Statement by Minister Coveney at the UNSC Open Debate on Upholding Multilateralism
Statement07 May 2021
Thank you Mr. President. Allow me first to congratulate you, Minister, on China’s assumption of the Presidency of the Council. I also wish to thank you very much for organising today’s important debate on promoting multilateralism.
I’d also like to thank President Bozkir for his powerful words today.
When China last held the Presidency of this Council, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic cast a dark shadow across many parts of the globe.
There is one clear lesson coming out of what we collectively faced in the last year, and that is that global challenges are too great for any nation, regardless of their size, or their means, or their power, to face alone. We can only face them successfully when we face them together.
A strong and fair rules-based international order, with the United Nations at its core, remains our best option - our only option - to address the multitude of challenges that we face across the world.
Mr. President, I would like to make four key points today.
First, the complexity and interdependency of our world requires a functioning multilateral system.
We depend on a network of multilateral institutions to govern and regulate the international economy and trade, global public goods - such as health and the environment - and many other areas of human activity central to our way of life.
These institutions must operate in an open, equitable and a rules-based manner.
Through the UN and regional organisations, we are working collectively to reduce poverty and hunger, promote and defend human rights, increase access to education and healthcare, protect migrants and refugees, advance gender equality and build sustainable peace.
Vital institutions, such as the Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court, uphold international law and protect human rights, which need to apply equally to everybody.
Through the COVAX Facility, vaccines are being delivered to millions of people, with a lot more still to do. The World Health Organisation continues to support States in fighting the pandemic and preparing for the next pandemic. In February, this Council spoke in unison to demand that parties to conflicts facilitate the delivery of vaccines.
Landmark agreements such as the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, seek to shape a sustainable and secure future for all of the inhabitants of this planet.
Collective multilateral engagement enhances our sovereignty, rather than diminishes it.
This wider system of multilateralism may have its shortcomings - and I will return to this point - but without it, we would face a world ruled by might and zero-sum competition, rather than one shaped by partnership and cooperation.
And we do not have to look far, to the lessons of history, to see where that road leads us.
My second point, Mr. President, is that multilateralism is essential if we are to achieve the promise of the UN Charter to spare succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
The UN, and this Council, have a unique legitimacy for the maintenance of international peace and security. No other body can aspire to represent humanity in all its rich diversity and complexity.
To take one example, peacekeeping operations continue to play a critical role in preserving peace, preventing the resurgence of conflict and protecting civilians.
Peacekeeping saves lives, and prevents conflict. For more than six decades, Irish women and men have served in UN Peace Operations across the Middle East, Europe and Africa. They have served proudly alongside peacekeepers from across the world, including many countries on this Council today.
Peacekeepers now face new challenges, and we must ensure that they are fully equipped to meet those challenges.
We must also prepare so that when the time comes for peacekeepers to leave, we have put in place the resources and planning to preserve the peace they leave behind.
We need to become much better at linking peacekeeping to peacebuilding, ensuring continued and sustained support for countries emerging from conflict –and there are far too many of those— and finding durable solutions to the causes of those conflicts in the first place.
Thirdly, just as no state alone can adequately address global challenges, no one arm of the multilateral system can craft the solutions that we need today.
We see this is many arenas, but let me take one example, an obvious one.
Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation. Its impact is global and our collective security is very much at risk. The future of this planet and of generations to come relies upon facing up to that reality.
A concerted multilateral response - with all organs of the United Nations, including this Council, playing their role - is urgently needed.
We must match our ambition with action.
We know that climate change can exacerbate existing tensions and drive conflict and insecurity, but we also know that effective climate action can build peace.
As Co-Chair with Niger of the Informal Expert Group of Security Council members on climate and security, Ireland is working to forge consensus on this critical issue.
And I would urge all countries and colleagues to join us in those efforts.
Mr. President, my final point,
To sustain and uphold the legitimacy and relevance of the United Nations, we need to see institutional and political reform in the United Nations.
Ireland is a strong advocate for the Secretary-General’s reform agenda.
The UN must be capable of addressing intersecting challenges that cut across each of its three pillars.
Our citizens don’t live in separate boxes, labelled ‘Human Rights’, ‘Peace and Security’ and/or ‘Development’. Nor do global challenges - climate change, migration, conflict and fragility, inequality – they don’t fit neatly into separate boxes.
Extensive efforts have been made to promote greater collaboration across the pillars of this organisation, including across the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding nexus. Important progress is being made to improve the effectiveness and cohesion of the UN development system.
And I want to recognize and applaud those efforts.
But we cannot address the issues facing the multilateral system without reforming this Council itself.
Ireland has long argued for a larger and more representative Council. I reiterate my call today to address the historic and unjust underrepresentation of Africa as a continent, for example.
We also need to assess not just our actions, but also our inactions on this Council.
Too often, this Council has been unable to act to alleviate immense suffering due to the use, or the threat of the use, of the veto. Such inaction affects the legitimacy of our whole system and the trust that people have in it. Such inaction is unacceptable, and I would argue immoral also at times.
Each of us at this table has a responsibility to find the political will necessary to build consensus. Those who sit here permanently bear a particular responsibility.
A reformed and more representative Council, that better reflects global 21st century realities, would have an enhanced legitimacy. That legitimacy is essential to deliver on this Council’s mandate to maintain international peace and security for the sake of every country.
So let me conclude,
We have a collective responsibility to strengthen and defend the United Nations and the international rules based order. We must uphold the multilateral system, promote respect for international law, and ensure that the United Nations is equipped to meet these global challenges.
Ireland takes these responsibilities very seriously, and I know others do too.
Thank you Mr President.