On 21 March, the UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, met the President of Ireland, H.E. Michael D. Higgins, at the President’s official residence in Phoenix Park in Dublin.
The Director-General thanked President Higgins for the strength of his support to UNESCO, reminding him of the acclaim his speech received at UNESCO headquarters from all Delegations during his visit on 19 February 2013.
Irina Bokova noted the common ground shared between the values and objectives of UNESCO and the vision of the President, notably in education and in the safeguarding of culture.
She briefed on progress made by UNESCO in its advocacy for recognition of culture for sustainable development on the global agenda, noting the importance of Ireland’s support in this respect. She highlighted the upcoming Thematic Debate that will be held by the UN General Assembly on 5 May on this theme and the need to continue making this case in every instance.
President Higgins thanked the Director-General for her visit and shared his vision of the importance of culture and cultural diversity in a world globalizing quickly.
The President spoke of the initiatives he has launched in Ireland to launch debates about crafting new models of human development, founded on ethics and critical thinking, and drawing on human rights and dignity as well as on pluralism.
In this respect, the President stressed the importance of UNESCO in fostering education for human rights, promoting gender equality, as well as in safeguarding heritage and dialogue between cultures. He referred to the critical importance of inclusion and justice for all societies. In this time of change, the President emphasised the importance of 'mind work' to debate trends across the world and to understand better wider trends -- for instance, on the nature of work -- underlining UNESCO's role in all this.
On the same day, the Director-General met also with Mr Ruairí Quinn, T.D., Minister for Education and Skills, where they discussed the importance of education for dignity and development, especially for girls and women -- a Global Priority for UNESCO and a priority for the Irish Government.
They discussed also the importance of work against bullying in schools, including homophobic bullying, whose work by UNESCO the Minister underlined and would seek to support further.
Discussion followed on accelerating towards EFA for 2015 and also setting an ambitious goal for education in the global sustainable development agenda to follow. The Director General thanked the Minister for the support of Ireland to UNESCO's work here, including to the Global Monitoring Report.
The Director-General also met with Mr Joe Costello, Minister of State at the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, responsible for Trade and Development, with whom she spoke of UNESCO's action to promote human rights education, including to fight against homophobic bullying, as well as for girls' and women's education.
Minister Costello thanked the Director General for this and pledged to continue supporting the work of UNESCO in these areas. He noted in particular Ireland's efforts in the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals to set a goal for gender equality and to mainstream this through all goals.
In addition, Irina Bokova met with Mr Feargal O'Coigligh, Assistant Secretary General of the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht, with whom she discussed the importance of Ireland's work to safeguard the common heritage of humanity.
In this respect, the Director General reviewed UNESCO's action through the 1970 Convention against illicit trafficking, calling for Ireland's engagement in this essential work.
Irina Bokova held a meeting with Dr Kirstin Lemon, Chair of the Irish Geoparks Forum, and other officials from the Irish Geoparks Forum and Geological Survey. This was an opportunity to review Ireland's leading work in this field and to discuss prospects for the future development of the concept and its practice across the world.
On the same day, Irina Bokova gave a speech to the Dublin-based Institute of International and European Affairs, on “UNESCO’s Soft Power in a Globalizing World.”
Speaking before a full audience, the Director-General reminded of UNESCO’s role in laying the foundations for lasting peace and sustainable development, underlining UNESCO’s action to promote education for all, especially girls and women, and in safeguarding cultural heritage for the benefit of all.
“I see UNESCO’s ‘soft power’ as the power to broker ideas, to bring the right actors together, to set agendas, to mobilise collective action for global goods, on the basis of human rights,” said the Director-General.
“UNESCO does not deliver development financial aid, it crafts the conditions for development. UNESCO does not itself keep the peace, it works to make it last,” she continued. “This is vital work, which I am determined to strengthen.”
The Director-General thanked Ireland for its support to UNESCO, highlighting the appeal of Ireland’s soft power, as a cultural powerhouse, deeply engaged in efforts to strengthen effective multilateralism and a rules-based international order, namely though the United Nations.
Discussion followed on a wide range of issues, from protecting culture in Mali, teacher training to private public partnerships.