Tuesday 23 July 2019

Our leaders have a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable and marginalised in society

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Katherine Zappone

My father fought for the United States in World War II. I am very proud of the fact that he and his fellow veterans did not fight solely to make America great, they fought thousands of miles from their homes because liberty, diversity and democracy had to be protected.

Their ideals were summed up in an inspirational speech made by the man who would soon be their commander-in-chief, president Franklin D Roosevelt.

Months before the United States entered the war, Mr Roosevelt, in his 1941 State of the Union speech, declared four fundamental freedoms that people "everywhere in the world" ought to enjoy - freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want and freedom from fear.

The case for American retrenchment or isolationism has its supporters today, but Mr Roosevelt profoundly disagreed with such a stance.

He understood that a diminished US role in world affairs served neither America's interests nor the wider and essential cause of humanity.

And, of course, the reach of Mr Roosevelt's vision of four freedoms now thankfully extends far beyond the United States.

Having been incorporated into the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, these freedoms have been a strong moral cornerstone that have shaped our beliefs, our policies and our worldview.

There is a moral obligation on all those who hold the public trust and serve in positions of democratic leadership to affirm in our actions and our words, our commitment to the universality, indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights, to accountability for human rights violations and abuses, and to the protection of those who are most vulnerable and marginalised.

In Ireland we have sought to support immigrants who come to our country - indeed it could be argued that St Patrick remains the most famous migrant of all.

We have extended the hand of friendship to those most vulnerable - migrant children separated from their loved ones who were formerly based at camps in Calais.

I am pleased to say that as part of the initiative which the Tánaiste and I announced earlier this year, eight young boys arrived to Ireland in recent days and that more will be welcomed in the months ahead.

Ireland enjoys a special relationship with America - the Taoiseach's presentation of shamrock in the White House is indicative of this.

Ireland benefits greatly from the many US companies based in Ireland who provide employment and contribute to our economic prosperity. Just to take one figure, US companies have invested over $277bn (€258bn) in Ireland since 1990.

This week, Irish Government ministers, public representatives and leading industrialists will be found in almost every major city worldwide, working with our extensive diaspora, to encourage investment and job creation in Ireland.

Just as America has helped Ireland, it is important to underline that the European Union has also contributed massively to Ireland's economic and social progress.

While we as members of the EU tend to take it for granted, the stark reality is that through its earlier incarnations, the EU has brought sustained peace and deepening cooperation to Europe, a continent that was for so long scarred by cruel divisions and totalitarian ideologies.

The EU has had a progressive and overwhelmingly positive impact on Ireland.

Gender equality is a fundamental tenet of EU law. Environmental protection policy, consumer protection law, competition law, social policy and cultural policy in Ireland have also been progressively influenced by our European membership.

The EU single market provides Ireland with access to a large marketplace for our goods and services, where restrictions on trade and free competition between member states have been eliminated.

We seem set for a period of turbulence as Britain prepares to leave the EU. While trade with Britain is of huge importance, we must act to ensure that Brexit does not undermine the great progress that has been made in ending the conflict in Northern Ireland.

While in Ireland Brexit is at the centre of political, diplomatic and economic discourse it is disappointing that the wider EU is not taking a long, hard look at itself and reflecting on where it all went wrong with the UK electorate.

As long-standing members of the EU, it is incumbent on us to require the EU to reflect on its future direction and failings and that it learns the lessons from Brexit.

If it fails to reflect on these developments, the EU itself is in danger of feeding into the rise of populism and the retrenchment across Europe, which may eventually result in the demise of the EU.

At events to mark St Patrick's Day on both sides of the Atlantic, Ireland and its representatives have an opportunity to promote freedom in all its forms - it's a message which many will be grateful to hear.

Dr Katherine Zappone TD is the Children and Youth Affairs Minister

Irish Independent

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