ACTIVITIES OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL IN IRELAND, 13-18 OCTOBER 2004

SG/T/2422
19 October 2004

ACTIVITIES OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL IN IRELAND, 13-18 OCTOBER 2004

Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Dublin from Beijing in the evening of Wednesday, 13 October.

On Thursday morning, he addressed the National Forum on Europe, a gathering of members of government and representatives of civil society designed to inform the Irish public on the work of the European Union.

"There's a little bit of Ireland in anyone who dreams of a day when no child will go to bed hungry", he said in his opening remarks.  "There's a little bit of Ireland in anyone who believes in fairness, or who dreams of a world in which all nations can choose their own destiny in freedom and peace.  And there's a little bit of Ireland in the very notion of solidarity among men and women everywhere.  So if you will forgive me, I'm proud to say that there's a little bit of Ireland in me."

"The EU and the UN both emerged from the ashes of the Second World War", he went on.  "Their close cooperation is vital to the promise of peace through multilateralism."  He emphasized how important strengthened EU capacities are to the United Nations, particularly in specialized skills and rapid response capability for peacekeeping.

Pointing out that less than one in ten UN peacekeepers today comes from an EU country, he called for greater contributions to UN peacekeeping, of both civilian and military personnel.  And he asked for additional humanitarian assistance, particularly for Darfur, Sudan.

"We have huge problems on our hands", he said, "and terrible suffering in our world... It is clear that both individual States and the organizations they belong to -- including the United Nations -- must do better."  See press release SG/SM/9542.

For the next 45 minutes, he took questions and comments from ministers, members of parliament and NGO (non-governmental organization) leaders.  Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern announced his Government's commitment to bring the level of Ireland's official development assistance up to the international target of 0.7 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product).  Their current level of 0.4 per cent already puts them seventh among the world's major aid donors.  There were questions on the EU's potential for quick deployment of troops for rapid response, on the Millennium Development Goals, on poverty, Sudan, the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions and on UN reform.

He then attended a luncheon hosted by the Chair of the National Forum, Senator Maurice Hayes.

After that, he and his wife Nane paid a courtesy call on President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin at the President's residence, Áras an Uachtaráin.

On Thursday afternoon, the Secretary-General went to the Ministry of Defence for a meeting with Irish Defence Minister William O’Dea.  They discussed Ireland’s contributions to UN peacekeeping, particularly to the current mission in Liberia, and the Secretary-General emphasized the need for highly trained and specialized troops which, he said, make the best peacekeepers.  Their talks also touched on Sudan and Iraq.

Lt. Gen. James Sreenan then walked the Secretary-General around the parade grounds of McKee Barracks, where he reviewed the troops and inspected a field facility set up for demonstration purposes.  Inside one of the tents, the Secretary-General was briefed on the activities in Liberia of the 600-soldier rapid reaction unit made up of Irish and Swedish troops.  There was then a briefing via teleconference by the Irish commander of that unit.  The Secretary-General interacted with the commander, posing several questions.

Leaving the tent, the Secretary-General was then shown armoured vehicles and remote-controlled mine clearing equipment, such as is being used by the Irish in Liberia.  He also greeted half a dozen veterans of former UN peacekeeping missions.

The Secretary-General addressed the assembled troops saying, “Ireland has been one of the few industrialized States to deploy formed military units to sub-Saharan Africa, providing niche capabilities that really hold a peacekeeping operation together.  We need these specialist units very, very badly.”

“And you have played a key role”, he went on, “especially during your recent presidency of the European Union, in promoting cooperation between the EU and the United Nations in crisis management, in particular the possible use of EU “battle groups” to support UN peacekeeping operations”.  See press release SG/SM/9544.

He then returned to the Government guest house at Farmleigh, where he was interviewed by an Irish television reporter, who asked him if he would like to see Ireland involved in these EU “battle groups”.  He replied, “Certainly, I would like to see Ireland involved” adding, “the best peacekeepers are well-trained soldiers.”

Later in the day, at Iveagh House, the Secretary-General met with Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, initially one-on-one and then with full delegations.  Their talks were wide-ranging, from crisis management, Security Council reform, intervention versus sovereignty, and HIV/AIDS to Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

They met the press afterwards, and in response to a question on whether the United Nations was "damaged goods" after the Iraq war, the Secretary-General acknowledged, "We took a hit; we had a setback, but I wouldn't say 'damaged goods'.  I think that's going a bit too far."  He went on, "It's beginning to heal; it hasn't healed yet.  But what is important is that almost everyone is looking forward now, that we need to do whatever we can to stabilize Iraq because we cannot afford to have a chaotic Iraq in the middle of that region.  It will have an impact on all of us."

The Foreign Minister then hosted a working dinner for the Secretary-General, at which their talks continued, touching on Myanmar, Western Sahara and Ethiopia/Eritrea, among other subjects.

In a separate programme on Friday, Nane Annan and Irish Communications Minister Noel Dempsey visited “The Computer Clubhouse”, a learning centre for young people in a disadvantaged area of Dublin known as the Liberties.  The Clubhouse attracts volunteer students from elsewhere in Dublin to mentor younger children from the Liberties and empower them through learning how to use state of the art technology.  Mrs. Annan’s visit was organized by the creators of the Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative, a partnership launched jointly with the United Nations ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) Task Force in December 2003.  The Clubhouse is a model for similar activities they hope will be developed around the world, beginning with four pilot countries:  Bolivia, Ghana, India and Namibia.

Mrs. Annan thanked the children for showing her their computer work, including video and music clips.  “All children should be able to learn”, she said, “and computers and technology will make it even easier to learn.  With more clubhouses like this across the world, you will be able to communicate with children in other countries… because you are part of the world and we all live here together, connecting with each other.”

On Saturday, 16 October, the Secretary-General met with the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Bertie Ahern.  They initially took a short walk around the grounds of Farmleigh before sitting down for a one-on-one discussion.  They then continued their talk over lunch with limited delegations.

They spoke of the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Afghan peace process, Iran’s nuclear programme, plans for Iraqi elections, the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, Northern Ireland and HIV/AIDS, among other topics.

In an interview with British television, the Secretary-General was asked whether he thought the world was a safer place as a result of the war against Iraq.  “I cannot say the world is safer when you consider the violence around us, when you look around you and see the attacks around the world, terrorist attacks around the world.  And you see what is going on in Iraq.  I cannot say the world is safer.  We have a lot of work to do as an international community to try and …make the world safer.”

On Sunday, the Secretary-General went walking in the hills outside Dublin.

He departed on Monday morning for the University of Ulster, where he delivered a speech on peace-building before travelling on to London.

For information media. Not an official record.