Institute News

Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland
Daire ODriscoll10th June 202025min


A chairde,

I am delighted to be with you all today, even if it is to be in a virtual sense, to address the important topic of how we might pursue the most fruitful relations between Africa and the EU, how Europe might release itself from the narrative of the past and be part of a narrative of hope, be engaging as equals with our planet’s neighbouring continent of the young.

This is a topic on which I, as President of Ireland, have spoken on several occasions, a topic about which I feel passionately, for the quality of the European Union’s relationship with the continent of Africa and its people is a subject of such great importance, a topic which carries hope in its transformative potential for so many, yes for Africa, but also all of us as we seek to address the issues of our time, including the dysfunctional balance of economy, society, culture and, most importantly, ecology and the loss of biodiversity.

May I first thank the Institute for International and European Affairs for the invitation to address you, and compliment the Institute which has, in recent years, become such a critical resource for sharing ideas and evidence that are helping to influence policy at European and global levels.

Misconceptions of Africa

We have now the gift of new empirically based research published on Africa. For Europeans the issue is do we read it, respond to it, allow it to influence policy and our EU-Africa relationships and Agreements.

For example, the subtitle Carlos Lopes and George Kararach gave to their recent (2020) valuable work, Sustainable Change in Africa, is “Misperceptions, New Narratives and Development in the 21st Century”. I was struck by something most basic when I first read the book. It was how the Mercator projection has suggested to generations of Europeans that the continent of Africa is about the same size as Greenland. Greenland is in fact 14 times smaller. “Mercator’s 1569 cartographic definition of the world became one of the most influential and widely circulated world map projections throughout the 19th and 20th centuries”, the authors write.

The authors go on to point out that indeed the landmass of Africa is, “the size of India, China, the United States and most of Europe combined”, and that, “Africa’s blue or maritime economy is even bigger than its landmass”. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is about half the size of the European Union.

When it comes to the continent of Africa, we have so many misperceptions, however, to undo. ‘Misperceptions’ is perhaps misleading, for indeed the distortion of African realities has a long spectrum that includes, for example, the racist language of David Hume in his essay, “Of National Characters” in 1748, to the annual reports of certain extraction companies in contemporary times, and of course if we are to undo misperceptions, we must re-conceptualise, redo development theory and practice, international trade, architectures of debt and dependency. It is significant, too, that anthropology is missing as a tool in the contemporary accounts. That great intellectual and moral impulse to understand culture seems to have been consigned with the decline of Empire, a project it served so well. Yet of course, it could yield valuable insights if utilised.

Today Africa is the continent of the young, accounting for 20 percent of the young people of the world, a continent of over 1.3 billion people in 2018. It constitutes 16 percent of the world’s human population. It is, therefore, a continent on which the hopes of so much of our shared future rests. It is on this continent we might perhaps see the playing out to fruition of our efforts at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, of an adequate anticipation and response to climate change – in short, achieving the connection between economy, society, ecology and culture that we so urgently need and cannot postpone, involving, as it does, the future of the planet itself as a habitable space.

For Africans there is the urgent need for reducing poverty, for good security in the basic necessities of life, of delivering healthy living conditions, for universal basic services including education and healthcare, for peace and reconciliation and an end to conflict, and for an enduring, sustainable future built on prosperity in its widest, most fulfilling, inclusive sense.

For the achievement of a fruitful dialogue between the European Union and Africa, there are preliminary tasks to be accomplished at European level, one of the most important being abandoning any affected amnesia as to the brutal colonisation of previous times, the detritus of imperial subjugations which surfaces too often, stirred by fingers of hands that are carrying the old intent.

While Europeans choose to forget, Africans rightly remember. We must transact that painful memory if we are, as Hannah Arendt might put it, to stop the events of the past crippling us in the present and obstructing us in the future. I worry that we have not reached the point of critical sophistication that will do that. I recall the dismissive response I received to a quotation I made in one of my papers from one of Sankar Muthu’s books. I think it was Enlightenment against Empire. We do really need to be free and courageous in critiquing empire in the same way as we have been willing to set about critiquing the extremes and possible abuses of nationalism past and present.

Ireland and Africa

Ireland’s relationship with Africa is quite a unique one, be it from the work of Roger Casement, to contemporary non-governmental organisations and Irish Aid. It has, unlike the historical relationship of former empires, been largely one of identifying with the aspirations of Africans for lives of freedom from hunger, access to education, and achievement of inclusive rights, including the full rights of women to participation in all aspects of life. These are powerful foundations upon which to press upon the European Union the need to develop a future relationship with the continent of Africa, which will be one of African agency in a transformed Africa.

