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Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach, at the University of Ulster, Magee, 4 March 2004

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Text: Bertie Ahern ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), at the University of Ulster, Magee, on 'The European Union: A Force for Peace in the World', (4 March 2004)


"It is a great honour to be here in Derry today. Derry is for all of us a beacon of hope and an example of the triumph of humanity and cooperation over division and despair. It is, I feel, the ideal location to address the challenges facing Ireland, Europe and the world.

I am particularly happy to be in the company of John Hume. He is, in so many ways, a living symbol of Derry. John has worked tirelessly for peace his whole life. As well as being a statesman whose tenacity and conviction are widely admired, he is a visionary.

He was a visionary on Ireland. But for his courage and wisdom we might never have achieved the progress of recent years.

And he was a visionary on Europe, recognising from day one its potential to contribute, not only to easing division in Ireland, but as a force for peace and good in the wider world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is nowhere pre-ordained that international security and the lot of humanity will inevitably and continuously improve. It is up to each generation to engage with the wider world so as to help shape it for the better.

This generation of Irish men and Irish women - this generation of Europeans - have an important role to play. We must all play our part.

The world has changed fundamentally in the past decade and a half. In the matter of international security and the prevention, management and resolution of conflict, the context has undergone profound change. Unprecedented challenges face the entire global community.

If these challenges are to be met, Europe must play its part and we must do this to the full, using all of the instruments available to us and guided by principles which have served the wider world well.

Europe is in the process of changing and organising itself so that it can play this important role.

It cannot play this indispensable role from the sidelines.

The Secretary General of the United Nations has repeatedly welcomed the enhancement of Europe’s various capacities and the steadily growing role that Europe is playing.

The theme to-day, "The European Union: A force for peace in the World", has never been more valid.

The Irish Presidency is taking place against the background of what may be seen in years to come as a defining period in the broader field of international relations. Divisions in the international community over the past year have highlighted the need to develop a more effective multilateral international system.

The challenges facing us cannot be resolved through unilateral action by any one country, or group of countries, no matter how large the resources or resolute the determination to go it alone.

A few years ago, Kofi Annan captured this point clearly when he noted that ‘…Challenges to peace and security today are predominantly global … They require complex and collective responses, which are possible only if the web of multilateral institutions is adequately developed and properly used.’

So how does this relate to the EU?

Let us not forget what binds Europe together in the first place. As a community of shared values, the Union is uniquely placed to play a stronger role in support of peace and security, human rights and development. With the accession of ten new Member States in just under two months time, an enlarged EU will comprise over 450 million people producing a quarter of the world’s Gross National Product.

There is no doubt that the European Union is a global player. Our size and wealth brings not only opportunities but also obligations.

As Presidency, Ireland is facilitating the dynamic to enhance the role of the EU as a force for peace.

This is the thinking behind the European Security Strategy, which was adopted by the European Council last December. The increasing focus on the role of the Union in international affairs led to the decision to draw up such a Strategy. It signals a step towards the Union taking a more strategic approach in the external action area. This is both timely and necessary, not least in light of the enlargement of the Union. Enlargement, is in itself, a response to the new challenges the Union is facing - that of reinforcing political stability and economic security on our own continent.

The European Security Strategy is a comprehensive approach to security, going beyond purely military aspects. This is how it should be – security is everybody’s business.

The Security Strategy identifies the global challenges and opportunities facing the Union and the need for a coherent and all-embracing response.

In the past, the Union has tended to react to developments. But the Security Strategy sets the context for a more pro-active approach, stemming from an awareness of the need to define a common perception of security threats and of the role the EU can play in tackling them.

The Security Strategy is not about creating a military super-power. Nor is it a charter for military intervention or foreign adventures. Those who seek to present it in these terms are profoundly wrong.

It is Ireland’s responsibility, as Presidency, to guide the Union’s first steps towards implementing the Strategy. As Presidency, we have been tasked by the European Council with conducting follow-up work in four areas – these are effective multilateralism, the fight against terrorism, strengthening relations with the Middle East region and the Arab world, and, not least, developing a comprehensive strategy for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It is on one of these themes in particular that I would first wish to focus this morning. And that is – "effective multilateralism". Both as Presidency, and nationally, this is an area to which we attach particular importance.

"Effective multilateralism" is a much-used phrase. But what does it actually mean in practice. Why is it so important?

