Review of Irish foreign policy is long overdue

Re-emphasis of State values most welcome


Over decades the gradual blurring of the distinction between foreign and domestic policy and its administration has proceeded apace with globalisation and our integration into the EU. And so “in the world of 2015 nothing is entirely foreign or wholly domestic”, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan writes introducing to the first major review of the State’s foreign policy since 1996.

That paradox lies at the heart of – even in the title – the review published on Tuesday, “The Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World”. Even the institutional framework of our diplomacy now reflects the overlapping, interweaving of one-time home departments with Iveagh House (DFA). The Taoiseach’s department now runs EU co-ordination, Trade merged into DFA, now DFAT, while Finance manages international discussions on tax reform ...

The review is in part an impressive picture of the huge, complex workload of a department which some of its colleagues and cynics in the press have viewed unfairly as no more than a dining club for Ireland. But it also reprises policy themes from the past and continuity of policy in the context of a changed, post-crisis Ireland.

The shift towards economic diplomacy and the promotion of trade was coming in 1996, but the institutional changes to DFA and the specific mandate from the Taoiseach to go out and sell Ireland Inc’s recovery and its vibrancy as a business centre, to rebrand its tarnished reputation, has in the past five years shifted the priorities somewhat from the promotion abroad of our values to that of our interests. Two decades ago the closing of an embassy in the Vatican for its lack of economic performance would have been inconceivable.

Our EU membership, seen as crucial to our continued prosperity, is ever more central to our international perspective. Not only because of its effect on every aspect of our lives and the volume of work generated for officials, but also for the model and anchor it provides for the ever-more complex set of multilateral relationships that are now our international engagement. The review rightly points to the particular dangers this country faces should the UK withdraw, promising to work hard to encourage its continued membership.

The promotion of this State’s values – human rights, disarmament, development, and the UN collective security and peacekeeping systems – are re-emphasised, with the review noting particular achievements for Irish diplomacy in leading changed approaches on issues like hunger and poverty, cluster munitions , and the work on replacing the Millennium Development Goals.

The review is a welcome and timely survey of a hugely crowded foreign agenda and testimony to this small country’s continued strong commitment to playing its full part on the world stage in the community of nations.