Ireland brings to the African table its own experience, not only of an economic, social, political domination, but also the experience of a suppressed culture, forced exile and, frankly, of racism, as Hume put it in the specific case of the Irish, they having missed out on the civilisation that he thought a Roman occupation might have brought them, thus were uncivilised, but, above all else, ‘lesser’.

Ireland welcomes the centrality of African agency in the new work on the transformation of Africa, and sees it as having an immensely valuable contribution, having a global consequence as we re-define economics and its connection to ecology and culture.

Ireland has, from missionaries to aid and development workers, a special connection among African nations resulting from its contribution to education, and we can, as a result, be looked to as a source of leadership in other areas, such as addressing those unfair and imbalanced terms of trade that currently prevail which, for example, confine Africa’s benefit from its coffee trade to a paltry 10 percent, and the appalling trade conditions imposed on coffee products produced in Africa that limit any gains in the value of finished products.

Not only as President of Ireland, but through a lifetime in Parliament, I have often stressed that Ireland needs to continue to deepen its diplomacy with the continent that will, after all, be the birthplace of over 2 billion people by 2050, a continent of such population that continues to be under-represented on the Security Council of the United Nations. Ireland’s deepening of representation in Africa is underway, I am glad to hear.

It is not only in addressing the under-representation of the people of Africa that Ireland can give a lead. At the United Nations Ireland can show leadership in calling for an urgent review and redesign of the architecture of the global financial institutions, an architecture that so long now passed purpose, an architecture that has not succeeded in preventing our planet, in ecological terms, being brought to the brink of survival, that has failed to eliminate global poverty, that has deepened inequality, that has lost cohesion between and within North and South, and has left a world where conflict is endemic.

Given all of this and what Africa faces now, in conditions of pandemic, offers such as a suspension of six months’ interest on debt, as proposed by the G7, should be seen for what it is – a grossly inadequate gesture offered from a distance by those not sufficiently engaged.

Last month, Ireland become the 27th non-regional member of the African Development Bank. This is as an important addition to the deepening ties that will inform Ireland’s relationship to Africa and its people. The African Development Bank, and the African Development Fund it administers, can play an important role in fostering sustainable and inclusive social and economic growth and prosperity, helping the African continent to achieve its potential in a sustainable way as the continent of promise and opportunity. It is just that, a continent where transformation is already underway. In that we can be partners.

The African Development Bank is currently implementing a 10-year strategy to 2022, focused on two objectives: inclusive growth and green growth for Africa, aiming for prosperity that is more equally shared and meets the needs of present generations without compromising the wellbeing of future generations. This also involves the taking into consideration of the differing social, economic, and environmental aspects that arise in the sustainable development of countries that have differences that must be recognised.

To achieve these objectives, the Bank has set five operational priorities, including infrastructure development, regional economic integration, private sector development, governance and accountability strengthening, and upscaling skills and technology training, together with three areas of special emphasis, namely fragile states, gender, and agriculture and food security. A disbursement of $6.6 billion occurred in 2018 to successful projects in these priority areas.

There have been many great achievements already resulting from such funding. For example, 100 percent of new lending from the African Development Bank on energy projects in 2017 was on renewables, up from 14 percent in 2015. Just last week, a new solar farm on the outskirts of Mogadishu should, according to its owners, quadruple power generation for the Somalian capital, whilst also cutting costs. It has provided 8 megawatts of clean electricity since March, and is predicted to provide 100 megawatts by 2022.

Technology has also given other benefits, contributing significantly to the enabling of democratic processes. In line with the freedoms that characterise democracy, today more Africans can access the internet, use mobile phones, and share information with the world at large. The total Sub-Saharan African population with internet access has almost tripled, from 7 percent in 2010 to nearly 22 percent in 2017. Likewise, the number of mobile phone subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa has almost doubled to 764 million in the same period, according to Daniel F. Runde’s analysis, The Role of the AfDB and the Future of Africa, published by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in October last year.

Our membership of the African Development Bank and its trust fund is an investment in Africa’s potential, and Ireland’s partnership with these important regional multilateral institutions will both advance our shared, but redefined, development priorities. Membership and investment will open future opportunities for Irish science and technology in the region, as well as support projects that spur food security, sufficiency, poverty reduction and sustainable economic development at different levels across Africa.

