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Address to the Diplomatic Corps on the occasion of the presentation of New Year’s Greetings

Áras an Uachtaráin, 20th January 2014

A Oirircis, A Dhéin an Chóir Thaidhleoireachta, A Oirirceasa, a Aire Stáit Pachal Donohoe T.D., a Uaisle Uile agus a Dhaoine Óga: cuireann sé áthas orm agus ar mo bhean chéile, Sabina, céad míle fáilte a chur romhaibh go léir go hÁras an Uachtaráin.

Your Excellency, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Excellencies, Minister of State Paschal Donohoe T.D., ladies and gentlemen: Sabina and I are delighted to welcome you and your families to Áras an Uachtaráin.

Gabhaim buíochas leat ar maidin, a Shoilse, as ucht na mbeannachtaí cineálta orm féin agus ar Sabina. Tá an-áthas orm glacadh leis na beannachtaí seo thar mo cheann féin agus thar ceann muintir na hÉireann. Agus muid ag tabhairt aghaidh ar Bhliain Nua, is é mo ghuí do gach aon duine agaibh agus do shaoránaigh bhur dtíortha an ghuí céanna atá agam do mhuintir na hÉireann: bliain síochána, bliain dóchais agus bliain ratha.

{I thank you, Your Excellency, for your kind greetings to Sabina and myself this morning. I am very glad to receive those greetings on our own behalf and on behalf of the people of Ireland. As we begin a New Year, my wish for each one of you and for the citizens of your countries is the wish that I share also for the people of Ireland: a year of peace, hope and opportunity.}

The kind wishes of the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, His Excellency Most Reverend Charles John Brown, are especially appreciated as they come from the representative of a world leader who is making regular and very valuable contributions to the debate on addressing the global issues of poverty, justice environmental sustainability, the obscene cruelty of wars and the fragility of peace.

Pope Francis has also challenged world leaders and their peoples to address what he called “a globalization of indifference” an indifference which makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves, immobilised in face of the challenge of necessary changes.  And he drew our attention to the destructive consequences of unaccountable economic models –

“alongside overt armed conflicts are the less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors with means which are equally destructive of lives, families and businesses.”

I was honoured to attend the inaugural celebration of Pope Francis last March and I share his concerns and I support his appeals.

May I thank all of you here today for the professionalism and dedication you have displayed in the discharge of your duties and commend your life partners and families for their unfailing commitment and support as you carry out your work.  As diplomats   you are after all migrants of a necessary and special kind.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

As always, the beginning of a New Year offers a promise, and indeed opportunity, for transformation and necessary change. It is a time when we reflect on the year that has passed and look forward with determination, resolve and hope to the year to come.

This year 2014 is indeed a year that we, the EU and our member States must approach with a renewed determination and  confidence in all our abilities to create real growth and jobs, and to address our unemployment problems, with its related poverty and distress. Leaving the EU/IMF programme in December was an important step for us in Ireland and it was a demonstration of the resolve and resilience of the Irish people, values we have had to call upon in the past and which, thankfully, have remained characteristic of our people.

Last year saw a further deepening of our engagement with the European Union. During our Seventh EU Presidency we sought to make a real contribution to the direction and good management of the Union, prioritising efforts to establish stability, create jobs and encourage sustainable growth.  These initiatives were shared and welcomed priorities as across Europe, and they continue to be necessary and relevant in the European Union and elsewhere in the world.

We value our shared vision for a Europe of the Citizens, one that is reflective of the generous vision of its founders, who spoke not only of an enduring peace in Europe but a shared prosperity with solidarity; a Union that would be an example, and play its part in a responsible and sustainable international order, an order that found war abhorrent and worked towards a shared future in security, including freedom from poverty.

We, in Ireland, take our EU obligations seriously and we will strive to remain an effective, influential and committed member; stressing the core values I have mentioned.

Ireland is part of a Union of 28 Member States now, Croatia being our newest member.  The elections to the European Parliament in the spring will have a crucial impact and will decide the direction of the Union and we look forward to a new Commission in the autumn.  The economic and financial crisis may have eased in some of its pressures, but its legacy of unemployment and poverty demands urgent action, drawing on all our resources and a pluralism of policy models that can have an urgent impact.

Europe must continue to work for new models – drawing on all its intellectual resources; utilising such a pluralism of scholarship as we can find and can lead to solutions and their applications to these pressing issues. In doing so, it must draw on the Union’s founding values of solidarity and respect for the contribution that each Member State brings to the collective deliberations of the Union.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

As 2013 drew to a close, the world joined with the people of South Africa in mourning, and paying tribute to one of the great humanitarians, statesmen, and peacemakers of our times – Nelson Mandela.  His life symbolised the importance of courage, tenacity and sacrifice in opposing unjust structures, fortitude in prison and, on his release, the quiet power of human dignity in undertaking the transformation of his country.  I was truly honoured to represent the Irish people in Johannesburg at his memorial ceremony.

