Transcript: Jodidi Lecture by Bertie Ahern

Mr. Bertie Ahern, T.D.

Delivered on May 1, 2008

Ireland and the EU: Promoting Peace and Prosperity at Home and Abroad

I would like to thank President of Harvard University, Drew Gilpen Faust, for inviting me here this evening to address this gathering and for those very kind welcoming remarks by Sile de Valera,  friend, colleague and former member of my Government.

I recognise that this Forum is a leading arena for informed discussion on key public policy issues. The Jodidi Lecture was established to highlight the “promotion of tolerance, understanding and goodwill among nations, and the peace of the world.”  

In keeping with the legacy of President Kennedy and indeed his son, John F. Kennedy Junior, these issues are also central to the work that is carried out here at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and Institute of Politics. I am proud to be able to contribute to this important ongoing discussion. 

I would also like to thank Beth Simmons, Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs  for the opportunity to address you this evening. 

When I stood in this auditorium more than six years ago, I spoke to you in some detail about our efforts to pursue peace in Northern Ireland.

The signing of the Good Friday Agreement just over ten years ago marked a watershed in our history.

It marked a new beginning for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland.

It was our framework for a better future.

A framework for a peaceful and lasting political settlement.

It created inclusive power sharing institutions of government in Northern Ireland. It transformed the relations between North and South on the island of Ireland and between Britain and Ireland.

At the time, we all recognised that it was built on difficult compromises and hard choices for all parties. It involved massive change - of political structures and of mindsets - especially for the people of Northern Ireland.

It is not surprising that full implementation of the Agreement was a long and difficult task.

Throughout it all, Prime Minister Blair and I, supported by our friends in America, never ceased in our efforts to push forward progress.

I pay tribute today to the political leaders of all the parties in Northern Ireland who have brought their parties with them to acceptance of difficult but necessary compromises and accommodations.

I pay tribute also to the men and women of Northern Ireland who have worked quietly and tirelessly to build peace and reconciliation in their neighbourhoods, towns and villages. Without this change at community level, the political settlement we created would not have been built on sound foundations.

This last year has been one of historic progress and achievement in Northern Ireland.

On 8 May, 2007, Dr. Ian Paisley of the DUP and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin took office as First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. Since then, they have led an effective power sharing Executive making important decisions for the people of Northern Ireland.

Two months later, I was privileged to lead the Ministers of the Irish Government to the first meeting of the North South Ministerial Council with the new Northern Ireland Executive. At that meeting and in subsequent meetings, we are taking forward initiatives on roads investment, on innovation and on energy supply which are delivering real practical benefits to all the people of the island.

On 11 May last year, I welcomed First Minister Paisley to the Battle of the Boyne site. A true symbol of reconciliation between the two communities on the island - on the site of one of the most divisive and contentious battles in our history. One of my last acts before leaving office will be to welcome First Minister Paisley there again to officially open the battle site visitors’ centre.

Yesterday, I was proud to address the joint Houses of Congress and had the honour to tell them that Ireland is now at peace.

The EU has provided strong financial and moral support to Northern Ireland and to the border counties over the past two decades and has now entered a new phase of engagement in light of the positive political developments in Northern Ireland.

The European Union has provided a new context for the historic developments in Northern Ireland.  

President John F. Kennedy during his historic visit to Ireland in the summer of 1963 described Ireland as ‘an isle of destiny’ and predicted that ‘when our hour is come, we will have something to give to the world’.  

35 years of European involvement has been a powerful force in causing Ireland’s hour to come in a manner that could scarcely have been imagined by past generations.   

The facts of Ireland’s advancement as a member of the European Union speak for themselves.    We have progressed from being one of the least developed western European countries in the 1970s to one of the most successful today. 

My generation has been a particular beneficiary of these changes.  We have lived our lives in an Ireland of hope and expectation. 

These advances are clearly the product of various influences. It is very evident, for example, that our special ties with the United States have played an indispensable role in our emergence as a leading edge, knowledge-intensive economy.  

While Europe has clearly been a vital catalyst for us, I have never seen our membership in purely economic terms.

People outside of Ireland often ask why, as a country that struggled so long to assert our independence, we are such enthusiastic supporters of European integration?  These attitudes are, I think, a by-product of our national experience.  

We have a proud tradition of active engagement in international affairs.  We are deeply committed to the United Nations and have a distinguished record of service in peacekeeping operations stretching back 50 years. 

