Amidst a raging pandemic, Ireland took up its seat as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the 2021-2022 term on 1 January 2021. Four months on, where are we today and what is next?
The 15-member UN Security Council is the most powerful body in the UN system. In terms of global diplomacy, there is no higher platform where a country can influence international affairs. It consists of a core of five permanent members (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China), and 10 elected members.
The 10 states elected to join for two full years and are split into two batches of five. For the latest term, Ireland has joined Norway, Kenya, India, and Mexico. The five currently elected countries staying on for another year are St Vincent & the Grenadines, Estonia, Tunisia, Niger, and Vietnam.
The council is expecting to face difficult decisions on escalating tensions between large powers; climate change; and humanitarian crises, especially the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on some of the poorest countries on the planet.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that the nation aims to “build alliances to get practical things done” and hopes to limit the use of the veto on the Council that has been “so detrimental” to the credibility of the international body.
“We want to see Ireland playing a constructive, impactful role, but the only way you get that done in international politics and around a table as significant as the UN Security Council is to try to build consensus, relationships and trust, and ensure Ireland becomes a credible voice,” he further added.
This will be Ireland’s fourth stint on the Council, having previously served in 1962, 1981-82, and in 2001-02. Our island nation is now faced with the task of shedding its neutral political image, with debates on multiple international conflicts scheduled to be tabled during its term, including the Yemeni civil war, the Syrian crisis, the ongoing Libyan crisis, and numerous other issues of important humanitarian and political concern. Ireland has to gear up to astutely to defend its interests and principles and vote accordingly.
UN and the Peacekeeping agenda
One of the issues Ireland intends to push is an area it can boast considerable experience in: peacekeeping. Since 1958, a day has not passed without Irish peacekeepers serving on UN peacekeeping operations. Ireland is the only nation to have a continuous presence on such missions. Of the 14 current operations, Ireland is participating in about half of them. There are in the region of 560 members of the Defence Forces deployed on these missions, both UN missions and UN-mandated EU-led missions. Peacekeeping is a “big priority” for Ireland: :
“We will bring our experience of peacekeeping and what works and doesn’t work to the council — make sure the mandates are clear and are well resourced, and fit for purpose,” said one source
While there have been some questions around Ireland’s ability to sustain its high level of international peacekeeping, given the issues of attracting and retaining recruits, the DFA doesn’t doubt Ireland’s commitment to sustaining our long tradition.
Women, Peace, and Security is seen as another big priority for Ireland, with the DFA maintaining that there is clear evidence that having women involved in peacekeeping, peace negotiations, and state-building are key indicators of success. The Iran Nuclear Deal and the Horn of Africa are sub-committees that Ireland is also hoping to get the chairs off, with each elected country given two-to-three committees to run during their terms. The Horn of Africa and Somalia is a region of the world Ireland has a long connection with, with long-term aid programmes operating in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, with Irish embassies in each of those states. Ireland also has aid links in adjacent Tanzania, as well as an embassy there.
A murky humanitarian record and raising global tensions: Ireland’s stumbling blocks
Ireland’s human rights report card has been marred with failures from its past and present, with the UN repeatedly critical of Ireland’s human rights record on a range of fronts from Magdalene laundries and the mother-and-baby homes to the crisis in the Direct Provision System, which has gained scrutiny from international observers.
On mother-and-baby homes, the Irish government’s own 2,865-page report, published by the commission of investigation, shocked the nation, unveiling what amounted to a network of abuse – with the complicity of wider society – for much of the 20th century. The investigation was prompted by the revelation in 2014 that there were no burial records for almost 800 children who died at the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. Excavations subsequently found an underground septic tank divided into 20 chambers and containing significant quantities of human remains.
The revelations have prompted further investigation into solutions, resolutions, and compensation for the survivors of these homes However, that is not the limit to Ireland’s woes. Most recently, the government has also come under fire because of shocking accounts of human rights violations against hundreds, if not thousands, of asylum seekers to the Emerald Isle.
Besides its own aberrations, Ireland is conscious that the arrival of India on to the security council could add tensions as disagreements with China are likely to flare, following border skirmishes between the two countries this year.
Russia and China are frequent users of the veto – preventing any issues they feel threatening their policies from entering the agenda of the council. Both countries not only block issues that directly relate to their own countries or spheres of influence but other issues that interfere generally with the sovereignty of states and with human rights issues.
Even still, Ireland maintains it has been clear in its opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military interference in eastern Ukraine; and China’s treatment of its minorities. On the growing threat posed in the cyber realm, Ireland believes that Russia and China will not let cybersecurity come on the agenda of the UN Security Council. Given it will be another 20 years before it’s on the Council again, it will be keen to use that opportunity to the full.