Cookies on the DFA website

We use cookies to give the best experience on our site while also complying with Data Protection requirements. Continue without changing your settings, and you'll receive cookies, or change your cookie settings at any time.

Skip to main content

Address by UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, Dublin, 25 May, 2015

Dia dhaoibh!

Thank you for your warm welcome. I am honoured to visit Ireland at this time, a crucially important time for Ireland. Congratulations – Ireland is celebrating 60th anniversary of your admission into the United Nations world organisation. We are now celebrating [our] 70th anniversary. What is more important is that it is not the age, how old you are, but what you have achieved, what you can do for humanity in the coming years. That is why I am here. I wanted to have a much, much [more] strengthened partnership between Ireland and the United Nations.

Here in Dublin Castle, one can feel Irish history very powerfully. In that spirit, I would like to begin my remarks today with a bit of United Nations archaeology. You may be curious. In preparing for this visit, I dug up an old speech that was delivered to the General Assembly.

“The peoples we represent”, said the ambassador, “are entitled to expect that above the clamour of our differences, there will also be heard in our debates the voice of reason and justice”.

The United Nations, he said, can draw on the “almost limitless resources of courage, energy and imagination which, as history proves, exist among the nations represented here”.

And he concluded: “The problem still remains, how best to draw on these resources for the common good rather than squander them in mutual destruction, according to the cruel usage of the past”.

These words may seem to highlight the very challenge the human family faces today.

Yet they were uttered in 1960 by Ireland’s Frederick Boland as he assumed his duties as President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1960. We have come a long way over the decades, but there is much distance to travel to achieve a peaceful and harmonious world order.

As it happens, in October of that year, you may remember very well, Ambassador Boland presided over the famous meeting at which Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev used his shoe to make a point. There are some reports that in trying to restore order, Ambassador Boland just hit so hard his gavel was broken. Even in its early years in the United Nations, Ireland punched above its weight! That is why I admire Irish people and your spirit.

Several generations and many thousands of Irish men and women have now served the United Nations in various capacities across six decades of membership. Ireland’s imprint has been huge and historic – well out of proportion to the country’s size and your population.

Some of those good friends are here today. I would like to recognize: Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and now working as my Special Envoy on Climate Change; Patricia O’Brien, Ambassador, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and now Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva; and Peter Sutherland, my Special Representative for International Migration, you must have seen him quite recently on the media; and [Ireland’s] Ambassador [to the United Nations] David Donoghue. He is now doing very important work. He is one of the two core negotiators, facilitators, of the sustainable development agenda.

Ireland shows the ability of small states to make a big difference.

Ireland took the first steps that led to the landmark agreement on the NPT, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Good Friday Agreement that ended the conflict in Northern Ireland showed how countries can avoid condemning their children to endless cycles of violence. Last week’s moving handshake between Prince Charles and Gerry Adams was another reminder of how far you have come. Not so long ago, such an encounter would have been impossible to conceive.

Ireland has emerged successfully from a deep economic and fiscal crisis. But while Irish unemployment rose, Ireland worked hard to provide aid to other countries. In going through your own period of austerity, you refused to inflict it on others.

Ireland is outward-looking, connected to the world. The United Nations figures prominently in your foreign policy and your identity.

I also feel a certain kinship on a more personal level. Ireland is said to have the world’s most beautiful golf courses. It was unfortunate that I could only walk around these courses because of time limits. As you may know Koreans are said to be among the world’s most avid golfers. We are a good team!

In that spirit of partnership, I want to talk to you today about what we can do together as we strive for greater progress across the three pillars of the United Nations: peace and security, development and human rights.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start where Ireland stands out: in our pursuit of international peace and security.

Ireland has participated in 36 United Nations peacekeeping missions since 1958. You were in the Congo during the throes of decolonization. You were there in warlord-dominated Somalia in the 1990s. Today you are in the Middle East, from Lebanon to the Golan Heights.

Your soldiers and police continue to earn the respect of the international community. Moreover, Ireland has not shied away from risk and hostile environments. You have gone where the needs are, with one aim only: to protect the vulnerable.

