Ireland hopeful of winning UN Security Council seat in ‘group of death’

Campaigning by Ireland, Canada and Norway will run right up to Wednesday’s ballot

 Tánaiste Simon Coveney has contacted 72 foreign ministers in the run-up to the UN Security Council seat vote. Photograph:   Nick Bradshaw

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has contacted 72 foreign ministers in the run-up to the UN Security Council seat vote. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

It seems absurd that winning a seat on the United Nations Security Council could be helped by an invite to a Celine Dion or U2 concert but in a global charm offensive every little helps.

In a so-called “group of death” with Ireland facing stiff competition from Norway and Canada for two of the rotating seats up for grabs, no effort to edge an advantage could be wasted.

If Irish officials were to pick a winner from Celine’s concert for Canada’s bid attended by UN ambassadors in one of the last big events before the coronavirus pandemic or Bono’s star turn at the launch of Ireland’s campaign and follow-up U2 gig at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan in July 2018, then Ireland would be a shoo-in when as many as 193 nations vote this week.

The U2 singer’s sobering speech at the Irish launch, warning about the UN and other international institutions being under threat, helped pitch Ireland’s bid to a higher level: a call to diplomatic arms to support multilateralism against the rise of strongman isolationism.

Bono even stoked a little competitive spirit by joking that the worst thing he could say about Ireland’s competitors was that Canadians were “nice” and Norwegians were “tall”.

Failure

By next Thursday evening, the success or failure of the Government’s two-year campaign to take a seat at one of the most powerful tables in the world will be known.

Each year the UN General Assembly elects five non-permanent members out of a total of 10 on the council to serve a two-year term alongside the five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The 15-seat council is the powerful inner sanctum of the UN.

Ireland, Canada and Norway are in the “Western Europe and Others Group” vying for two seats. If successful, it would be Ireland’s fourth time on the council, having served in 1962, 1981 and, most recently, in 2001, an intense period for the UN in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The cost of fighting the campaign has run to €840,000 over three years, considerably less than Canada and Norway have spent, and a further €2 million is budgeted if Ireland wins a seat.

The coronavirus pandemic is complicating this week’s ballot, with UN ambassadors voting in pods and at assigned time slots, starting on Wednesday at 2pm Irish time.

The victor requires 129 votes, two-thirds of all UN members, should all 193 cast a ballot. It is technically possible for the two seats to be filled in one vote but it would be unusual. A second vote is expected on Thursday when all countries choose again.

Russia’s ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov declined to say this week how Russia would vote but said that the Irish foreign policy positions made it “a very good competitor” in this race.

The spread of the virus through Europe and the US in March knocked out the Government’s plans for a final campaign push in the three-month run-in to the election.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney had to cancel a planned stop at the UN in New York on the annual St Patrick’s Day trip to the US to return home for the lockdown.

“It hit an absolute wall but the advantage was everybody had to evolve,” said one source.

Instead, the Government has had to work the phones, with President Michael D Higgins making about a dozen calls to heads of state during the pandemic, and the Taoiseach and Tánaiste each dividing up countries in a full-court diplomatic press for votes on June 17th.

Ireland’s ambassador to the UN Geraldine Byrne-Nason may have set new Irish diplomatic records for phone and Zoom calls working from home in New York during the pandemic.

Diplomatic assault

Since April 1st, Mr Coveney has contacted 72 foreign ministers, dividing his time with calls to Asia, Australia and Micronesia in the mornings, the Middle East, Africa and Europe in the afternoons and the Americas at night. He has participated in 12 video conferences with multiple countries.

The extensive diplomatic assault goes back further. The Tánaiste hosted leaders of Pacific Island nations at Seafest in Cork last year with former presidents of small island states engaged in discussions on maritime matters and even sing-songs and late-night stops at Crosshaven chippers.

These carefully built, close personal contacts have been maintained ever since because, in a secret ballot, they have to be.

“You never take no for an answer and you never take yes for granted. That is it in a nutshell until the day of the vote,” said one insider.

The campaign has stressed Ireland’s commitment to multilateralism and an unbroken record in peacekeeping since 1958 – showing it put not just its money where its mouth is but its people too.

It has emphasised Ireland’s standing as a small country and its history of conflict resolution, colonialism, emigration and famine, which may resonate with other small countries experiencing these issues today. Every UN member – however big or small – has a vote, so the idea of a small country sitting on the council with the big nations may help win votes from smaller members.

“It really is a fight for every vote – Vanuatu has the same vote as the United States,” said another insider.

Ireland’s bid is said to have kept up a momentum in these final stages, despite heavy campaigning by Norway and Canada, and Irish officials have secured strong confirmations of support and new affirmations of support for the Irish. However, all three countries will remain highly active in their campaigning especially over these last four days until the vote.

“We are not counting our chickens but we are hopeful,” said one source.