Minister Costello speaks at SLIP annual event

Speaking Points for the Minister of State, Mr. Joe Costello T.D.

Reception to mark Sierra Leone’s 53rd Anniversary of Independence

Wynn’s Hotel, Abbey Street, Dublin 1- Friday, 9th May 2014

Honorary Consul, ladies and gentlemen

  • It is an honour and a pleasure for me to be here this evening to share in this celebration to mark both Sierra Leone’s independence and the Sierra Leone – Ireland partnership.
  • Ties between Ireland and Sierra Leone date back to the arrival of Irish missionaries in Sierra Leone over almost 150 years ago.

  • The Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership (SLIP) continues to raise awareness in Ireland, keeping the needs of Sierra Leone and its people to the forefront.  Irish Aid has always valued its good relations with SLIP led by strong engagement from Joe Manning, the Honorary Consul and other SLIP members. Tonight is also an opportunity to acknowledge the considerable work done by SLIP and citizens of both countries who work to foster and deepen relations between our two countries. In fact, I believe that we are also privileged to have someone in our midst who is a shining example of such engagement.
  • Sr. Hilary Lyons, a Medical Doctor who worked for 40 years in Sierra Leone and celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year has made a wonderful contribution to people’s health and in particular to primary health care in Sierra Leone. I would like to acknowledge her contribution and dedication to Sierra Leone as an Irish citizen long before Irish Aid was on the ground.

  • My own visit to Sierra Leone in 2012 provided me with an invaluable opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the considerable challenges facing Sierra Leone and to see first-hand the contribution being made by Ireland through Irish Aid and others. During my trip I met with a large number of Sierra Leoneans who expressed hope and optimism for the future and it was clear that people wanted to move forward.
  • Since the end of war, considerable progress has been made 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 Prosperity’, is working towards developing growth in areas such as energy, infrastructure, agriculture and social services.
  • Other encouraging signs are the inclusion of gender as a pillar of the national poverty reduction strategy and the recent lifting of Sierra Leone’s suspension of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

However, Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and 70% of Sierra Leone’s population still live below the $2 a day poverty line. Maternal and under-five child mortality rates are still among the highest in the world and the 2013 UN Gender Inequality Index ranked Sierra Leone the 10th worst country in the world for gender equality (139 / 148)

  • Irish Aid has had an active engagement with Sierra Leone since the end of prolonged conflict in 2002. We have provided €83.1 million in assistance to projects in Sierra Leone between 2005 and 2013.  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.
  • Ireland has had a Representative Office in Freetown since February 2005, covering both Sierra Leone and Liberia and we are one of only four EU development partners resident in Sierra Leone.  Our programme in Sierra Leone is primarily focused on addressing the issues of nutrition, food security, gender equality and governance.
  • Our work on nutrition and food security includes support to UNICEF, who work to ensure malnourished children are treated while efforts at prevention are strengthened.  Our partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) aims to ensure that food production is sufficient and that access to this food for the poorest is ensured.
  • In terms of gender equality and women’s rights, we are working hard to support the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs to implement the gender aspects of the Agenda for Prosperity.
  • We also continue to work on land rights, and particularly land rights for women.  We know that land tenure reform, especially in the context of large-scale land leasing is a priority for the government and indeed SLIP, who just last year presented their report ‘Land Grabbing in Sierra Leone’ to Irish Aid. I have asked our Mission in Freetown to continue to voice our concerns in this area.
  • Building good governance is also central to the work of Ireland’s aid programme. Without good governance, long-term sustainable development is not possible.  With GDP growth of 20% mainly linked to continued expansion in the mining sector., economic signs are positive but it is important that benefits from the exploitation of its natural and mineral resources are shared out to all citizens.
  • Over the past year, there have been many positive developments and I can cite at least four key developments in which the relationship between Ireland and Sierra Leone has been strengthened:

–            Firstly, in May of last year, the Irish government declared Sierra Leone a key partner country for Irish Aid, the first ever in West Africa.  So why did we choose Sierra Leone you might ask?

  1. Sierra Leone remains a fragile state still recovering after a period of prolonged conflict and is one of the poorest countries in the world.  We have made a commitment to staying the course with countries emerging from conflict and instability and to support the recovery efforts and successful transition of countries towards peace.               It is important that we increase our efforts to reduce poverty and drive economic growth by deepening our engagement and prioritising countries most in need of support. This is where the needs are greater, and where human rights are most at risk. This is also where we can have the most impact.

Secondly, in September of last year, we launched our fellowship programme in Sierra Leone so that more Sierra Leoneans would have an opportunity to pursue masters’ degrees and post-graduate diplomas in Ireland. We look forward to this fellowship programme becoming another pillar of the relationship between Ireland and Sierra Leone.

Thirdly, I am delighted to announce that earlier this year I appointed a Sierra Leonean, Herbert McLeod,   to be a member of Irish Aid’s Expert Advisory Group, which advises me on how best to deliver the Irish Aid programme.  There are only six members of this Group, and only one representative of a developing country, which is now a Sierra Leonean.

–          The fourth development was the decision of the Irish Government to upgrade the Irish Aid office in Freetown to a full Embassy.  This provided clear recognition of the importance which we attach to the Ireland – Sierra Leone relationship.  I am also very happy to share with you this evening the Irish Government’s announcement this week that it has decided to nominate Sinéad Walsh as the first Ambassador of Ireland to Sierra Leone.  As many of you will know Sinead is the current head of the Irish Aid office in Freetown.

  • Irish Aid is currently working on the development of a new country strategy for Irish Aid in Sierra Leone. This will identify areas where we can maximise the impact of our funding and we look forward to continue engaging with SLIP on our longer term strategy. Together, these developments indicate and confirm in very concrete terms Ireland’s intention to strengthen and deepen its engagement in Sierra Leone.
  • Finally, let me once again thank the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership for this invitation to speak to you here tonight and wish you all a very good evening of celebration and continued exchange between our two countries.

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