Tánaiste Address to Global Ireland 2025 Heads of Mission Conference
Speech08 January 2019
Minister Maas, Secretary General, Ambassadors, Ladies & Gentlemen.
I’m delighted to be able to welcome you here to the second day of our Global Ireland Heads of Mission Conference. I hope those of you home from abroad have had an opportunity over Christmas to follow the most famous tech advice and to switch yourselves off and then on again. We are going to be needing your very best re-booted capacity in 2019.
I want to extend a most special welcome, or ‘céad míle fáilte’, to my colleague and friend, Heiko Maas, the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, who has travelled from Berlin early this morning to be with us.
I had the privilege of speaking to German Ambassadors and business leaders at the equivalent event in Berlin in August and I am delighted Heiko has taken time from his busy diary to do the same here today.
There will be no more important bilateral relationship for Ireland in the EU after Brexit than the one we enjoy with Germany. The Review of our relationship which we launched last year showed the breadth and depth of our current cooperation – but also the scope to do so much more, on everything from civilian crisis management to future EU financial stability. And while it might be predictable fare for a Fine Gael politician from Cork to stand before you and laud Michael Collins, we are fortunate to have two excellent Ambassadors guiding this effort with Deike Potzel in Dublin and Michael in Berlin.
It is even more encouraging that Secretaries General from a wide range of Ministries in Berlin and Dublin have bought into our Joint Plan of Action and initiated a rolling programme of high-level engagements to take the work forward.
We know Germany is our fourth-largest trading partner; our third largest tourism market; and our second largest inward investor. We share perspectives too, on everything from the need to reinvigorate the Middle East Peace Process in pursuit of a two-state solution, to the need for the EU and African Union to build a political partnership fit for purpose for the urgency of the shared challenges we face. In Ireland, we will be reflecting on these priorities in our new White Paper on International Development which we will launch in the coming weeks, as we plan for significant increases in our aid budget to deliver on the Government commitment to contribute 0.7% of our Gross National Income to ODA by 2030.
Heiko, all our work together speaks profoundly to Germany’s genuine commitment to working with all Member States of the European Union, large and small. This solidarity has never been more in evidence for us in Ireland than during Brexit. In Germany, you understand borders all too well – both their symbolism and their corrosive practical effect. And you know that our effort to ensure no physical infrastructure or associated checks and controls emerge on this island is borne of a determination never to return to the division of times past. Rather, it is one of the greatest Irish and British and indeed European achievements – an enduring peace, rooted in the Good Friday Agreement – which we have been striving at all times to protect and guarantee into the future. All communities in Northern Ireland, and the future generations who hope to live, work and enjoy life in a unique part of these islands, deserve the peace and prosperity that those guarantees can deliver.
These are fateful days and weeks in British politics. I remain convinced that there is a majority in the UK parliament which will do all it can to avert a disastrous crash-out Brexit. I am also of the view that the deal obtained by Prime Minister May - which, in relation to the famous backstop, was significantly modified to address UK concerns – that that deal is fundamentally a good one. Once the decision to proceed with leaving the EU was taken, it was important to move ahead in a way which protected the UK’s economy and the peace process in Northern Ireland. And this deal, the very best available, achieves those vital goals.
The European Council provided reassurances about the backstop in December and we are ready to provide additional clarifications if these are helpful. However, we cannot re-open the Withdrawal Agreement text itself, which was the product of multiple compromises and highly detailed negotiations in a very wide range of areas.
One thing is certain – the time for wishful thinking is over. There is no alternative 585-page agreement waiting to be dusted off. And it is also wishful thinking to ignore the default outcome if nothing else is agreed – that default is a crash-out. Surely now is the time in Westminster for everyone, in government and in opposition, to cast aside unrealistic options based on promises that simply cannot be delivered. If that doesn’t happen quickly, in the absence of that realism, it is the hardliners who think no price is too high to pay for their version of Brexit who will win out to everyone’s cost, including Ireland’s.
I want to pay tribute to our own Brexit teams in Dublin, Brussels, London and right across EU capitals. You have done outstanding work ensuring Ireland’s concerns are understood and appreciated in every EU Member State.
And I know that, over the coming weeks, there will be no let-up in this enormous collective effort – a whole-of-Government endeavour, where we have benefited greatly from the cooperation and commitment of all relevant Departments and state agencies. This has been our approach too in terms of Getting Ireland Brexit Ready and our contingency or preparedness planning - to ensure the State, working closely with the European Commission, is as ready as possible to manage the very difficult challenges a no deal Brexit would present in a significant number of areas.
The prospect of a future EU-UK relationship so close that the backstop is never used – along with protecting the peace, this remains our overriding objective. And in Ireland, we need to ensure our future relationship with the British Government is given new life too. It has become as close as it is today based on more than 45 years of working together in Brussels as much as Belfast.
