World View: Ireland plots a course for the next 100 years
We have moved from peripherality to being an island at centre of world, forum hears
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “One hundred years ago we were an island on the periphery of western Europe. In the next 100 we will be a nation at the heart of the common European home we helped to build.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
“The permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military domination for profit of empire, but only by establishing the control of government in every land on the basis of the free will of a free people . . .”
This quotation comes from Dáil Éireann’s message to the nations of the world 100 years ago. The document was issued alongside its declaration of independence from Britain in which a similar liberal and anti-imperial nationalism was proclaimed. “Every free nation should recognise Ireland’s national status,” it declared.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has just marked the hundred years of Irish diplomacy flowing from this declaration when representatives were first appointed to lobby for recognition. An international conference on Global Ireland 2025, Making It Happen was held in Dublin Castle which brought all its current and retired ambassadors together.
The programme was based on the Global Ireland objectives to double the scope and impact of the State’s international footprint by 2025 by opening new diplomatic missions throughout the world, expanding existing ones in Europe, promoting Irish arts, heritage and culture, enhancing digital footprints, committing to spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on development assistance by 2030 and promoting values of peace, humanitarianism, equality and justice through the campaign to elect Ireland as a UN Security Council member in 2021. The ambitious plan is set out in a 72-page document issued last July.
Workshops on economics
Speakers included Taoiseach Leo Varadkar online from Mali, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, German foreign minister Heiko Maas and secretary general of the European External Action Service Helga Schmid. Among the panellists were Eamonn Sinnott from Intel Ireland, former president Mary Robinson, Renata Dwan from the UN’s disarmament research institute, Bill Emmott of the Economist, the writer Anne Enright, Druid’s Garry Hynes and former rugby player Keith Wood. Thematic workshops on economics, conflict in the Horn of Africa, the Irish diaspora and reputation building discussed how to improve performance.
There was a conscious effort to avoid too much emphasis on Brexit, despite its huge potential impact. Global Ireland is intended to reposition this country securely in the European and worldwide setting after Brexit and to prepare for the necessary diversification and extension of interests. As Varadkar put it, “One hundred years ago we were an island on the periphery of western Europe. In the next 100 we will be a nation at the heart of the common European home we helped to build; an island at the centre of the world.” He is committed to keep up a deep and strong relationship with the UK and its constituent parts.
The conference was enhanced by a range of outside participants, making the occasion an opportunity to catch up on current representatives and hear their concerns. Many ask whether and how existing resources and organisations can be improved to match these objectives. Former diplomats found the final reception in St Patrick’s Hall a moving opportunity to catch up with former colleagues and meet younger successors on such an auspicious anniversary.
The diaspora discussion raised competing challenges of welfare and entrepreneurship and how Ireland’s comparatively limited Anglophone language skills can learn from wider internal and external migrations. Since 17 per cent of the State’s current population was born elsewhere and 17 per cent now resides overseas, there is a fascinating symmetry between the two. A strategy to encourage Irish emigrants to return should be matched by efforts to retain contacts with the new “reverse diaspora” of those who return to former homes like Poland after working here.
Geopolitical challenges include how to match Ireland’s complacent economic and consumer behaviour to its ambitious commitments on climate breakdown, by going from laggard to leader. How can the multilateral international order Ireland supports make room for non-western newcomers like China and Brazil as Ireland seeks support for a Security Council seat? The economic discussion was optimistic and stressed the need to listen more to other voices. The arts and culture, and individuals in them need much more basic material support if they are to fulfil these expectations. There were cautionary warnings that the arts have in the past and should in future subvert and disrupt comfortable assumptions about Irish society.
Given the symbolic importance of this anniversary conference, participants were glad to hear the German minister pledge support for Ireland on Brexit. “Avoiding a hard border in Ireland is a fundamental concern” for an EU which serves one major purpose, he said: “To build and maintain peace in Europe.”