Tag Archives: North Korea

Irish Korean North South Lesson Sharing

In Korea, a much discussed example of unification was and remains the “Berlin” model.  As one scenario and a contingency, it has generated a lot of discussion, comparison and analysis amongst Korean academics, officials and commentators. The Irish model, alternatively, is based on the premise of two jurisdictions continuing to exist until there is agreement otherwise, recognizing each other’s legitimacy and aspirations, and agreeing to formal intergovernmental North South structures working on a programme of cooperation.  The message below summarizes the visit of the delegation from the North South Ministerial Council.  Subsequently, the German Ambassador, HE Rolf Mafael, and I made a joint presentation of both models to the Asia Society of Korea.

Ambassador’s Message – North South Lesson Sharing

23 October 2012

As you may have seen in some media coverage, the Embassy hosted a North-South lesson-sharing visit by a delegation from Ireland last week.  This project began in discussions between the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore and the Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik this time last year.

How to characterise the visit?  I would say stimulating, informative, revealing and affirmative.  Perhaps the most important description is ‘affirmative’ in that the visit affirmed the value of sharing lessons and exchanging views with our Korean counterparts.

This was partly because of commonalities such as our shared colonial history, partition, the generation of conflict and aspirations for unity.  But importantly it was affirmative too for what was not held in common; for example the absence of internationally binding agreements embracing all issues and relationships or of inter-governmental mechanisms for managing escalating tensions and unexpected events or actions.  While the equations of identity are different, exploring our differences helped illuminate the nature of national identity and the nature of aspirations about the future.  The news of the Scottish referendum on independence in 2014 was a useful entry point into these discussions.

The focus of the visit was on the North South Ministerial Council, the work of its Secretariat and the purpose and activities of two of the six specialised North-South bodies established by the Good Friday Agreement.

The delegation comprised Mary Bunting, Northern Ireland Joint Secretary of the North-South Ministerial Council, my colleague Margaret Stanley, Southern Deputy Joint Secretary, Pat Colgan of the Special EU Peace Programmes Body and Thomas Hunter McGowan (CEO) and Aidan Gough (Director for Strategy) of Inter-Trade Ireland.

Our counterparts were senior officials from the Ministry of Unification and members of the Korean Institute for National Unification.  In addition to presentations on their areas of work by the delegation, I gave an introductory presentation on the peace process focusing on intergovernmental cooperation since the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and the historic settlement of 1998.  At the end of their visit, the delegation briefed a group of interested Ambassadors on their views and impressions of the exercise.

In the question and answer sessions, several themes and topics emerged.  These included approaches to unity and cross-border cooperation; the nature of national identity, territory and consent; negotiations, trust and the role of the US; security; dealing with the past; sustainability of peace building; power-sharing; and mechanisms for intergovernmental cooperation.

Two particular issues of interest garnered much attention.  One was the sheer patience required and the time spans involved – the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985; the Hume-Adams dialogue 1988; the IRA ceasefire 1994; the Good Friday Agreement 1998; decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and the establishment of a stable power-sharing 2007; the first meeting two weeks ago of the North-South inter-parliamentary forum.  The other was the delicate and complex nature of North-South relations that are the heart of the historic settlement of 1998.  For the officials involved in the NSMC Secretariat and the North-South bodies, this is a daily reality given that what are in themselves mundane matters become highly political in the nationalist-unionist force-field.

The delegation visited the DMZ, including observing the crossing into Kaesong, the 3rd tunnel, the Joint Security Area and the observation platform.  I think it is fair to say that they found it both impressive and sad that such mighty infrastructure divided one people.

While all conflicts are different in origin and character, peace-building solutions share many common features; a commitment not to use violence or the threat of violence to influence negotiations; a resilient inter-governmental process that can withstand and manage unexpected events; comprehensive talks under independent chairmanship; agreed outcomes established through binding treaties; supporting input from regional partners and the international community; effective and monitored implementation.

