Small nations expect Ireland to be ‘pebble in shoe’ on UN Security Council

Coveney wants to stay on in foreign affairs brief after ‘all-consuming’ work on Brexit

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: “Now that we are on the security council, Ireland’s voice internationally will be more relevant and more impactful.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: “Now that we are on the security council, Ireland’s voice internationally will be more relevant and more impactful.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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Small nations will expect Ireland to be “a pebble in the shoe” of large countries when it sits on the UN Security Council, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Speaking after Ireland won a two-year seat on the council in New York, Mr Coveney said that Ireland’s friendships with smaller countries that helped it win the seat this week “will be tested” and that these nations would expect the Irish to “stand up for awkward arguments” on the council.

The Tánaiste said he would like to stay on as Minister for Foreign Affairs in the next government. One of his regrets of his last two years as minister was he had been effectively “Brexit minister first and foreign minister second, because Brexit has been all-consuming,” he said.

“There are a lot of foreign policy areas that I like to do more work on and haven’t really had a chance to do it the last two years,” the Tánaiste said.

“Now that we are on the security council, Ireland’s voice internationally will be more relevant and more impactful than it otherwise would have been on some of these big issues.”

Mr Coveney said that “nothing is guaranteed” when asked whether Fine Gael would hold on to the foreign affairs ministerial brief if a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil-Green coalition government was formed.

UN influence

While the Tánaiste stressed he was “not in the business of lobbying for this job”, he said he saw much greater potential in the role of minister for foreign affairs after this week’s election result.

“I have a sense in this brief that there’s still more to be done and particularly in the context of the influence we will have now in the UN,” he said.

Ireland and Norway beat Canada to two of three seats up for grabs in their regional group in an election in the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday. The term starts in January 2021.

The council has 10 non-permanent members who are elected for two years. They sit alongside the five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Speaking from New York, Ireland’s Ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Byrne-Nason, said she believed that Ireland’s consistent messaging and commitment to peace-keeping and the rights of small nations had helped secure the support of member states. Some 128 nations voted for Ireland.

“Something that people sometimes forget about the UN is that 100 countries have a population under 10 million. They are looking to have their voices heard. We ran a very inclusive campaign and I think this paid off.”

Ms Byrne-Nason said that countries had discovered that Ireland’s interest in and commitment to the Middle East and Africa was not just rooted in past initiatives, but also had a modern dimension, illustrated by the opening of new embassies.

“Our reputation as a friend of countries in the Middle East and Africa and connections with small island nations stood us in good stead,” she said.

Resisting pressure

Mr Coveney said that smaller countries could “get pulled and dragged between the big superpowers within the council” but he felt Ireland could resist intense pressure to support or reject resolutions and still not damage existing strong relations with permanent council members.

“I hope Ireland is strong enough to be able to stand up to that. I believe we are actually. And I think we’ve shown an ability to do that,” he said.

The Government would be guided by international and humanitarian law “to protect small countries and weak countries as well as to try to influence large and powerful ones”, he said.

“Our relationships are strong enough with many countries that will allow us to disagree on certain issues. We won’t be deliberately trying to provoke countries, but we will stand up for what we believe is right,” he said.

“I don’t believe we have any business on the security council, if we are not independent and courageous enough to do that.”

‘Soft power’

Irish-born Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, has said Ireland “really does have a chance to make a difference” on the council.

Ms Power said the country’s election to the council showed Ireland’s “soft power”.

“There was something in Ireland’s candidacy almost for everyone within the UN membership; post-conflict countries looking to see Ireland’s own recovery from sectarian violence; small island states looking to see Ireland as a leader on climate and development; the Arab world affiliated with Ireland’s position on Palestinians. Ireland ran a very, very effective campaign,” Ms Power told RTÉ’s Drivetime radio programme.

She encouraged Ireland not to be “deferential” to the big powers and to prioritise the issues it wants to tackle.

“There is a tyranny of the inbox in the security council, just as there is in the world. It’s tempting to want to be an expert on everything, but to choose a few issues inside that will be Ireland’s role to lead,” she said.

Ms Power suggested Ireland could lead on climate and peacekeeping reform because they have “a nexus with issues of concern for the Irish people”.