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Tanaiste's speech at launch of UNFPA World Population Report

Poverty, Health, Speeches, Global, 2013



Your Excellencies, members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to have been invited by the Irish Family Planning Association to launch this year’s State of World Population Report.

The IFPA has been a heroic and hugely influential organisation in Ireland since its foundation in 1969. 

It has played a vital role in empowering Irish women and families – and in the transformation of our society.   

Internationally, as a close partner of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), it is the right host for the launch of this important report.

I am delighted to share a platform today with Dr Mona Kaidbey, the Deputy Director of UNFPA’s Technical Division. As a public health expert Mona has many years of experience dealing with international health issues and we all look forward to her insights on the report.

At the outset, let me acknowledge the very strong relationship which Ireland has with the UNFPA, especially through our overseas development programme. 

The work of UNFPA is fundamental to progress on many of the most pressing global challenges facing humanity. 

I refer not just to the vital issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights, but also to the related challenges of gender equality and population dynamics, including migration, urbanisation, ageing, and the so called “youth bulge” in many developing countries.


The MDGs and the post-2015 global development framework

We are approaching the end of what has been a particularly busy and productive year for my Department – and, more importantly, for Ireland’s role, influence and reputation internationally.   

Building in particular on the work on the ground of our internationally renowned aid programme, we have seen:

-      Ireland’s first year on the Human Rights Council.

-      Ireland’s hugely successful EU Presidency

-      Ireland’s strong influence in shaping the international debate on the future of global development, within the European Union and at the United Nations.

-      And just last month Ireland, together with South Africa, had the privilege of preparing the UN Special Event on the Millennium Development Goals.

I was proud to represent Ireland as one of the small number of speakers to address the opening session, and to co-chair one of the four sessions on progress to date and to outline a framework for the future.  We negotiated an outcome document which will now guide negotiations over the next two years, as we focus on completing the MDGs, and crafting the Post-2015 development agenda.

The UN Special Event confirmed that there has been real – indeed remarkable – progress as a result of the international efforts since 2000 to fight global poverty. 

And Ireland has played an important role.  Over the past thirteen years: 

-      700 million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty.

-      Over 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water.

-      Huge strides have been made in fighting against major diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, and HIV and AIDS.

-      And the mortality rate for children under five has dropped by 41%

This means that hundreds of millions of families have not only been enabled to meet their basic needs, but their children have been given a chance to fulfil their human potential. 

Nevertheless, lives and potential are still being wasted, on a truly scandalous scale.  Other targets set by the international community will not be reached unless we rapidly accelerate our efforts.  

For instance:

Over 800 million people are living in hunger.  One in eight people in our world are chronically undernourished and more than 100 million children under the age of five are underweight.

Ireland has prioritised hunger and resilience as one of the three goals at the centre of our new Policy for International Development.

I am proud that Ireland is one of the leading supporters of the Scaling Up Nutrition movement which focuses on the critical 1,000 days between a mother’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday. And I am proud that we are committed to doubling our aid spending on nutrition by 2016.

On other MDG targets, maternal mortality has declined by nearly half since 1990, but still falls far short of the MDG target. And every single day some 800 women die of avoidable complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

The State of World Population Report is an important annual milestone to measure our progress on the MDGs. And to challenge us to act more effectively.

The report also measures progress against the commitments made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the 20th anniversary of which will be marked at the United Nations in September 2014.

The ICPD Programme of Action had a direct impact on the elaboration six years later of the MDGs – particularly with regard to gender equality and the empowerment of women, including through access to sexual and reproductive health rights.

It also had a very clear commitment to addressing the nutritional needs of young women of child bearing age and to providing education and support to adolescents – young women, and young men - to empower them to delay first pregnancy.

I hope, and expect, that the report before us today and next year’s ICPD review meeting will make a significant contribution to the elaboration of the Post 2015 Development Agenda. 


To quote the UN Secretary General’s comments on Post-2015, it is now possible to see the emerging outlines of a new sustainable development agenda.  And Ireland has played a significant part in this process.

I believe that when world leaders meet at the UN in 2015, we can and should be ready to adopt a new set of global goals aimed at achieving a sustainable, just, and secure future for our world.

I want to see a clear commitment to ending extreme poverty and hunger in a generation. I want to see specific commitments in relation to the empowerment of women and girls. And I want to see an integrated approach on climate change and a strong focus on climate sensitive agriculture. 

We must ensure that human rights; good governance; transparency and accountability are at the core of our efforts.

And the process itself must be inclusive and people-centred. Those of us in the so-called developed world don’t have all the answers.