The United Nations is also grateful for Ireland’s strong support of mediation. You know the costs of conflict in a direct and personal way, and continue to help us strengthen our work to resolve conflicts peacefully.

You can see those costs in the multiple crises that are happening at this time. From Syria and Iraq to South Sudan, suffering is on the rise and solutions are remote. Humanitarian needs in Yemen are escalating rapidly. The recent five-day humanitarian pause in the fighting was far too brief. It is regrettable that despite the appeals from the international community, including the United Nations, Yemen has decided to resume their fighting. I call yet again for a complete cease-fire immediately and a return to dialogue.

In this 70th anniversary year, we must also look beyond the emergencies and consider the deeper issues that spell success or failure in keeping the peace.

Many of today’s conflicts involve a complex web of internal grievances and external interests. The lines between transnational criminals and terrorists are blurring. It is not clear We are seeing systematic sexual violence that is horrifying in its cruelty, scale and impact.

The changing nature of conflict requires new thinking and approaches. I have appointed a High-Level Panel to recommend ways our peacekeeping, political and peacebuilding operations can better address today’s conflicts. The last review of our peace mission took place in 2000 by Lakhdar Brahimi. During the last 15 years, a lot of changes have taken place. Our peacekeepers [are] now [deployed in] certain cases where there is no peace to keep because civilians are being killed and human rights are being abused, totally. So the Security Council, upon my recommendation, for the first time, has to deploy peacekeepers where there is no peace to keep. We have deployed Force Intervention Brigades to pursue and to make and to enforce peace. Many of the peacekeepers are now working in very dangerous circumstances, and the United Nations flag itself, which used to be protection for United Nations staff and peacekeepers, they do not respect. They attack the United Nations. That is why we have to change our way of doing business. They are working in asymetrical theatres. That is why I asked the High-Level Panel [to] please consider all the situations very seriously, carefully and let me have your recommendations, and we have the full support of the Security Council on this.

I have also launched the Human Rights Up Front initiative to strengthen our ability to engage early to protect against serious violations and atrocities. Why are we working so hard? After all, the United Nations is working to protect human rights and human dignity so that everybody can live without any fear in their safety and security. In the name of peace and security, human rights should not be abused. We cannot give up our human rights. Human rights should be put upfront in our important pillars.

We are also working to maintain the integrity of peacekeeping itself. Those sent to protect people in need have a duty to uphold the highest standards of conduct. Sexual violence by peacekeepers – we are taking a zero tolerance policy. This is loud and clear.

The disarmament agenda is another priority. I am grateful to Ireland for ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty last year, so soon after its adoption. The major advance comes at an otherwise disappointing moment for disarmament and non-proliferation, as the NPT review conference, which was held until last week for four weeks, has not been able to adopt a consensus document. There are still very serious differences of opinions, positions, among Member States while nuclear proliferation is still a major source of concern for global peace and security. I will look to Ireland to maintain its leadership and commitment and help sustain momentum in a number of areas, particularly disarmament areas.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are addressing peace issues, development and human rights issues. We have experienced that there will be no peace without development. Likewise, development cannot be promoted without security and safety. Therefore, peace and development should go hand-in-hand. It is tightly interconnected. In the months ahead, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to place the world on a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable path.

Let me just lay out three most important priorities which the United Nations, all Member States of the United Nations, are working very hard on.

First, in July in Addis Ababa, the Conference on Financing for Development will offer an opportunity to agree on a framework for the resources that are needed.

In September, the United Nations has decided to convene a special summit meeting for three days where we are inviting the leaders of the world to address and adopt the sustainable development agenda with a set of Sustainable Development Goals. This year is the deadline year for the Millennium Development Goals – a 15-year vision – which has been largely successful but not fully realized, so we should have a successor development vision. That is the sustainable development agenda: the Post-2015 Development Agenda. We hope that the leaders will come and adopt ambitious and visionary and implementable, practical visions for our development. That is what Ambassador David Donoghue is doing. I certainly hope he will demonstrate his leadership and make it happen.

