Varadkar: ‘No vanity’ behind Irish bid for UN Security Council seat

Taoiseach says important for Ireland to have a place where ‘important decisions are made’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar laying a wreath at UN Building in New York to Irish who died on UN peacekeeping missions. Photograph: Kim Haughton

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar laying a wreath at UN Building in New York to Irish who died on UN peacekeeping missions. Photograph: Kim Haughton

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said there was “no vanity” in Ireland seeking a seat on the United Nations Security Council; the motivation was to protect institutions such as the UN in a changing world, he said.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at the UN in New York as the Government formally launched a campaign to win a non-permanent seat on the council, the UN’s most powerful body, for a two-year term in 2021-2022.

“The UN is an important place where important decisions are made; this is where decisions are made about where peacekeepers should serve,” the Taoiseach told reporters outside UN headquarters in Manhattan after laying a wreath to the 88 Irish peacekeepers killed over the past 60 years on UN missions.

“It is where decisions are made on sanctions, it is even on occasion where decisions are made on whether or not the world should go to war. This is no vanity here; this is serious stuff.”

The Government has drawn criticism for applying diplomatic resources to the efforts to win a seat in the face of intense competition from Norway and Canada as a “vanity project”.

Mr Varadkar told reporters that his plan to put Ireland “at the centre of the world” after Brexit meant “embracing a much wider world out there” where power was shifting to the east and south.

“For Ireland to do well in this changing new world, we need to protect institutions that stand for multilateralism, institutions like the UN,” he said.

If victorious, it would be the fourth time that the Irish have held a seat at the table, the last being in 2001-2002

Without these institutions, he added, “the big powers call all the shots”.

Mr Varadkar considered the campaign to be “a good investment”. Ireland had diplomats in 80 countries but none in the another 100 countries.

“This is where we meet those countries,” he said of the UN. “I think we have a really good and really important role to play in that.”

Secret ballot

Ireland’s two-year intensive campaign of lobbying will culminate in a secret ballot at the UN in June 2020, where the 193 member states will vote on the security council membership. If victorious, it would be the fourth time that the Irish have held a seat at the table, the last being in 2001-2002.

Former Irish president Mary Robinson, who is helping the Government launch the bid, said that it was “probably Ireland’s most difficult attempt” to be elected on to the council.

I really believe that the blue helmet, which is the symbol of UN peacekeeping, is every bit as much a symbol of Irish identity as the shamrock or the harp

UN ambassadors were invited to U2’s concert in New York on Sunday night as part of the charm offensive behind the bid said it was a “very good soft power stroke”, as they rarely come together, she said.

“Everybody’s aware that it is a very tough contest,” she said, noting that it was important for Ireland to see a council seat again “at this particular dangerous time in the world”.

Mr Varadkar was joined by Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, chief of staff of the Defence Forces, and a colour party for the wreath-laying ceremony on the 60th anniversary of Irish peacekeeping for the UN.

National identity

The Taoiseach said that almost everyone in Ireland knows somebody who has taken part in an UN mission and peacekeeping was “very much part of our national identity”.

“I really believe that the blue helmet, which is the symbol of UN peacekeeping, is every bit as much a symbol of Irish identity as the shamrock or the harp,” he said.

The ceremony was attended by Irish UN peacekeeping veterans Jim Casey (71) and Michael Colton, who escorted the bodies of the nine Irish soldiers killed in the Niemba ambush in the Congo in 1960.

“It was the worst journey I ever made,” said Mr Colton.

Mr Casey said that it was “very important” that the slain peacekeepers be remembered.

“A lot of people in Ireland don’t know what happened on those missions,” he said. “It should be brought to their attention and they should know what’s going on.”