The Irish Times view on Ireland’s time on the UN security council

Ireland has made its mark, but the Russian veto is seriously undermining the council’s work

Ireland’s fourth two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council comes to an end in two weeks, at a time when the organisation’ s credibility and ability to broker peace has never been more severely tested. Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, has torn up the principles of the UN charter by invading Ukraine and brutalising its people, using its council veto to block even criticism, let alone action, to support Kyiv.

But, as Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney argued in a speech to the Institute of International and European Affairs this week, despite its weaknesses “the Security Council remains a pivotal institution at the heart of the multilateral system”. Ireland’s determination to contribute to its role, whether through troop contributions or diplomatic engagement, reflects this country’s internationalist, neutral and multilateralist world view. “That inclination – to look outwards, to work with others, to be part of agreed global systems and structures that shape and regulate how we act as nation states – remains at the core of our foreign policy today,” Coveney argues.

Ireland’s membership is more than the vanity exercise which some critics suggest it is. Necessarily its role in the council is constrained. So interventions, whether highlighting and facilitating the need for humanitarian aid to Tigray in northern Ethiopia or grain exports from Ukraine, may not be headline-grabbing or focused on the immediate causes or responsibility for conflict, but on issues like access for aid and the safety of the workers delivering it. Issues where, it is hoped, the dead hand of the Russian veto will not be wielded, but where many lives on the ground may be safeguarded.

Ireland played an important role in keeping open cross-border routes for humanitarian assistance to over four million people in north west Syria, delivered by a cross-border humanitarian operation. And it has contributed through Irish experience of UN operations to reshaping the mandates of the UN’s peacekeeping missions.

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In chairing a working group on restoring the Iran nuclear deal, Irish diplomats may not yet be able to report a result but can, and have, played a crucial part in keeping the process going. They have also sponsored initiatives on climate and conflict, the role of women, and the protection of civilians in the transition from conflict to peace.

Snail-like reform of Security Council procedures and membership, and the impunity of Russia in flagrantly defying the charter, both contribute to undermining the organisation’s credibility, effectiveness and legitimacy. Work is moving forward on a consensus on expanding membership, most notably giving Africa a permanent seat, and seats for other major powers like Brazil, India and Indonesia. But abolition of the veto is barely discussed. Ireland should take the lead on this issue.