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Statement by Minister Coveney at the UNSC Open Debate on Cyber Security

Thank you Madam President. My congratulations to Estonia on a successful Presidency of the Council.  


My thanks also to the High Representative for her valuable insights. 


I welcome this timely discussion, the first of its kind at the Security Council.


Speaking last year, the Secretary-General called on States to bring order to what he called the “Wild West of cyberspace”.


While welcome progress has been made at the UN in recent months, the cyber security challenges faced by States continue to grow, endangering international peace and security. 


I would like to focus my remarks today on three areas:


-           challenges and opportunities;

-           the need for States to implement measures agreed at the UN;

-           and the importance of a values-based approach to this issue.


Firstly on the challenges and opportunities.


Digital and communications technologies continue to drive economic growth and transform how we live, communicate and work.


Innovation is key to addressing some of today’s critical global challenges, including climate change. It also facilitates important advances in medical research, improves access to education, and enhances the capabilities of our peacekeepers, helping them to keep safe. 


Over the past year, the pandemic has highlighted our increasing reliance on Information and Communication Technologies, bringing people together at times when they had to stay apart, while at the same time exposing our vulnerabilities. 


I speak from recent experience on this last point. Ireland’s public healthcare systems were subject to a very damaging ransomware attack last month that impacted on critical medical services. 


An attack of this kind during a global pandemic is appalling. Unfortunately, Ireland’s experience is not isolated internationally.


Malicious cyber activity, including crippling ransomware attacks, cybercrime, intellectual property theft and the spread of disinformation and hate, has surged in recent years. 


Critical infrastructure is increasingly being targeted.


Ireland is gravely concerned that this activity poses a threat to international peace and security.


Existing security challenges are being compounded by cyber threats, such as the vulnerability of nuclear-weapon command and control systems to cyberattacks. This adds fresh urgency to the need to make progress on nuclear disarmament.


We cannot allow cyberspace to be unconstrained by rules or laws, where malicious actors operate at will.


International disputes in cyberspace must be resolved by peaceful means.


This Council must send a clear message of support for a peaceful and secure global cyberspace built on consensus and mutual trust.


Turning to my second point, Ireland welcomes recent progress at the UN on agreeing the framework for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. 


States have now reaffirmed that existing International Law, particularly the UN Charter, provides a strong, rules-based foundation for all approaches to cyber security. 


Ireland supports efforts aimed at promoting deeper understanding among States on the application of international law to cyberspace. 


We will soon publish our national position, and encourage others to do likewise.  


Responsible State behaviour is, of course, also critical. 


All UN member States have agreed to be guided by the eleven voluntary norms of State behaviour in cyberspace. 


We now need to work on promoting understanding and implementing these norms, building on the foundation of international law, to strengthen global cyber security. This will reduce the potential for conflict and improve international relations. 


Confidence-building measures, including dialogue, build trust and reduce tensions between States. I know that is stating the obvious, but it does need to be said.


We welcome the leading role played by regional organisations in this regard, including the OSCE. Ireland and our EU partners are committed to supporting capacity-building initiatives.


In a highly interconnected cyberspace, no country is safe until all countries are safe. Surely, COVID-19 has taught us that.


We also remain committed to tackling the global digital divide. Online access for all will be a key element in the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals in the next decade.


My third point is that maintaining international peace and security in cyberspace must be human-centric and values-based.


Ireland supports a safe, secure, and accessible cyberspace where human rights and fundamental freedoms apply, both on and offline. 


We strongly reaffirm the applicability of international human rights law to States' actions in cyberspace. 


The protection of civilians remains an overarching priority in all aspects of our work. In this regard, Ireland is committed to ensuring respect for international humanitarian law in cyberspace.


It is a sad fact that the gendered violence experienced by too many women and girls is now frequently accompanied and magnified by online violence and cyber threats.


This makes it all the more important that we, as leaders, all leaders, consciously promote the participation of women in UN processes, decisions and policies on cyber.


We need to work harder to overcome the gender digital divide.


Ireland has consistently advocated for the inclusion of a broader range of expertise in UN discussions on cybersecurity and capacity-building.


Governments, together with those who drive and lead on technological innovation, have the responsibility to maintain a safe and free cyberspace. 


The contributions of civil society, technical experts, academics and the private sector have enriched past cyber discussions at the UN. To date, their engagement has been far too limited, in our view, on the cyber security issue.


We also support initiatives, including the Paris Call for Trust and Stability in Cyberspace, which bring State and non-State stakeholders together with the shared objective of promoting peace and security. 


We must all work together to reach better shared solutions. 


Madam President,


To conclude, Ireland will continue to support constructive, multilateral, and multi-stakeholder approaches, built on consensus, to strengthen cyber resilience worldwide. 


We call on all States to behave responsibly, in full compliance with International Law, and to implement the normative framework.


We value the role of the Security Council in preventing conflict and promoting peace and security, including in cyberspace.


And we urge all States to build on the achievements made at the UN in recent months.


In this way we can ensure a more secure and peaceful global cyberspace for everyone to benefit from. 


Thank you.

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