RIA Seminar: Ireland on the UN Security Council - Statement of Minister Coveney
Speech23 November 2022
Wednesday 23 November 2022
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Firstly, allow me to express my thanks to the Royal Irish Academy for organising this event and inviting me to be here.
Through its promotion of studies in the sciences, humanities and social sciences, and its long-standing contribution to public debate, the RIA has played an invaluable role in the development of modern Ireland.
I am delighted to be speaking today about the UN Security Council and Ireland’s term as an elected member from 2021 to 2022; a term which has coincided with the centenary of our independence, allowing us to reflect proudly the principles and ideals articulated 100 years ago when we were the newest member of the League of Nations.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
We have just over a month left on the Security Council.
There is a lot of important work over the next five weeks, and Ireland will continue to be an active and vocal member until the very end of our term.
Today’s event however provides a good opportunity to reflect on what Security Council membership has meant for Ireland, and to explore some of our work and achievements to date.
In January of last year, shortly after we took up our seat, I spoke at an event like this, setting out the principles that would guide our work on the Council.
Those principles, agreed by the government following our election by the UN General Assembly, were clear:
- to build peace, and to support and improve UN peacekeeping;
- to strengthen conflict prevention, by addressing the factors that cause and drive conflict;
- and to ensure accountability, because those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law cannot be allowed to enjoy impunity.
Above all, we wanted to help the Security Council fulfil its critically important mandate, as laid out in the UN Charter: the maintenance of international peace and security.
We believed that Ireland, as a small, independent country with a deep and longstanding commitment to the UN, could make a difference.
The members of the General Assembly agreed; and, at the elections in June 2020, they placed their trust in us.
Looking back over the past two years, while I feel frustrated that the Security Council has been unable to do more on certain issues, including Ukraine, I feel a great sense of pride at what Ireland has achieved as an elected member.
On joining the Council, for example, we took on the role of co-penholder for the Syria Humanitarian file, working in partnership with Norway.
We volunteered for this role because we recognised the critical importance of the Security Council-mandated cross-border mechanism, which provides lifesaving aid to over four million people in the North West of the country. Our role as co-penholder required us to make sure that this critical mechanism could continue.
We knew that this would not be easy. For over a decade, the people of Syria have seen their country torn apart by an appalling conflict. The permanent members of the Council are deeply divided on the issue. The prospects for a renewal of the mechanism were not good.
But we believed that we could succeed, by focusing on the concrete realities of the humanitarian situation on the ground.
And through patient and careful diplomacy, working with Norway, we managed to broker an agreement that was acceptable for all, and to keep the life-saving aid operation running.
During our time on the Council, it has twice renewed the UN cross-border operation.
This has had real, tangible results for millions of vulnerable people.
We will work until the very end of our term to help to keep that critical lifeline open.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Today, hundreds of Irish men and women around the world wear the UN blue helmet. They are quite rightly a source of great pride for the Irish people.
Throughout our time on the Council, we have drawn on the experience and expertise of the Defence Forces, and their unbroken record of service in UN peacekeeping.
We have worked with our partners on the Council to shape the mandates of UN peacekeeping operations, doing what we can to make them more fit for purpose.
And last year, we led work on Resolution 2594, the Council’s first ever Resolution on Peacekeeping Transitions.
The Resolution, adopted unanimously and co-sponsored by all 15 Council members, will help to ensure that the hard-won gains of peace are protected when a peacekeeping mission ends.
It puts the protection of civilians at the centre of the UN’s planning, when transitioning from military peacekeeping operations into civilian-led political missions, in countries emerging from conflict.
It shows what can be achieved when the members of the Security Council work together.
And it demonstrates how Ireland - a small country and an elected member - can make a real substantive contribution.
These are not the only examples.
Earlier this month, the Security Council adopted a Resolution renewing its authorisation for the EU Force in Bosnia And Herzegovina, Operation ALTHEA.
Ireland led work on this Resolution, a challenging task in the current context in Europe.
We took on this role because we know that Operation Althea plays an indispensable role in safeguarding peace and security in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we were determined that it should be allowed to continue its work.
And through careful and painstaking efforts, we secured unanimous support across the Security Council for the Resolution.
At a time of great uncertainty, the renewal sends an important message of support for the stability and security of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider Western Balkans region.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Last Friday, we gathered in Dublin to recognise the formal adoption of the Political Declaration on the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas – known as EWIPA - by 82 states.
This Declaration, the result of years of work led by Ireland, is a significant milestone.
It is an important instrument, under which endorsing states commit to restrict or refrain from the use of explosive weapons in cities where civilian harm may be expected.
And it builds on Ireland’s humanitarian tradition, which has been central to our work on the Security Council over the past two years.
The protection of civilians has been a fundamental priority in our engagement across the agenda.
When we ran for election to the Security Council, we did not expect Ethiopia to feature so prominently in our work.
