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IIEA Seminar: Ireland on the UN Security Council - Statement of Minister Simon Coveney, T.D.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here in the IIEA’s beautiful home this afternoon.

Today, 6 December, marks one hundred years since the establishment of the Irish Free State.

One of the first acts of the Irish Free State was to seek membership of the League of Nations. 

As the Taoiseach said in his address to the UN General Assembly in September, the principles we articulated one hundred years ago on joining the League of Nations, continue to inform our approach today.

The belief that all countries, large and small, have an equal right to live in peace and to contribute to international peace and security.

The belief that all people have the right to live in dignity; to have their human rights and fundamental freedoms respected.

Ladies and Gentlemen

That inclination - to look outwards, to work with others, to be part of agreed global systems and structures that shape and regulate how we act as nation states - remains at the core of our foreign policy today.

It is why we campaigned to join the UN Security Council. And this afternoon, I want to reflect on some our achievements on the Council, as well as the challenges we have faced. 

Our term has been guided by three principles; building peace, strengthening conflict prevention and ensuring accountability.

These principles came not only from our own foreign policy priorities, but from the Council’s mandate.

The UN Charter confers on the Council the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

But the Council can only do this successfully if it invests in preventing conflict, as well as solving it; and if it contributes to holding the perpetrators of violations of international law to account, as well as reacting to the consequences.

So – 100 weeks into a 104 week term – have we succeeded in our objectives?

There is no doubt in my mind that we have had a sustained, positive impact.

Let’s take building peace as an example.

One of the biggest challenges we’ve seen through our own experiences of peacekeeping - and through working with the UN in many post-conflict situations - is that civilians are often left vulnerable when peacekeepers have departed.

These experiences convinced us that we needed a new framework to deal with the transition from peacekeeping missions to longer term peacebuilding.

This is why we brought forward a Resolution on peacekeeping transitions.

This Resolution - UNSCR 2594 - creates a framework that prioritises the protection of civilians, and ensures that certain conditions are in place before peacekeepers leave.

The unanimous agreement of the Resolution by the Council members last September was a moment of pride. It will have a real impact on the day to day lives of civilians, living in fragile and conflict-affected states, long after Ireland has left the Council.

We’ve also shaped the mandates of every peacekeeping mission - from Lebanon to Mali, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Syria – bringing the experience from our Defence Forces, and the lessons we have learnt, of what does and doesn’t work on the ground.

We’ve taken responsibility for negotiating specific peacekeeping mandates. Last month saw the unanimous renewal of the UN mandate for Operation Althea, the EU-led mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  We steered the course carefully through difficult negotiations to ensure that mission’s vital work will continue.

And we’ve insisted that women need to be central to building sustainable and inclusive peace. In partnership with Mexico, we’ve championed the full, meaningful and equal participation of women, through chairing the Council’s Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. We’ve ensured that Council members heard detailed reporting and analysis on the situation on the ground for women and girls.  

Ladies and Gentlemen

Our second guiding principle was strengthening conflict prevention.

To put it mildly, that’s no easy task. The causes and drivers of conflict are numerous, complex, interlinked, and often as intractable as conflict itself.

We focused on the areas that we thought we could make the biggest difference – as where we saw the most glaring gaps.

One of the most urgent of those gaps is on climate and security.

We worked throughout 2021 to bring what would have been the first ever horizontal resolution on this issue to the Council table. It would have ensured the Council took account of the impact of climate - as a driver of conflict and a threat multiplier - across all its work. 

As Co-Chair with Niger of the Council’s working group on Climate and Security, we patiently built the evidence base.

Step by step, we worked with others - and we convinced others.

Although Russia ultimately vetoed that Resolution last December, the text was co-sponsored by 113 UN Member States. Our work has provided the building blocks for other Council members to advance this crucial issue in the years ahead.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Nowhere has the crucial importance of accountability been more obvious than in Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine.

We have used our seat on the Security Council to push back against Russian disinformation, to demand that Russia end its illegal war, and to push for accountability for gross violations of international law.

While Russia has used its veto to prevent the Council from taking substantive action, Ireland has spearheaded a range of other initiatives across the wider multilateral system focused on accountability.

Most notably, Russia has been suspended from the UN Human Rights Council; and the General Assembly has passed a number of Resolutions, by large margins, demanding Russia immediately halt its aggression against Ukraine, withdraw its troops and commit to negotiations.

Ladies and gentlemen

The limits of the Council’s effectiveness in preventing, or intervening early, in conflict situations mean that we have spent much time dealing with the impact and consequences of conflict.

One of the most important files for me was preserving the agreement on humanitarian access into Syria.

What was at stake here was the continued flow of humanitarian assistance to over 4 million people in North West Syria, delivered by a cross-border humanitarian operation from southern Turkey.

I visited that border twice.

I sat with the people who work with these communities on a day to day basis.

They could not have been clearer as to what the end of this agreement would have meant to the men, women and children who rely completely on international humanitarian support.

I gave my personal commitment that we would do everything in our power to keep the crossing open, despite extremely challenging dynamics on the Council.

Working closely with Norway, we managed to broker agreements that were acceptable to all. Against the odds, the Council renewed the mandate for the cross-border mechanism in July 2021 and again, in July this year.

Sometimes, our work was less about advancing priorities, and more about simply holding the line.

I could give numerous examples where Ireland has successfully preserved language on accountability, on human rights, respect for international humanitarian law, on climate, and on the participation of women. 