In essence, it means getting the various international organisations to work more effectively together. It is a recognition that global security can only be achieved through collective action by the international community as a whole. In the Security Strategy, the EU makes it clear that the United Nations is the crucial organisation in this regard. The primary responsibility of the United Nations Security Council for international peace and security is clearly endorsed.

As Presidency, we wish to see the Union use its voice at the UN to better effect, and to contribute to the current process of UN reform.

The EU is perhaps one of the best examples of effective multilateralism in practice. It is natural that the EU would support this principle and work closely with the UN on crisis management issues. The United Nations itself sees growing benefits in fostering this cooperation to the benefit of both organisations. Kofi Annan has welcomed the Union’s developing capabilities for civil and military crisis management. As Presidency, we want to build on this synergy between what the UN and the EU are doing.

There are practical steps that we can take. In September 2003, the UN and the EU agreed a political declaration on cooperation on crisis management. The Irish Presidency is implementing this important declaration.

Minister Cowen has met Kofi Annan and agreed that the two organisations will build on the cooperation between them for the very successful stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last summer. This mission was undertaken by the EU at Kofi Annan’s request.

The more effective contacts and co-ordination between the two organisations, which are now being put in place, will enable them to respond to other challenges that require a rapid response from the international community.

The Strategy then is already paying dividends in terms of EU and UN cooperation. It is also paying dividends in the field of conflict prevention.

Prevention is at the heart of the Security Strategy. A culture of prevention infuses the document. It makes the clear statement that "conflict prevention and threat prevention cannot start too early". The EU is, therefore, developing an increasingly strong and coherent policy on the prevention of violent conflicts. I do not have to remind an audience here in Northern Ireland this morning that we cannot achieve security if we do not tackle the root causes of conflict.

And this, as the Northern Ireland experience illustrates so clearly, goes beyond the immediate threats to take account of the environment in which those threats are generated and sustained.

I think we should also remember, as John Hume has so correctly highlighted, the extent to which the European Union is itself probably the most successful example of conflict prevention in history. The EU came forward in a Europe recovering from the horror of two global wars. Out of the devastation of war we created a unique union dedicated to peace. As such, the EU is a remarkable experiment in collective action to address problems that are beyond the reach of any one country to solve.

Conflict prevention is already implicit in much of the work and priorities of the EU. But the Presidency is mainstreaming this area and giving it greater visibility. This includes a focus, not only on enhancing the Union’s capacity for early warning to prevent potential conflict, but also looking at how better to match such early warning capacity with early action.

When it comes to conflict prevention, the European Union is playing to its strengths. It has at its disposal a wide range of capacities, which sets it apart from any other organisation. As well as developing capabilities for military and civilian crisis management, the resources available to the Union also encompass development co-operation assistance and trade policy, as well as diplomatic and political measures.

Bringing greater coherence and effectiveness to our collective EU external action means harnessing these instruments. This enables the Union to develop a broadly based approach to the complex problems which face us as an international community.

As part of the Presidency’s commitment to the conflict prevention area, we will also host a conference on this subject in Dublin which will focus on the role of civil society and non-governmental organisations.

The European Security and Defence Policy is fully consistent with Ireland’s neutrality policy. Our policy has always expressed itself in support for conflict prevention and crisis management. The European Security and Defence Policy now allows us to play our true role in building peace in the world, hand in hand with our EU partners. It enables us to be far more active in areas which traditionally have been so central to our foreign policy.

Already the Union has undertaken several operations under the European Security and Defence Policy.

I have already referred to last summer’s mission aimed at stabilising the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The EU and the UN worked in close harmony on this mission, which helped to alleviate a situation of great humanitarian distress. The military monitoring mission in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which concluded last December, has also proved highly successful.

Both of these operations illustrate, in tangible terms, how far the EU has travelled in a short period of time in terms of our ability to meet our international responsibilities.

The Irish Presidency is also facilitating the ongoing EU Police Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This mission is playing a central role in building the sustainable policing capacity that Bosnia requires if it is to continue along the road to recovery. I am pleased to say that an Irish police officer, Assistant Commissioner Kevin Carty, has been selected to act as head of this EU policing mission. He took up duty just earlier this week. Assistant Commissioner Carty has been charged with overseeing some 470 police officers and 60 civilian personnel who are an important element of the EU’s overall contribution to peace and stability in the region.

