Speech by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Éamon Gilmore, T.D.

Speaking Points for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade,Mr. Eamon Gilmore T.D at Reception to mark Sierra Leone’s Fiftieth Anniversary of Independence

Wynn’s Hotel, Abbey Street, Dublin 1: Friday, 20 May 2011.

 Ambassador Turay, Ladies and Gentlemen.

 It is an honour for me to be here this evening to share in this celebration to mark Sierra Leone’s 50 years of independence. Ireland is also a relatively young state and we understand the significance of this milestone for Sierra Leone. While occasions like this are a time to celebrate they also provide the opportunity to reflect on progress made and to look ahead to what can be achieved in the future.

It is a relatively short time since the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone in 2002, yet tangible progress has been made in consolidating peace and security, revitalising the economy and rehabilitating infrastructure and basic services.  The Government of Sierra Leone, through its Poverty Reduction Strategy the ‘Agenda for Change’, is working towards developing growth in areas such as energy, infrastructure, agriculture and social services. 

Consolidating the peace in Sierra Leone has long been a priority of the Sierra Leone administration and it is one which has Ireland’s strong support.  Building on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and working in close collaboration with the Peace Building Commission, Sierra Leone has made progress in overcoming the legacy of conflict.  As we have seen in our own country, this process takes time and careful nurturing and we urge Sierra Leone to persist with this goal.  The fruits will be well worth the labours. 

 Building good governance is central to the work of Ireland’s aid programme. Without good governance, long-term sustainable development is not possible. I welcome the progress that has been made by the Sierra Leonean Government around governance issues particularly their efforts to tackle the root causes of corruption through putting in place tough anti-corruption legislation as well as the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission.

 We have witnessed important indicators of progress in recent years. A significant achievement in the health sector has been the introduction last year of the Free Health Care Initiative for pregnant women, new mothers and young children under the age of five.

 Sierra Leone’s free health-care plan has substantially increased services for mothers, and particularly for children. Initial indications suggest that this increased access to treatment has led to a significant reduction in child deaths from malaria.  But the story is far from over and there is still much more to do to transform the country’s health system and reduce overall mortality rates particularly in children.

 We are very aware of the significant challenges still facing Sierra Leone.   I can assure you that Ireland is a committed partner. Ties between our two countries date back to the arrival of Irish missionaries in Sierra Leone over one hundred years ago. I value greatly the strong links developed over those years through the work of our missionaries and civil society organisations with the people of Sierra Leone.

 As you know, Ireland established its development cooperation programme in Sierra Leone in 2005. Since then, we have increased the size and level of our representation in Freetown. This has allowed us to deepen our engagement with Sierra Leone and is a reflection of the Government’s interest in and commitment to supporting the people of Sierra Leone.  In this period, Ireland has provided €54.7 million in funding support to Sierra Leone. 

 This year Ireland has put in place a new two year country strategy for Sierra Leone which is focused on addressing the challenges around nutrition and food security. The strategy is in line with and supportive of the Agenda for Change.    Ireland is working through partners in both the health and agriculture sectors.

 In the area of food security, Ireland has been a leading advocate in recent years for a renewed global effort in the fight against hunger. The eradication of hunger is a cornerstone of Ireland’s aid programme. Solving hunger is inextricably linked to progress in many other areas such as improving school enrolment rates and reducing maternal and child mortality. Unless we tackle and succeed in the fight against hunger, we will not achieve progress on the seven other Millennium Development Goals.

 In Sierra Leone, programmes which Ireland is supporting in this area include a small holder commercialisation programme to promote crop intensification and diversification; school feeding programmes, community management of acute malnutrition and the refurbishment of health infrastructure.

Ireland is also working jointly with the United States Government in Freetown to ensure a greater focus on nutrition, particularly during the crucial first 1000 days of life and to maximise the impact of the work of organisations working in the sector.

The support provided through Ireland’s country programme is complemented by the programmes of a number of non-governmental organisations, including Irish NGOs, which are active in Sierra Leone. These include Concern, Christian Aid, GOAL, Trócaire, World Vision and Sightsavers International.

I would also like to acknowledge here this evening the considerable work done by the Sierra Leone –Ireland Partnership over the years in fostering relations between both our countries. I would especially like to thank Joe Manning, our Honorary Consul of Sierra Leone, who has done tremendous work in promoting Sierra Leone’s interests in Ireland. It is also in Ireland’s interest as a trading nation that we work with our developing country partners so that they can grow, prosper and evolve as trading partners, continuing to pursue a path of self-reliance.

I would like to thank the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership Committee for inviting me to this evening’s celebration and for their work in organising the programme of events.  It is a great privilege for me to be here this evening and I wish the people of Sierra Leone peace and prosperity over the next 50 years!

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