Africa, the smart continent of the future, with a civilisation of sufficiency and inclusion, can be an exemplar, I believe a leader, in the better and inclusive use of technology

COVID-19 and Africa

As our world, in all its different circumstances, continues to respond to the threat to individuals, families, communities, societies and economies, it is difficult to overstate the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken – the lives cut short, the space and time for the expression of grief curtailed for those who have lost loved ones, lack of access, denial of liberty, those experiencing severe illness or who are vulnerable, livelihoods made insecure or lost.

Coronavirus, being a global problem, necessitates a global response. Yet, it is so plainly evident that societies differ in their capacity to respond, such as those in Africa who are in a profoundly exposed position in terms of resources – for example, the proportion of the population that is reliant on the informal economy that prevails, and the consequent limitation that results on the measures that may be utilised in responding to COVID-19. While the pandemic is a global threat, our vulnerability differs greatly. These differences test both our global solidarity and the architecture of our multilateralism now so much under threat.

COVID-19 is a reality in all countries of Africa. We should therefore remind ourselves that there is now an unprecedented opportunity for Europe to begin its journey towards a new contemporary and future shared ethical relationship, and do so not only as good regionalism, but also as an exercise in multilateralism, forging a new approach in its relationship with Africa, this time based on solidarity, one that will include a fundamental re-examination of how unfair trade and existing debt structures are impeding, not only the capacity to respond to COVID-19, but also the necessary transformations which a continent is getting underway, with an African agency that seeks a new form of partnership with its most proximate neighbour, the European Union.

May I suggest that now is not a time for retreating behind borders. In the African countries where COVID-19 has arrived in greatest numbers, there are immense problems and inequalities in terms of healthcare provision. The same is true of Latin and Central America.

Given such inadequacies of equipment and personnel, where it is most needed, there is a real risk that the pandemic could be difficult to contain across Africa and Latin America, and could result in mass fatalities and wider socio-economic problems, particularly in the possible event of a second wave of the virus. The prospect of a future vaccine does not come guaranteed, despite multilateral requests for its widespread availability in impoverished nations. There is a need for a global response as to the freedom and capacity of access.

United Nations Secretary General Guterres has correctly underscored how, if COVID-19 is to be countered, richer countries must assist those less resourced, or potentially “face the nightmare of the disease spreading like wildfire in the Global South with millions of deaths and the prospect of the disease re-emerging where it was previously suppressed”.

The unresolved issues of hunger are now, in 2020, all exacerbated. According to recent research published by Oxfam, Coronavirus could double chronic hunger in Africa. Both the virus and the restrictions imposed to curb its spread are disrupting planting, harvesting, the movement of farm labour, and the scale and distribution of produce across Africa. There are urgent calls for borders to remain open for essential agri-food trade.

In this context, it is necessary to recognise how dangerously fragile, often shallow, at times contradictory, the practice of multilateralism has become, how some conflicts are being continued even as the United Nations recently called for a ceasefire to enable citizens and their governments to respond to the challenges posed by the Coronavirus.

In addition to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many African countries, particularly those in the east of the continent, are now in the throes of a second wave of desert locusts, many times worse than the plague that descended a number of months ago. The locusts present “an extremely alarming and unprecedented threat” to food security and livelihoods, according to the United Nations. A swarm of just half a square kilometre can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.

Structural Problems

Yet, we must be cognisant that, once the COVID-19 crisis is over, all of the inherited and acquired structural impediments to Africa’s sustainable development remain. Perhaps the largest of these impediments remains debt. It is surely one of the greatest global failures – the continuing failure to achieve the will of the members of the United Nations in relation to making debt, and credit flows, serve as instrument rather than stranglehold – be it in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, migration or pandemics.

Responding adequately to structural global inequalities can, by inter alia recognising African agency, provide Africa with the prospect of carving out a path of recovery of its deep and diverse cultures, a shared prosperity, an enduring peace, and a hopeful future, not only for all its citizens, but for us all, for the achievement, I repeat, of a sustainable connection between economy, society and ecology.

I use the term ‘agency’ very deliberately, as I agree with development economist and High Representative of the Commission of the African Union, Carlos Lopes, that it is through the creation of African agency – that capacity to act autonomously and independently, which has been denied to Africa at so many points during its colonial and post-colonial periods – that Africans will be enabled to undertake the necessary structural reforms so as to create a brighter, shared future.

It is necessary to repeat it. The health of the populations of the planet must take precedence over any abstract version of global debt. Statistics illustrate how, for instance, in 2016, Angola spent nearly six times as much servicing external debt as it did on public health care. Fifteen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa spent more paying creditors abroad than on doctors and clinics at home. This is morally outrageous. Furthermore, Sub-Saharan Africa spends less than 5 percent of its total government expenditure on public health, a consequence, in part at least, of the debt-ridden nature of its economies.

