Irish minister shares international insights

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Peter Burke, the Republic of Ireland’s current Minister of State for European Affairs and Defense, visited the Institute on Wednesday, March 13, to share his views on European politics and Ireland’s stance on international issues. Burke, who traveled with staff, was met with a gathering of students and faculty in the Bill Moore Student Success Center.

The event operated mainly as a question-and-answer session, during which audience members could ask the minister any question relating to his job. This opportunity gave students, especially INTA students, a rare personal glimpse into the governmental system of the European Union (EU) and its member nations — a system that differs significantly from the American political system.

Under Ireland’s system of government, Burke also serves as a Teachta Dala, a member of the Dail Eireann, the lowest house of the Irish legislature. He serves the Longford-Westmeath constituency and is a member of the Fine Gael party, a liberal-conservative party and third-largest in the Dail Eireann.

Burke began the discussion by describing his role in the Irish government to provide context, as there is no equivalent role in the American government. Burke said that one of his many objectives was preparing an agenda for Leo Varadkar, the current Irish head of government, to present during European Council meetings, where leaders from member states gather several times throughout the year to set the EU’s direction. 

The most recent European Council was March 21-22, and the next official meeting will be held on June 27-28.

According to Burke, building relationships with his counterparts from other member states is also essential to the job. An audience member asked Burke what he made of the EU’s recent decision to provide more aid to Ukraine in its effort to defend against Russian aggression. Burke used the opportunity to applaud Irish efforts in the Ukraine situation.

“We [the Irish government] are strong supporters of Ukraine. We believe that this country has a right to the integrity of its borders and to ensure that it has its right to self-determination. We have taken about 2% of our population in from Ukraine, over 100,000 people in every parish right across our country,” Burke said.

Burke also said that the Irish government was involved in creating and passing the recent Ukrainian aid package approved by
the EU in February.

“Ireland was very much the forefront to get the 50 billion euro aid package agreed through Europe, which is about 36 billion euro in grants 17 billion euro loans, to try and essentially ensure Ukraine has enough support to run as public services and that’s very important that they have that multi-annual certainty that they’re not facing funding deficits because there’s a dangerous part in the war of aggression that Russia is perpetrating,” Burke said.

During his visit, the audience also asked Burke about European immigration, as increased immigration in many European nations has sparked debate on handling the influx of people. Burke explained his stance on the issue from an Irish perspective.

“We take a view in Ireland. The critical thing to do is to tackle the root causes of migration. How can we invest in other countries to try and help them level up? We want to improve opportunities in other nations to try and stem the flow of migrants coming into Europe,” Burke said, referring to the increasing number of migrants seeking asylum in Europe due to conditions in their home nations.

One of the initiatives that Burke pointed to was the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum approved by the European Parliament (EP) and The Council of the EU. Burke highlighted the pact’s aim to ensure asylum seekers are processed within 24 weeks with 12 weeks to appeal.

“We are very clear on our international obligations and human rights that people have a right to seek asylum, and we have an obligation to shelter when those rights are being assessed,” Burke said.

The audience discussed the image that Ireland projects as one of the EU’s success stories. Given that impression, the audience asked Burke about Ireland’s position in the EU and how Ireland is using its position to convince Euroskeptics — those who believe in detaching from the EU.

Burke explained the growth of far-right political parties in Europe is challenging as it can create division between EU member nations. Still, Burke said it was essential to work with nations where those parties are growing to resolve differences fairly.

Burke also pointed out that many other nations are seeking admittance into the EU and stressed the importance of ensuring that a prospective new member’s values align with the EU’s own before admittance.

“We’ve tried to ensure that those countries [seeking admittance] reflect the European Union’s values before admittance. So there’s a big process underway at various stages for some countries are in candidate stages, and some are in session negotiations. I don’t see as many countries firsthand saying we don’t want in the European Union. The door has been knocked upon by various countries looking to get admission, and we are prepared to work with them,” Burke said.

Some attendees were also curious about Burke’s agenda for visiting the United States and why the minister chose to visit Georgia. 

Burke explained that the U.S., especially the southeast, is an important trading partner with Ireland, and that the relationship benefits both markets. Burke also said that he carried a foreign policy message with him during his visit to the U.S.

“We are carrying that message to not forget about Ukraine or the Middle East in a foreign policy context. Those are two issues that I think need to be considered. It’s important that when you have a strong friendship, your friends sometimes can tell you things you might not like to hear, but it is important that you do hear,” Burke said.

The event concluded with a photo opportunity with the minister before the crowd dispersed, and the minister continued his tour of the U.S. 

Daniel Holman, second-year INTA, attended the event and told the Technique that seeing diplomats from other countries is a great experience.

“I found the event through posters at the School of International Affairs and attended because events like this give such an important and different viewpoint of the world,” Holman said.

The Technique also spoke to Eric Koob, the Program and Operations Manager for the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy (CISTP) at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, about the event and its importance.

Koob explained that his mission at CISTP is to provide students with valuable and informative topics and events to engage with to foster their international affairs education. Koob said that providing students with an International Affairs education is important even at engineering school to provide studets a wider perspective of the world.

“So I think for me personally, these events are so important because they give students who already have the technological know-how and additional real-world understanding of what’s happening around them. It’s important to bridge the gap. So that way, students from both sides, students with a liberal arts background and engineering students, can better understand the world in other ways,” Koob said.

Holman also spoke about how studying international affairs at an engineering school has positively affected his education experience.

“Studying international affairs at an engineering school provides a different perspective to what we cover. We try to look at things in a more structural data sense than many other international affairs programs would,” Holman said.

As a double Jacket, Koob also explained that these types of events, where he could directly interact with people from the government, had a very impactful effect on his experience as a student.

“You get the opportunity to engage with the policymakers, the big players, on a level that you wouldn’t get to in just the classroom. Personally, that was a huge factor in why I was an undergrad minoring in INTA and then coming back to complete my master’s in INTA at the Institute. You get a different window into the world. You get to ask the questions to help yourself understand, but sometimes, you get to have these officials think about things in a way they hadn’t before. Students get to have even just the tiniest bit of involvement in that whole process,” Koob said.

Those interested in other events hosted by CISTP and the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs can find more information on the campus calendar or their website at