Ireland's role on UN Security Council deserves more attention than it gets

Political access and diplomatic agility will be most called for when State hosts council in September

Ireland’s UN Security Council role   is a hugely active political and diplomatic responsibility, deserving more attention than it normally gets in Irish public discourse and media. Photograph: Reuters

Ireland’s UN Security Council role is a hugely active political and diplomatic responsibility, deserving more attention than it normally gets in Irish public discourse and media. Photograph: Reuters

 

Ireland is now six months into its two-year term on the 15-member United Nations Security Council, the principal executive body of global governance. It is a hugely active political and diplomatic responsibility, deserving more attention than it normally gets in Irish public discourse and media.

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason orchestrated the diplomatic campaign that got Ireland elected a year ago and now she and her team daily represent this State and its supporters. The council meets 600 times annually on an agenda covering 30 or more ongoing peace and security crises and more than 20 cross-cutting issues. A vast subterranean group of sub-committees helps out, such as the ones Ireland chairs or participates in on Somalia sanctions, the Iran nuclear deal, womens’ peace and security, Ethiopia and Tigray or Syrian aid access points. Liaison with the 193-member UN General Assembly is equally intense.

Overall, the UN role will beef up and enhance the skills of a diplomatic representation planned to enlarge its worldwide presence by 2025 in the Global Ireland initiative

The normal team of 10 diplomats and advisers in New York has been more than doubled; along with military advisers and younger policy researchers there are now 40. They are backed up by a similar number dealing with UN affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, who in turn liaise with the rest of the department, including its missions abroad.

That includes Irish representatives in the European Union, in the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia – and in the often weaker states that fill out the UN’s agenda items. Ireland knows many already and others we are new to. Overall, the UN role will beef up and enhance the skills of a diplomatic representation planned to enlarge its worldwide presence by 2025 in the Global Ireland initiative.

The whole is overseen by Simon Coveney as Minister for Foreign Affairs. His experience and detailed knowledge of the international scene are much appreciated by the UN team, not least his ability to get key players on the phone and for personal meetings, as well as his activism on Middle East and African affairs especially, since they make up perhaps 75 per cent of Security Council business.

In recent weeks he has visited the Gulf, the Syrian border, hosted the Iranian foreign minister and spoken online to several UN Security Council meetings.

Ireland’s special access to key Security Council players shows in these exchanges. So does the forthright and vocal Irish positions adopted by Coveney on major issues like the Palestine-Israeli conflict, by the ambassador on women, peace and security, by President Michael D Higgins in his statement this week to the council on children and warfare, or by Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon of the Elders group in their discussion of human rights hosted by the Irish delegation on Wednesday.

Ambassador Byrne Nason chaired the UN’s commission on the status of women before taking on the Security Council role, so it is not surprising she now chairs the women, peace and security portfolio with Mexico

The Irish team’s activity can be followed on their Twitter account, Ireland at UN; in press statements and speeches on the department’s website; in Oireachtas committees and questions; and in UN coverage by the PassBlue website. Media coverage waxes on bigger issues like Gaza, Tigray or Syria, which resonate with domestic politics. It wanes on more process-driven issues, even if these link in to longer-term priorities of Irish policy like the role of civil society, women and climate change in security conflicts.

Ireland chairs the Security Council in September. There is a limited opportunity to shape and frame its agenda for the month and advice all round to be prepared for the unexpected – such as the Falklands War in 1982 or 9/11 in 2001 when we previously had that role. That is when political access and diplomatic agility will be most called for.

Ambassador Byrne Nason chaired the UN’s commission on the status of women before taking on the Security Council role, so it is not surprising she now chairs the women, peace and security portfolio with Mexico. She hopes a successful exercise of the role can be a legacy for Ireland in a UN system which saw women providing only 13 per cent of negotiators, and much fewer mediators and signatories of major peace agreements from 1992-2019.

She welcomes the new US engagement with the UN under President Joe Biden. She detects a new willingness by China and Russia, which have very traditional views of sovereignty and military security, to explore pragmatically how these link up through displacement and terrorism issues to emerging climate, gender and Covid-19 challenges in the Sahel, Somalia or Myanmar.

Ireland supports reform of the anachronistic Security Council permanent membership and veto system but must work with existing structures during these two years.

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