When it comes to trade and the economy, recent low commodity prices have led to decreased revenues, with African exports having declined by approximately a third in recent months. The Chinese economic slowdown has impacted severely on African exports given the high dependency of many African countries on the Chinese market. Furthermore, many African countries collect relatively low levels of taxation revenue by international standards, as I have already stated, with estimates indicating that as much as 89 percent of people, in some states and even regions, work in the informal economy, compounding the economic challenges facing the continent.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the least industrialised regions in the world, and the modern industry that is currently in place struggles to keep pace with what are usually referenced as international productivity metrics. If labour productivity has stagnated or declined in many African countries over the past 60 years, only to recover modestly since 2000, and GDP has tripled in the same period, serious wealth and income distribution questions are raised. Jobs distribute income, even if in some parts if our planet industrialisation has been irresponsible in ecological and human terms. Yet, there is an industrialisation, as Lopes and Kararach point out, that can be appropriate for Africa on best use of resources natural and human. Critical, too, is the transfer of science and technology on new terms.

The external shocks I referred to earlier, including China’s slowdown and falling commodity prices, as well as the widespread drought in Eastern and Southern Africa, have led some industries to become a drag on their economies rather than being engines of growth or available for structural transformation.

This is all the more worrying because Africa is still predominantly specialised in relatively low-technology industries with a huge dependence on agriculture. Findings from some of the better work in the development economics field suggest Africa’s long-term development would entail a diversified move away from exporting raw materials and the attendant reliance on high commodity prices, entry into more complex, advanced activities that yield higher value goods and services for export, thereby increasing the share of GDP derived from advanced manufacturing, and improving competitiveness vis-à-vis other world markets. What, then, are the prospects for these developments?

Let me quote, if I may, from Carlos Lopes and George Kararach’s book, Structural Change in Africa:

“Five decades of development planning have not yielded the 7 percent, which is the minimum required to double average incomes in a decade. Instead, there are a range of highly unequal and vulnerable economies that remain entrenched in poverty. The evolution of industrial policy in Africa mirrors the evolution of development planning. These include the import substitution policies that took root after the independence era when planning was enthusiastically driven in the 1960s through to the 1970s; the structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s when planning waned and the state was rolled back; and then followed by poverty reduction strategy papers in the 1990s when liberalisation, deregulation, and privatisation were entrenched as methods of economic management. The weaknesses in understanding Africa as well as its misrepresentation during these periods has a lot to do with the deficits in industrial production and the incidences of de-industrialisation. This is ironic since most governments implemented various industrial policy strategies and interventions to promote industrial development.

“Manufacturing as a share of output and employment decreased or remained low over most of these periods. As African countries prepare to take their rightful places in the future global economy, they have a real opportunity to promote economic transformation through the industrialisation process by capitalising on the continent’s abundant natural resources, adding value to them, while also supporting the development of infant industries. The manufacturing sector in particular has been the engine of economic development for the majority of developed countries, and very few countries have developed their economies without a strong manufacturing base, so much so that the terms ‘industrialised’ and ‘developed’ are often used interchangeably when referring to such countries.”

As with many other global issues, establishing the root cause of Africa’s political and economic challenges is fundamental for understanding the dynamics of the African continent which, as Lopes and Kararach correctly identify, requires an understanding of how the issues of geography, economy and demography have influenced, and will continue to influence, Africa’s development.

Colonisation and Its Legacy

Returning, if I may, to the ethics of transformation and a meaningful multilateralism, it is critical to recall that, between the 1870s and 1900, Africa suffered European imperialist adventurism and aggression, diplomatic pressures, military invasions, and eventual conquest and colonisation. Despite many African societies’ brave resistance, foreign domination was successfully imposed, and by the early twentieth century much of Africa, except Ethiopia and Liberia, had been colonised by European powers.

The European imperialist push into Africa was motivated by factors that were not just economic, but also political, social, cultural and racist. The colonial drive followed the collapse of the profitability of the slave trade, its abolition and suppression, as well as the expansion of the European industrial revolution.

An interplay of economic factors – the imperatives of capitalist industrialisation including the demand for assured sources of raw materials, the search for guaranteed markets, and profitable investment outlets – as well as political factors, including inter-European power struggles and competition for pre-eminence, together with social factors, such as rising unemployment and poverty in Europe, all led to this ‘Scramble for Africa’.

