Reviewing Ireland’s foreign policy

15/01/2014 at 5:38 pm Leave a comment

At the end of 2013, the Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade announced a public consultation process, to inform a review of Ireland’s foreign policy.

In the consultation document for the process, the Government makes it clear that it is seeking the public’s view on a small number of core questions. These centre on how best Ireland can promote its “values and interests” in a rapidly changing world. The (short) consultation document is worth a quick read, as it sets out “a number of issues for consideration”, such as:

  • A shifting global balance of power;
  • The growing importance of the EU in Ireland’s policy options; The rise of global challenges and threats, such as disease, mass migration, population growth, global inequality and climate change.
  • The growing difficulty of reconciling  the existing mechanisms for global governance with complex and inter-linked global challenges.
  • The need to link our foreign policy with the requirements of trade promotion and Ireland’s own economic development.

The consultation process is important, as this is the first “complete review” of the State’s foreign policy and external relations since the 1996 White Paper – a document now so old, it cannot be found on the DFAT website. (Read this article by Denis Staunton for some more background to the Review.)

We in Dóchas feel that the Review process is a very important opportunity to rethink Ireland’s approach to the many issues that our members are working on. We have long argued that the fight against global poverty is about much more than simply giving aid and that Ireland needs to approach global development with a “whole of Government approach”. (see e.g. this blog post).

As you will see from this document we have argued that Ireland should adopt a rights-based approach to foreign policy.

In our view this entails first and foremost that Ireland ratify a number of outstanding international conventions and, secondly, that Ireland promotes the adherence of all Government Departments to existing human rights obligations. Thirdly, it would mean that Ireland play a more active role internationally in promoting rights-based approaches. For us, access to food, health and education are legal entitlements, not gifts.

Dóchas consultation on Irish foreign policy, January 2014

In our most recent Budget Submission we argued that Ireland’s ODA programme is one of the most tangible expressions of our foreign policy, and in many ways an important part of Ireland’s “calling card” to the world. Ireland’s aid programme is highly respected internationally, and benefits of high levels of public support here at home. Since the Government has repeatedly argued that overseas aid is “a central plank of Ireland’s foreign policy”, we argue, it deserves to be resourced properly.


Other aspects of Ireland’s foreign policy have been hotly debated over the years. Edward Burke, for instance, in 2011 wrote a comprehensive critique of Irish foreign policy. In his paper “Strategic, Coherent and Constructive: Three pillars for a New Irish Foreign Policy” he argues that Ireland needs ‘a vision for Europe that is more sophisticated than milking a cow.’  Edward argues that for Irish citizens the current crisis is an ‘opportunity to shape a leaner and more results-orientated foreign policy.’ he makes the case for a new foreign policy, which is constructive rather than reactive, and which takes it’s starting point in a recognition that “Irish interests in much of the world will be better served by a more European approach.”

Other academics disagree strongly. DCU’s Karen Devine, for instance, argues (in her paper Values and Identities in Ireland’s Peace Policy) that since our entry into the EEC, Irish foreign policy has betrayed the post-independence ethos of subordinating “material interests to moral and justice-based ideas to achieve peace.” Her DCU colleagues John Doyle and Eileen Connolly have argued that the EU’s growing role in defence and security issues am undermine Ireland’s commitment to UN peace-keeping missions (see their paper).

Taking another angle, UCD’s Andy Storey has argued that Ireland’s  focus on the increasing prioritisation of Irish commercial interests in Africa may run counter to its Ireland and Africa”  emphasis on “building local systems and the capability to deliver local solutions”.

The book edited by Ben Tonra, Michael Kennedy, John Doyle and Noel Dorr is one of the most comprehensive overviews of the issues in Irish foreign policy. (Read the foreword here)

And there are many more opinions and views.

If you have come across an article that is relevant for the topic, please let us know, by using the Comment section below.

The members of Dóchas are currently considering their ideas and are preparing a submission to the consultation process. Do get in touch if you want to share your ideas!

Have your say


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Quick catch up: What you may have missed in global development. #Beating Blue Monday

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