Secondly, in December in Paris, we have a hugely important responsibly to adopt a climate change agreement. The international community has been discussing this matter during at last the last 20 years without making any progress while the climate change phenomenon has been hitting and impacting all throughout the world. There are no boundaries between the developed and developing world. There are no geographic boundaries. So it is coming.

We sincerely hope that the world leaders will show their political leadership to adopt ambitious, universal and very meaningful climate change agreement in December.

Those are three priorities which we must realize by the end of this year. That’s why I’m traveling, I’m coming, particularly to Ireland, as one of the champion countries and as one of the EU member states. I count on your strong engagement and leadership.

Ireland has also been a champion of efforts to conquer hunger. But today, one cannot be a leader on hunger without also being a leader on climate change. The rise in extreme weather associated with climate change could drastically reduce harvests and degrade arable land. I encourage Ireland to align its climate efforts with its admirable work against hunger.

For too long, the response to climate challenge has been hindered by entrenched interests, national interests, and those who question the science. Now by this time, the science has made it simply clear that climate change is happening because of human behavior. Now, it’s only natural that it is us as human beings who have to answer nature’s call. I often have been saying that nature does not negotiate, nature does not wait. Nature goes on its own path. It is us – we have to adjust ourselves to this changing situation. People say that we may be stepping on a tipping point. Depending upon where you set foot, we may just fall into chaotic situations, very deeply regrettable situations. Or if we take action now, today, it may not be too late.

Addressing climate change has been seen as also antithetical to economic growth. Today we know that is a false choice. Putting our economies on a low-carbon pathway will create new markets, provide energy security and improve our health.

Again, the moral case for climate action is just as clear. The world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries are the first to be impacted and the most impacted because they don’t have any capacity to mitigate and adapt.

Last month, I met with His Holiness Pope Francis at his invitation and I went to the Vatican. I spent a day and had a serious talk with him on climate change. He said he is ready to help the international community, the United Nations, in promoting and pushing ahead this climate campaign. He said that he would issue his papal encyclical during the month of June, next month. I believe that once he issues his encyclical, it will have a profound impact. I am very much grateful. He is coming to a special session of the General Assembly in September. That will be the first time that any Pope comes to the General Assembly at the beginning of the regular General Assembly to address the leaders of the world.

This year’s milestones give us the best chance to end poverty, and I believe that we are the last generation that can address climate change impacts and I think we may be the first generation that can put an end to poverty. That is the vision of our sustainable development; otherwise, we will have to regret and be morally, politically responsible to our succeeding generations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ireland is also strongly identified with human rights and humanitarian action. It is an active member of the Human Rights Council – and a leader in a drive to protect civil society at a time when citizens groups in many countries face rising harassment and intimidation.

President Michael Higgins is a long-standing human rights advocate – and is working with UN Women to champion the “He for She” campaign. I was the first man to sign the “He for She” campaign and we have more than 1 million men who have joined this “He for She” campaign. This aims to involve more men in working for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Ireland’s women are making their mark in the areas of justice and the law.

As you may remember, in 1995 in Beijing, the world’s leaders affirmed and pledged that by 2005, we will establish gender parity. 2005 came and went a long time ago – 10 years ago. Now, our aim is that by 2030, another 15 years, even though it is regrettable, we are now pushing our goal post 15 years ahead, [and] by that time, we must realize gender parity and gender empowerment. That’s a firm commitment I have already announced. That will be reflected in our development agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ireland is among the top 10 contributors to the United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund, a vital channel for disaster assistance. I welcome the meeting Ireland will hold in July to forge Ireland’s contribution to the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit which will be held in Istanbul next year. This Humanitarian Summit, which will be the first ever to be organized by the United Nations, aims to generate an ambitious forward-looking agenda for humanitarian action in an era when more and more people are facing life-threatening disasters, conflicts and other hazards.

And of course, Ireland has just become the first country to grant same-sex marital rights through a national referendum. I was not here at Dublin Castle on Saturday night, but I saw the pictures of the jubilant crowd that gathered outside when the official count was announced. And I listened to interviews in which several people talked movingly about their experiences with bullying, discrimination and life in the shadows.