The colonisation was characterised by frantic attempts by European commercial, military, and political agents to declare and establish a stake in different parts of the continent through inter-imperialist commercial competition, the declaration of exclusive claims to particular territories for trade, the imposition of tariffs against other European traders, and claims to sole control of waterways and commercial routes across Africa.

The arbitrary national boundaries that followed have been largely responsible as source for ethnic conflicts on the continent due to the forced separation of ethnic groups across states and the forced assimilation of others within states. Colonialism also replaced the pre-colonial governance structures with Western ones, creating a system of kleptocracy in some nations through the formation of hierarchical ruling structures. Economic rewards given to African elites created a dominant leading class at the expense of other Africans and the continent’s natural resources.

Despite the demise of colonialism, some elites have remained and maintained their relationships with former colonialists as part of a shared corruption in parts of Africa. Such elites are being continually rewarded for draining their states’ natural resources and thereby reinforcing inequality.

Colonialism, furthermore, created single-crop economies in societies that relied overwhelmingly on agriculture, sentencing African economies to the volatile whims of markets and market-based fluctuations, and exposure to crop failure. Forced integration of developing states into the international trading arena augmented the already widespread inequality between developed and developing states.

Central to colonisation was indirect rule and assimilation, and a consistent theme propagated by the imperialists was the portrayal of the indigenous Africans as uncivilised and uneducated. This racist notion, widely promulgated, legitimised the ill-treatment and exploitation of those who were colonised, including their relegation to the status of second-class citizens in their own countries.

Forging a New Relationship between Europe and Africa for an ‘African Enlightenment’ 

As to the future then, the basic physical conditions for economic transformation are challenging and to different degrees in many (but not all) African countries: small, often fragmented markets, poor infrastructure, remoteness, and sometimes a scarcity of relevant natural resources all play their part in the continued poor trade and wider economic performance of many African countries. Even when these factors are taken into account, however, there remains a large unexplained ‘residual’.

It is good, therefore, that a new generation of scholars, that include Professors Lopes and Kararach, are examining those structural features of the African economy that account for its past record and are serving to impose limitations on its future development. Yet what is most important is their suggestion as to what is possible, and that will include, an appropriate form of industrialisation that can be ecologically well-fitted and adjusted to local capacity.

If Europe is sincere about its wish to be a partner in enabling Africa to achieve an inclusive, sustainable and prosperous future, debt cancellation must be an intrinsic element of a new, authentic European-led response. It is my strong view that a temporary cancellation of debt interest would not suffice as an effective response. Rather, a much more radical approach is required to effectively relieve Africa’s debt burden, by restructuring, redefining and, in some cases, forgoing the bulk of outstanding debt. Such an approach would be a fitting demonstration of genuine European solidarity with our neighbours to the South. It could help to consign to the category of transacted peaceful memory of the horrendous consequences of hundreds of years of colonial and post-colonial hubris, exploitation and abuse.

There is such strong evidence that our development models are in disarray or producing dysfunctional consequences. A new model must come from a genuinely inclusive dialogue. Enabling Africa to become self-sufficient and to develop sustainably will require giving agency to Africans to build a sustainable future for Africans.

Why debt cancellation will help in this regard is by allowing strategic commodities that are held by the state to be used for the purpose of economic advancement for all, rather than serving debt repayments. Improving agency may also require alterations to the forms of governmental systems in place in some African nations so as to achieve inclusivity and accountability. It will also necessitate that there is a willingness on the part of the State to work with civil society in its engagements with external partners.

African agency is not the freedom to imitate. Neither should African agency be solely seen as emanating from, and being exerted by, governmental elites. Rather, it can be a by-product of independent civil society and progressive movements across Africa at individual and societal levels.

Agency also relates importantly to the multilateral level. The ongoing under-representation of African nations in international organisations, including the United Nations, is a major cause for concern. We should all be concerned at this under-representation. We continue to witness an historic, unjust under-representation of an Africa which was still ruled by colonial powers when the United Nations came into existence and the Security Council established. Africans must be allowed to have influence in Council decisions affecting their own continent. The increasing effect of climate change on international peace and security gives this proposal even greater urgency.

A 21st-century ‘African Enlightenment’ is underway and, may  I suggest, must draw on sources deeper and richer than any limited European 18th-century rationalism, on a diversity of pre-imperialist sources of wisdom, as well as the vigour and energy that comes from being the continent of the young on our planet.

To enable such a transformation requires us Europeans to re-conceptualise development models in relation to Africa and indeed elsewhere, to emphasise the need to seize the possibilities of transformational change, to be partners, partners with a listening capacity, as we offer our help in the efforts to build a sustainable future for the planet.

