Glimmers of optimism Ireland can win UN Security Council seat
America Letter: General Assembly in New York presents opportunity to press Irish case
Ireland is competing with Norway and Canada for two of the rotating seats on the 15-member UN Security Council. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty
This year the focus is on climate change, with the UN’s Climate Action Summit taking place on Monday. Ahead of the main event, young environmental activists are meeting for a youth climate summit, inspired by the activism of Greta Thunberg, who is in town for the event.
The aim is to boost political commitments on climate change, almost four years on from the Paris climate conference. But the absence of the leaders of big emitters such as the United States and Australia – even though both are attending the general assembly later – is a telling reminder of how far some of the world’s big players remain from any serious engagement with climate change.
Although Ireland will be keen to highlight its climate credentials – Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will address the summit on Monday and President Michael D Higgins will be highlighting the issue in his speech to the general assembly later in the week – the real focus for Irish diplomats and politicians will be next year’s vote on the membership of the UN Security Council for 2021-2022.
Ireland is competing with Norway and Canada for two of the rotating seats on the 15-member UN Security Council. It’s a tough challenge. Diplomats at Ireland’s mission in the United Nations have been working behind the scenes to secure political support for the nomination.
Ambassador Geraldine Byrne-Nason – one of Ireland’s most senior diplomats – is highly respected and has been building relationships across the institution. She is chairwoman this year of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women – the first time Ireland has held the position – which has also served to boost Ireland’s profile.
While Norway and Canada are well-established at the UN, with strong records in the field of development, human rights and multilateralism, Irish officials see some glimmers of optimism that this could be Ireland’s race to lose.
This week’s controversy involving Justin Trudeau’s past experiments with “blackface” has severely tarnished the image of the Liberal Party leader, who was already facing a tough election challenge in Canada on October 21st. Trudeau had not been expected to attend UN General Assembly, but the controversy is unlikely to win Canada any fans among African and Middle Eastern countries.
Norway could be a tougher competitor. It is one of the global leaders in terms of per-capita spending on overseas development aid. Its recent work behind the scenes in chairing peace talks between the Maduro government in Venezuela and opposition leader Juan Guaidó also proves its credentials as a serious diplomatic player.
But Ireland continues to punch above its weight at the UN. Among Ireland’s selling points as the vote approaches next year is its contribution to UN peacekeeping missions (both Canada and Norway have not been as consistent as Ireland, in part because of their focus on Nato).
Ireland’s reputation as a strong defender of the Palestinian perspective may secure the support of Arab nations in the Middle East and Africa, while its status as a former British colony is likely to find favour with smaller countries and other former colonies. Ireland has taken a leading role, along with Fiji, in next Friday’s summit of “small island and developing states”, which will be addressed by President Higgins.
The attendance of the President as well as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in New York will be seen as a measure of Ireland’s commitment to the UN. The president intends to make the case for “more”, not less, UN in his keynote speech on Wednesday, a sentiment that will likely be welcomed in the chamber.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney will also be holding dozens of bilateral meetings with fellow UN members during the week in a bid to shore up support for Ireland’s candidacy.
The attendance of US president Donald Trump, who is due to address the assembly on Tuesday, and UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who will meet German chancellor Angela Merkel and the Taoiseach, will probably grab headlines next week. Current geopolitical challenges like Brexit, ongoing tensions over Iran, and the fragile situation between India and Pakistan, are likely to drive the news agenda.
But for Ireland, this shouldn’t matter. The real work will take place in the background, as Ireland’s most senior representatives take the opportunity to meet as many international counterparts as possible and set out why Ireland is best placed to represent the international community on the Security Council.