Speech by Charlie Flanagan, T.D. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
Irish Humanitarian Summit, UCD, 2 July, 2015
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Minister Sherlock, Prof Deeks, Prof Evans, distinguished guests,
I am very pleased to address you this morning at this first ever Irish Humanitarian Summit.
Last year the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, launched the World Humanitarian Summit process – a global consultation that will culminate in a Summit in Istanbul in May next year. The Secretary General’s initiative is a call to action at a time of immense humanitarian need around the globe.
Rising Levels of Humanitarian Need
The number of those in need of assistance has almost doubled in the last decade. Natural disasters are more frequent. They do more damage. They are often followed by further disasters before victims have had a chance to recover from the first.
Record numbers of people are fleeing war and persecution. One child in ten lives in a situation of armed conflict. More than half of refugees worldwide are women and children. It is the poorest communities who are worst affected by natural and man-made crises; it is the poorest men, women and children who suffer the most.
The amount of humanitarian assistance given by the international community grew last year, but, regrettably, the demand was so great that the increased aid was insufficient to meet the rapid increase in humanitarian needs.
Challenges to Humanitarian Response
The challenge, in the face of the increased number, scale and complexity of crises, is enormous. And the challenge is not just financial. Crises caused by conflict are increasingly complex and intractable – impacting neighbouring countries and jeopardising regional stability. In many conflict situations, providing assistance to the communities affected is extremely difficult. Parties to conflict are often unwilling to respect international humanitarian law and frequently prevent humanitarian access to people in need. Humanitarian and healthcare workers are increasingly targeted in situations of conflict – indeed some have lost their lives in their efforts to assist besieged civilian populations.
We face other challenges as an international community in preventing and responding to crises – not least the intractable nature of the growing and complex conflicts that have driven mass population displacement.
And we face challenges of effectiveness. Poor coherence and a failure to use all of the resources at our disposal - be that development and humanitarian funding or political and security engagement – hampers the international community’s ability to tackle the root causes and effectively respond to humanitarian crises.
And so, Secretary General Ban’s initiative is timely. The World Humanitarian Summit offers us an opportunity to challenge ourselves to bring new thinking to preventing and responding to humanitarian emergencies. We in Ireland have answered Secretary General Ban’s call to action by initiating our own Humanitarian Consultation last year. The hard work undertaken in this multi-stakeholder consultation process culminates in today’s first ever Irish Humanitarian Summit.
Ireland’s Foreign Policy Commitment
Our commitment to humanitarian action is rooted in the values we espouse in our new Foreign Policy Review, ‘The Global Island’, which was approved by the Government in January. These values underlie Ireland’s commitment to a fairer, more just, more secure and sustainable world. Our commitments are supported and enhanced by our development policy and our work to advance protection of human rights, peacekeeping, disarmament and security policy, as well as our engagement with global challenges, such as climate change.
Ireland is well placed to add value to the global debate. On his visit here in May, Secretary General Ban commended Ireland’s commitment to the UN and joined us in celebrating sixty years of Irish membership. For my part, I emphasised my commitment to ensuring a strong and effective United Nations and to supporting his efforts to improve the global response to humanitarian emergencies.
As a small but active member of the United Nations family of nations, Ireland is dedicated to the principles and values enshrined in the UN Charter.
Ireland has been one of the strongest supporters of the three pillars of the UN’s work on peace and security, human rights and development. Each of these pillars is critical to the prevention and response to humanitarian crises.
In recent times the international community has faced a proliferation of challenges - conflict, terrorism, epidemics such as Ebola, climate change and hunger – each have acute human consequences.
The displacement caused by protracted conflict has lasting devastating impact on the families who have had to flee their homes and communities.
Many of these very vulnerable people have fled war and persecution to seek refuge here in Europe. I share the horror felt by so many of us at recent tragedies in the Mediterranean, where hundreds of families lost loved ones in truly shocking circumstances. The Foreign Affairs Council, which I attend on a monthly basis, is working to address the crisis through a variety of approaches, including tackling the root causes. For our part, Ireland is making a significant contribution to addressing the root causes of displacement in countries of origin, notably through our humanitarian assistance which we provide in Syria and the region, as well as in the Horn and other regions of Africa.
We are also contributing to search and rescue operations in response to the current crisis through the work of our naval vessel, the L.E. Eithne, which is active in the south central Mediterranean. That ship represents a tangible and valuable contribution by Ireland to assist with efforts to prevent further tragedy and loss of life, and has already been directly involved in the rescues of over 3,300 people.
For many decades, Ireland has played an important role in supporting efforts to prevent and respond to conflict. I am very proud of the role of our Defence Forces in peacekeeping operations. I was honoured to visit the Irish troops serving in Lebanon in February and to see firsthand the excellent work they do in challenging circumstances. Our troops have served with distinction in many countries including Chad and Somalia.
We are also increasingly involved in civilian peacekeeping. Civilian peace operations help fragile states to rebuild institutions so that they can provide services for local communities and support the stability needed for sustainable development. Strong civil institutions play an important role in preventing conflict from starting or reoccurring. Ireland’s efforts have supported respect for human rights, justice and rule of law.
Our commitment to the promotion of human rights and support for sustainable development are central to the values we set out in our Foreign Policy Review.
In our work on the UN Human Rights Council, we have sought to ensure that our human rights priorities and our political and development objectives are mutually reinforcing.
In December last year, the OECD’s Peer Review of Ireland’s aid programme showed that Ireland continues to be a world leader in effectively tackling hunger and poverty and responding to humanitarian emergencies. I am proud that we continue to lead on the international stage, both through our co-facilitation of the process to agree a new set of global Sustainable Developments Goals, and through our engagement in the World Humanitarian Summit process.
Commitment to Humanitarian Action
Today, I want to re-affirm Ireland’s commitment to principled humanitarian action. I want to ensure that we continue to put crisis-affected communities at the centre of the Government’s humanitarian response in the future.
Ireland is rightly recognised as having a strong and committed tradition of humanitarian action. Today, at this summit, we are not just renewing our commitment to principled humanitarian action, but we are actively looking for ways to do more. As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I am committed to using all of our avenues of engagement to prevent humanitarian crises where possible and to respond to them effectively where they do occur.
We have reviewed our own Humanitarian Policy, in order to better reflect our role in preventing and supporting response to, and recovery from, humanitarian crises. I am pleased today to launch this new Humanitarian Policy Statement.
The updated policy reaffirms our commitment to providing principled humanitarian assistance based on need, and need alone. We will continue to demonstrate leadership and engage in partnership for effective humanitarian action, placing particular emphasis on gender equity, protection of civilian populations and humanitarian workers, and on targeting support to so-called “forgotten” crises.
In line with our Policy for International Development, ‘One World, One Future’, we will work hard to link our development and humanitarian approaches in order to build community resilience to shocks and stresses.
We will work to ensure that the decisions that we make in Dublin and the engagements that we have in Brussels, New York, Geneva, and elsewhere, truly recognise and respond to the needs of vulnerable communities affected by humanitarian crises. I am confident that Irish people can feel proud of these commitments.
Today’s discussions will help to inform Ireland’s engagement in World Humanitarian Summit next year. Your expertise and insights will be invaluable in helping the humanitarian community, both in Ireland, and globally, to make the changes necessary to meet the challenges we face collectively.
I look forward to hearing the results of these discussions, in the knowledge that they will build upon Ireland’s great tradition of humanitarian action while harnessing new partnerships and innovative approaches in order to ensure dignity for all those affected by humanitarian crises. With the complexity of the challenges facing us, this is a daunting task, but one that, with determination and commitment, I know we can achieve.