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Tánaiste Simon Coveney - Ireland at Fordham Humanitarian Lecture Series

Ireland at Fordham Humanitarian Lecture Series 

Concluding Lecture


H.E. Mr Simon Coveney, T.D. 

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade



We are living through an extraordinarily difficult period in global history.

The arrival of COVID-19 has brought suffering, loss, and hardship to every country, but particularly to those most vulnerable - a stark reminder of our common humanity. 

As the World Health Organisation’s Dr. Mike Ryan has said, ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’, a reminder that we are all interdependent.  Global safety in the face of the pandemic requires global institutions and a global response.  This in turn requires investment in effective multilateralism – the very heart of Irish foreign policy over decades.

At times like these people need hope.  That puts what I call a duty of hope on leaders, though we too need our wellspring from which to take inspiration.  The Irish Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, once told us:

                        “If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere”

Although the calendar tells us it is June and summertime, the virus has plunged the world into winter.  But with a collective, coordinated, coherent global response, we will ensure that summer returns.

I do not underestimate the challenge – this is not simply a health crisis but an economic and social one also.  It is a test of each of us, our commitment to multilateralism, and of the UN Secretary-General’s reform agenda: it is also an opportunity to drive change, to bridge across the humanitarian, development and peace pillars of our work in innovative ways, and to put in place the foundations required for a better future. 

We must put in place the foundations for a better future which protects the most vulnerable, those furthest behind.

I am conscious that, while the world is focused on the Covid crisis, we should not forget those already on the margins, living with the stress and strain of conflict, hunger and displacement. The people whom the humanitarian system strives to assist.  Those most at risk in a distracted world, a world where resources are scarce and where people are fearful.

That is why Ireland is stepping up. 

We are playing our part to help ensure we indeed have that collective, coordinated and coherent global response to Covid-19, with the United Nations at its centre delivering as one.

We are a leading humanitarian donor: the OECD Development Assistance Committee recently observed that Ireland is “an excellent humanitarian partner” and that our approaches – informed by Ireland’s history of famine and of conflict – could provide a useful inspiration to other donors.

We do as we say – indeed, in that same report, the OECD complimented Ireland for “walking the talk” in our focus, making a visible difference and providing leadership, including as a leading advocate for multilateralism.

We draw upon not just our history but also our values, on principles of justice, human rights, the rule of law, and support for peace and friendly cooperation between nations. 

That commitment to values, to peace, to the furthest behind – and to doing as we say - was one the key reasons why Ireland is seeking a seat on the Security Council for 2021-22.

If elected – when elected – Ireland will make a difference.

Mary Robinson said at the launch of Ireland’s campaign in July 2018, that to seek a seat in the Council is “the difficult thing”. It would be easier to stand back, to avoid the difficult discussions and hard choices faced by members of the Security Council.

But stepping back and taking the easy option is not the Irish way.

In difficult times, countries like Ireland, which I describe as “A small country, that thinks big, a country that listens, and a strong independent voice”, are needed more than ever.  On the Security Council, Ireland will be guided by three essential values, those of empathy, independence and partnership, as we play our part in the discharge of the Council’s mandate to maintain international peace and security.

As the Secretary-General’s recent call for a global ceasefire reminds us, there is a direct connection between peace, security, and reducing humanitarian need.  He said “There should only be one fight in our world today, our shared battle against Covid-19.”  Yet, even before this crisis, the world faced unprecedented levels of humanitarian need.  Today that challenge is even greater - 180 million people – and growing, and with it the seeds of potential future conflict and further humanitarian crises.

The best way to meet humanitarian need is through prevention.  Prevention requires us all to step up, to have difficult discussions and to make hard choices.  Such discussions are best informed by empathy, independence and partnership.  Those Irish values frame this Fordham lecture today, as they have this important series of lectures.

Empathy: Ireland as a humanitarian actor

A commitment to helping those in need runs deep in Ireland’s culture.

Our empathy is born of pain. The pain of discrimination, oppression, and poverty. Of emigration and forced displacement. Of conflict and division. Above all, the huge trauma of our famine, which saw our population reduce by half in only four years.

Our empathy is born from hope – the knowledge that change does come.  The Ireland of today is transformed from that of a century ago. [I am fortunate to come from a country which is among the best performers on the human development index.  I have lived through much of that change.]

Ireland’s experience has bred in us a fierce desire to help others.

From our experience of conflict and reconciliation grew the desire to help others along the path to peace.

From our experience of injustice and discrimination grew a commitment to shape a multilateral order governed by the rule of law and human rights.

From our experience of hunger grew the impulse to help those furthest behind, first.

These experiences, these impulses helped frame the newly independent Ireland.  They inspired a tradition of Irish missionaries, educators and healers.  They lay behind the establishment of Irish humanitarian and development NGOs in the 1960s, many of which are now among the most effective worldwide, and Irish Aid, Ireland’s official international development programme now nearly fifty years old.

Irish men and women today express these values daily across the global humanitarian system, here in New York, in Geneva, and in difficult circumstances around the world, working for a better world.

They draw from living tradition.

