Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Irish Bishops’ Conference can I thank you for being here for this launch of our Pastoral Letter, Towards the Global Common Good.

On Wednesday past, the urgent issue of wealth and poverty in an unequal world was brought powerfully to our attention, once again, with the publication of the United Nations Report on Human Development.

This Report confirms that Ireland is now ranked eighth in the world for human development, up from tenth position in 2002. That is a major achievement by any standard. The Pastoral Letter points out that this recent economic success, as well as the economic progress which has flowed from the peace process in Northern Ireland, is something to be welcomed and celebrated. The creation of wealth is a vital and legitimate aspiration of every individual and every national economy. All who contributed to this success deserve praise and recognition. Their efforts have brought to many, increased opportunities and higher standards of living.

Something else has become equally clear in recent days. While our economic progress continues apace, it does so without adequate reference to the moral principles of justice, solidarity and concern for the poor.

These are the values, which ensure a society worthy of the human person. On the same day (as the UN Report on Human Development published details of our ever increasing prosperity), the Combat Poverty Agency reported that one hundred and forty thousand Irish children live in poverty. At the same time the UN Report indicated that Ireland is one of the most unequal states among the eighteenth wealthiest nations of the world. It ranks only behind Italy and the United States. Such gaping inequalities are a serious challenge to our reputation as a caring and generous nation. They call for an urgent reassessment of our moral and spiritual priorities as a country.

The Scriptures remind us how quickly the legitimate pursuit of economic growth can become separated from its proper orientation to the common good and the universal destiny of the goods of the earth.

When this happens, those individuals and states, which have benefited most from increased prosperity, can sometimes lose their sense of responsibility for the progress of society as a whole and for the global common good. In the search for financial security, we can, as individuals and as a state, become convinced of our own self-sufficiency. More and more, morally and psychologically, we can become disconnected from the plight of those less well off than ourselves.

Through this Pastoral Letter we, the Irish Catholic Bishops, hope to initiate a discussion about the moral and spiritual implications of Ireland’s status as one of the most successful and globalised economies of the world. We do so in anticipation of next week’s meeting of the UN Millennium Plus Five Summit. There, the leaders of 189 countries, including Ireland, will assess the progress of the international community towards the Millennium Development Goals.

These goals were first established in the Jubilee year 2000 and include the eradication of extreme poverty and the provision of primary education for every child in the world. The commitment made by the leaders of the G8 Summit in Edinburgh in July, to reduce the debt of some of the poorest countries of the world was very welcome. Nevertheless, all the indications now are that not one of the eight millennium development goals, will be met by the target date of 2015. This is, in itself, a tragic and eloquent statement. It highlights our lack of moral determination, as individuals and as the richest nations of the world, to deal with the most urgent issue confronting our shared humanity. The unnecessary death of a child every three seconds, for want of food or medicine, is such a stark and appalling reality. While national and global inequalities are widening, no disciple of Jesus can feel at peace with his or her conscience.

This Pastoral both celebrates and challenges our reputation as a generous nation. On the one hand, our record in relation to voluntary aid and our response to human tragedy across the world are both outstanding and widely recognised. We have one of the highest levels of public support for such aid in the western world. On the other hand, as the Pastoral indicates, the virtue of solidarity put before us by the Gospel, ‘is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.’

This is the key message of our Pastoral: the call to a persevering ‘commitment to the good of one’s neighbour with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to “lose oneself” for the sake of the other’, not only in personal but also in national and global terms. This, in turn, requires a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to sacrifice personal or national interest for the sake of the global common good.

We saw one very welcome expression of this principle in the Jubilee year 2000. That was the commitment by the Irish Government that Ireland would reach the UN’s goal of setting aside 0.7 per cent of GNP for development aid by 2007. I believe that this initiative was widely supported by Irish people. It also set a compelling standard for the rest of the world, one from which the poorest countries of the world took great encouragement and hope. As Bishops we believe that the poorest nations of the world continue to look to Ireland to set the global standard for commitment to development aid. We also believe that there is substantial support among the Irish people for a compelling and world -leading target, which will express their commitment to a more just and compassionate world. We therefore appeal to the Irish Government to further enhance its reputation as a global leader in development aid and to commit itself to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP by the year 2010 at the latest. Confirmation that we have moved further up the table of world development, since the original target was set, suggests that there is no justifiable reason why such a target could not now be achieved.

More needs to be done to highlight the link between development and the way in which we treat our natural environment. Global warming and climate change are pressing problems. They are certainly aggravated by the sort of economic development that is heavily reliant on burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Unacceptable waste disposal, wanton depletion of fish stocks, and irresponsible pollution, are by-products of an economic activity, which pays insufficient attention to its effects on the environment.

Pope John Paul II once called for ‘ecological conversion.’ It has to do with the type of energy we use to heat our homes, the method we use to dispose of our waste, or the form of transport we use to get to work. Every decision we make in favour of a more sustainable environment is a decision in favour of the global common good.

This means that on a national level, much more needs to be done to cut Ireland’s greenhouse emissions. The Pastoral reminds us that as a nation, we are legally bound to fulfil our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force in February 2005. According to the most recent review of the Government’s National Climate Change Strategy projections, Ireland, unfortunately, will not reach its targets set under the Kyoto Protocol. It is a imperative, therefore, that the measures set out in the National Climate Change Strategy in 2000, are implemented with greater speed. All of us have a part to play; in our homes, schools, parishes, businesses, industry and government. A critical point made in the Pastoral is that ‘All of us can review our own practices and establish our own challenging targets to ensure that we meet our moral obligation to care for creation as God intended and to create a sustainable global environment.’ We appeal, in particular, to every parish and church organisation to assess their commitment to the care of the environment. They are encouraged to set their own targets and develop their own strategies for ensuring an ambitious commitment to meeting their responsibilities as stewards of creation with a sacred vocation to care for the global common good.

Thankfully, there is evidence of a growing global consciousness of our interdependence as a human family. More and more people are becoming impatient and concerned about the stark inequalities in the distribution of the goods of the earth. They are keenly aware of our collective responsibility for the developing countries of the world. We hope that this letter will contribute, at least in some small way, to a further moral awakening on this issue.

The future of the human family has to be addressed in global terms. The dignity and development of the human individual are the priorities. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church balances it all up eloquently when it calls for ‘a shared humanism based on solidarity’.

It is in that spirit that the Irish Bishops’ Conference has asked Trócaire to prepare a Report on International Development. That Report will look at the issues challenging the Global Common Good today. We hope that it will serve as a stimulus for reflection and action. What is required is a social and political culture, inspired by the Gospel and animated by a spirit of global solidarity.

The Pastoral states that if the ‘civilisation of love’ proposed by the Gospel, is to become a reality, then what is required is a ‘moral and economic mobilisation’.

The Irish Bishops’ Conference appreciates the persevering commitment of Trócaire to the work of international development. On that note, I now hand you over to its Chairman, Bishop John Kirby.