Madiba’s legacy shows us that the human spirit can achieve great things if we draw on the best instincts of our hearts, as well as the intellectual gifts of our heads, to realise the unrealised possibilities of our common shared humanity. We can best honour his values, of course, by bringing them to the centre of the moral and ethical challenges facing our times. It is a commitment and a challenge that will continue to guide Ireland’s international engagement in the year ahead.

In 2014 we have the opportunity to renew our commitment to the international institutions in which we share membership; to give strength to the United Nations and its agencies at a time of continuing and emerging conflicts with so much loss of life and livelihoods, so much displacement, so many teeming refugee camps, so many refugee humanitarian agencies without sufficient funds, so many unfilled pledges.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize last year to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the achievement at the UN of the Arms Trade Treaty remind us what can be achieved when – recognising that common humanity of which I speak – we work together in the cause of peace.

Ireland is now beginning our second year as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and will continue to advocate for the promotion and protection of Human Rights. I am also proud that our solidarity with the developing world has remained strong despite recent difficult and challenging times.  The lesson from our global recession is that it has deepened the inequalities between a minority of the richest and the poorest in so many countries.

The publication of the Government’s new policy for international development last May set out the framework from which Ireland will work to achieve a world of greater equality, free from hunger, eradicable diseases and poverty by promoting nutrition, education, enabling participation, and offering opportunity for all.

The achievement of a human rights core to development relationships and practice remains a core aim.

In this spirit, our shared responsibility to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to craft a framework to succeed them stands out as a priority on which we must all engage. Ireland will be active and steadfast in its support for these efforts in the year ahead.  Global hunger, expenditure on arms, exclusion from decision-making, unnecessary loss and stunting of lives on our planet are the failures of our past century and present decades.

It is also my fervent hope that 2014 will be the year when we witness major steps forward towards the achievement of peace and political stability in the Middle East.  I warmly commend the efforts of all those currently involved in the talks process, particularly the tireless work of those such as US Secretary of State Kerry.  A successful outcome to this process would not only transform the lives of the people of Israel and Palestine but would also have such a positive impact across the wider region and be a source of encouragement for other areas of conflict, conflicts sadly on the increase in so many parts of the world.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

This year, of course, we commemorate a great watershed of 20th Century history as we mark one hundred years since the start of the First World War. This was a brutal war; global in its reach, devastating in its human carnage, and its advent will be remembered in different ways around the world, recalling the sacrifice and loss of life suffered by a generation.  The myriad acts of personal bravery, the nobility of the motives and lives of those lost are rightly remembered, but we are reminded of the human slaughter that occurred, of the horror of war.

The events of the First World War, and the changes that came in its wake, touched this island in many ways, as it did other corners of the globe. Over 200,000 men from this island went to fight, many never to return.  It was a war which left a Europe utterly transformed and while it was perversely claimed as the war ‘to end all wars’, it left a terrible set of consequences.

However, just a generation later, Europe went to war again with even greater loss of life. And so, this year as we commemorate the outbreak of the First World War, let us reflect on the importance of constantly dedicating ourselves to the cause of peace and to the realisation of a world free from injustice and inequality; let us accept the challenge of ensuring that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past in any way, military or economic, that involves such a human price.

Ireland will be undertaking a number of joint acts of remembrance and commemoration with our neighbours and friends in the United Kingdom, a symbol of the warm relationship that now exists between our two peoples. It is a relationship that has blossomed further in the past year and Sabina and I are very much looking forward to the State Visit to the United Kingdom next April, which we are making at the invitation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Nearer home I hope that the coming year will also see further progress towards a deepening and acceptance of reconciliation on our island. Through the talks process chaired by Dr Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O’Sulllivan, a significant advancement has been made in recent times on some of the contentious issues that face society in Northern Ireland.  I applaud these recent painstaking efforts and the progress that has been made.

I welcome this achievement and hope that the political leaders in Northern Ireland will together find it possible to make further progress on these issues in the coming weeks and months.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

As we start a new year with hope and anticipation – a year of looking back to a landmark event in world history and of looking forward with creativity, determination, renewed hope and conviction to our shared future – I would like to thank you all for the vital role that diplomats perform on a daily basis, operating in the spaces between nations to foster understanding and promote cooperation.

Please convey the good wishes of the Irish people to all those you represent so well.

Gúim rath agus sonas oraibh go léir.

I wish you all prosperity and happiness.  I would now like to propose a toast: