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Minister of State Cannon T.D. speech at the Dochas Annual Awards

Thank you Sharan.

 Thank you to The SuperTones for the beautiful singing. You might not know it, but I’ve been known to write a few songs myself.


A chairde, dear friends.

I’m delighted to be here tonight to celebrate the great work of Dóchas, and your member organisations, to bring about real and lasting change in the world.

Let me first of all pay tribute to the work of Dóchas and its members.

Over the last year and a half as Minister for International Development, I’ve been privileged to see the difference that Dóchas and its members, working with Irish Aid, have made to the lives of the most vulnerable – a difference that we must continue to make, as we work together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Tonight we acknowledge your work. We also celebrate your innovation and pay tribute to your role as global citizens and as communicators of the SDG message – that we must leave no-one behind, and we must reach the furthest behind first.

In the past year, my team in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and I, have been developing a new policy on international development.

I would like to thank Dóchas, and your members, for the contributions you have made to the development of that policy.

The new White Paper will resonate with the Irish people, with our story and with our experience as a small island nation, with a living memory of food insecurity, conflict and rapid economic transformation.

It will focus on reducing humanitarian need, promoting gender equality, governance and human rights, supporting conflict prevention and mitigating the impact of climate change in the developing world.

I look forward to working with Dóchas, and with your members, to deliver that new policy.

My role tonight however is not to outline Government policy but to introduce the recipient of the Dóchas Lifetime Achievement Award.

Each year the award is presented to an exceptional individual to highlight, and honour, their commitment and inspirational work as a champion of international development and global justice.

It is very fitting - and I'm sure it's no accident - that we meet tonight in Wood Quay.

For where else would a community of peers from the human rights, gender equality and climate justice movements, choose to honour the seventh President of Ireland, Chair of the Elders and unwavering advocate for justice, equality and human rights, Mary Robinson, but to return to Wood Quay, the site where you did battle to preserve our cultural heritage.

Wood Quay is significant for another reason. It was from the St Patrick’s constituency right here, 100 years ago, that Countess Markievicz was elected to become the first woman Member of Parliament.

On the way here tonight, I noticed posters marking that anniversary which proclaimed, in Markievicz’s words: “Lean ort agus ná cúlaigh ón comhrac” – “Keep straight and do not shirk the fight”.

As I stand here tonight, searching for the right words to introduce another formidable and courageous woman of firsts, I can think of none better than to say, here is a champion of global justice, of climate justice who has never shirked the fight.

Admittedly, we were not always quite ready for that fight – like back in 1971, when you sought to introduce family planning legislation to the Seanad, or more recently when you suggested that, just maybe, we might consider eating just a little bit less meat, now and then.

At other times, your words and gestures have touched the hearts and minds of the whole nation and of those beyond.

Who else would have journeyed to Oklahoma to thank the Choctaw people for the compassion and solidarity of their ancestors.

Who else would have spoken with such honesty and emotion of the need for the world to take responsibility for the tragedy unfolding in Somalia.

Who else would have shone a light of welcome to the Irish Diaspora, and extended the hand of friendship to all communities on this island.

And who else, but our first woman president, would have inspired the women and girls of Ireland to rock the system, not just the cradle.

Your Presidency was one of firsts. It was also one of stories, and you continue to bring Ireland’s story to the hearts of people across the world.

In my travels abroad as Minister for International Development, I am constantly reminded of the path which you blazed.

Today, you continue to use the power of stories to amplify the voice of those struggling to achieve human rights, gender equality and climate justice.

In your recent book Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience and the Fight for a Sustainable Future you move the climate discussion from the jargon-filled scientific arena, to the pastoral lands of the Sahel, the atolls of Kiribati and the lush forests of Vietnam.

The vulnerability of many Small Island Developing States is particularly acute. When we meet internationally with leaders of the SIDS, they regularly raise their extreme vulnerability to climate change.

As a small island state ourselves, this is something to which we should respond. It cannot be that we simply let a UN Member State disappear beneath the waves.

By putting names and faces to the ‘climate vulnerable’, and by helping those women and men tell their stories, you have captured the imagination of decision-makers, negotiators and scientists.

You have shown us the extraordinary determination and resilience of those living at the extreme edge of climate change. 

You have relayed their stories with tenderness and with dignity.

And you have placed a moral obligation on all of us to act.

We, at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, have been delighted to work with you – Mary - and with your foundation, the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.

Your work continues to inspire my team to frame the climate change narrative firmly within the framework of human rights.

As we finalise our new White Paper on International Development, and as the Government works to develop an All-Government Plan to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change, I know that we can depend on you to hold us to account, and to never shirk from the fight. 

We also acknowledge your leadership on the promotion of the UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda – from New York to Timor Leste and many places in between.  Your partnership with our Department in promoting shared learning from conflict areas around the world has enabled us to become better international advocates and partners. It helps us and our partners in the Defence Forces, the Gardaí and civil society to better protect some of those furthest left behind – women and girls suffering the consequences of conflict and excluded from the peace processes to resolve those conflicts.

Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders; Seventh President of Ireland; first woman President of Ireland; former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; former UN Special Envoy for Climate Change; tireless advocate for human rights, for gender equality and for climate justice; I am truly humbled to introduce you tonight.

Go n-éirí leat leis an ndúshlán agus go maire tú.

Sharan, a chairde uilig, go raibh míle maith agaibh.

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