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Speech by Minister of State, Ciarán Cannon T.D.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


You are very welcome to Dublin Castle this evening for the launch of Ireland’s new Africa Strategy.


I would like to extend a particular welcome to our guests from New York. Céad míle fáilte romhaibh!


In Ireland, we have a strong sense of community and a deep understanding of the importance of personal connections. Our community spirit teaches us that by getting to know each other and working together we can more effectively address shared challenges.


The dialogue that will take place over the coming days on peacekeeping and peacebuilding will enable us to understand each other better, to share experience and perspectives, and, by doing so, to strengthen our partnership in making the world a more secure and prosperous place.


Our focus this evening is on Africa. In the spirit of partnership that defines Ireland’s relationship with the continent, the Government’s new Africa Strategy is being launched in the presence of many of Africa’s Permanent Representatives to the United Nations, as well as resident African Ambassadors here this evening.


We hope that the discussions that will take place over the coming days will inform the implementation of the Strategy in a way that is truly partner-based.


At its heart, the new Africa Strategy seeks to build on and expand our strong political partnerships with African countries.


In the past year, I have signed agreements putting in place regular, structured consultations with Zambia and with Mozambique on the full extent of our political partnerships. I look forward to travelling to Mozambique next week to take this work forward.


Last month, I co-chaired, with South Africa’s Minister Alvin Botes, the South Africa-Ireland Joint Commission for Cooperation, at which our Governments discussed our strong cooperation in sectors such as education, trade, tourism, arts and culture, agriculture, science and technology, energy and social partnership.


The new Africa Strategy reflects a genuine commitment by Ireland to deepen these political partnerships with our African friends.


As Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora and International Development, I have the great privilege of responsibility for two very significant strands of Ireland’s relationship with Africa.


The first is Ireland’s 70 million strong diaspora. Given our long history of emigration, relations with the diaspora have always been a part of our political, social and economic life.


Ireland’s relationship with Africa is built on a vibrant and extensive network of people-to-people connections created over centuries. As in the rest of the world, Ireland’s people are our greatest resource in Africa.


The contribution of Irish missionaries, health workers, educators, humanitarian workers, and civil society organisations in building health and education systems, in educating generations of Africans, and in supporting the most vulnerable, laid the foundations of the friendship and mutual respect at the heart of relations today.


Last year, I witnessed the contribution of Ireland’s diaspora on a visit to Zambia. From the capital of Lusaka, I travelled 600km to the city of Mongu in Western Province. There, I met 7 Irish missionaries who had a combined experience of over 300 years of working in Africa.


They were reaching the furthest behind every day through their work in a school for children with disabilities and in community development.


Ireland is very proud of the generations of Irish people who selflessly contributed to building a better world, and who continue to do so today, including through our world-class civil society organisations.


Supporting and engaging with the Irish diaspora in Africa will remain a central part of our work on the continent, and in turn supports our work through the knowledge and goodwill that the global Irish family invariably provides.


Our Irish family also includes those who have studied or worked in Ireland, and people with personal, cultural and economic links with Ireland.


A very significant part of the vibrant ties between Ireland and the diverse African continent are the African communities in Ireland today.


In 2016, Ireland was home to over 57,000 people of African descent. Over 22,000 of these were born in Ireland. Those born in Africa came from 50 African countries.


These are our friends, neighbours and co-workers, and make an important contribution to Irish society and to Irish life.


That contribution is marked across the country every year on Africa Day, when local authorities, supported by the Government, host a programme of community-based events celebrating the culture, food, music, and fashion of African residents.


African communities act as a bridge between Ireland and their home countries, generating business, trade, cultural and educational links that benefit both sides of this dynamic relationship. They broaden Ireland’s experience and enrich our cultural life.


The wonderful performance this evening by Ireland-based ‘Rhythm Africana’ is just one example of this.


My second responsibility as Minister is for Ireland’s international development programme. For fifty years, Ireland has worked to build a more just, secure and sustainable world through our development cooperation.


Like the work of generations of Irish men and women in Africa, Ireland’s development programme resonates with our history and experience of famine, poverty and migration.


This year Ireland has again been found to be the international donor most effective at targeting extreme poverty. We have consistently had a real impact in reaching the furthest behind. 


To maintain our excellent track record, it is important that we adapt to our rapidly changing world and to increasingly complex development challenges.


Earlier this year, the Government launched a new international development policy, ‘A Better World’, which provides a framework for expanding the scale and impact of Ireland’s development cooperation.


It focusses on four priority areas of climate action, gender equality, strengthened governance and reducing humanitarian need, with a commitment to intensify work in three clusters of interventions in which Ireland has proven expertise: protection, food and people.


The policy will guide Ireland’s international development programme as it expands in line with our commitment to reach the UN target of allocating 0.7% of GNI to official development assistance (ODA).


Achieving Ireland’s international development objectives can only be successful if our work is carried out in close partnership with others, through governments and civil society organisations, at local level and internationally.


Ireland understands the importance of listening to the countries most affected by global problems and by working together to further our collective well-being.


The new Africa Strategy sets out how we deepen engagement with Africa to deliver many of the objectives set out in ‘A Better World’, and goes hand-in-hand with our international commitments to reach the furthest behind first.


One area of work that I am particularly proud of, and that I would like to highlight this evening, is education.


Just over fifty years have passed since the introduction of free secondary education in Ireland, and we now have the highest percentage of third-level graduates in Europe. Education has been central to Ireland’s economic success.


Over the last 45 years, 2,000 Fellows from our partner countries have shared in Ireland’s education success story, most of these from Africa.


Through the Fellowship programme, early career professional women and men with leadership potential can avail of postgraduate study in Irish higher education institutions, before returning to influence the advancement of social, economic and development priorities in their home country. Fostering women’s leadership capacity is a priority of the programme.


While they are here, the Fellows learn about Ireland, and build personal and professional relationships that endure long after they have returned home, where they become a part of Ireland’s affinity diaspora.


Every year I have the great pleasure of meeting our Fellows and hearing their enthusiasm for their studies and for Ireland.


In the Fellowships programme, we can see the power of personal connections and development cooperation working hand-in-hand, something that Ireland does better than most.


For this reason, I am particularly delighted to see a commitment in the new Africa Strategy to double the current number of Fellowships for students from Africa to an annual intake of 150 by 2025.


Combined with an intensified effort to engage networks of affinity and reverse diaspora in Africa, this will expand opportunities for young Africans, while ensuring that the vibrant people-to-people relationship between Ireland and Africa will continue to thrive in the coming decades.


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