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Mandela and 'the unbreakable bonds of friendship and solidarity' with Ireland

Tánaiste Simon Coveney on why Dublin is the perfect venue to celebrate Madiba’s struggle – and why Ireland will co-host Nelson Mandela Peace Summit at UN this autumn.

Simon Coveney Tánaiste

TODAY WE MARK the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, a man who in his lifetime became an example to the world of the healing power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I am pleased that the Department of Foreign Affairs is celebrating that centenary with an exhibition in Dublin. Madiba was, of course, a freeman of our capital city. And where better to celebrate his fight for equality, justice and freedom than Kilmainham Gaol, a place whose walls echo the silent pain of those South African prisoners, such as Mandela, imprisoned on Robben Island?

The exhibition is curated by the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. It reflects on Mandela’s life, his contribution to South Africa, and his passion for reconciliation. It captures what Mandela himself described as the ‘unbreakable bonds of friendship and solidarity’ between Ireland and South Africa, recalling the Irish contribution to the international movement against apartheid.

Lafayette7462 The Nelson Mandela exhibition at Kilmainham Gaol. Source: Lafayette Photography

One of those bonds of solidarity was the decision not to open diplomatic relations with South Africa until apartheid ended. This year we proudly mark 25 years of diplomatic relations, with our Embassy in Pretoria opening only as democracy dawned in the new South Africa. Since then those bonds of friendship have continued to strengthen.

Mandela’s dedication to the promotion of peace, reconciliation and human rights has helped inspire how Ireland engages with the world around us. We share his belief in the transformative power of dialogue and empathy.

Indeed, we owe a debt to Mandela’s friend, the current President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, for his part in our peace process, assisting the two Governments and the parties at a critical juncture on the contentious issue of decommissioning paramilitary weapons. And we consistently try to repay that debt – and the contribution of so many who helped in our peace process – by supporting those who wish to build peace today, whether through deployment of our peacekeeping troops or through lessons shared from our own experiences.

Madiba’s recognition of our common humanity and right to dignity is upheld in Ireland’s commitment to make the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals a reality. Indeed, the agreement of this vision for a better world by 2020 was brokered by Ireland and Kenya working together at the United Nations, another bond of our solidarity with Africa.

It is values of empathy and partnership that guide Ireland’s response to global challenges.

These values motivate our decision to run for a seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2021 – 2022 term. At a time when peace, democracy and human rights are facing renewed challenges from many quarters, it is all the more important that a country with Ireland’s values has a voice at the UN’s top decision-making table.

We believe the global response to these challenges must be informed by a recognition of the humanity and dignity of the individuals caught up in man-made and natural disasters. Working in a spirit of partnership, finding common ground beneath superficial differences – but also with a strength and independence of thought derived from our history, values and beliefs – we can genuinely make a difference.

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IRISH PRESIDENT Nelson Mandela with then Irish President Mary Robinson in Cape Town in 1996. Source: AP Photo/Guy Tillim

To do justice to Nelson Mandela’s legacy, and the legacy of the many Irish people who stood shoulder to shoulder with him in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and in the spirit of those who helped us achieve so much in Northern Ireland, we must renew our efforts to foster a culture of peace internationally.

This September at the UN in New York, Ireland will partner with South Africa to co-facilitate a Political Declaration for the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit in order to promote Mandela’s vision of a peaceful, democratic and just world.

We intend that this Summit, held as the leaders of all UN Member States gather for a week of discussions on global issues, will inspire us to strive more courageously, and with the humility that marked Mandela out, to create a healing world.

Ireland will continue to do our part to make this our reality. Mandela once said that honour belongs to those who never renounce the truth. Now, more than ever, it is necessary to continually reassert the truth that it is through nations working together that the best hope for humanity lies.

The Nelson Mandela Centenary Exhibition, From Prisoner to President is currently showing at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. Free admission but booking is required here.

About the author:

Simon Coveney  / Tánaiste

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