Ireland voted on marriage, but in the process you have also decided to fully include members of the LGBT community in the life of this nation. The United Nations will continue to speak out, including through the Free & Equal campaign. You don't have to be LGBT to care about LGBT rights; you only have to care about equality, fairness and human dignity. Those values are certainly part of the Irish identity.

As Secretary-General, from day one, I have declared that I will make the United Nations the best workplace for LGBT people to work. At that time, these people were working in the shadows. They were very cautious. When I invited the representatives of LGBT staff, they refused to take a picture with me. They were the first in the world who refused to take a picture with me – you’d be surprised. Everybody wants to take a picture with me! I asked why? Why are you afraid? [They said] because our photos will be put on a website. They didn’t want to be identified. So I agreed. I promised that I will keep the photo to myself and I’d only give it to [them] without publicizing it. As time went by, because they were encouraged, they made a calendar – a 12-page calendar, one year – putting in their photos with me. Every month, there were different photos. So they feel that their rights and human dignity are protected. Now for the first time again this last year I changed my administrative bulletin that those same-sex married couples will be given the same financial entitlements. That was historic. You may not know how hard I [fought]. There was serious fighting within the General Assembly. Some Member States submitted a draft resolution to reverse, to kill my decision. Their argument was that I was acting beyond my own authority. Fortunately, that resolution was defeated by the majority of the Member States. In fact, I did this first before you had your national referendum! So I’m proud that the United Nations is leading this campaign.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is another issue that touches the Irish DNA – the experience of migration. The Irish know what it is like to have to leave – and what it is like to be taken in, to overcome discrimination and to prosper in new environments. Ireland can bring that knowledge and empathy to today’s migration landscape.

Whether fleeing war and persecution or seeking opportunity, people often face perilous journeys, become easy prey for criminals, and see closed gates – not open arms – when they reach their destinations. Recent tragedies from the Mediterranean to the Andaman Sea highlight the global nature of the challenge.

I was very much moved today, this afternoon, together with Peter Sutherland and the Justice Minister, we met a group of refugees from Afghanistan, the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo, Syria, Myanmar and elsewhere. I really appreciate, highly commend, the Irish Government’s very warm helping hands to caress them, to resettle [them] in Ireland. The Syrian [assistance] programme which is excellent, very generous, and I am also grateful for another programme to accommodate at least 300 Syrian refugees. That is what the Irish DNA shows.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Some basic touchstones must guide our response.

One priority must be to save lives, including through ample search-and-rescue operations.

Our approach must be comprehensive, focusing on the full continuum – countries of destination, transit and, above all, origin. We need to crack down on smugglers while protecting refugees and upholding human rights and international law. We need to go beyond the emergencies to get at the roots.

Push factors include conflict and under-development. One pull factor includes the simple lure of an escape from poverty and deprivation. Europe must also acknowledge another: its workforce deficit. Europe is experiencing low population growth and demographic transition to an aging population. If Europe is to retain its economic dynamism, Europe needs migrants.

I welcome Ireland’s contribution of a naval vessel to the rescue capacity in the Mediterranean. Ireland has also resettled people from many countries. I urge the countries of the European Union to shoulder more of their resettlement responsibilities, and to align Europe’s actions with its values.

Let us also work together more generally, across Europe and beyond, to address the worrisome increase in stigma and discrimination against migrants, and to highlight the benefits of migration themselves and the countries that receive them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will have to conclude – we have a full agenda and fateful decisions ahead. As Ireland and the United Nations commemorate our two milestones, let us draw inspiration from a third: the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats, one of Ireland’s Nobel Literature laureates.

I have just learned that his birthday -- June 13th, my birthday – so it is with a special feeling that I will close my remarks with one of his great quotes:

“I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.”

It can be hard to stay positive at a time of crises and trends that put our future well-being at risk. But human beings have remarkable gifts – ideas, passions and compassion. If we use that great wealth – if we draw on the best of every man and every woman – we can set the world on a better course, and enable the beacon of peace to light up every human heart.

Ladies and gentlemen, congratulations again on 60 years of dynamic membership in the United Nations. Let’s work together to make this world better for all and wonderful for all. I thank you.

Go raibh maith agaibh.