It is a great
pleasure to be in Geneva this morning and to speak at this the first ever
United Nations World Summit on the Information Society. ‘Information Society’ is a phrase that is
not used in the daily lives of people around the world. But the power of technology to change
people’s lives is understood and accepted by everyone wherever they live.
Technology is a tool and an enabler of
change. However, it cannot and should
not dictate how our societies are shaped and developed. What is most important in any society is its
citizens. That is who we as governments
serve and the ultimate goal of technology is to serve the citizen.
Today, our societies are divided in new
ways - into those who have the ability
and the means to access and use technology to achieve their full potential and
those who don’t. The Information
Society presents each country with the same opportunities and challenges for
economic and social development. But
the difference between countries lies in their ability to grasp these
opportunities and to confront these challenges. From Iceland to Idaho and from Mali to Moscow, citizens,
governments, and businesses are dealing with the emergence of a knowledge-based
information society. It is,
therefore, timely to have a global discussion on the growth of this relatively
new phenomenon. And how this should
continue. We need to look at how the
Information Society can benefit the global community. And how the global community can shape its future
Nearly, three hundred years ago, Edmund
Burke, one of our famous Irish writers, said that ‘ a state without the means
of some change is without the means of its conservation.’ Today that means of change is
I firmly believe that
we can only fully realise the power of the technology in close cooperation with
the private sector. While governments
can provide the supporting framework, the private sector has driven the
development of ICTs and their
application. In areas such as distance
education, e-health, wireless access and low cost connectivity solutions,
progress depends on partnership with private sector companies, including a
renewed focus on research into ICTs for development.
In Ireland, we want
to tap into the huge pool of ICT expertise in Irish industry in a new
partnership in support of poverty reduction.
We will encourage and facilitate Irish ICT volunteers to use their
skills in support of capacity building programmes in our partner
countries. We will consult industry and
Third Level institutions about new areas of research into ICT and
development. We will work to develop
new partnerships between Irish ICT companies and enterprises in developing
cooperation programme works with the poorest people in the poorest countries of
the world. Ireland will work with its
partner Governments in our programme countries in support of their national ICT
strategies. We want to see ICTs used to
achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2015. We think ICTs can make a vital contribution
to the implementation of HIV/AIDS treatment regimes in countries where millions
face death because they have no access to life-saving drugs.
This week our Minister of State for Development
Cooperation and Human Rights, Tom Kitt, launched a new ICT and Development
strategy to be implemented by Development Cooperation Ireland, the Government’s
official development assistance programme.
This strategy is based on the work of a Task Force drawn from the
private sector, development specialists, NGOs and academics.
Development Cooperation Ireland will use ICTs as a new
and powerful tool in its programmes of development cooperation. We will increase spending on ICTs in
response to the needs of our partner countries. We will advocate greater use of ICTs in national poverty
reduction strategies. We will promote
regulatory systems which encourage the open flow of information and widespread
access to the Internet and other communications media.
In the broader
development context, ICTs can support good governance programmes and the fight
against corruption. These technologies
increase transparency, help spread information beyond small groups to wider
civil society and strengthen political and financial accountability.
In the second half of 2004, Ireland and the World Bank
will co-host a conference in Dublin on the lessons learned from Ireland’s
experience in the development of a knowledge economy. We will invite key development partners to this Conference. We want to use our experience to support
others who are working to use ICTs to underpin economic growth and development.
While ICTs hold out
great promise for the future, and should help us in our common effort to
achieve the Millennium Development Goals, we have to be realistic and pragmatic
about their application. The digital
divide in access to ICTs is a symptom of a wider development divide. Unless we tackle the root causes of global
inequality and injustice, we will not bridge the digital divide. Fundamentally,
as we agreed at Monterrey, we need better governance, sound economic
management, more Overseas Development Aid, more debt relief, a fair world trade
order and a relentless focus on the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The Information Society is about
understanding problems and looking at possible solutions that technology makes
possible – technologies that have opened up many new doors to rich sources of
information and knowledge. As a global
society, we must ensure that all our citizens enjoy the benefits and the opportunities
that an inclusive people-centred Information Society offer. If we do not ensure this, we will be remiss
in our responsibility and duty as governments.
I warmly congratulate the Swiss
Government on hosting this the first phase of the UN World Summit on the
Information Society. The Irish
government is committed to ensuring that this Summit, of two phases, is a
success and that its commitments to the world are delivered.