Wednesday 13 November 2019

We, of all people, should know about restraint

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny (second right) stands beside Jean-Pierre Thébault (first right) Ambassador of France to Ireland, after signing the book of condolence at the Embassy of France in Dublin for the victims of the shootings at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. PA
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny (second right) stands beside Jean-Pierre Thébault (first right) Ambassador of France to Ireland, after signing the book of condolence at the Embassy of France in Dublin for the victims of the shootings at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. PA
People hold panels to create the eyes of late Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier, known as "Charb", as hundreds of thousands of French citizens take part in a solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris January 11, 2015.

Liz O'Donnell

There was an important gathering in Dublin Castle this week when ambassadors and heads of Irish missions in 80 locations worldwide convened for a major conference on Irish foreign policy. 'The Global Island: Ireland's Foreign Policy for a Changing World' sets out the "core values" of Ireland's engagement in such areas as international development, human rights, disarmament, UN peacekeeping and the search for peace in the Middle East. Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Flanagan said "in the world of 2015 nothing is entirely foreign or wholly domestic".

The document includes a welcome recognition of the importance of economic diplomacy and the strategic contribution made by our diplomats to restore Ireland's tarnished reputation since the financial collapse of the banks and the loss of our economic sovereignty.

For many years, there was a regrettable disconnect between Ireland's economic interests and our diplomatic missions overseas. But more recently, determined efforts have gone in to "sell" Ireland as an attractive place in which to do business and to rebrand our appeal as a centre of excellence for investment in innovation technology and high-quality employment. The recent opening of the US market to Irish beef, the first EU country to be so favoured, is an example of how our state agencies and diplomats can make the difference in promoting Ireland's economic and business interests in lucrative foreign markets.

Our membership of the EU has been so critical to Ireland's prosperity and social modernisation and is evidenced by the transfer of that policy coordination to the Department of the Taoiseach. This institutional reorganisation of our international affairs is aimed at developing a coherent and integrated foreign policy platform, embracing trade, finance, tax and diplomacy.

For so long our major 'foreign affair' was our troubled historic relationship with our nearest neighbour over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the related Troubles.

Now that this conflict is effectively settled by agreement, there is opportunity for Ireland to take a leading role as a respected EU member state in world affairs. Ireland's values of humanitarianism have long been recognised by our distinguished contribution to international aid and UN peacekeeping. As a neutral country, we continue to play a significant role in multi-lateral organisations like the United Nations. We are a leader among OECD states in our contribution to global poverty and hunger. Our aid is untied and remains focused on the poorest countries of the world. Ireland has a long-standing tradition of supporting nuclear disarmament and peace-keeping missions.

So what is our considered policy or approach to the current threat posed to international security by Islamic fundamentalism? Our Taoiseach Enda Kenny joined world leaders in all their diversity in Paris to show solidarity with the French people following the terrorist attacks by jihadis. But what lies beneath the photo opportunity? Does Ireland fully agree with the aggressive secularism of France when it comes to publishing offensive images of the Prophet Mohammed? While we abhor and condemn the murder and mayhem visited upon the innocent victims, I suspect that most Irish people would balk at deliberately offending another person's religious beliefs by crude cartoons under the guise of satire. On the contrary, there is a respect and empathy for religious devotion and the gratuitous offence caused to Muslims by such provocative images. There would I believe be support in Ireland for sanctions, whether legally via the blasphemy laws or media guidelines for publishing material which go beyond agreed cultural parameters.

There is moreover an intelligence grown from our terrible experience here at home of bigotry generated by religious intolerance which led to unparalleled violence by one community against another and paramilitarism. We of all people, should have an understanding of how the State is unlikely to defeat such politically motivated violence and religious fanaticism by security measures alone.

Similarly, we should question the provocation of publishing another offensive image of Mohammed, just to make a point.

Is the journalistic "right to offend" so absolute, particularly when precious lives are at risk?

Post the Paris massacre, it was de rigeur to be 'Je suis Charlie', an understandable show of solidarity with revered values of free speech. But there is a deeper and perhaps less populist challenge to liberal democracies to examine what lies beneath and motivates the fanaticism of these young people, thousands of whom are fighting for Islamic State.

As was often preached in our own peace process there is a duty to seek solutions to the causes of conflict, not to just react to the latest atrocity.

Such restraint may not be forthcoming from the terrorised French citizens who marched so defiantly in their millions last week.

But considered political response, which Ireland could credibly articulate on the world stage, requires more than an exclusive counter terrorism strategy.

It also demands diplomacy and mediation of the grave religious tensions which have emerged in this clash of cultures in Europe.

Irish Independent

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