Maintaining language in a resolution may not seem like much of an achievement – not to mind something that takes hours, days, weeks, sometimes months of work.

But I can not overstate the extent of the pushback against long established language, norms and principles that we have seen in our two years on the Council.

And what the Council says – and the language it uses to say it - matters. When the Council decides to take action, its words have the weight of international law.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I sometimes think that when Harold McMillan referred to ‘events, dear boy, events’, as the greatest challenge to any statesman, he might have been looking into the future at Ireland’s Security Council terms.

Whether the outbreak of the Falklands war during our term in 1981-82; the attack of 9/11 and its aftermath during our 2001/2002 term; or the events that transpired in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Ukraine during these past two years - we have been faced with challenges that no amount of careful planning has predicted.

When faced with crises on the scale that we have seen in the last two years - hundreds of thousands killed in Ethiopia and extreme violations of human rights and international humanitarian law; the rights of millions of women and girls, and of minority communities, denied in Afghanistan; and a brutal and illegal invasion by Russia of Ukraine, with civilian infrastructure decimated and an estimated 14 million people displaced – Ireland has drawn, again and again, from our three guiding principles.

We have worked closely with African partners on the Council to highlight the humanitarian impact of the conflict in Tigray and other parts of northern Ethiopia. 

From early in 2021, we led the Council’s response to calling for an end to hostilities, for unhindered humanitarian access and restoration of basic services, for accountability for human rights abuses, and for support to the African Union-led negotiations. 

The role of direct mediaation has fallen largely to African partners, as it rightly should. The Council, however, had a key role in shining a spotlight on the situation at an early stage. It will now have an equally important role in supporting the implementation of the peace agreement.  

Ladies and Gentlemen

None of our work on the Council would have been possible without the partnerships we have built, maintained and nourished; with other governments, with the UN system, with civil society partners, with analysts and journalists and academic partners, with the Oireachtas, with the Irish public.

Partnership is always essential in diplomacy. Irrespective of how correct your principles, or how brilliant your analysis, or how hard working your team, no country can achieve its foreign policy goals alone.

It becomes all the more essential at times when geopolitical tensions are high.

Such tensions are not new - the Council has faced entrenched positions and strong disagreements before.

Nonetheless, the illegal invasion of a sovereign nation by a permanent member of the Council has brought a new level of strain in the relationships between the five permanent members.

In this environment, our role as an elected member of the Council – as a country that is clear in its principles, committed to the UN Charter and to multilateralism, convinced by the value of cross-regional partnerships – becomes particularly important.

I have spoken about the partnerships on the Council that allowed us to achieve important progress – with Mexico on Women, Peace and Security; with Niger on Climate and Security; with Norway on the Syria Humanitarian file.

But investing in partnership, and in dialogue, goes well beyond that.

During our term, I have visited and met with my counterparts in Ukraine, Moldova, Turkiye, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, China, Iran, Somalia, Kenya, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory – as well of course as London, Paris and Washington.

I’ve consulted intensively with my EU counterparts.

I’ve spent many hours with senior UN officials, understanding what action they need from the Council in order to do their essential work.

As mentioned earlier, I visited the Turkey/Syria border crossing twice, meeting with civil society and local leaders there. I’ve also met regularly with Irish civil society partners - indeed, the IIEA has been a key partner in this aspect of our work, through hosting our Security Council Stakeholder Forum.

Partnerships are what has enabled us to get things done.

But it is also what has enabled us to speak truth to power.

Ireland brought the voices of 16 female civil society briefers to the Council table during our Presidency in September 2021 – a record number for any Council Presidency to date.

Not every Council member was comfortable with that. Some around the table may have preferred not to have to hear what Council action – or inaction – means for the people most directly affected by it.

But it is this reality – how conflict impacts the lives of women, men and children who live in its midst – that matters.

The reality that I saw during my visit to Bucha in April this year – and was able to use to rebut Russia’s attempts, around the Council table, to portray reports of mass graves as a fabrication.

The reality that I experienced in Odesa in September to see the Black Sea Grain Initiative in operation – and was able to use to highlight the catastrophic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global food supply.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While this may sound like something of a valedictory speech, our term is not over; three weeks, four days, 13 hours, and counting!

As I speak, we are leading intensive negotiations in New York, in partnership with the US, to introduce a Security Council Resolution to ensure that legitimate humanitarian actors are not hindered in delivering humanitarian aid.

This Resolution has the potential to transform the Council’s sanctions regimes – retaining the Council’s ability to use sanctions as an effective tool against violations of international law and terrorism, but comprehensively dealing with the unintended humanitarian consequences.

We are also busy charting a course for our future engagement at the UN.

We will continue to be guided by our three principles – building peace, preventing conflict, and ensuring accountability.

We will continue to strengthen the link between peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and to ensure the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all aspects of peace and security.

We will intensify our efforts to address conflict-induced hunger.

We will address the interlinking factors that drive conflict, particularly climate change, with a focus on the Horn of Africa.

We will continue to promote the rule of law, including by standing for election to the Human Rights Council for the 2027-2029 term.

We will promote accountability, and actively pursue the cases brought to the ICC, ICJ and the European Court of Human Rights, in relation to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. We will support Palestine in its efforts to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the Israeli occupation.

The partnerships we have developed while on the Security Council will continue to be crucial.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Despite its challenges and its flaws, the Security Council remains a pivotal institution at the heart of the multilateral system.

We cannot address global challenges - conflict, climate change, food insecurity – without it.

And we have seen first-hand that, with political will and with partnership, multilateralism can deliver results.