As to Africa, we have examples available to us. We can build on excellent initiatives already receiving assistance from the European Union, such as the Great Green Wall, a project led by the African Union which aims to transform the lives of millions of people by creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes across North Africa, combatting the effects of desertification.

The key structural changes that are required in relation to Africa have been identified, as I have said, by Carlos Lopes and others. These include changing politics, respecting Africa’s diversity, embracing a deeper understanding of the policy and historical context, sustainable industrialisation, increasing agricultural productivity and diversity, building a new social contract, adjusting to climate change, and inserting agency in the relationship with Africa’s key partners, especially China.

An effective European input into an African 21st-century Enlightenment requires an agreed and appropriate definition of what is meant by ‘structural transformation’, as Lopes and Kararach have written in the work I have already quoted, Structural Change in Africa: Misconceptions, New Narratives and Development in the Twenty-First Century.

It requires an understanding that, while Africa seeks transformation, it is not alone, and that any such transformation must be grounded in eco-social sustainable policies. It requires, too, a proper understanding of the role of new forms of sustainable industrialisation in any transformation, as well as other key enablers such as innovative development financing.


Whatever policy proposals that are made now and in the future must accept that it is past time that the residues of the imperialist mindset, succeeded as it was by the idea of progress, of ethnocentric linearities, be eschewed from informing assumptions in policies, diplomacy and scholarship.

I so agree with Carlos Lopes that such residues continue to permeate modern-day misconceptions of Africa, often propagated in ignorance by the media, misconceptions, misreadings that are not only cartographic, but also pervade work on risk perceptions, levels of conflict, problems of political stability and other spheres of human existence.

Such misconceptions for too often portray a continent in continual crisis, despite that continent having made significant progress in recent years. Such accounts usually form the basis of an unhelpful and inauthentic African narrative that portrays a gap between perception and reality regarding its transformative potential.

I am not discounting the need for institutional change. Of course, an overall commitment to good governance and state well-being is needed in many African states as a prerequisite, but this cannot be used as an excuse for shirking Europe’s moral and ethical obligation to progressing Africa’s overdue economic and wider social transformation.

We need now, all of us, to move beyond our prescriptive approach to dealing with African challenges, an approach that often resulted in programmes of aid in the past that were externally imposed, conceived and applied without proper understanding of the crucial need for African agency, that were offered, delivered, even imposed without due cognisance of history and the context of Africa as a diverse, fast-changing continent. Perhaps it is time to return to using old tools such as anthropology.

I agree with Carlos Lopes that a paradigm shift in African Union-European Union relations is now urgently needed. Our challenge as Europeans must, therefore, be to forge a new relationship with Africa, by arriving at a new place founded on real multilateralism and solidarity, so that we can be ethical partners in the necessary structural change that can deliver universal basic services and transformational prosperity in Africa, and an enduring, sustainable future for the continent of the young, on which those of us who believe in global social justice and solidarity place so much collective hope.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

IIEA12th March 20203min

Dear friends and members,

Much has changed in the months since the COVID-19 pandemic first had an impact on Ireland, and across the world. Our premises at North Great George’s Street has been closed since March, and our team have been working remotely. We successfully moved our events programme online, which has allowed us to continue sharing analysis and insights of the international and European policy issues that matter to you, our members, and to the wider public. There has been much to discuss and analyse from Europe’s response to COVID-19, the global impact fo the pandemic, the continuing negotiations on the future EU-UK negotiations, to Ireland’s successful UNSC campaign.

Now, as the country re-opens gradually, we have decided to continue hosting our events online for the time being. As an international affairs think tank our speakers often travel to Dublin for a short visit in order to address the IIEA. For the foreseeable future this will not be practical, or indeed possible. Equally, bringing a group of people together as a physical audience would not be wise at this time. Webinars have the great advantage of enabling us to link in with speakers wherever they are in the world and to have as broad an audience as possible, with no physical distancing or capacity limits.

Nonetheless online events have their own limitations. The same level of engagement, interrogation and discussion of ideas that comes from an in-person event cannot be replicated in the same way online. We greatly miss meeting you all regularly in North Great George’s Street and we hope the day that we are able to welcome you back is not too far away.

Our events programme will take a break in August to allow for some rest and reflection. We will look forward to you joining us from September for our Autumn season of events, beginning on Wednesday 2 September when we will host Michel Barnier, EU Chief Negotiator.

For now, let me wish you good health and a pleasant summer.


Michael Collins
Director General



March 2020

Dear Friends and Members,

As the COVID 19 crisis unfolds, we at the IIEA are determined to continue our mission to share ideas and shape policy, while taking into account the unprecedented situation we are all now faced with.