I would like to thank the members of the delegation for their presentations and the candour of their engagement.  Indeed, the joint nature of our delegation itself illustrated how far we have travelled in our own journey to peace and reconciliation.  I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful hospitality of our hosts at the Ministry of Unification and the serious engagement of our interlocutors throughout the visit.  I am very hopeful that this lesson-sharing exchange is just the first of many.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Leave a comment

Filed under Anglo-Irish, Korea

A Visit to the DPRK

Ireland established diplomatic relations with North Korea in January 2004 during the rapprochement between the RoK and DPRK under the Sunshine Policy.  Ireland’s main engagement with the DPRK is the provision of funding by Irish Aid: reviewing the programmes run by the World Food Programme and Irish NGO Concern there forms a key part of visits by the Embassy.  After meetings with DPRK officials, we have a chance to travel outside of Pyongyang.  Getting to Pyongyang is not easy: diplomats cannot cross the border at the DMZ so we have to fly to Beijing and then catch a plane to Pyongyang.  Support by Irish Aid continues this year (2013) with a direct contribution to the WFP of €250,000, in addition to funding to Concern and to Emergency Funds like the UN’s CERF which the WFP accesses.

Ambassador’s Message – DPRK Visit

25 May 2012

I thought you might be interested in my visit last week to the DPRK to which I am accredited as Ambassador.  My wife Mary accompanied me.   Pyongyang, the capital and showcase city, looked well in the May sunshine, manicured and spruced up with particular attention because of the 15th April centennial celebration of the birth of Kim Il-sung.  There were plenty of cars in evidence, a bustle about the streets adjacent to our hotel, mobile phones in use and fashionable accessories to be seen.

 We were particularly interested to get outside the city to see the countryside immediately to the north and to the south of the capital and we able to do so thanks to the World Food Programme (WFP) and our own NGO, Concern, which is operating EU programmes there.

 WFP

To reach the WFP project, we drove north from Pyongyang to Phyongsong city.  The fields were busy with people actively planting rice or tilling fields.  Despite intensive cultivation and the hard work of the people, however, the food gap remains around one million metric tons of cereals each year.

The WFP programme in Phyongsong city, the capital of South Pyongan Province (pop. 4 million) centers on creating a food mixture rich in essential micronutrients and proteins.  It targets the most vulnerable and is distributed to orphanages (baby homes, child centers, boarding schools), hospitals, nurseries, kindergartens.  The WFP operates in 12 of the 21 counties in South Pyongan Province (and some 114 countries overall in the DPRK).  Between April 2011 and May of this year, the WFP provided 1,531 metric tons of food aid to 43,904 beneficiaries in Phyongsong city, mainly to nurseries, pregnant/lactating mothers, kindergartens and primary schools.  Its milk, cereal, corn, soy and rice blends help prevent permanent physical and intellectual damage due to chronic malnutrition (the stunting rate is about 32% nationally).

Because of the relatively better harvest in 2011, the current Emergency Programme will probably be replaced by a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation in July 2012, with somewhat reduced coverage from 3.5 million vulnerable recipients to in the region of 2.5 million people.

The WFP expressed its appreciation for Ireland’s contribution last year to its programme in the DPRK of $3.6m.  This included a direct contribution of $356,125 by Irish Aid that was used to procure 770 metric tons of wheat.  The WFP DPRK programme also received multilateral funding of $3,252,800 from Ireland that was used to purchase vegetable oil, sugar and dried skimmed milk, key ingredients in the blended foods.

 Our first stop was Phyongsong Paediatric Hospital.  Young patients there were being treated for water-borne gastric problems which are prevalent (the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, de-worms all the children twice a year in the 118 counties they cover).  International agencies, notably the WHO and UNICEF, provide medicines for about 10m of the total population of 24m. 