We attach considerable priority to the promotion and protection of human rights and are determined to continue speaking on behalf of those who face political oppression around the world.  

In recent years, the economic advances we have made have enabled us to increase our commitment to international development.  We have seen a steady expansion of our official Overseas Development Assistance, which this year will reach almost $1.5 billion (dollars).   It was a privilege for me to be able to announce at the UN General Assembly in September 2005 our national commitment to achieving the UN target of 0.7 % of GDP by the year 2012.  

Our own history has, I think, given us a genuine understanding of the challenges facing developing countries and a determination to play our full part in the battle against poverty and disease in the developing world.  

In more than two decades of involvement in European affairs, I have become a passionate believer in the value of Europeans working intensively together to address their shared problems and to harness our shared opportunities.  I am now more convinced than ever before that Ireland can achieve far more in partnership with our neighbours than we could ever do on our own.          

The Union’s record in the promotion of peace is a formidable one.   At the macro level, of course, European integration has served to heal the wounds of the past. 

The European Union is, I believe, entering into a new and exciting stage in its evolution. 

Last year witnessed two significant milestones in the Union’s history. 

First, in March, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the European Union’s founding document, the Treaty of Rome.  

Then, in October, we agreed the terms of a Reform Treaty aimed at giving Europe the capacity to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.   That agreement was modelled on the EU Constitutional Treaty negotiated under Ireland’s auspices in 2004.

Perhaps the main reason for this new European Treaty is the desire for a more cohesive European role in world affairs.     For all of Europe’s advances in promoting economic integration - the achievement of the single market and the successful launch of the single currency, the euro - our international voice has remained relatively muted.   The new European Treaty attempts to rectify this deficit.      

The Union has always acted as a beacon, demonstrating the success that could be achieved by a voluntary community of States pledged to act in cooperation and in the common interest, while respecting their diversity.

The crisis in the Balkans in the 1990s taught Europe a sad, costly lesson. This became a catalyst for the development of a more meaningful external role for the Union.  We came to realise that a united European view would carry infinitely more weight than individual States acting alone.

The development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy has provided the European Union with an enhanced capacity to respond coherently to international developments and to crisis situations.  The EU is currently in the process of deploying a significant rule of law mission to Kosovo, which will help that new State establish durable institutions and ensure respect for human rights. 

Similarly, the European Union has, since 2004, provided a military stabilisation force in Bosnia Herzegovina, under a UN mandate, to contribute to the maintenance of a safe and secure environment in that country. 

On foot of the success of the Northern Ireland peace process, we have decided to try to capture some of the key lessons of the process, and to seek, where appropriate, to share some of these lessons with others struggling to overcome conflict situations. 

Europehas arrived at a time of decision about its future.  An important part of that decision will be taken in Ireland where we will be holding a referendum on the Lisbon Reform Treaty next month. 

After years of internal debate about the proper functioning of our Union of 27 Member States, it is time to move forward and to deal actively and imaginatively with the major policy issues that demand our urgent attention. 

We know that Europe cannot rest on its laurels.   We must move forward and, for many of us, this means devoting more of Europe’s energies to coping with external challenges.

We believe that Europe has a responsibility to give a lead to the global community, for example in relation to tackling climate change. 

It is an important priority for Ireland to ratify the Reform Treaty.  This is not a radical advance for the European Union. 

We want the European Union to be able to manage its affairs more effectively and to be able to play a more meaningful role in world affairs.

2009 will be an important year for the European Union.  It will be a time of change in many parts of the world.  I hope that Europe will by then have a new Treaty in place.  This will put our house in order for the foreseeable future. 

These new positions will give Europe a new profile in world affairs so that the values we share can be articulated more clearly.  A major priority in the years ahead will be to ensure that the EU-US relationship continues to prosper.  It is by far the world’s most important economic relationship. 

When President Kennedy came to Ireland in 1963, he had just made his famous visit to Berlin – the symbolic locus of a divided Europe.  Forty-five years later, Germany is re-united and the countries of central and eastern Europe are breathing freely.  In the north-west corner of Europe, Ireland is putting its terrible conflict behind. 

The US, as we all appreciate, has played an indispensable role in all of this progress.  The personal courage of people on the ground, many of whom suffered profound wrongs, has been vital.  Painstaking government-to-government work has been essential.  The European Union has also provided a crucial context. 

I can safely say that President Kennedy’s words in 1963 about having ‘something to give the world’ ring true today, as Ireland and the EU strive to promote peace and prosperity at home and abroad.

Thank you.