We are delighted to announce that we are moving our events online in webinar format so that we can continue to provide our members with the policy insights, analysis and context that helps shape decision-making.  In this way we hope to ensure our members benefit from the insights and analysis of thought-leaders and decision-makers from across the European Union and around the world.

As policymakers, business leaders and decision-makers in Ireland, Europe and the world, navigate unchartered waters it is essential that decisions are informed by policy expertise and a clear understanding of the challenges ahead. Through our new offering of online events we will endeavour to continue to provide you with the insights and analysis which have always been a hallmark of the IIEA.

These events will be publicised in the same manner as previous IIEA events: in emails to our members, on our website and on our social media channels. We look forward to seeing you at an IIEA webinar soon!

Many thanks for your understanding and continued support,

Best regards,

Michael Collins

Director General

Sarah Burke28th November 20192min

Professor Séamus Ó Cinnéide who died on 13 November was an early supporter of the Institute project and a contributor to its initial programme of Studies in European Union. In 1993, he edited a major study of Social Europe, addressing the social implications for Ireland of its membership of the European Community and, a year later, coordinated an Institute response to the Commission Green Paper on European Social Policy.

President Michael D. Higgins paid tribute to Séamus Ó Cinnéide, saying that “with his passing, applied Irish social studies have lost a founding champion.” President Higgins also noted his work, including his book ‘A Law For The Poor’ and his campaigning, most notably through the Kilkenny Conference.

At that Kilkenny Conference, in November 1971, Séamus presented a paper on The Extent of Poverty in Ireland which concluded that some twenty per cent of the Irish population lived in poverty.  This revelation led to immediate responses in academic, social and political circles. Further, a Labour Party paper, to which Séamus provided technical advice, led directly to action at the level of the European Community which Ireland joined in 1973. His proposal of a programme of pilot schemes to combat poverty was accepted by Dr Patrick Hillery, the first Irish member of the European Commission, and became part of his Social Action Programme in 1974.

This led to the establishment of the first Combat Poverty Committee, chaired by Sister Stanislaus Kennedy. Seamus was a member of the Committee – thirteen of the sixteen individual members of which had attended the Kilkenny Conference. Sister Stan noted this statistical fact in her final Committee report, commenting “thus the bridge from idea and discussion to action was created.”

Séamus Ó Cinnéide had a long and distinguished career in Maynooth University, as Professor of Applied Social Studies. Under his leadership the Department of Applied Social Studies has earned a high reputation for teaching, research and development in these areas, including, for a number of years, the EU sponsored Masters in European Social Policy Analysis. He also made a notable input to Irish social policy debate and action, in particular in the area of Child Care.

Tony Brown, IIEA Senior Fellow and Founding Member


IIEA29th October 20192min

Noreen Kearney who died on 26 October made a significant contribution to the development of the Institute from the earliest days.  The Institute’s President, Brendan Halligan described her as “a great stalwart and wonderful supporter.”

Noreen Kearney had a long and influential career in TCD where she achieved the position of Dean of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Studies.  Her notable skills in giving direction to a major faculty were matched by her academic contribution, for example in co-editing a 2005 IPA study “Social Work in Ireland.”

In 1974 she was recruited by Frank Cluskey to play a key role in the establishment of the National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty under the leadership of her friend Sister Stanislaus Kennedy.   She served on the Committee until its closure in 1980.  In 1986 she was named as the first Chair of the Combat Poverty Agency (1986-1989) and then as Vice-Chair (1989-1995).   In both of these positions she was closely involved in the evolution and implementation of European Social Policy led, in the Brussels Commission by Patrick Hillery, Jacques Delors and Padraig Flynn.

Her interest in European matters led Noreen Kearney to associate herself with the Institute of European Affairs, launched by Brendan Halligan in 1991.   She chaired one of the Institute’s early Working Groups, in the area of European Social policy, which produced a study of ‘EC Social Policy and Ireland’, edited by Seamus O Conneide in 1993.

Noreen Kearney was elected to the Institute’s Board of Directors in December 1993 when she was appointed to the group of Vice Chairpersons working with, and supporting, the IEA  Chairperson, Brendan Halligan.   She held that position until her retirement from the Board in 2013 when a carefully planned reorganisation of the Institute structures, to which she had made a major contribution in Board deliberations and decisions, was implemented. .