We have an obligation to make space for the voices from developing countries themselves. Not just governments, but communities, parliamentarians; civil society; institutions for science and knowledge; and the private sector.

Ireland’s Contribution at the Human Rights Council

Ireland has been listening, but we have also been contributing to the debate.  For instance, on the specific theme of today’s report, on adolescent pregnancy.

At the UN Human Rights Council, one of our top priorities is to address gender inequalities and to integrate a gender perspective across all the work of the Council. The rights of children, so often the most vulnerable in society, are also firmly on our agenda.

Just last month, the Human Rights Council approved a new resolution initiated by Ireland, on the practical application of a human rights-based approach to preventable deaths of children under five.

Also last month, the Human Rights Council adopted two resolutions particularly relevant to adolescent pregnancy. Ireland co-sponsored both.

The first related to early, child, and forced marriage.  This is a human rights violation in itself, but it is also has a devastating multiplier effect as girls and women who are trapped in coerced marriages are further deprived of their rights to education.

Their right to health is undermined by the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and their physical and mental health can be destroyed through the trauma of giving birth before their bodies are fully mature.

The second resolution was on the continuing horror of female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM can have devastating consequences during pregnancy, including severe and often fatal obstetric complications. These consequences can be particularly grave for adolescent girls.  

I believe that the leadership of African countries on this resolution and the support from within the UN, including the Joint Programme by UNFPA and UNICEF, are particularly hopeful signs for the future.

Ireland’s approach through our aid programme

Ireland’s development policy is firmly grounded in the experience and lessons of our work with poor communities on the ground, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. 

From my visits to our key partner countries and to other countries affected by conflict I have witnessed many of the challenges associated with adolescent pregnancy.   

We see a range of factors driving teenage pregnancy, in some of the most difficult environments in the world.

I am absolutely convinced that education is the most effective approach we can take to address adolescent pregnancy effectively, in an empowering and sustainable way. 

The evidence is indisputable that the longer girls can stay in a safe and effective school environment the better the outcomes will be for women, for girls, and for society.  This is not just in terms of academic achievement but also in building gender equality. 

Education also boosts health outcomes and economic gains.  In short, it lifts girls and their families out of poverty.  No society can end poverty and hunger and drive its own economic and social development if it does not take determined action to end gender inequality and empower women and girls. 

Across the key partner countries for our aid programme, Ireland is working closely with local communities, NGOs and Government to fund scholarships to help girls overcome the economic costs associated with schooling.

I met and was inspired by some of those girls last year in Karamoja, the poorest region of Uganda.  We support work with traditional leaders to overcome the cultural barriers, including child marriage, associated with girls missing out on school.

We are also working to ensure that national education guidelines are implemented which will encourage girls to return to school after their pregnancy.


Domestic Situation in Ireland

Internationally, we know from the UNFPA that about 16 million girls under age 18 give birth each year.  

This is an issue for us here in Ireland also. 

Although the number of births to teenagers declined by 47% between 2001 and 2012, from just over 3,000 to just over 1,600, there is simply no room for complacency.

CSO statistics from 2011 show that while some 77%  of teenage births are to girls of 18 and 19 years of age, still  2% - or 36 births - were to girls aged 15 and under.  

The partnerships set up between the health, education and voluntary sectors to address these issues in Ireland have been instrumental in making progress.


I believe there are a number of lessons which we can draw from Ireland’s experience, at home and overseas, which can inform global best practice to address adolescent pregnancy and, more broadly to empower women and girls.

First of all we must have reliable data disaggregated by age and gender. This challenge should not be underestimated.

We must involve the widest possible range of partners:  governments and parliaments, at community level, the private sector, the media, civil society.  And we must not fail to include men and boys.

There are no “magic bullets” in human, economic and social development.  We know that from our own experience.  And there is no single solution to the problem of adolescent pregnancy.

We need to focus on human rights; on empowering women and girls; on improving overall health including nutrition and sexual and reproductive health.  

And we need to ensure continued access to quality education; and to provide genuine economic opportunities to lift youth out of poverty.


I left the UN last month with renewed confidence that there is an extraordinary global will to fulfil the promise of the MDGs and to adopt in 2015, a new ambitious integrated framework for global development.

This is one clear reason why I have worked hard to maintain Ireland’s aid budget and our contribution to the fight to end poverty and hunger. 

Together, with your support, and that of our partners such as UNFPA, the goal of ending extreme poverty and hunger within a generation is now possible.

We have an obligation – and an interest – to do all we can to achieve this.  Let us take up the challenge.