But, as we took up our seat, we were compelled to act in response to the deteriorating conflict and the appalling suffering that it wrought,
Ireland has a long history of partnership with Ethiopia, which remains the largest recipient of Irish Aid funding. It is a country that we know well, and a relationship that we deeply value.
We simply could not allow the Security Council to look the other way. And so, over the past two years, Ireland has led the Council’s engagement on the crisis.
We consistently drew the Council’s attention to the situation, calling multiple meetings, and securing the adoption of two Council statements.
Our motivation was always to ensure humanitarian access, to protect civilians and to alleviate suffering.
As many of you will know, our leadership role on this issue has had an impact on our bilateral relationship with Ethiopia. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we did the right thing, at the right time.
The agreement reached earlier this month by the Ethiopian government and the TPLF provides an opportunity to put an end to the violence and to ensure humanitarian assistance reaches all those in need.
As we leave the Security Council, Ethiopia will remain a priority for Ireland, and we will do what we can bilaterally, through the EU, and at the UN, to support full implementation of the Peace Agreement.
In Ethiopia, as in so many other conflict situations, women suffer disproportionately.
And we know from our own experience in Ireland that women can make an indispensable contribution to peace-making when they have a seat at the table. Yet all too often, they are prevented from participating and from being part of decision-making.
The Women, Peace and Security Agenda is a longstanding priority for Irish foreign policy, and it has been central to our work on the Security Council.
Here too, we have delivered results.
As co-chair, with Mexico, of the Council’s Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security, Ireland has worked to ensure that the role of women as is at the heart of the Security Council’s work.
We have helped to ensure that the Council’s Resolutions on WPS are implemented effectively across the UN’s peacekeeping and political missions.
At our initiative, Ireland, Mexico and Kenya formed a WPS Presidency Trio, committing to using our respective Council Presidencies to integrate WPS fully into the Council’s work, across all thematic and country files.
This set of commitments has been built upon and adopted by a further nine Council members in their subsequent Presidencies.
We have pushed for the inclusion of women in UN-led peace processes.
We have ensured that women’s voices are heard at the Council, and maintained an ongoing dialogue with grassroots women peacebuilders.
Last year, during our Security Council Presidency, we brought a record 16 women civil society briefers to the Council table.
Our commitment to gender equality and women’s participation has permeated into our work right across the Council agenda.
We have consistently sought to translate high-level commitments into practical reality including, for example, in Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul last year, we have seen an alarming and intolerable regression in respect for human rights.
Afghan girls have been shut out of schools and denied their right to an education.
But Ireland has used its seat on the Security Council to stand by Afghan women.
We have maintained an ongoing dialogue with Afghan women activists, ensuring that their voice is heard in New York.
We helped to ensure that the mandate for the UN Mission in Afghanistan includes strong provisions on women’s rights.
And – standing alone - we refused to agree to an extension of the exemption to the UN travel ban that senior members of the Taliban had enjoyed.
We believe that the Taliban, like others responsible for abuses or violations of human rights, must face accountability for their actions.
Throughout our term on the Council, we have stood firm in the fight against impunity, and used our membership to shine a light on serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
We have stood by the International Criminal Court, as a pillar of the international rules-based order, and encouraged closer cooperation between the Court and the Security Council. In June, Ireland convened an Arria meeting which looked at how to optimise the relationship between these two institutions, which are so vital for international peace and security.
In our work across the Council agenda, from Colombia to Myanmar, and from Libya to Mali, we have promoted the rule of law and demanded justice for victims and survivors.
We have shone a light on the threats facing journalists in conflict situations, calling on States to protect media workers like Shireen Abu Akleh, killed in the occupied Palestinian Territory in May.
On Monday, the Security Council will hold its monthly meeting on the situation in Palestine.
Ireland has consistently reiterated its firm commitment to a two-State solution, with a viable Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, living in peace and security alongside the State of Israel, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.
The sad truth is that we are no closer to that goal than we were when we joined the Council at the start of last year.
The security situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has deteriorated sharply. Confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians continue, often in response to attacks by settlers or incursions into Palestinian villages by the Israeli security forces.
Israeli settlement building - a clear violation of international law - continues to undermine the viability and territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian State.
The situation in the occupied Palestinian territory is unsustainable. It is likely to deteriorate further if we do not establish a genuine political horizon.
We have done all we could on the Security Council to defend international law and uphold the two-State solution.
Sadly, this is one of a number of areas where the Security Council has failed to fulfil its mandate.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Last week in Sharm el Sheikh, we came dangerously close to a step backwards on climate emissions. Although the effects of climate change are now being felt in every corner of our planet, in every country and community – the need for close and careful international coordination to find a way through should not be underestimated.
I wish to acknowledge the role played by my colleague Minister Eamon Ryan, who worked tirelessly, alongside the wider Irish Delegation and other countries, to ensure an historic agreement for loss and damage financing mechanisms last week. These mechanisms will target those particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The links between climate change and conflict are well-established, and they warrant the attention of the Security Council.
