Paasikivi-Seura ry.
Paasikivi-Samfundet rf.
Paasikivi Society

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23.5.2001 Mary McAleese, Irlannin presidentti: Finland and Ireland: the challenges of a changing world

Mary McAleese, The President of Ireland
Finland and Ireland: the challenges of a changing world

I an delighted to have this opportunity of addressing the Paasikivi Society. It is both an honour and a pleasure to me, as the representative of another small State in Europe, to contribute to the discussion of the role of small States in international relations - a role which President Paasikivi himself did so much to advance in his half century of devoted public service and as the main architect of Finland's foreign policy after the Second World War.

This discussion, in both our countries, has been dominated in recent years by the transformation of the political and economic landscape of our continent. The first half of the twentieth century in Europe was overshadowed by the grim nightmare of conflict. The second half was uplit by a dream of consensus. Ireland and Finland are both involved in the momentous task of realising that dream of a new Europe, empowered by partnership.

In the last five years both our countries have taken the lead, during our respective Presidents of the European Union, in guiding the Union's evolution and I wish, in this regard, to pay particular tribute to Finland for its outstandingly successful Presidency in 1999. The exemplary leadership shown by President Ahtisaari and President Halonen - as well as Prime Minister Lipponen - underlined Finland's importance as a centre of gravity within the Union.

Several years ago before I became President, I was giving a talk in a Chinese University. The students were anxious to hear about Ireland and I attempted to show them where it was on the world map. It took considerable magnification of the overhead, a zoom lens and twenty-twenty vision on the part of the students to find my microscopic homeland! There is no doubt that we, the smaller nations of the world, have to work harder to get our voices heard but all the more reason then for us to be determined and focused in the contributions we can make on the world stage and all the more reason to stop for a moment and survey the extent of that contribution and the success of it thus far in our contemporary world.

My subject today is the challenges and opportunities that our changing world presents to countries such as Finland and Ireland and, in particular, the enhanced role they can play through the European Union, the United Nations and through shared agendas which derive from perspectives we hold in common on many important matters. In choosing this subject I am mindful of the argument put forward by your own Statesman, Johan Vilhelm Snellman when, in the nineteenth century, at a time when Finland was still under Russian rule, he said that "nations do not exist just for themselves but for humankind as a whole". Finland today, like Ireland is striving to be faithful to that ideal, working for prosperity and opportunity at home, labouring to build up the European Union, involved in an extensive global outreach which includes helping to bring peace, justice, health and prosperity to less fortunate parts of our world. We each see it as an essential investment in the future of our countries and our planet.

Both our countries suffered from domination by large neighbours for many generations, indeed we achieved indepence within a few years of each other as the world faced the chaos and devastation of the First World War. We have each had to establish new and healthier relationships with those larger neighbours in place of historic enmities and bitter memories. We are jealous custodians of our hard-won indepence but we use it not to build barricades of fear but to self-confidently build bridges to the rest of the world. Ireland and Finland together strongly uphold the rule of international law and the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. Indeed, we both entered the United Nations on the same day - 14 December 1955. Our countries have followed a policy of military neutrality which was never inhibited our concern for the prevention and management of conflicts throughout the world, best exemplified by our respective and indeed often joint peace-keeping endeavours. Our countries have known economic hardship, with all the human tragedy of its social consequences and it has equipped us with a ready compassion for the poor and opposed. We have known the powerlessness of silence and it has made us determined to be heard. In this generation, we have seen the genius of our own people blossom at home, bringing prosperity and pride to our homelands and above all, bringing real hope to those in our communities who are still on the margins, waiting for their day in the sun.

With so much in common it is perhaps hardly surprising that we have found ourselves close partners at the United Nations in all areas of its work. Irish peacekeepers have worked with their Finnish counterparts in Cyprus and in the Lebanon and indeed I was the recipient of the most lavish Finnish hospitality in Kosovo a few months ago, when the lunch in my honour at Irish HQ, Camp Clarke, saw the Irish sit down to eat a meal prepared with the help of Finnish Chefs, at tables borrowed from the Finns. Meanwhile the Finnish soldiers ate a cold pre-packed lunch standing up! That generosity says a lot about the comfortable relationship between Ireland and Finland.

