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Statement by Minister McHugh at Departmental Conference

Aid Effectiveness, Speeches, Ireland, 2016
Statement for “Our Values” Session, Minister of State for Diaspora and International Development Joe McHugh T.D., DFAT Conference 2016

Statement for “Our Values” Session, Minister of State for Diaspora and International Development Joe McHugh T.D. at DFAT Departmental Conference

Statement for “Our Values” Session

Minister of State for Diaspora and International Development Joe McHugh T.D.


Ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, a chairde,

I am delighted to have this opportunity to address colleagues from home and abroad from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as well as our colleagues from across other Government Departments and our invited guests working on the great humanitarian challenges facing the world today. I am deeply honoured to participate on a panel alongside people with such deserved international reputations as John, Sara and Patricia.

Many of you present are Heads of Mission representing Ireland on the international stage. I would like to welcome you home for this event and thank you for the important role that you play on behalf of the Department and on behalf of your country.  Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leir.

As you know, my portfolio combines responsibility for Irish diaspora affairs and Ireland’s international development programme – the first time these two areas are combined in one Ministerial portfolio.  I am very proud to hold this portfolio, both parts of it so important in maintaining and strengthening further Ireland’s reputation across the world. 

I see great opportunities for connections between my two areas of responsibility – not least in continuing our efforts to respond to humanitarian need.  Many of you here today work in countries that are experiencing the impact of humanitarian crisis.  Displacement and migration, insecurity and conflict are all of increasing concern to national governments and international organisations – here in Europe and across the world.  The number of people affected by crises has doubled over the past decade and much of this increase is being fuelled by conflict.

It is often said that in the fields of humanitarian assistance and conflict resolution, the Irish bring a unique perspective. This undoubtedly stems from the devastating consequences of the Great Famine, our tradition of missionary work, and in more recent times the peace process in Northern Ireland.  I believe that this perspective has informed Ireland’s strongly principled humanitarian response which has become a core element of our foreign policy, reflecting our values as a people. This experience will also assist us in rising to the challenge of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals agreed this time last year in New York.

In July, I had my first opportunity to see what our collective humanitarian and development work is contributing to when I visited Adjumani Refugee Camp in Uganda.  Speaking there with South Sudanese refugees fleeing from brutal war, it was so clear that what they want most of all is peace in their country so that they can return home.  While that possibility remains elusive, they wish to be treated with dignity, to be given opportunities to provide for themselves and to have access to basic services. I was deeply moved, in particular, by the role of women and young people in maintaining hope for the future while coping with the day to day challenges of living in a refugee camp.

The scale of the humanitarian challenge facing us is staggering. An estimated 125 million people are affected by conflict and disasters around the world; 65 million people are displaced from their homes; and despite a tenfold increase in funding over the last two decades, the humanitarian system is struggling to keep pace. 

The Syria crisis is the largest single crisis of our generation.  By the end of 2016, Ireland alone will have spent over €62 million on the Syria crisis in the last five years.  Unfortunately things do not seem to be getting any better for the millions of Syrians living within Syria; we seem to be failing to address the root causes. We need to do more.

When I attended the World Humanitarian Summit in May as the Government representative, I had the privilege of delivering our national statement setting out Ireland’s commitments to further advance the UN Secretary General’s Agenda for Humanity. Our commitments cover a wide variety of issues and are focused on areas where Ireland’s specific expertise and experience can be brought to bear.  The priorities for Ireland include bringing greater coherence and complementarity to our humanitarian and development work; supporting initiatives to build the resilience of vulnerable communities; and working to empower women and to prevent, and respond to, gender-based violence in emergencies. 

The World Humanitarian Summit made a valiant effort to bring together the broadest range of actors that can and should engage in humanitarian action.  My visit to Uganda emphasised for me the critical role played by the Ugandan Government in welcoming South Sudanese refugees; the complementary role played by civil society organisations and the role of the private sector in providing innovative solutions to respond to needs.  I am convinced that the only way to address complex humanitarian crises is to recognise the eco-system within which we work and where we all play a distinct but complementary role.

I am very pleased that within the aid programme we have a number of initiatives already underway in linking humanitarian and development approaches.  I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the much talked-about humanitarian and development nexus.   

Listening to people describing day to day life as a refugee in Adjumani camp gave me a greater appreciation of the real challenge of achieving this. I now understand why we must continue to meet the basic needs of people forced from their homes but alongside such humanitarian assistance we must focus on providing livelihood opportunities for displaced people, safe and secure environments for people to provide for themselves and their families; to continue schooling; to develop their skills and to foster cohesive communities for the future.  The millions of young people growing up in refugee camps are the future hope for peace, stability and prosperity in their home countries – in the Middle East and in Africa. 

We can do more to shift our traditional ways of working in order to address root causes, better respond to the ever increasing humanitarian challenges, and foster sustainable solutions in an increasingly fragile and interlinked world.  Migration is not a new phenomenon; it is here to stay.  Through the full range of work of this Department – diplomatic engagement, participation in the UN system, work on conflict resolution, implementing our aid programme – we need to analyse the reasons why people are forced to leave their home countries, we must find better ways to address root causes, we must look to our own history and experience and see what we can share.  I look forward to exploring how we can do more together in our discussions today and indeed at the UN Migration Summit in September which I hope to attend.

Mar a duirt mé i Istanbul: Tá an fhreagracht orainn go léir obair le chéile chun na gealltanais sin a chomhlíonadh.