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Minister of State Ciarán Cannon, TD., European Union Heads of Mission Lunch

• International development is at the heart of Ireland’s foreign policy, as set out in Global Ireland, the Government’s plan to increase Irish influence and impact globally.

• My portfolio encompasses two quite different roles; Diaspora and International Development and yet as I found during my most recent visit, to Vietnam and Thailand last week, the combination allows me to reach out to two very different groups with whom Ireland takes its links equally seriously.

• Starting with the Diaspora, while in Bangkok, I had the opportunity to address the Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum; to open the Asian Gaelic Games and to host an event for alumni of Irish universities. When we think about the Irish Diaspora, the more traditional image is of the 34.5 million Americans who identify as being Irish American or Scots Irish. But more recent emigration waves have brought the Irish to New Zealand, where we opened an Embassy this summer, to the Middle East, Asia and of course EU Member States, where I believe the Irish are making an important contribution across a broad range of areas, just as citizens of your countries are making here in Ireland.

• And so as the community of 70 million people claiming to be of Irish descent has become more diverse, in terms of destination, age and socio-economic profile, so too has my travel and the type of engagement that we look to have with our diaspora. It is important to me and to my Department to understand who those Irish are, where they are and what kind of connection they want to maintain with Ireland. This is the platform on which our diaspora policy is built and it is important that it reflects the diversity of our community abroad. In March 2015, we set out our first Diaspora Strategy Statement; Global Irish. Under ‘Global Ireland – Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025’, we have committed to drafting a new Diaspora Strategy Statement in 2019 with a view to its launch in 2020.

• I thought it might be useful to talk a little to you about some of the key actions which I and my officials have taken over the past year or so. I chair the inter-Departmental Committee on Diaspora Policy which brings together all of the relevant Government Departments on a regular basis to ensure that we are working in a joined up way to realise the objectives of our Diaspora Strategy. Most recently, that Committee has focused on highlighting the needs of returning emigrants, and to seek to highlight and address potential barriers to Irish people abroad who wish to return to Ireland. This work in addressing potential barriers for our returning emigrants has been complemented by a proactive approach in devising innovative schemes to assist their return. As you will be aware, research suggests that time spent living abroad improves capacity to succeed in creating and growing businesses. At the same time, returning emigrants face challenges unique to them in setting up a business. These include gaps in personal and professional networks, support and up to date local knowledge. To address this potential deficit for returning emigrant entrepreneurs, a new initiative called “Back for Business” was established by my Department last year. This mentoring programme assisted 48 participants and received such positive feedback that we have just completed a tender to select an operator to continue to run the programme for a further two years.

• Our Emigrant Support Programme is the main way we look to support our communities overseas. This year, the total budget was €11.595 million, with a little over half being allocated to organisations in Britain. The diverse range of projects funded reflect the Government’s continued commitment to these organisations, in particular those which provide frontline advisory services and community care to those in greatest need of support. They offer invaluable assistance to our emigrants, especially the most vulnerable, through advice and welfare programmes combatting loneliness, homelessness, addiction and mental health issues. In 2018, for the first time, dedicated funding was provided to collaborative projects which brought together a range of organisations to address a particular need. In addition, grants have been made to Irish cultural and sporting organisations as well as business networks. Since the Programme was established in 2004, we have provided total funding of €160 million to 530 organisations in more than 25 countries.

• I mentioned also the new Diaspora Strategy Statement, which is to be launched in 2020. It is important to me that this Statement will be the product of extensive consultations, both here in Ireland and with our Irish communities across the world, including in Europe. It should be an ambitious strategy that retains the ideal set out in Article 2 of our Constitution: to cherish our special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share in our cultural identity and heritage while continuing to support the more vulnerable members of our community and finding new innovative ways also to connect with the newer waves of emigrants as well as our affinity diaspora.

• To come to the second aspect of my portfolio, the government is committed to development assistance first of all because it works – over the past thirty years, hundreds of millions have been lifted from poverty. Secondly, we believe that it is in Ireland’s self-interest that we live in a more prosperous, fair and peaceful world.

• However, it is also important to remember that Ireland’s commitment to international development also owes a lot to the very history that made Ireland a country of emigration. We have known poverty and hopelessness and hunger.

• Two years ago, Ireland played a central role at the United Nations in brokering agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the SDGs. These are an agenda which every country in the world has signed up and which are focused on making this a better planet by 2030. The Goals are ambitious but essential.

• At the centre of the SDGs is the concept of ‘Leave no-one behind’, and in particular the need to reach the ‘furthest behind first.’ Ireland’s commitment to ensuring that aid reaches those most in need to the greatest extent possible is central to the identity of our aid programme.
• The Government is also committed to ensuring that Ireland meets the UN target for overseas development assistance of 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2030, one of the key objectives of the SDGs.

• However, while the financial element of development cooperation is important, it is through the quality and impact of development programmes that real change is achieved. Ireland’s aid programme has a proud reputation for quality, which I want us to build upon in the years ahead.

• This is the context of the work which we have been undertaking on a new international development policy. The policy will help us map the way forward, setting the framework for us to address some of the global development challenges ahead.

• In developing the new policy, it has been essential that we retain our values, are authentic to Irish experience, and that we build on the quality for which we are renowned. This needs to be combined with a rigorous emphasis on value for money, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.

• Of course, Ireland does not and could not work alone in delivering an effective aid programme. Working through the multilateral system, notably through the United Nations and the European Union, is essential, particularly for a relatively small country which does not have a presence in every part of the world.

• We believe strongly in multilateralism. Our development and humanitarian assistance programmes are an essential element of our support for the rules-based, collective management of our planet.

 

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