And as you all know, this is much more than formal meetings. It is the conversations in corridors or over coffee that have allowed trust, empathy and friendships develop between so many politicians, diplomats and other officials. We need to find new mechanisms to sustain those relationships, and to grow new ones. That is why we have been working at the revived British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference to agree new structures for Ireland-UK cooperation after Brexit. These will include full meetings of Irish and British Ministers, led by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister May – not unlike the structures Heiko and his colleagues have invested in to work closely with their French counterparts.
These will serve us well in our East-West relations, just as the BIIGC gives life to our role as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. And 2019 needs to be the year in which the devolved power-sharing institutions of that Agreement are fully restored.
With a world as turbulent as the one we currently inhabit – and with a UK decision to leave the EU about to cause unprecedented dislocation – there is simply no excuse for the parties in Northern Ireland not to find a way to work together. They are the representatives who know the citizens of Northern Ireland best. And they owe it to all people in Northern Ireland to settle their differences amicably and speedily – not to forget or deny differing perspectives, but to reach the compromise that is there to be reached – and return urgently to the business of governing. Once that willingness is evident, especially from parties where it has been lacking to date, they will find Irish and British Governments willing to support them every step of the way.
I do not want today however to be a speech solely about these islands, dramatic as developments have been. There have been plenty such speeches and there will be time for plenty more.
Instead, I want today to be about Global Ireland after Brexit. What we do. What we embody. How we help shape the world around us.
Since the Taoiseach took office, he and I have initiated what I understand is the most significant increase in Ireland’s global footprint that many of you have ever experienced – even those of you now continuing to work past your 65th birthday! You know the goal – to double our global influence by 2025. The most obvious manifestation of this is new Ireland Houses, Embassies and Consulates in parts of the world where we should long since have had a presence. Last year, we opened new Missions in Wellington, Vancouver and Monrovia. Before St. Patrick’s Day this year, we will have opened Embassies in Santiago, Bogota and Amman in Jordan. By the end of the year, they’ll be joined by new Consulates in Los Angeles, Mumbai, Cardiff and in Frankfurt in Germany. Next year, we will open Embassies in The Philippines, Ukraine and Morocco.
And this pace will be sustained until 2025. Believe it – the Taoiseach’s and my commitment to this is absolute. It will be accompanied by strengthening many of the key Missions in which you are already leading our charge. So just as we have added senior officials in Berlin, Paris, London and Brussels, so we will continue to strengthen our teams across other EU and global capitals. If we are to truly become an island at the centre of the world, we need representation globally that is on hand to point our contacts and networks towards where that centre is.
I know too that this means additional resources at home – Niall would not let me forget it! – especially in areas like Property Management, Human Resources and ICT. I want to pay tribute today to our teams in these and other areas who are keeping our show on the road – the quiet, unsung heroes. This goes too for our excellent teams in passport and consular services.
It is a powerful statement to be embarking on ambitious passport reform at a time of unprecedented demand – but we are doing it, and doing it well. And all the while, our consular teams at home and abroad continue to offer outstanding round-the-clock service to Irish citizens in need and their families. It is, in many ways, the very best of our work - and we will continue to give it the highest priority.
But as we think about what our Global Ireland vision entails, it must be more too than simply additional offices or personnel, important as those are. This is not just how we’re organised – it’s what we argue for, what gets us out of bed. It is also bigger than this Department – it is decidedly and decisively an all-of-Government effort. It encompasses how we trade, how we partner, how we contribute.
It is rooted in citizen engagement, with initiatives like Global Ireland 100, showcasing the history of our international outreach, and Global Schools, bringing peacekeepers and diplomats to every school, every community. It entails a fresh sense of how we see ourselves as an island, the values we embody and the practical impacts we can have in an increasingly fractious and polarised international arena.
Because we know what we don’t stand for. We don’t subscribe, for instance, to any kind of “Ireland first” approach, one that de-values our relationships to a simple balance sheet of euros and cents, that views every exchange as a zero-sum game. We don’t believe that international disputes or protracted conflicts are best resolved by injecting uncertainty, by cutting off funding to established aid agencies, or by querying multilateral structures that have preserved a relatively stable global peace for over 70 years.
And we don’t believe, for even a second, that the EU, which has seen Ireland become a more prosperous, tolerant and vibrant society is also somehow holding us back – in contrast, we know it is the bedrock which has allowed us to flourish, to trade to our potential and to truly take our place among the nations of the world.