Last year, Ireland acted as co-chair of the Council’s Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security. We worked in partnership with Niger, a country that understands this problem better than most.
Together, we led work on a draft Resolution on Climate and Security that reflected the simple reality now facing countries such as Niger: that climate change is increasingly driving insecurity and acting as a threat multiplier.
Threats to international peace and security have evolved since the UN Charter was agreed in 1945, and the Council has a responsibility to respond to emerging challenges.
Our Resolution aimed to ensure that the Security Council could continue to fulfil its mandate effectively.
One hundred and thirteen countries co-sponsored that draft Resolution.
One country - Russia - vetoed it.
As I have said so often, the veto is an anachronism. It has no place in the UN of today, and its use hinders the Security Council from effectively implementing its mandate.
The UN is notoriously difficult to reform, but change is possible. In April, Ireland was part of a core group of States, led by Liechtenstein, which brought a ‘veto initiative’ to the General Assembly, where it was supported by the wider UN membership.
This now means that, whenever a veto is used, the General Assembly automatically holds a debate, requiring the Council to submit a report and invite the Member State which used its veto to make a statement. This mechanism, a small but significant step towards increased scrutiny of veto use, has already been used on a number of occasions this year.
We do not need to look far to see what can happen when the Security Council fails to act.
Here in Dublin, and across Ireland, our communities are hosting many thousands of Ukrainians who have been forced to seek refuge from Russia’s unjustified aggression against their country.
They need our support and they are very welcome here. Their country has been subjected to an illegal war with an appalling impact on civilians.
Russia’s invasion is an affront to the rules-based international order that emerged from the ashes of the Second World War.
It is a grave violation of international law and a blatant breach of the UN Charter, which Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, should feel a particular responsibility to uphold.
In April, I stood at the edge of a mass grave in Bucha, as the bodies of hundreds of civilians were being carefully exhumed.
I spoke in the Security Council a week later, and called on Russia to agree to an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, commit to negotiations, and respect the UN Charter.
Sadly, that call was not heeded.
When I spoke to the Security Council in September, following my visit to Odesa, I made it clear that, if we fail to hold Russia accountable, we will send a signal to large, powerful countries that they can prey on their neighbours with impunity.
That is something that every country, and particularly small countries such as Ireland, should fear.
And we are very conscious of the wider impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in terms of global food insecurity. Taken together with the impact of climate change and conflict, we face a crisis that needs urgent action.
That is why we have further increased our humanitarian aid, including to the Horn of Africa, and other severely affected countries and regions including Yemen, Afghanistan and the Sahel.
Ireland has been to the fore of efforts to ensure that Russia is held accountable for the invasion.
- with 42 other States, we referred the Situation in Ukraine to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
- we filed a declaration of intervention, at the International Court of Justice, in Ukraine’s case against Russia;
- we have applied for leave to intervene in Ukraine’s case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights;
- and we have supported action at the UN General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
I am proud of what we have done to stand up for Ukraine, including on the Security Council.
But I wish the Security Council had been able to take effective action.
There is a simple reason why it has not: Russia has repeatedly, and shamefully, used the veto to evade responsibility for its military aggression.
The need for Security Council reform was crystal clear for a long time before the invasion. It is now more pressing than ever.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
This was Ireland’s fourth term on the Security Council.
We were well aware of the veto, and the Council’s shortcomings, before we ran for election.
But we chose to run because we still believed it was worth it.
Because, despite its flaws, the Security Council continues to play a pivotal role at the heart of the multilateral system.
And because, when the Council can find common cause and take action, it can deliver outcomes that have an immense impact on the ground.
Throughout our term, we have sought to be a thoughtful and constructive member, and we have seen first-hand that, with political will, and a commitment to the principles of the UN Charter, the Council can still deliver results.
Ireland’s work is not done.
In addition to our priority work on Ukraine, Syria, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, WPS and accountability, we are also working hard on a new draft Resolution which would help to ensure that legitimate humanitarian actors are not hindered by UN sanctions regimes.
We are also active in negotiations to renew the mandates next month of important peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Golan Heights, seeking, as we have done throughout our term on the Council, to ensure that the mandates are clear, credible, realistic, and informed by needs on the ground.
We will be active until our very last day, working on the basis of the same principles that have guided us since we took up our seat.
As we leave the Council, we look forward to maintaining our engagement on many of these issues, and on broader multilateral challenges.
At the UN General Assembly, we will work towards the implementation of Our Common Agenda, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
We are running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2027-2029 term.
We will continue to play an active role in regional bodies such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe, where we have just finished our Presidency.
And of course the European Union will remain at the centre of our foreign policy, and indeed who we are as a country, as we look towards our next EU presidency in the second half of 2026.