Irish diplomats work with their Finnish colleagues in the committees of the General Assembly in New York, and indeed in all the organs of UN. The record of sustained contribution by our countries to the work of the United Nations is also striking. During the Cold War, when the United Nations, especially its Security Council, frequently found itself virtually paralysed, there was a key role for small neutral countries in finding a way out the impasse.

Some might perhaps ask whether the new circumstances of the post Cold War might have made the distinctive contribution of military neutral and non-aligned countries such as Ireland, Finland, Sweden, and Austria redundant. Yet in fact, this is clearly not the case. Both Finland and Ireland maintain a very high level of involvement, and in this context I pay tribute to the work of your former Prime Minister, Harri Holkeri, currently President of the General Assembly, who has also played a distinguished role in the Paasikivi Society. I shall be speaking in a moment about his crucial recent role in the Northern Ireland process.

For our part, our election to the Security Council last October provided heartening reassurance of the continuing recognition of our commitment to the UN and of the vital role small nations with a strong voice can play. The very fact that 130 of the 173 nations participating in the ballot voted for Ireland in the first round is testimony of this recognition. It also carries with it a heavy responsibility. We are committed to working for the broader interest of the membership, the vast majority of which exists in much less favourable circumstances than do any of us in the European Union. At the same time, we are currently the only non-permanent EU member of the Council and we are also committed - as indeed are the two permanent members - France and the United Kingdom - to respecting fully the provisions of Article 19 of the Amsterdam Treaty for EU co-ordination and common positions in multilateral fora.

This raises, in turn, a rather difficult and sensitive issue - the way in which the national and collective contributions of the member States of the European Union can be co-ordinated in the most effective way, respecting simutaneously both the national traditions which each of us has developed in our own foreign policies, and the Treaty commitments which we share in respect of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the Union.

It would not be appropriate for me to put forward any specific proposals in this regard. However, speaking on the basis of my own experience as President, including my visits to areas of conflict, such as the Western Balkans and the Middle East, where the United Nations and the European Union are both actively involved, it seems to me that we should not see this as a problem but rather as an opportunity. It is precisely because of the highly principled and highly practical roles that small EU member States such as Ireland and Finland have developed over nearly half a century in the service of the United Nations, that we are now particularly well-placed to provide a constructive input to the shaping of the future contribution with the European Union as a whole might make to the UN.

I know that the UN Deputy Secretary General, Louise Fréchette, recently addressed this Society on the ways in which the European Union and the United Nations can work together in conflict prevention and peacekeeping. Included in her address on that occasion was the message that peace and security depend not only on military and diplomatic operations but also on building a fairer world in which all peoples have an opportunity to better themselves through sustainable economic development. It is a message easily understood by the Finns and the Irish, for we have a passionate belief drawn deeply from the veins of history that widely accessed, equitably distributed economic and educational opportunity is inextricably linked to the proper understanding of human dignity. Individually we have been able to do so much but working together through the European Union and the United Nations we have a strength and intensity of purpose which will be crucial in enabling our world to achieve its broader goals in areas such as poverty reduction, the promotion of trade and investment, the struggle against AIDS and bringing the "digital divide".

All of these goals, and many others were set out in the Millennium Declaration, adopted at the Millennium Summit last October: I pay tribute to President Tarja Halonen for her co-chairmanship of this historic Summit which provided a new political impetus to the work of the UN. The results are now beginning to be seen. Let me mention briefly two areas which are of special relevance to Ireland.

Development issues are a central focus in our engagement with the United Nations. At the Millennium Summit, the Taoseach pledged that Ireland will meet the UN target of 0,7% of GNP by the end of 2007 and as an interim step will reach the level of 0,5% by the end of 2002. In meeting our targets, we anticipate a four-fold increase in our aid over the next seven years. This will greatly increase our ability to make a real impact on the lives of some of the poorest people on earth. Ireland's aid budget is both a test and a reflection of our commitment to the values and principles set out in the Millennium Summit Declaration. Finland has long shown leadership in this regard.

