Varadkar to give speech to over 70 heads of state in New York

Taoiseach to speak at Nelson Mandela Peace Summit as Ireland seeks seat on UN security council

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will deliver a speech on Monday to more than 70 heads of state at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit in New York.

The event is taking place as world leaders gather for the UN general assembly.

Mr Varadkar is expected to raise Ireland’s experience of peace-building in Northern Ireland as he reflects on the legacy of Mandela, a key figure in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

Speaking ahead of the speech Mr Varadkar said that the event was “an important opportunity to reflect on Mandela’s legacy. It’s not only a celebration of his life, but also a moment for the global community to see how Mandela’s commitment to peace, reconciliation and human rights, can help us to meet the challenges we face today.”


Mr Varadkar will also hold a series of bilateral discussions throughout the day, as Ireland continues its quest to win a seat on the UN security council.

Ireland is seeking one of two of rotating seats on the 15 member security council for the 2021-2022 term, but faces tough competition from Canada and Norway.

Among those who Mr Varadkar will meet are New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the presidents of Namibia, Malawi, and Mozambique.

US President Donald Trump arrived in New York on Sunday for the annual gathering and is due to address the plenary session on Tuesday. Mr Varadkar is not scheduled to meet the US president.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney will also travel to New York later his week and address the plenary session on Friday as Ireland seeks to build up support for its security council bid.

The visit by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to Dublin this weekend on his way to the annual UN gathering is unlikely to go unnoticed by the US administration, which has taken a tough stance towards the Palestinian leadership under Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced it would close the Washington office of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Mr Trump also controversially moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this year.

The Palestinian leader met the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the president, Michael D Higgins, in Dublin on Saturday.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that Ireland may recognise the Palestinian state if peace talks with Israel continue to stagnate.

The government had already committed to a formal recognition as part of a peace process, but with talks at a standstill, Mr Coveney hinted that Ireland may recognise Palestine ahead of any peace agreement.

“We have made a choice not to officially recognise the state of Palestine just yet,” he said. “But if this hopelessness continues in terms of the dialogue working we will be forced to review that for obvious reasons, as I think a lot of other countries in Europe will too.”

Though Ireland’s stance is likely to fall foul of the US administration and supporters of Israel at the UN, it is likely to be welcomed by other nations, such as Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa – an important constituency as Ireland strives to secure enough UN votes to secure the security council seat.

Donald Trump is scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Israeli president Benyamin Netanyahu this week on the fringes of the UN gathering. Mr Abbas is due to address the assembly on Thursday where he is expected to call for a renewed commitment to a two-state solution for the conflict.

There are indications that Mr Trump is likely to use this week’s international gathering as an opportunity to address the Iranian nuclear threat. The US administration pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal earlier this year, a move that has had major ramifications for the Iranian economy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this weekend that Mr Trump was willing to meet Iranian president Hassan Rouhani at the UN meeting. However, his comments came before Iran blamed America and its allies for an attack on an Iranian military parade on Saturday which killed at least 25 people.

Mr Trump is also due to hold bilateral meetings with British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emanuel Macron and the leader of South Korea, Moon jae-in, during the week.

Secretary Pompeo will meet the North Korean foreign minister.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent