IRELAND has been successful in its bid to take a seat at the United Nations Security Council, the top table of international diplomacy.
A ‘mammoth campaign’ to win the prestigious role culminated this evening with a vote involving more than 190 countries at UN headquarters in New York.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the result sees Ireland once again “taking our place among the nations of the world and sitting at the top table.”
He said he believes the result was a vote for the values Ireland represents on the world stage – multi-lateralism, freedom , human rights and the basic concept that countries of the world should work together to build a more peaceful prosperous and stable world order.”
As a result of the coronavirus crisis social distancing was practiced during the voting process which lasted more than four hours.
Delegates – including Ireland’s UN ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason wore face masks – when they cast their secret ballot.
Ireland secured 128 votes and will join other countries like the United States, Russia and China on the Security Council for the years 2021 and 2022.
Canada and Norway were Ireland’s rivals for a seat. Mr Varadkar described it as the “group of death” given the calibre of the opposition.
Norway also took a seat.
Mr Varadkar said Ireland will use the position “to advance the causes that we have championed – peace and security, conflict resolution and reconciliation, climate action, sustainable development and gender equality.”
He thanked President Michael D Higgins for his work on the campaign as well as Ms Byrne Nason and Ireland’s wider diplomatic service for their work on the bid.
He also thanked U2 singer Bono – who has also been involved – as well as former President Mary Robinson and the Riverdance show.
The last public event promoting the bid was a a performance of Riverdance for diplomats in New York last March just before the corornavirus lockdowns that have hit countries around the world.
Mr Varadkar also said: “it was nice to win at least one election this year.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin – who will become Taoiseach in a matter of weeks if the coalition deal with Fine Gael and the Green Party is approved – congratulated everyone involved in the successful campaign.
He said: “I am delighted that we have secured a seat on UN Security Council. Our defence forces have served UN’s peace keeping efforts with distinction since 1958 and our country has played a leading role at the UN for almost 60 years.”
President Higgins said the result “is a cause for celebration”.
He said: “The support Ireland has received vindicates the decision to run a campaign that did not avoid the issues that are urgent; a campaign that engaged with global issues, such as peace-building and peacekeeping, the elimination of global poverty, the strengthening of multilateralism, and reform of the United Nations.”
Ireland is to take up the seat on the Security Council for the years 2021 and 2022.
The quest for the Security Council seat was officially launched in 2018 with costs to the State in the region of €1m.
The government has officially put the cost at €840,000.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said this is half the costs the other two countries are believed to have spent on their bids.
Mr Varadkar said a lot more is spent on Ireland’s peacekeeping troops but that’s part of what helps Ireland “genuinely punch above its weight” on the international stage.
He added that Ireland “does a lot of good in the world”.
The €840,000 sum doesn’t include President Higgins’s travel costs for going to New York last September where he campaigned as part for Ireland’s bid as well as attending other UN meetings and engagements with the Irish community.
It also doesn’t include the cost of naval vessel, the LE Samuel Beckett’s voyage to New York the same week. It also travelled to Boston and had events for the Irish diaspora in both cities.
Mr Coveney said the costs were still less than the other competitors have spent.
He said that he had “no doubt” that the President’s interventions and connections impacted very positively on the campaign and “that should make people proud”.
Mr Coveney it’s his view that naval vessels should travel internationally citing the mission to the Mediterranean where thousands of migrants were rescued by Irish sailors.
He said: “part of any naval service is to represent their country abroad and try to add momentum to campaigns like this.”
Q: What is the UN Security Council?
The Security Council has “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”, according to the goals set out on its website. It has 15 members, five of which – the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France – are permanent. The other ten members must win an election to the body, which aims to take the lead in determining threats to peace or acts of aggression and calls upon those involved to settle disputes peacefully.
The Security Council can impose sanction and even the use of force. It played a key role in easing tensions at the height of the Cold War during the Cuban missile crisis. But more recently the Security Council – and the UN generally – has been increasingly side-lined. Efforts to avert war in Iraq in the early 2000s were futile and it has had no impact in stopping the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen. It is often hobbled by the power of veto wielded by the five permanent members.
Q: Why does Ireland want a seat?
Ireland has prided itself on its record of multiliteralism on the international stage and more than 60 years of unbroken involvement by the Defence Forces in UN peacekeeping. Irish soldiers have taken part in missions in places like Congo in the early 1960s up to the ongoing and long-running presence in Lebanon.
Despite past failures, the Security Council is still seen as one of the most important arenas in international diplomacy. Its work is often dominated by events in the Middle East and Africa – both parts of the world where Irish aid and peacekeeping efforts are focused. A seat on the Security Council would give Ireland a greater role in the decision-making process surrounding those issues. It’s also seen as an excellent training ground for Ireland’s next generation of diplomats. Some of those involved in previous stints went on to become ambassadors.
Q: Who are our competitors?
Ireland faced stiff competition from Canada and Norway. Bono famously said that the worst thing that can be said about Canadians is that they’re “nice” and of the Norwegians that they’re “tall”. Canada is well-regarded on the international stage, having been a major player on the diplomatic circuit in the past – incidentally, the country’s celebrity backer was Celine Dion. Norway is seen as a world leader in supporting aid programmes. All three countries have talked up their commitment to multiliteralism, peacekeeping and climate action.
Q: Has Ireland ever sat on the Security Council before?
Yes – on three occasions, all of which coincided with major international crises. Ireland was a member in 1962 when the world faced the spectre of nuclear war between the Cold War superpowers.
Key moments in the Cuban missile crisis played out in the Security Council chamber. During the 1981/1982 stint, Ireland angered British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government due to some Security Council interventions as the Falklands War raged. And Ireland was a member in 2001 and 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States and the build-up to the Iraq War. UN efforts to avert the conflict ultimately failed, as the US and its allies invaded in 2003.
Q: What do Ireland’s diplomats hope to achieve this time?
Ireland’s ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Byrne-Nason, will represent the country on the Security Council. Ireland will be seeking to influence the international debate on climate change and the need for greater global cooperation in taking action and preventing its worst impacts.
The world’s response to the coronavirus pandemic will also be high on the agenda for the UN Security Council next year. There’s a view in Irish diplomatic circles that there is too much focus on the failures of the Security Council and times that a permanent member veto prevented action.
That’s despite the Security Council having a much wider agenda, with up to 700 meetings a year that carry out quiet work on a range of issues.
Irish diplomats will seek to make the body as effective as possible, carrying on the work of other small member states who have served as non-permanent members. Tánaiste Simon Coveney has previously rejected any suggestion the effort to win a seat was a vanity project. He insisted this was a “cynical” view and Ireland should aspire to be at the UN’s top table.
Q: How much has all this cost?
All in, it looks like the bill for Ireland’s massive diplomatic offensive will top €1m. The Government spent €650,000 prior to a major mission to New York last September for the General Assembly and other UN meetings that saw the Taoiseach, seven ministers and a small army of advisors travel at a cost of around €120,000.
That sum does not include the costs for President Michael D Higgins also travelled to New York for UN meetings in September. Mr Higgins and the various government ministers that travelled were tasked with promoting the but also attended various UN meetings and engagements that week.
A further €256,000 was spent on a voyage by the LE Samuel Beckett to New York the same week. There was a reception on board as part of the UN Security Council bid but it also had other engagements with the Irish diaspora in New York and Boston, similar to other transatlantic trips taken by the Naval Service on previous occasions.
The costs have officially been put at around €840,000 but this doesn’t include the LE Samuel Beckett’s trip or the President’s travel costs. Ireland is still thought to have spent the least of the three countries. Norway’s costs are reported to be €2.5m and Canada’s have been put at €1.5m.
Q: What were Ireland’s chances of success?
The Government was optimistic that Ireland would win a seat and believed there had been momentum towards our candidacy in recent months. Much effort had been put into courting tiny Pacific and Caribbean island nations whose one vote is equal to countries with huge populations like China and India.
Ireland’s role in peacekeeping, its experience of colonialism and record in international diplomacy have all been cited in the campaign to win a seat. The Tánaiste used an Irish political comparison as he spoke of the chances of success during that trip to New York last September. He said some people have described the process as “a bit like a Seanad election campaign… you get a lot of yeses from people that maybe don’t turn out to be as solid as you think they are.”