U2 concert kicks off Ireland’s bid for UN seat in ‘group of death’

Varadkar sees Ireland ‘at the heart of UN decision-making to advance international peace, security and development’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar laying a wreath at UN Building in New York to the 88 Irish peacekeepers who died during 60 years of unbroken service for the UN.  Photograph: Kim Haughton

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar laying a wreath at UN Building in New York to the 88 Irish peacekeepers who died during 60 years of unbroken service for the UN. Photograph: Kim Haughton

 

If star power guaranteed a country a seat at the UN Security Council for the 2021-22 term, Ireland would have the June 2020 election sown up right now.

UN ambassadors from around the world attended a U2 concert in New York on Sunday night at the invitation of the band, rubbing shoulders with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

Bono mentioned the UN envoys sitting alongside the Irish Government delegation in the expensive seats at Madison Square Garden. Others attendees named included fellow rocker Bruce Springsteen, writer Salman Rushdie and REM singer Michael Stipe. It was all very rock an’ roll.

If attendance meant votes, Ireland would have more than the required 129 votes (should all 193 UN nations cast a ballot) that would give Ireland a seat at the most powerful table in international relations.

“Tonight we have 150 ambassadors representing the United Nations here; we want to thank you for keeping the world more peaceful,” said Bono from the stage, saying the world has “watched those blue hats put themselves in harm’s way all over the world”.

The Government needs this kind of “soft power” if it is to win a council seat for the fourth time in our six decades at the UN. A senior Irish diplomat described Ireland along with Norway and Canada, our competitors in the “Western Europe and Others Group” vying for two seats, as “the group of death”.

Varadkar has pitched Ireland’s case for a seat as part of his ambitious plan to double our “global footprint” by increasing the State’s representative presence, diplomatic and economic, overseas.

Where major powers in the world, led by the United States and the United Kingdom, retreat from multilateralism, Varadkar sees Ireland going the other way, taking a seat “at the heart of UN decision-making to advance international peace, security and development”.

“Ireland may be a small island on the periphery of Europe, but our outlook is global,” he said.

Legacy

The significant legacy of Ireland’s role at the UN was emphasised by the Taoiseach during a carefully choreographed two-day launch programme. On Monday morning he laid a wreath in New York to the 88 Irish peacekeepers who died during 60 years of unbroken service for the UN.

The campaign logo, depicting a dove against a shamrock in the colours of Ireland and the UN, was very visible at the events as one might expect of a campaign conceived by uber marketeer John Concannon.

Varadkar set out Ireland’s stall under a theme of “empathy, partnership and independence”.He flagged our post-colonial, post-conflict past as a nation of emigrants and peace-makers and -keepers who fight for sustainable development, disarmament, human rights and humanitarian assistance.

“We want to have a say on the terms and conditions that affect our own citizens on their peacekeeping duties,” said a UN-based Irish diplomat who believes Ireland’s position as “not seen as in anyone’s pocket” would help our bid.

“We actually are seen as that courageous big voice for a small country,” said the envoy.

The Taoiseach put it more simply: this was “no vanity” project, but “serious stuff”, he told reporters under a scalding sun outside the UN headquarters on Manhattan’s First Avenue.

Varadkar said at the official launch that Ireland would bring its “practical lessons” in helping end the conflict in Northern Ireland to the United Nations Security Council.

Varadkar said: “Our perspective on conflict resolution and reconciliation is informed by the long history of conflict and division on our island, and our success in bringing it to an end.

“We learned that it takes two to fight, but many to make a lasting peace. “This year is the 20th anniversary of the Northern Ireland peace agreement.

“While the path to full reconciliation remains incomplete, the Good Friday Agreement has stood the test of time, creating new relationships, overcoming centuries-old divisions, and giving hope for the future. “We understand the need to listen, and the importance of respecting differences.

“On the UN Security Council, we would bring our hard-won insights and practical lessons to the table. “As a nation that has experienced colonisation, conflict, famine and mass migration, Ireland’s lived history resonates with the aims and objectives of the UN Charter.

“Ireland has a longstanding commitment to working for the eradication of poverty and hunger in the world.”

On Monday night he was joined on a stage by Bono and former Irish president Mary Robinson at UN Plaza next to a sculpture depicting Irish emigrants disembarking from a ship on New York’s East River.

Asked whether Ireland should be putting such diplomatic resources into an international campaign when Brexit loomed large at home, Mrs Robinson said that more could be done for Ireland at the UN. “It is a signal of a country that has come into a full maturity as a nation that we are prepared to take on what is a big responsibility.”

Commanding reputation

The former president, who has a commanding reputation at the UN, acknowledged that Ireland might also have a bigger role. The Security Council “has been failing us, period,” over Syria and “unnecessarily cast” vetoes, but argued that Ireland could become “a very vocal advocate” against the power of the veto.

The fact that 100 countries at the UN have populations of under 10 million might help our small-state bid over two years of intensive bilateral lunching and lobbying.

The New York-based Irish diplomat said Ireland had to clear “a very high bar”. The U2 gig on Sunday night and Monday night’s launch showed the “flash of Ireland, the green of who and what we are”.

“Getting votes here is not necessarily just asking for them; it is showing you are worth it,” the diplomat said.

Given the stops pulled out in New York during the 24-hour launch programme, the Government clearly believes we are worth it.–Additional reporting PA

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