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Statement to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade on the UN General Assembly

Mr. Chairman,

I am delighted to have this opportunity to appear before the Committee today to report on my recent attendance at the UN General Assembly Ministerial Week and also to brief on the forthcoming Global Irish Economic Forum.

As ever, this year’s UNGA Week was an extremely busy one, with several high-level meetings taking place during the course of the week. I was particularly honoured to attend the High-Level Meeting on Libya on 20 September which formally marked Libya’s return to the international fold and which made clear the international community’s strong support for the National Transition Council as the interim governing authority in Libya.

I was also privileged to address, alongside UN Secretary General Ban and US Secretary of State Clinton, the High Level Meeting on Nutrition and Food Security on 21 September. This meeting provided further demonstration of the strong and effective cooperation between Ireland, the US and the UN in taking forward the Scaling Up Nutrition initiative launched at the UN a year ago.

I also participated in a number of other high-level events, including on the 2001 Durban Declaration and on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. I also attended a Mini-Summit on the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa on 24 September where I announced a further €1 million in support for victims of the Horn of Africa famine, bringing the Government’s total contribution so far this year to €10 million.

The one issue, of course, which overshadowed discussions in New York was the Middle East Peace Process and the decision of President Abbas, initially signalled on 16 September, to submit a formal application for Palestinian membership of the UN to the Security Council.

I addressed the Palestinian issue at some length in my address to the General Assembly on 26 September and I will therefore not repeat here all that I said on that occasion. However, I will reiterate that I regard it as entirely legitimate for the Palestinians to have taken their case to the United Nations, given the complete impasse which we have witnessed in the peace process in recent months, and that they are as much entitled to membership of the UN as any other state. This is a view which I put forward clearly in discussions with EU colleagues during the week and also in meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and with Secretary Clinton at the EU-US ministerial meeting.

We also know from experience that UN resolutions of themselves will not deliver Palestinian statehood and that what is urgently required is a return to substantive talks which addresses all the core issues and has a clear timeframe for conclusion. I have made clear that I welcome the Quartet statement issued on 23 September as providing such a framework for the earliest possible resumption of direct talks.

I very much hope that the international community can now convince the parties to return to the negotiating table on the basis of the Quartet statement. For this to happen, it is all the more urgent for all sides to desist from any kind of provocative actions. In this regard, I share the widespread dismay at last week’s announcement of 1,000 new dwellings being constructed in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo and condemn this illegal action of the Israeli authorities.

The UN Security Council has now started consideration of the Palestinian application for statehood though it is likely to be at least a number of weeks before any decision is taken on this. In the meantime, all concerned with the issues of peace and justice in the Middle East are obliged to do all possible to encourage a resumption of direct talks.

The events of the Arab Spring also hung heavily over the UNGA Week, given the momentous changes we have witnessed in North Africa and other parts of the Arab world over the past twelve months. Again, this is an issue which I dwelt with at some length in my UNGA address and I will not go into detail here, other than to repeat my belief that we need to be positive, supportive and consistent in our response to these historic changes arising from the basic demands of ordinary people for reform, freedom and equality. This includes in relation to Bahrain where I have stated publicly my great concern at the harsh sentences handed down last week to twenty medical professionals by a military court.     

As is traditional, I availed of my visit to the UN to meet with a large number of counterparts, including the foreign ministers from Andorra, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Laos, the Palestinian Authority, Russia and Serbia, as well as the Secretary General of the Arab League.

I also had an extremely useful meeting with SG Ban on 26 September where among other issues we discussed sustainable development, the enhancement of women’s rights, the Palestinian application to the UN and the Arab Spring. Secretary General Ban expressed his appreciation for Ireland’s active engagement in the UN while I complimented the Secretary General on his inspiring address at the start of the General Debate which set out a clear agenda for Member States to pursue in the coming months.

Economic promotional work also formed an important part of my programme in New York where I met with both Irish and American business representatives, and conducted interviews with a wide range of important US media, including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News and Fox News. Another important aspect of my visit was meeting with local Irish community representatives in New York and presenting the first Certificate of Irish Heritage to the family of the late Joseph Hunter, a member of the New York Fire Department who died in the 9/11 attacks.

Mr Chairman, I would now like to turn to the second Global Irish Economic Forum which takes place this weekend in Dublin Castle.

The Forum has three primary objectives.  Firstly it is designed to maintain and further develop a structured engagement between the Government and leading figures from our Diaspora and among our friends abroad.  Secondly, it will facilitate the Government’s ongoing work of rebuilding Ireland’s international reputation by enabling us to outline our economic objectives and achievements and to seek the assistance of participants in projecting positive messages abroad.  Finally, attendees will be tasked with bringing forward a small number of specific and action oriented recommendations on the themes under consideration.

The response to the Taoiseach’s invitation has been very encouraging.  Some [270] members of the Global Irish Network will join us in Dublin Castle.  They will be joined by some prominent Irish business and cultural leaders as well as by Ministers, Ministers of State, Secretaries General, State Agency CEOs and leaders of the Opposition.  President Clinton will address the forum on Saturday. 

I am delighted Mr Chairman, that you will also be joining us as will you Committee colleagues, Deputies Mac Lochlainn, and Ó Fearghaíl, the Foreign Affairs Spokespersons for their respective Parties. I appreciate that there is a great interested among many others in attending the Forum.  Unfortunately, the capacity in Dublin Castle will not facilitate this.

A full list of participants and a copy of the programme are available on the forum’s website www.globalirishforum.ie.  The programme consists of a mixture of plenary sessions, panel discussions and working groups.  It is very encouraging that all our moderators, panellists and working group facilitators  are providing their services on a pro-bono basis.  

In response to requests from participants at the 2009 Forum who indicated that the working groups provide the best opportunity for detailed discussion, we have devoted a significant amount of time to small breakout working groups.  We are hosting 15 working groups and each will focus on a topic of relevance to the Programme for Government and will involve the participation of relevant Ministers.  As I said earlier, these groups will be tasked with bringing forward two to three specific and action oriented recommendations.

THE 2009 FORUM

There is a good news story to tell in terms of the follow up to the 2009 Forum.

The detailed update in respect of each of the 59 specific and medium term objectives identified at the first Forum demonstrates the significant number of proposals that have either been substantively progressed.  Among the specific initiatives that emerged from, or were discussed at, the 2009 Farmleigh Forum were:

  • the establishment of the Global Irish Network of over 300 influential individuals drawn from 37 countries who have played a very helpful role in supporting State Agencies and Irish companies abroad; 
  • the establishment of Network led initiatives such as the Farmleigh Fellowship Programme in Singapore which places 25 Irish post graduates in companies in Asia and the Irish Technology Leadership Group in Silicon Valley;
  • a new focus on the promotion of Irish culture abroad, including the Imagine Ireland campaign in the US  and the appointment of Gabriel Byrne as Cultural Ambassador;
  • Tourism Ireland’s targeted Diaspora campaigns and the establishment of the Certificate of Irish Heritage;
  • the establishment of a Diaspora focussed website- www.worldirish.com-  by John McColgan; and
  • increased Government support for Diaspora business networks and an enhanced focus on working with young members of the Diaspora to establish new networks for Irish graduates and professionals abroad.

FOLLOW UP TO THE 2011 FORUM

A number of specific initiatives will be launched or showcased at the Forum, including in the areas of recognition and advocacy. The Government also wishes to see a clear focus on engaging the young Diaspora.

In return for tasking forum participants to develop specific value added ideas from each of the Forum’s fifteen working groups, I am conscious that we need to have a robust and inclusive follow up process to the Forum.  I am therefore proposing that participants be given a direct role in ensuring that the ideas generated at the Forum are given detailed consideration and implemented.    

Specifically, an advisory and implementation group for the Global Irish Network will be established.  This will be co-chaired by the Taoiseach and myself and include officials from the key Government Departments and a Global Irish Network member from each of the main geographic areas.

Conclusion

Mr Chairman, the Government has a very clear idea of where we want Ireland to go.  We are asking the participants to help us identify the best path to take and to be our advocates and supporters.  Their response to date has been extraordinarily generous, unselfish and a vital ally to our route back.

Thank you.