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An Tánaiste's Speech at Trócaire's 40th Anniversary Conference

Poverty, Aid Effectiveness, Speeches, Global, Ireland, 2013


Good afternoon.  I am delighted to be here to address this Conference.  Let me begin by extending my heartfelt congratulations to Justin Kilcullen and all of his colleagues on the occasion of Trócaire’s 40th Anniversary.

I would also like to acknowledge the impressive gathering of eminent speakers, panellists and participants assembled here today which is evidence of the high esteem in which Trócaire is held.

When Trócaire was founded forty years ago, in 1973, it was  against the backdrop of the troubles in Northern Ireland; the famine in Bangladesh; the devastation caused by war in Vietnam and Cambodia; a bloody coup in Chile; and conflict in the Middle East which triggered the first global oil shock.  Challenging times to say the least.

Forty years on, the world is a more complex place but we still continue to grapple with many of the same issues. Almost one billion people continue to suffer hunger and live in extreme poverty.  Maternal mortality levels remain shockingly high.

Climate change is contributing to an increasing frequency of disasters in affected countries and many poor countries are dogged by conflict and war. 

At the same time, it is important to recognise the progress that has been made.  The United Nations reports that, for the first time since records on poverty began, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen in every developing region including sub-Saharan Africa.  The proportion of people living in extreme poverty is estimated to be less than half of what it was in 1990.  Millions of child deaths have been avoided through improvements in immunization rates, increasing access to lifesaving HIV treatment and a downward trend in tuberculosis and global malaria deaths.  It is heartening to know that 47 million more children are going to school today than at the turn of the millennium. 

Ireland’s development programme, in cooperation with Irish NGOs, has contributed substantially to this progress.  I am proud to say Ireland channels more of its development assistance through NGOs than most other international donors.  Trócaire is one of Irish Aid’s long term NGO partners and we have worked together to demonstrate that development brings about changes in people’s lives. 

Over the past forty years, Trócaire has built a solid reputation for tackling poverty, injustice and inequality.  Since its inception, Trócaire has stood out as an organisation which embodies strong social justice principles. Whether in the fight against the dreadful era of apartheid in South Africa, raising the awareness of the grave injustices in Chile under General Pinochet, the huge response to the famine in Ethiopia in 1984, the genocide in Rwanda or the Tsunami in Asia – Trócaire has been there. Trócaire has been vocal and Trócaire has been strong. Trócaire provides assistance where it is most needed, seeking to tackle the root causes of injustice and poverty.  Furthermore it has worked hard to raise awareness and build an understanding of these issues amongst the Irish public.

In this context, I would like to welcome Trócaire’s current Lenten campaign which highlights the situation in some developing countries, where the valuable and legitimate role of civil society is increasingly restricted.

We have seen here in Ireland the value of a vibrant civil society.  Without fear or hindrance, organisations, trade unions, the media, active citizens, church groups and others are able to deliver essential services, call the Government to account, participate in policy-making and mobilise their members to advocate for change.

Throughout our history, in good times and bad, such civil society groups have played a profoundly important role in generating the wide-ranging cultural, political, social and economic changes that have shaped Irish society in the 21st century. This valued space for civil society has become so much part of who we are, that we often take it for granted.

But one need only look to countries where this space is being squeezed by the authorities, where civil society groups are blocked from playing their legitimate roles, where people live in fear of speaking out, to realise how important this is – and how necessary it is for us to do all we can to promote and protect it.

The narrowing space for civil society restricts the enjoyment of human rights and can in some instances directly endanger the lives of civil society activists.  This issue goes to the heart of what development is all about: enabling people to come together to take control of their own futures and to live their lives free from fear and want.

Through political and diplomatic engagement and our overseas development programme, Ireland seeks to promote human rights and support the role of civil society. Working together with civil society organisations such as Trócaire, national human rights institutions and others, Irish Aid seeks to ensure that the actions of policy makers are informed by the local realities which this conference addresses.

I intend to use our term as members of the UN Human Rights Council to advocate on this issue.  We will use evidence from existing programmes to demonstrate that an engaged and informed civil society should not be seen as a threat to government but as an essential part of the infrastructure of a modern democracy.

Any new global development agenda that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals will need to strengthen the role of civil society across all countries, protecting the space for engagement, participation and accountability. 

Irish people showed great interest in this issue during the public consultations on the Review of the White Paper on Irish Aid last year.  In the submissions we received, the issue of human rights and a strong civil society was a common theme.

Resulting from this review, a new Policy for International Development is currently being approved by Government.

Together with the Taoiseach, I hope to be able to launch this in the coming weeks.

I can assure you that human rights and accountability, equality and justice will continue to be at the heart of what we do and how we do it.

Trócaire’s foundation coincided with Ireland’s accession to the then EEC.  Now in 2013, Ireland holds its seventh Presidency of the Council of European Union.  This presents us with an opportunity use our knowledge and experience to ensure that the EU’s development and humanitarian agenda is advanced.

Thus far during our Presidency, Ireland has been active in building consensus on how the EU can improve the resilience of vulnerable communities in the face of natural and man-made crises.  Development actors need to systematically address the risks that lead to crises and to strengthen linkages between emergency humanitarian relief and long term development assistance. This is one of Ireland’s priorities during our Presidency.

Climate change and environmental degradation are already increasing the risk of hunger and under-nutrition for the world’s poor.  Another of Ireland’s priorities is to increase the understanding of the relationship between hunger, nutrition and climate justice.  We need to listen to those most affected and understand what programmes have worked well in the past in order to develop an appropriate global response for the future.

Next month in Dublin, together with Mary Robinson and a number of other partners, I will hold an international conference on hunger, nutrition and climate change. The conference will bring together a diverse group to engage in dialogue on addressing hunger, nutrition and climate justice.  Grassroots women and men from many countries will attend the Conference to share with us the everyday experience of living with these issues. 

I am confident that the dialogue at this Conference will lead to key conclusions which will inform our thinking on the development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals.

The international discussion on the post 2015 framework is now gaining momentum. I am acutely aware of the need for the EU and other partners to actively engage in this process, whilst not losing sight of the central goal to deliver to the maximum on the current MDGs by 2015.

It will be vital that the EU contributes effectively to the evolution of the post-2015 framework as part of an inclusive process which reflects the challenges we face in progressing our shared development goals.  The current Irish Presidency comes at a critical juncture in getting this process off to a positive start.  My colleagues and I are working hard to progress this agenda during the six months of this Presidency.

Together with the High Representative, the Commission and the Member States we hope to agree an EU position for the 2013 UN Special Event on the Millennium Development Goals.

Civil Society also has an important role to play in this process. We all want this process to be inclusive. 

I hope that there will be broad engagement and a strong and healthy competition for ideas. It will be particularly important that we listen to the experiences of people who are themselves living in poverty and that least-developed countries have a strong voice.  Organisations, such as Trocaire, who work almost exclusively through partners have an important role to play in assisting their partners to meaningfully engage in this process.

I believe it is important also that the post 2015 agenda has a clear accountability framework. Governments, development partners and civil society together need to monitor progress, and be held accountable by citizens for their individual and collective performance in delivering sustainable results.

The discussions here today and the dialogue at next month’s conference will inform our thinking on the new framework and the processes that will shape it.  I would like to congratulate Trócaire for taking the lead on this issue and for stimulating debate at this early stage on the shape of the post 2015 framework. 

I would like to take this opportunity to wish Trócaire continued success over the next 40 years. I look forward to continuing our strong partnership.

To finish, I know we will continue discussions on the post 2015 framework in the coming months and beyond.  The Government is anxious to ensure that Ireland’s position in the process reflects the values of the Irish people and our long term interest in a more equal and just world.   It is my priority as Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to work towards agreement on an ambitious, meaningful, but yet realistic and achievable, set of future development goals to end extreme poverty, hunger and inequality in this generation. 


Thank you.