The Irish Times view on Ireland’s UN Security Council bid: A campaign that needs a message

A victory in the contest would improve the State’s standing in the world

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar laying a wreath at UN headquarters in New York to the Irish who died on UN peacekeeping missions. Photograph: Simon Carswell

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar laying a wreath at UN headquarters in New York to the Irish who died on UN peacekeeping missions. Photograph: Simon Carswell

 

The United Nations Security Council is a flawed, unrepresentative institution too often rendered impotent by the vetoes of its five permanent members. Yet it is also one of the most powerful and influential forums in the world. Its decisions can profoundly shape the course of world events and alter individual lives. When it is united, it can be a force for immense good.

As a state whose foreign policy so closely reflects the ethos of the UN system – with its emphasis on multilateralism, peace and human rights – it makes sense that Ireland would, from time to time, seek to influence those decisions by taking one of the rotating temporary seats on the council. The State regularly sends its soldiers into harm’s way to keep the peace across the world. It spends heavily on development aid. It knows as well as any other the value of small countries making their voices heard. Given all of this, it would be perverse to turn up the opportunity occasionally to have an input at the council chamber.

Within reason, what the bid team says in private should be said in public

If the Government succeeds in its campaign to win a two-year term, in 2021-22, it will be just the fourth time that the State has been represented on the council. Ireland faces competition from Norway and Canada for two available seats. One diplomat has described it as the “group of death”, but the early-frontrunners are Ireland and Norway, and given Ireland’s strong reputation at the UN and its record in these contests, the race is winnable. A victory, followed by a strong performance on the council, would be good for Ireland’s standing in the world. But the bid is not without its dangers, and the Government should follow some basic ground rules.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Brussels last week. He will be attending a series of events in New York on Monday marking the formal launch of Ireland’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attended a series of events in New York on Monday marking the formal launch of Ireland’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

The bid must be transparent and clean. The Government should state clearly that it will not enter into reciprocal voting deals with states that abuse their citizens’ human rights or flout international law. Within reason, what the bid team says in private should be said in public. There must be no attempt to conceal the cost of the bid or any commitments given in exchange for votes.

Brexit has prompted a long-overdue recognition that Ireland has neglected many of its foreign relationships

Ireland will find it difficult to distinguish itself from Norway and Canada, two countries with impeccable credentials as carriers of UN values. The answer for Ireland is to come up with some good ideas of its own. What it should not do is fall back on style over substance. With that in mind, the decision to launch the bid in New York this week by inviting every ambassador at the UN to a free U2 gig will raise some eyebrows.

Brexit has prompted a long-overdue recognition that Ireland has neglected many of its foreign relationships. At a time when we need to be more present in the world, a stint on the security council would be well-timed. But there is no point in being there unless we have something worth saying. The UN’s electors should be told what that is, but so should the Irish public.

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