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01-01-1999 Statement on the World Day of Peace


I very much welcome this year's World Day of Peace message from Pope John Paul II which makes a strong linkage between respect for human rights and genuine, lasting peace. Noting that such respect is the secret of true peace, His Holiness emphasises that "peace flourishes when these rights are fully respected, but when they are violated, what comes is war, which causes other still greater violations". I can only agree.

Five years ago in Vienna, the international community declared that "human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of Governments". It is, therefore, incumbent on those of us in government to work to break this cycle of oppression and human rights violations, followed by conflict followed by ever greater human rights abuses. It is a responsibility which my Government takes very seriously indeed, both in our foreign and development aid policies and also in our work here in Ireland.

Given that the past year marked the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is fitting that this message should lay such emphasis on human rights as the primary basis of peace. This year also marked a new beginning in Ireland, one which is based on a solid human rights foundation, and the setting up of the Human Rights Commissions, North and South, will help to consolidate the peace which we all, as a people, have strived so hard to achieve over the last number of years. In his message, Pope John Paul speaks of the steps taken in some regions towards the consolidation of peace and, he continues, "great credit must go to those courageous political leaders who are resolved to continue negotiations even when the situation seems impossible". I would like to apply those words directly to the parties and individuals who forged the Good Friday Agreement last April and who have worked, and who continue to work, to ensure its lasting success. I salute these men and women and I look forward to joining with them in the coming year to meet the many challenges of peace that lie ahead.

His Holiness has consistently spoken out against the violations of human rights that are poverty and hunger and he does so again in this New Year message. He also notes that "the pursuit of the national and international common good requires the effective exercise, even in the economic sphere, of the right of all people to share in the decisions which affect them". Furthermore, the Pope speaks of the right of all citizens to participate in the life of their community. These themes have a particularly strong resonance for the people of Ireland at this time. One of the greatest challenges facing us is that of ensuring that the economic wealth we now enjoy is shared by all, and not just the few. Spreading the benefits of that economic well-being and coping with the inevitable changes and responsibilities which such wealth brings - these are among the key tasks of the Government and, indeed, the Irish people over the next few years.

On behalf of the Government of Ireland, I warmly welcome the message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for World Peace Day 1999 and join with the people of Ireland in marking this important day.