But EU Governments are facing all these criticisms, and many more besides, from populists of the right and left, in government and out of it, close to home and further afield. We cannot bury our heads in the sand about this. Whipped-up outrage about immigration, together with understandable concerns about whether globalisation has left some of our citizens behind, have created a powerful cocktail to shift tectonic plates in Europe and the Americas.
So how are we to respond to these shifts? Domestically, we need to react in a number of ways.
Firstly, we need to defend the role of the state and its public servants from accusations from the right that that it is too interventionist and distorting of markets - and from populism of the left, which asserts that nothing is ever achieved, and therefore seeks to undermine trust and belief in the effectiveness of our democracies. Both of these attacks are pernicious and unjustified, but they are real. Closely linked to this is the need to defend the role of expertise and data-driven decision-making. We need to fight populist soundbites with pertinent information, presented in a fashion which is cognisant of how electorates receive and process such material. To put it bluntly, if a populist claim that “we have had enough of experts” is gaining traction, we must return to the first principles of why decisions based on information, rather than gut instincts, are usually our best guide in a storm. And we must defend complexity and nuance – the world is far more often grey than it is stark black or white.
Thirdly, we must ensure that we are ready for the economy of the future, anticipating the changes to work which will come with more pervasive artificial intelligence and robotics – this is the basis of the Government’s ‘Future Jobs’ initiative, launched in November. We also have to defend the multiculturalism which is now an established feature of Western democracies – and better explain how immigration and the skills it transfers to our societies acts as an enabler of economic and cultural growth rather than a brake on it. And finally, for us Member States of the European Union, we must be absolutely vigilant in ensuring simplistic and misleading narratives about our Union fail to gain a foothold in our political discourse. In Ireland, we frequently quote surveys which show 92% of our citizens support our EU membership – one of the highest such figures anywhere in Europe.
There is indeed comfort and reassurance in this number – but we need to be wary that any change in prevailing winds will be seized upon by certain constituencies keen to attribute blame for misfortunes at the door of politicians or bureaucrats sufficiently far away to carry the can.
If these are features of our domestic responses, internationally, populism must be met with a re-articulation of how we are stronger when we strive together and weaker when we work alone. It was our distinguished guest speaker today who perhaps argued this best last year in calling for an “alliance for multilateralism”. Heiko, Ireland is with you, with Germany, with all countries who value the UN and the multilateral structures which have served us so well. As I said at the UN General Assembly in New York in September, for Ireland, multilateralism strengthens our independence, self-confidence and security, rather than diminishes it.
And if we believe in multilateralism, as we do, now is the time to fight for it, including with powerful countries which have traditionally played great leadership roles across the UN system. We cannot defend a logic that views multinational engagement as an abdication of national leadership or a loss of influence on the international stage.
This is why Ireland is running for a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022. Although we are in a race against formidable friends, we believe Ireland offers a unique combination of empathy, independence and partnership, rooted in our history, which can once again serve the Security Council well. I am grateful for all the work you and your teams have put into this whole-of-Government Global Ireland effort – most especially in New York and here at HQ – but more broadly than that, all of you who have lobbied hard across capitals worldwide to ensure we are in a strong position in the campaign with 17 months to go.
And I know, again, there will be no let-up in that effort now – not only because you know Geraldine would hunt you down, successfully! – but because you all share this conviction about the centrality of the UN to Ireland’s foreign policy and the same passion to contribute to decisions made at its very top table.
Because this brings me to the final point I want to emphasise today – the need for us to always be ambitious. It was a previous Republican President in the US who spoke about “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, most frequently in relation to the manifold obstacles which African-American students of poor economic backgrounds have had to overcome.
It is a notion that somehow less is expected of certain constituencies because they are starting from disadvantaged circumstances – or, in the case of international relations, perhaps because we are small, not a superpower, not bringing military or trade or political heft to the table of the might that can be mustered by others.
For Ireland however, I don’t want to hear those excuses. We have ideas which are as good as anyone’s. We have a diaspora of 70 million and cultural power and influence that dwarfs our geographic size. We have a history that gives us unique perspectives - and we continue to straddle conventional distinctions today. We have – with you - bright officials and diplomats, creative thinkers, problem solvers, people-skills to match the best.
We know we have to focus our efforts – a smaller civil service demands as much – but when we do seek to bring our insights or experiences to bear on international issues, big or small, we should do so with confidence.
So I encourage you to continue to be ambitious as you work to promote Ireland and our values and influence in 2019. This is a Global Ireland – and we are here to help shape our world, as well as to prosper in it.
Enjoy this Conference and use it well – network, discuss, debate and head back to your posts with new thinking and enthusiasm about how we can all deliver on our shared goals over the 12 months ahead. In the meantime, please join me now in giving a special welcome to our distinguished guest, Heiko Maas.
08 January 2018