Turbulent countries can learn from Ireland’s peace, President Higgins tells UN

President hinted Ireland disappointed in a UN Security Council that has been deadlocked on Syria

  President Michael D Higgins makes his address to the UN General Assembly in New York  on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace. Photograph: Maxwells

President Michael D Higgins makes his address to the UN General Assembly in New York on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace. Photograph: Maxwells


The world’s turbulent countries can learn something from Ireland’s successful peace process, President Michael D Higgins told a United Nations meeting on ending wars and insurgencies at the world body’s headquarters on Tuesday.

Mr Higgins stressed the importance of holding direct talks, securing funding and foreign support, and the contributions of women and civil society groups in working towards the landmark Belfast Agreement two decades ago.

Ireland, the country I represent, knows from our own peace process, which continues to this day, that peace does not come without engaging with the experience of the other, that it remains a process to be nurtured,” Mr Higgins told the 193-nation General Assembly.

Ireland’s peace was achieved by “direct engagement by the two governments involved in the negotiations; sustained financing for peace-building activities; strong support from the European Union; and generous and patient backing from other members of the United Nations, most particularly from those with a connection to Ireland such as the United States, ” he added.

Mr Higgins’ comments under the domed roof of the United National General Assembly hall marked the start of his week-long official visit to the United States.

He spoke against a gloomy backdrop of conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan and other global hotspots that often involve religious and inter-communal tensions and are frequently made worse by foreign interference.

“Our peace could not have been achieved without the steady and courageous activism of civic organisations campaigning for a more just and peaceful society, many of which were led by the women of Ireland, North and South,” Mr Higgins told delegates.

He spoke from the same podium as Belgium’s King Philippe, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other statesmen in a two-day, high-level debate on “peace-building and sustaining peace”.

Mr Higgins’ appearance was viewed as something of a sales pitch, in the context of Ireland’s bid to win sufficient votes in a 2020 election to return as a UN Security Council member on January 1st the following year.

Ireland’s campaign for a Security Council seat is being led by Ireland’s UN ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason. In the past, Ireland has won two-year rotating terms on the 15-member Security Council in 1962, 1981 and 2001.

The president did not directly address Ireland’s bid for a seat, in which Dublin faces stiff competition from Canada and Norway, but spoke in broad terms about the importance of the UN and multilateral diplomacy.

“Let us once again, in this hall, recall the energy and bravery which animated our forebears in their best moments and devote ourselves to the cause of a universal peace, one that encompasses all of the people of our shared and vulnerable planet,” Mr Higgins said.

He also hinted that Ireland was disappointed in a UN Security Council that has been deadlocked on Syria and other threats thanks to the veto powers of one of the body’s permanent members: Russia, China, the UK, France and the US.

“The young of the world are appalled by any suggestion that what is normative is for the General Assembly and that the strut of the powerful and the wielders of power prevail in the Security Council,” Mr Higgins said in his 10-minute address.

Mr Higgins was speaking as part of a week-long visit to New York where he will hold high-level meetings with UN Secretary General António Guterres and other officials. He will deliver a key-note speech at Columbia University on Thursday as part of the university’s World Leaders Forum. The President will also visit the Irish Arts Centre in New York, attend an event to honour women leaders in the field of business, politics and philanthropy held by the Ireland Funds and meet with members of the New York ex-patriate Irish and GAA communities.

The president is accompanied on his visit to New York by his wife Sabina and by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, who represents the Government. The visit runs until Saturday.