today I intend to speak bluntly. 


And as we meet today with a terrible war raging in Europe, where hard power is doing its damnedest to cast aside multilateral institutions and international law, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that hard power for hard power’s sake does not win.   Russia must not benefit from this conflict.

As President Zelenskyy asked when he addressed the Houses of the Oireachtas last week, we, Ireland, have to show leadership.  That means engaging globally to keep front and centre our support for the rule of law, and the rights of countries to their independence, and to their own democratic political orientation.  These things matter.  We have to support and speak up for Ukraine, as they have asked us to do.   We have to hold Russia to account.


To do this and if we want to safeguard and restore peace and prosperity at home and abroad, ultimately we need to invest our human capital towards that ambition. 


We have to work hard to create lasting and sustainable relationships with our partners - built on trust, reciprocity and transparency.  We have to convince others that multilateral partnership matters.


This is a moment of great crisis - a time of great unpredictability for the world, for Europe, for all of us.  


This is also one of those moments when the distinction between domestic policy and foreign policy evaporates before our eyes.  


Events at the eastern edge of Europe will create challenges right across the European Union, throughout the Middle East and Africa.


Here, in Ireland, a damaging cycle of rising inflation and interest rates is impacting on the cost of living and will create challenges in our economy.  And we have a responsibility for the displaced people and refugees who have seen their homes and their communities laid waste by Putin. 


External problems are now also internal.  We are all touched by the war in Ukraine.  Our future wellbeing is tied to that of the wider European continent, and arguably wider than that.    In this context, we need to ensure that we get the balance right ensuring agility and resilience built on social, cultural and enterprising investment at home, and diversified and constructive relations abroad.


That word – security – now figures in our every conversation.


And although this sudden focus on security feels new and unexpected, it is not abnormal.  Democracy will never be unchallenged.  Territorial integrity is challenged repeatedly in every corner of the world. Every generation has to confront destructive, anti-democratic forces.  The unlawful, unjustified war in Ukraine is unlikely to be the last such moment in our lifetimes. 


We in Ireland, perhaps more than any other country, have reaped the rewards of free trade, free movement of capital and people.  We have used our freedoms well.  We have, largely speaking, found accommodations on our own terms with our colonial past.  We continue the work every day of building a more prosperous, safe and stable society.


As we celebrate the centenary of our independence, we also mark 50 years of membership of the European Union, an organisation that has achieved more for peace and prosperity in Europe than could ever have been imagined by its founders. 


Over the course of the next year, Ireland will mark this important anniversary with a comprehensive programme of events and initiatives involving our communities, our young people, our cultural institutions, our Embassies.


I am inviting everyone here today to be part of the EU50 programme in whichever way is appropriate for you and your organisation.


The European Union amplifies our freedom, underpins our economic security, and gives us an equal voice in a community of richly diverse nations and cultures. 


In short, we have achieved undreamed of levels of freedom, through revolutionary initiative, our own policy choices, but also as fortunate beneficiaries of European Union membership.  


With greater freedom comes greater responsibility – and now, at this time, it is fair that others would ask whether we are shouldering a fair share of responsibility - showing the leadership demanded of us – to safeguard those freedoms. 


In 1770, Edmund Burke said: [I quote]

… when bad people combine the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one.


Today, we would recognise those words as a clarion call to multilateralism.  We would also say that Burke’s sentiment explains exactly why the European Union was formed.  It is a strong union, that has to be strong.  It faces formidable external threats as well as internal challenges. 


The struggle to preserve, strengthen and deepen the European Union is one in which Ireland must be an active participant. 


The true significance of Global Ireland is that it represents a continuum in our national endeavour to build and to enjoy just and sustainable peace and prosperity.    


To an extent, the Global Ireland Strategy operates at two levels.  On one level it is a communication tool – a banner under which we showcase Ireland’s contribution to the EU and to the world– in terms of diplomacy, culture, trade, peacebuilding and development- and very essentially communicating this consistently and clearly, globally.    On another more strategic level, it is about investing our human capital judiciously and in an informed way, so that we can make a positive and distinctive difference -in terms of diplomacy, culture, trade, human rights – when and where it matters. 


When Frank Aiken addressed the UN General Assembly in October 1968, he said that the ultimate aim of multilateralism, must be [I quote]


…to foster the gradual evolution of the United Nations towards a system of world government in which disputes between nations will be settled by law based on justice rather than by force.

Sadly, the reality has not always lived up to the hope.  Today we are confronted with Security Council members that not only wield veto powers in their own interest, but seek to weaponise the United Nations agenda to their ends. 


Our UN ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason, has repeatedly called out the abuse of the Security Council by Russia, saying that its attempts to deny Russian culpability were “frankly appalling in their cynicism… an insult to the memory of slaughtered civilians.”


Can anyone now question whether we need the International Criminal Court and other instruments for enforcement of international humanitarian law?   Can there be any doubt that impunity for crimes against humanity must end?  Can any reasonable person say that we don’t need the European Union for collective action on sanctions against aggressors? 


Of course, there is always the temptation to say that nation states will always compete for advantage, regardless of human cost. 


Nonetheless, I hope you will agree the whole point of multilateralism is to undermine that fatalistic, nihilistic assumption, and to replace it with agreed legally binding structures – and, where needed, agreed sanctions - grounded in the simple premise that all human beings are to be accorded equal rights to security, to dignity and to life. 


Friends, colleagues – one hundred years ago as a newly independent country with very limited resources, Ireland did not retreat from the world.  We were always on a path to a Global Ireland.


One of our first external acts as an independent state was to join the League of Nations. 


Our unbroken record of UN peacekeeping is unsurpassed by any other nation. 


Irish Aid and our outstanding NGOs have been models of best practice in crises and emergencies all over the world


Our economy is one of the most open and globalised in the world, drawing strength from its absolute adherence to rule of law and reliability


We campaigned hard to get a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021-2022, precisely so that we could be a voice for the weak, the smaller, the marginalised and the oppressed of the world. 


The counterfactual

But let’s first remind ourselves again about why we want to do this. 


The liberal democracy which has seen us flourish will not exist unless we advocate for it. 


To be effective, however, we have to listen, to build new partnerships, we have to be present in places where we have not previously been. 


That is why we will open 26 new Missions under the Global Ireland programme, 14 of which are now open, 5 more in the pipeline, and we will announce a further 7 over the lifetime of the programme.


This is by far the most ambitious expansion of our international footprint since the foundation of our state.


Minister Ryan will address Ireland’s role regarding the global climate crisis later this morning.  But, sustainability is not just about the climate or biodiversity, or urban or rural living. Political, structural and organisational sustainability is equally critical to our future. 


From misinformation and disinformation to cyber warfare, from destabilisation in the Western Balkans to the very heart of American democracy, autocracy can be a deadly virus – we see that today in Ukraine. 


This is a time for realism, not despondency.   A time for engagement, not retreat.


It was being there in the room that enabled the peace process on this island to build a durable framework; it is being there on St Patrick’s Day that gives a face or a voice to Irish culture, it is being there as peacekeepers that helps countries transition to peace; it is being at the table at the European Council that gives us a say in shaping our continent.   


This is our work.  It is the right work for Ireland.  It is the right time for that work. 


Thank you for coming here today, and thank you for playing your part in helping deliver on the ambition of Global Ireland.


Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.