Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs
10 December 2013
Opening Remarks by the Minister of State for European Affairs on the Review of Ireland’s Foreign Policy and External Relations
Mr Chairman, Members of the Committee
I welcome the opportunity to address the Committee on the Review of Foreign Policy and External Relations, which we are currently undertaking in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The purpose of the review, which was launched by the Tánaiste on 8 October, is to provide an updated statement of Ireland’s foreign policy and external relations, and to identify a series of recommendations for its conduct.
As the Tánaiste said when launching the review, Ireland’s foreign policy and external relations are fundamental aspects of Government.
It is the means by which we promote our values and pursue our interests abroad. Through it, we pursue Ireland’s economic prosperity, and promote peace and security, both at home and in the wider world.
Our foreign policy is also a statement of who we are as a people, and how we wish ourselves to be seen by the outside world.
Through my work as Minister for European Affairs I am aware on a daily basis of the central importance of these facts.
Following our successful EU Presidency in the first half of this year, and the Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2012, and our election to the UN Human Rights Council, we have an opportunity to reflect on the future direction of our foreign policy, the values and interests we seeks to promote through it, and how it contributes to achieving Government objectives.
The vital work of restoring our international reputation and promoting our economic recovery are priorities for the Government. The international leadership roles which we have undertaken as a country have done much to achieve this goal.
So, too, has the building of political relationships with European and other partners, through regular participation by Ministers at Council meetings in Brussels, and through trade missions and visits abroad.
In our last meeting, I emphasised the importance of taking every opportunity to ensure that Irish positions are understood at political level and of keeping up to date on the developing priorities and challenges for our partners. Our Foreign Policy is central to both of those goals.
This has been particularly important during the EU Presidency and the important negotiations in Europe on banking and fiscal issues.
Political contact at the highest levels has been central to this.
Our embassies and other diplomatic and consular offices in Europe and around the world have also made a vital contribution.
They are working hard to realise our goals - presenting the best case for Ireland, influencing decisions that affect us; together with the State Agencies, working with Irish business, promoting our trade, tourism, education and investment in addition to providing a full range of services to our citizens abroad, sometimes in difficult and tragic circumstances.
As we look to the future, and as we exit the EU / IMF programme, it is timely to reflect on the future direction of our foreign policy.
The Review will consider a broad range of issues, reflecting the breadth of our external engagement:
• How we set our external priorities;
• How we engage as an EU member state;
• How we contribute to economic recovery and growth through promoting our trade, tourism and investment;
• The pursuit of peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland;
• The services we provide to our citizens abroad and our relationship with the Irish Diaspora;
• The contribution of our International Development policy; and
• How we ensure Ireland is a respected international actor.
These are all important issues, as are other aspects of our foreign policy which the review will consider.
Membership of the European Union is fundamental to our interests, both in foreign policy and domestic terms. Indeed, our EU membership is inseparable from the pursuit of our foreign policy, as it is from so many aspects of domestic policy.
As our engagement with the European Union is wider than the foreign policy sphere, being at the core of the day-to-day business of all Government Departments, the review will not examine our EU Policy in detail.
Instead, the focus will be on the contribution of our foreign policy and external relations, as well as the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade across Government, to the promotion of Ireland’s interests within the EU, on the one hand, and to ensuring that Europe’s voice is stronger at a global level, on the other. The extent that we are able to promote a strong image of ourselves through our foreign policy outside the EU will contribute to our ability to pursue our objectives within it.
Ireland’s foreign policy has been hugely influenced by our engagement in the EU since joining in 1973. Our EU membership influences our relations with third countries, for example in shaping trade policies with key partners. In turn, our relations with those countries also strengthen our voice at the EU table.
Many of today’s challenges, such as cyber security, climate change, and migration, are not defined by borders and regions, but require global solutions.
With 28 countries speaking as one, Europe’s voice is stronger in the world and this allows the European Union to speak with authority at a global level.
The EU is uniquely placed to shape the way the international community addresses these and other global challenges, and Ireland is committed to playing its part in shaping how the EU engages on these issues.
Let me say a few words about how the review is being taken forward.
Given the wide-ranging nature of our foreign policy and external relations, it is important that we consult widely.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is facilitating a broad-based consultation process, involving all Government Departments, the State Agencies, academics and experts, business organisations, interested stakeholders and civil society.
This is being complemented by a detailed process of consultation and analysis being undertaken within my Department, involving our network of embassies and other offices abroad.
A public consultation exercise was launched on 4 December, in the form of an invitation to members of the public and interested stakeholders to contribute written views. The deadline for submissions is 4 February 2014. Information on how to make a submission is available on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I very much hope that those with an interest in our foreign policy and our place in the world will seize this opportunity and contribute views and inputs to the review process.
It is important that the Oireachtas should make its contribution to the review, as it does to the process of shaping and overseeing our foreign policy, through the work of this and other Committees on a ongoing basis.
The Tánaiste met last week with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and trade, for a broad-ranging discussion on the review.
A meeting will also be arranged with the Joint Committee on Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement to discuss issues arising from the Review that are within the Committee’s remit.
Issues raised here today, as well as at these other meetings, will constitute an important input to the review process. We also welcome written inputs from this Committee and from individual members of the Oireachtas.
The review will also take account of a number of recently concluded or ongoing review processes, including the Government’s new policy for International Development – One World, One Future – adopted in May this year; the White Paper on Defence currently being prepared by the Minister for Defence; and the review of the Government’s Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy, Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy.
The purpose of the review is to provide an updated statement of Ireland’s foreign policy and to identify a series of recommendations for its conduct, with a view to ensuring that the Government is equipped with the right mix of policies and instruments to protect and promote Ireland’s values and interests in a changing international environment.
This is a timely and important review. Its outcome will guide our external engagement in the years ahead.
The outcome of the Review, scheduled for the second quarter of 2014, will be a policy document setting out the core objectives of Ireland’s foreign policy and the measures and instruments required to secure their delivery.
I look forward to working with you, Mr Chairman, with Committee members and with the Oireachtas to ensure we craft the right polices to promote our values and our interests.
I look forward to today’s discussion, to hearing the views of members, and to receiving further input in due course. With your agreement, I do not propose to respond in detail to policy suggestions at this time. I can assure you, however, that I will take careful note of all proposals, as will the officials with me today, and that these will be fully taken into account when preparing the outcome of the review.