Address by Minister of State for Overseas Development, Trade Promotion and North South co-operation, Seán Sherlock
Irish Launch of European Year of Development
22nd January, Dublin Castle
I am delighted to join you in launching the European Year of Development in Ireland, and I would like to thank our hosts, Dochas, for bringing us all together today.
The European Year of Development is an important opportunity for us to reflect on our place in the world, and how we contribute to ensuring that the world is a fairer and more sustainable place for us all to live.
The Irish people have always taken a keen interest in global affairs, and particularly in helping those in poorer nations. The most recent Eurobarometer survey shows that 87% of Irish people believe helping people in developing countries is important, with 77% believing this contributes to a more peaceful and equal world. This is clearly not an abstract ideal either: 62% are personally involved in assisting developing countries, either through charitable donations, volunteering or political and social activism.
This level of engagement is testament to our strong values of compassion and social justice. It is also a reflection of the important role played by Irish civil society, who have been instrumental in both delivering this assistance and in promoting informed debate on global development issues.
I am especially pleased that these values are also strongly reflected in Ireland’s foreign policy. Just last week, we published a review of our foreign policy: The Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World.
The Global Island places a strong emphasis on our values as a people, and our actions to build a fairer, more just, more secure and more sustainable world. It recognises the centrality of our international development policy, One World, One Future and our aid programme, Irish Aid, in achieving this.
I have had the privilege of witnessing the great difference made by our aid programme in several countries. In Sierra Leone, I have observed how Irish Aid has responded to the Ebola crisis by supporting ambulance services, psychosocial counselling and the provision of medical and nutrition supplies.
I have met Irish aid agencies providing emergency supplies to refugees fleeing from the conflict in South Sudan.
In Ethiopia, I have spoken to small farmers and producers that have boosted their harvests and incomes through better seeds and farming practices. I have visited school teachers, scientists and entrepreneurs, all determined to be part of a bright and progressive future for Africa.
All of these had benefited in some way from the Irish Aid programme. Witnessing the difference made in their lives made me proud to be Irish - proud that even in our difficult economic circumstances, we have not shirked our responsibility as global citizens.
The European Year of Development also draws our attention to how much the European Union project has assisted development. In our own case, the EU has been instrumental in helping us to develop our education, infrastructure and agriculture sectors.
We also work closely with our EU partners in delivering aid to the countries where the need is the greatest. The European Union and its Member States together give more than half of the world’s official development assistance. For our part, we will provide €286 million to the European Development Fund from 2014 to 2020.
Of course, 2015 is not just a ‘European’ year of development, but a year that will be critical for the entire world. With agreement expected on the Sustainable Development Goals, and a new Climate agreement through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations, 2015 may truly be a turning point in history.
Ireland is privileged to be serving as a co-facilitator with Kenya in the intergovernmental negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals. We recognise this is a huge challenge – 193 countries must agree goals and targets in such diverse areas as agriculture, education, gender equality, health, justice, employment and environmental degradation. This has never been attempted before, and will be a huge achievement for humanity if successful. 2015 will also see new global agreements on how to finance these SDGs at the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July.
Agreement on a legally-binding climate change agreement will be a critical achievement. The effects of climate change have already negatively affected the lives of millions of people in the world, from small farmers in Africa to those in the Small Island States of the Pacific. If we fail to act quickly and radically, we are on course to make our planet uninhabitable for vast numbers of people.
Our challenge in 2015, if we are to come up with a transformative agenda that will shape a world where no one is left behind, will be to ensure that all of these processes are coherent and mutually supportive.
While I do not underestimate the challenges facing us, I also feel confident that we can take the decisive action needed to build a fairer and more sustainable world. The evidence for this is clear when we consider the huge progress already made in tackling poverty and hunger since 1990.
It will require collective action. Individual citizens must engage in social and political debate; civil society must increasingly work together in a spirit of cooperation rather than competition towards our common goals; and governments and multilateral institutions like the EU and UN must listen and work in the best interests of their citizens.
By coming together today, and voicing our support for a better and fairer world, we signal our desire to be part of this movement.
I hope that we can continue to work together through this European Year of Development, and beyond.