She took the chair at a number of the Institute Annual General Meetings, notably on the day of her election to the Board in 1993.   She was an ex-officio member of the Institute’s Executive Committee, which directed the organisation’s day-to-day affairs and supported the work of the succession of outstanding occupants of the position of Director General: Brian Farrell, Terry Stewart, Alan Dukes, Jill Donoghue, Joe Brosnan and Daithi O Ceallaigh.

She was actively involved from the outset in key aspects of the Institute’s activities, chairing the Social Europe Group and participating in the work of the Board’s important Finance and Administration and Research Programmes Committees.

On her retirement from the Board, Noreen Kearney was made an Honorary Life Member of the Institute, joining Adrian Burke, Patrick Keatinge, Derry O’Hegarty, Geraldine Byrne Nason, Con Power and Lord Williamson of Horton, all of whom had contributed to the Institute’s development over the years.   She now becomes the sixth Honarary Life Member to have died and who are remembered with respect and gratitude, with former President Patrick Hillery, former Taoisigh Jack Lynch and Garret FitzGerald, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jim Dooge and DrTomas O Cofaigh.

Tony Brown

IIEA22nd October 20192min

The Institute of International and European Affairs is delighted to announce Michael Collins as its new Director General effective Monday, 18 November 2019.

Michael’s appointment follows an open recruitment process which commenced in August 2019. Michael takes over from Donal de Buitléir who has been serving as Acting Director General since January 2019.

On his appointment, incoming IIEA Director General Michael Collins said: “I am delighted at this critical time to be taking up this position at the IIEA. The work of the Institute in providing thoughtful analysis and a forum for informed reflection on key European and international issues has never been more relevant. I look forward to leading the Institute and engaging with its membership and friends on its agenda of ever-increasing importance to Ireland and to the international community generally.”

IIEA Chairperson, Ruairi Quinn said: “We look forward to the wealth of knowledge and experience that Michael will bring to the role of Director General of the Institute. Over a distinguished diplomatic career, he served as ambassador to some of Ireland’s most important strategic partners, namely the United States and most recently, Germany. He also played an important role in the Good Friday Agreement working closely with then-Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. His deep understanding of international and European affairs, at this crucial and uncertain time for decision-makers, will be of great benefit to the IIEA over the coming years.

Ruairi continued: “The IIEA board would like to thank Donal de Buitléir, who has stood in as our Acting Director General since January 2019. He has served with distinction during that period.”

Michael Collins Biography

Michael served at the highest level in the Irish diplomatic service during a 45-year career. He most recently served as Irish Ambassador to Germany from 2013 to 2019 and prior to this, he served as Ambassador to the United States from 2007 to 2013. In 2001 he was appointed Second Secretary General in the Department of An Taoiseach with responsibility for the Northern Ireland peace process, Anglo-Irish issues and EU and international issues. On retirement, he became the longest-serving diplomat in the history of the Irish foreign service.

IIEA4th July 20191min

Dr Donal de Buitléir remains IIEA Acting Director following Barry Andrews’ resignation

Following his success in the European Parliament elections, Barry Andrews offered his resignation, which was accepted by the IIEA Board on Wednesday, 26 June.

The IIEA Board and staff would like to sincerely thank Barry for his dedication and service to the Institute during his tenure as Director General, and would like to wish him well in his future endeavours.

Dr Donal de Buitléir, who has been IIEA Acting Director General since 1 January 2019, will remain in place until the open recruitment process for a new Director General concludes. The IIEA Board would like to thank Donal for stepping into this position and for agreeing to continue until a new Director General is appointed.

Donal de Buitléir Biography:

Donal is Chairman of the Low Pay Commission. He was a Board Member of the Health Services Executive 2005-09. Previously he worked in AIB Group and in the Irish public service. He was Secretary to the Commission on Taxation 1980-85, a member of a number of Government reviews in the areas of local government reform, integration of tax and welfare, business regulation, health funding and higher education. He is an Eisenhower Fellow.

IIEA21st February 20191min

 Following a decision taken at a meeting of the IIEA Board on Thursday 21 February 2019, Dr Donal de Buitléir will continue in the role of Acting Director General while IIEA DG Barry Andrews will remain on a leave of absence.

Dr Donal de Buitléir has been appointed as Acting Director General of the Institute of International and European Affairs, effective from January 1st 2019. Donal is Chairman of the Low Pay Commission. He was a Board Member of the Health Services Executive 2005-09. Previously he worked in AIB Group and in the Irish public service. He was Secretary to the Commission on Taxation 1980-85. He was a member of a number of Government reviews in the areas of local government reform, integration of tax and welfare, business regulation, health funding and higher education. He is an Eisenhower Fellow.