One of the greatest challenges to development is HIV/AIDS. If the spread of AIDS is to be arrested, we need greater resources; easier access to essential drugs at affordable prices, more research funds, coherent leadership, and sustained awareness education at ground level. The fight against AIDS is now an integral part of all Irish development activities, with funding budgeted for both prevention and the search for vaccines. Ireland looks to next month's UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS in New York as a unique opportunity to bring hope to the millions of our brothers and sisters suffering from this deadly and avoidable disease.

The challenges of change confront us also much closer to home, and here too I see synergy between the efforts of our two countries. For example, in the context of the Union's future enlargement and in particular the extension of its reach to the North East, your geographical posotion and historic experiences place you in a unique position to articulate the Northern Dimension which will play a crucial role as we move into this next phase of the great European Union adventure. Ireland has been very happy to support the initiatives that you have taken in this regard.

On the island of Ireland, at the same time as our peacekeepers have been serving the United Nations and the cause of international peace abroad, we have been struggling to come to terms with the legacy of our own tragic past, and trying to build a more humanly decent future, for the people of Northern Ireland - a future free from conflict and the causes of conflict.

There have been very fraught and trying times. Building peace out of the wounds and hatreds of the past is far from easy as Finland well knows. It has been a struggle to find enough trust to make a start and to grow a critical mass of trust sufficient to keep moving forward from conflict to consensus. But it has been done and day by day by the roots of peace get stronger. We now have a good story to tell but we did not write the story entirely alone.

Throughout these years of peace making, we have been blessed in our friends in the interntional community. Among them, Finland has made an exceptional contribution to these efforts, particularly in recent years. I am delighted to pay tribute here to the work of your former Prime Minister, Harri Holkeri. We in Ireland came to know him very well through his key role as one of the Independent Chairs of the Talks that led successfully to the Good Friday Agreement, a role to which he tirelessly brought his exceptional wisdom.

Just three years ago yesterday, the Good Friday Agreement was overwhelmlingly endorsed in simultaneous refenda by the people of Ireland, North and South. It provides a strong framework fr the vital work of building a just and lasting peace on the island of Ireland, underpinned by real vindication of human and civil rights and genuine equality. Former enemies now work together in what must surely be the most remarkably advanced form of concensus based democratic politics anywhere in the world. As a person born and raised in Northern Ireland, I feel an enormous pride when I see Northern Ireland's new government working together to improve the lives of all the people of Northern Ireland and to build a much healthier relationship with the Republic of Ireland.

There are still, however, and not unexpectedly, some challenges in implementing the Agreement. These relate, as many of you know, to policing, decomissioning, the normalisation of security arrangements and the stability of the institutions. All of these issues are interconnected. None of them is insuperable and trojan work is being done to reconcile the remaining differences. Here tribute is to two eminent Finns: your former President, Martti Ahtisaari, is involved in working on one of the most sensitive issues placing illegal weapons permanently beyond use. His distinguished international reputation and ability, fairness and wisdom, as this important work continues is very much appreciated. The fine, much respected work of Brigadier Tauno Nieminen, as a member of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, is also deeply appreciated.

There was a time on our planet when our small nations were vulnerable, ignored, when we did not seem to count. But our peoples kept in their hearts a dream of a time when we would come of age, when we would be champions of human decency at home and abroad. Our peoples have come of age. We are two nations in our stride, stronger, more self-confident, more determined, more successful than at any time before in our respective histories. Now the chalenge is to use these times well. Our small but sure voice is a good thing. Two small but sure harmonious voices are even better. Day in and day out Ireland and Finland are making a significant contribution to this complex world of ours - a contribution way in excess of any arbitrary limits simple population size might predict. Our stories inspire those who are still struggling to believe in the future. Our actions help them to achieve that future. We in Ireland look forward to continuing to work closely with our friends in Finland, for the good of Ireland, the good of Finland, for the good of the European Union, for the good of humanity.

Thank you for your attention.