The Union’s commitment to developing policing capacity in the Balkans is also reflected in the ongoing EU Police Mission in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Looking ahead, the EU is being called upon to provide a follow-on mission to the current multinational peace stabilisation force, SFOR, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This will represent a key challenge for the Union. SFOR is a significantly larger and more complex operation than any undertaken to date under the European Security and Defence Policy. It can be envisaged that any EU follow-on force would continue to operate under a mandate from the UN Security Council.

As Presidency, Ireland is facilitating the arrangements for the EU follow-on to SFOR. This is fully consistent with the importance we attach to the international community continuing to play an active and constructive role in the Balkans region.

It is, perhaps, as much as any other factor, the experience of the Balkans that underlines the imperative of the EU continuing to strive towards the maintenance of peace and security in our own neighbourhood and beyond.

The EU has already done much to establish its credentials as a force for peace in the wider world. As Presidency, we want to play our part in facilitating this role. The steps we take towards implementing the recommendations of the Security Strategy will lay a foundation for the positive and constructive role that the EU should play in advancing the cause of peace and stability.

At the heart of John Hume’s vision, based on his understanding of the European experience and ideal, was his conviction that the differences that divide people can be transcended by working together to overcome their common problems.

As John succinctly puts it, we must spill our sweat and not our blood.

Our common membership of the European Union has provided a new teamwork within which Ireland and Britain have been able to address their relationships.

And never has there been a more opportune time to make progress. Ireland, North and South, can take real advantage of the tides in world affairs if we act promptly and constructively.

I firmly believe that if we build a lasting peace on this island, we can be both a force for positive change in the world and a beneficiary of the ever-quickening globalisation of the world economy.

We know that partnership politics on this island is the way forward.

We know that the people of Northern Ireland yearn for stable politics.

We know that they want their own elected politicians to get on with the job of making positive differences in areas like health, education, transport and tackling the problems of economic and social disadvantage in deprived loyalist and republican communities.

In summary, we know that the people of Northern Ireland want to move beyond the old politics of confrontation that have failed them and to embrace the new politics of partnership that will provide a positive future for their children.

It is, therefore, immensely frustrating that, as we collectively strive to find a way forward towards realising this vision of partnership politics, yet another manifestation of the destructive agenda of the past should convulse the political process.

We cannot have a process that is continually in crisis because there are those who will not relinquish the ways of the past.

Recent events have brought into very sharp relief what was, in any event, the reality for some time. We have reached a bedrock situation in the political process and it is this.

The continuation of paramilitary activity by the republican movement negates any prospect of achieving inclusive partnership politics in Northern Ireland.

I believe that the Sinn Fein leadership understand this reality and are working towards achieving that objective of ending paramilitarism. The problem is that time is no longer a friend of the process.

It is now almost six years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. In that time, we have had significant historic events. But we have only periodically been able to see the Agreement working at its best.

Remedying the deficits of trust and confidence that now exist requires a fast-forwarding to completion. That is the task that all parties of influence must now focus on.

We all know what must be done.

Some parties seem to believe that a policy of exclusion is the answer. It is my belief that any such policy would not be workable.

Arrangements which excluded the largest party in one community would scarcely be the best expression of partnership government, would in practice not provide political stability and would not be conducive to achieving closure on paramilitarism.

I fully agree with Prime Minister Blair when he says that the people of Northern Ireland want the republican movement to commit to peace, the unionists to commit to power-sharing and for everyone to get on with the job of delivering good governance and a better future for all.

For that to happen, the republican movement needs to fully understand and accept the imperative of definitively ending – both in words and deeds – the culture of paramilitarism.

And unionism needs to unequivocally embrace the principle and practice of inclusive partnership politics.

If these core issues, which are inextricably linked, can be resolved, I believe that Northern Ireland will be on an irreversible path to peace, stability and progress.

The Governments too must meet our commitments.

Regardless of political context, we must press on with the implementation of the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, not as concessions to one side or another, but because they are the objective requirement of the new and fair society that the Agreement envisaged.

The EU has been of enormous help in underpinning the peace we have already achieved in Northern Ireland. The financial support provided by the PEACE I and PEACE II programmes has brought significant benefit. Some €1 billion has been committed through these programmes. In addition, the EU has committed over €200 million to the International Fund for Ireland which, as a result of the contributions received from its international donors, has done extraordinary work in promoting economic development and reconciliation.

We hope when the PEACE II programme ends later this year, that it can be followed by a further programme. We will be working closely with the British to try to assure this. The work is not yet finished. But the EU has shown that it is not only interested in peace outside its borders. It also has, and is, supporting peace closer to home.

Thank You."


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