 Our next stop was at an orphanage for toddlers, ranked along two long balconies in the courtyard wearing identical pink pyjamas and waving excitedly as we arrived (shouting the Korean equivalent of Daddy! Daddy!)  Joyful and curious, they were particularly excited to be shown their photos on our camera’s LCD screen.  They receive daily the enriched WFP food that ensures essential nutrients for the crucial first years of life.

Our final stop was at the Cereal Milk factory where WFP supplies are mixed and bagged for distribution in an operation that was clean, busy and currently well stocked.

The WFP is confident that monitoring arrangements are effective. The official with us said that they had come not encountered examples of diversion and believe that the system operates with admirable integrity. UN officials and NGO regularly made the point to us that the DPRK operates extremely efficiently administratively, with high levels of commitment to tasks at hand, done with honesty and lack of theft.

Concern

Where the WFP (and WHO and UNICEF) provide emergency and relief programmes, the EU focus since 2006 is on addressing the structural issues causing the food gap under its Food Security Thematic Programme, specifically its “Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development”.  The DPRK budget for 2011-2013 is €20m.  The Irish NGO Concern manages integrated food and sustainable agricultural programmes, irrigation infrastructure projects, crop rotations, soil erosion mitigation techniques on sloping agriculture, and green house horticulture for winter production. 

Accompanied by Concern staff including an Irish national, we travelled through the traditional breadbasket south of Pyongyang to Singye.  Richly coloured red clays, verdant hills and clear blue skies combined to produce a beautiful landscape, dotted with small hamlets untouched, it seemed, by time.  Timeless too was the sight of plentiful colourfully dressed workers in the fields, carts drawn by cattle and curious, watchful locals. 

Concern operates the EU programme in Singye and associated projects in farms in and around the District.  It is an integrated operation designed to provide locally manufactured nutritious food for children and effective water and sanitation systems to end the scourge of water-borne diseases.  Pasteurized soymilk, tofu and protein rich maze noodles are produced using Chinese machinery in an operation run by locals under the leadership of the redoubtable Deputy Chairman of the District Committee, and her elderly though indomitable assistant, the kind of strong Korean women we are all familiar with down in the South.

We visited a cooperative farm, located off-road and across a broad river, that has a goat herd of some 700 whose milk is pasteurised for distribution or made into yoghurt.  Cellars are in construction to store cheese.  The farm manager is pioneering and open to new ideas, we were told.  There is a major push on by the international agencies to promote conservation agriculture, an approach that avoids ploughing altogether and thereby preserving nutrients, limiting erosion and improving yields.  A field at this farm is the first experiment with this new technique.  (Brazil is the leader in conservation agriculture and the exporter of the best planting devices.)  If successful, it will relieve rural populations of the time and energy consumed ploughing.

Our Irish national guide is coming to the end of his five-year stint in the DPRK.  He is resolutely optimistic in character and paid tribute to the ordinary Koreans he worked with as extremely kind, hospitable, hardworking and honest.  Aside from those fond memories, he recalled the magnificent scenery amidst the spectacular mountains as one travelled north.

 It is a challenging working environment but the effectiveness of comprehensive national and local administration means that goals can be achieved in the DPRK that would simply be inconceivable in many other countries receiving international aid.  A WHO official told me, in astonishment, that the inoculation (using internationally donated supplies) of the whole population between the ages of 1 and 4 years of age was achieved in two weeks.  There is no doubt that the UN agencies, NGOs and EU Special Programmes are achieving their intended goals, and meeting real needs in terms of nutrition and health for vulnerable groups. 

Concern kindly hosted a small reception for us and we had the opportunity to meet a range of people working with UN agencies and NGOs in North Korea, as well as a number of diplomats.  I paid tribute to their work and the often trying conditions of life that they subject themselves to when working to alleviate suffering in the world.  I was proud to note that even though Ireland faced considerable economic and fiscal challenges, our Irish Aid programme continued to enjoy widespread and strong public support at home.  

Best wishes, 

Eamonn

2 Comments

Filed under Korea