We remember the Choctaw people.  In 1847, from their meagre means, they sent financial assistance to our famine stricken country an ocean away.  This was barely sixteen years after the Choctaw faced their own darkest hour on the Trail of Tears.

Their empathy, their solidarity, resonates today. 

 Seamus Heaney talked of the rhyme of hope and history: they rhymed when an appeal by the Navajo and Hopi nations for support as they coped with the impact of Covid caught the imagination of Irish people who, remembering the historic kindness of the Choctaw, responded to that call spontaneously, in solidarity and with generosity. 

That was the spirit which gave birth to Fordham University: founded by an immigrant son of Ireland, John Hughes, to help the poor break the cycle of poverty through education. Hughes bought the original site without having funds to pay for it, relying on the kindness of strangers.  Through education, Fordham has helped prepare humanitarians.  That is why it has been appropriate that this lecture series has allowed a rich exploration of some of the challenges facing today’s humanitarians.

We heard President Higgins and former President Mary Robinson on the challenges of responding to humanitarian needs in the context of human migration and a changing climate.

Practitioners and experts have shared their insights and wisdom.

Dr Jemilah Mahmood of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies spoke of the importance of trust in humanitarian action, and the critical role of national and local organisations in building that trust.

 Jamie McGoldrick, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, shared the challenges of negotiating humanitarian access, particularly in places where non-state actors control territory – and where the act of negotiating such access can potentially criminalise humanitarians.

 Dr Caitriona Dowd of Dublin City University and Matthew Hollingsworth of the World Food Programme explored the links between conflict and hunger, and called on us to do more when hunger is used as a weapon of war.

 The Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces, Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, discussed the changing nature of peacekeeping and its role in protecting civilians.

 A theme across this lecture series has been the need for decision makers to act with empathy.  They need to consider how their decisions will resonate across the multilateral system, humanitarian actors, military, governments and other authorities and, above all, those furthest behind, whose voices are the least heard.  This is a lesson that Ireland will take with us while serving on the Security Council.

Independence: Ireland as a champion of peace, human rights, and the most vulnerable

 The humanitarian principles of independence, neutrality, impartiality and humanity are embedded within Irish foreign policy.

 Conflict is the single greatest driver of humanitarian need.  In recent years, we have seen conflicts becoming more protracted, more fragmented, and more urbanised.  In Syria, Yemen, across the Sahel, and elsewhere, conflicts are dragging on for years, leaving death, misery and the seeds of future mistrust behind.

 Such is the scale of misery, of humanitarian need, the world can literally not afford business as usual.

 It is time to muster the global political will to address the root causes of these conflicts. As the Secretary-General said, “we need robust diplomatic efforts to meet these challenges.”  A start would be to implement his appeal for a global ceasefire.

 The island of Ireland has known conflict in my lifetime.  This has taught us the importance of robust diplomacy to achieving peace.  We understand the need for support from friends to enable peace, but also the need to push, to cajole, to encourage and to admonish if peace is to be achieved.

 We know too how precious a flame is peace, and the need to nurture and protect it once it has been achieved.  Peace can too easily be derailed by continuing misery and need, by the absence of hope.

 On the Security Council, Ireland will be a tireless champion of the robust diplomacy of peace.

 We bring no selfish interest, no partisan agenda.

 We bring neutrality and impartiality.

 We bring independence but not indifference.

 We bring our informed advocacy.

 We bring our experience.

 We bring our focus on putting the furthest behind first.

 We bring an understanding of the complexities, the geopolitics and the challenges – and the implications of actions, things which cannot simply be wished away.  Hard work, informed diplomacy, listening, proposing, and reworking, all in a spirit of collegiality, is required if the minds of the Council are to be focused on moving forward, especially on difficult dossiers.

 The work of peace is slow and painstaking. It requires bravery.  It come with risk. To be steadfast for peace requires leadership optimistic for the future.

 The alternative to working for peace, which I have seen first-hand, is that the jagged splinters of division and violence continue to ruin lives, poison societies, and spread misery. 

 The Security Council has a duty to create frameworks which facilitate leaders to be steadfast in their pursuit of peace.  They can create conditions of hope which allow people to be brave, to take the risks required to build and secure peace.   

Of course, delivering on this is not the responsibility solely of Security Council members.  Each one of us is called through our global citizenship to help build peace and reduce humanitarian need.  That is why Ireland will continue to use our own experiences of conflict and of peacebuilding – our hard won successes, and failures – to support others in their own efforts, just as we were supported during our peace process.  This informs Ireland’s quiet work, helping to build peace in many places across the world, as well as supporting the efforts of the United Nations including through the Peacebuilding Fund. 

Achieving peace also requires stability.  That is why Ireland continues to provide strong, practical support to peace keeping and enforcement, holding the proud distinction of being the only nation to have over sixty years continuous deployment on UN, and UN mandated, peace support operations, going back to 1958. Today, Irish peacekeepers are on the ground in Africa, in the Middle East, and in the Balkans.

Ireland also engages constructively across the multilateral system, using our voice and our influence to provide leadership and make a difference.  This is particularly important where peace building and humanitarian action meet. 

We were proud, with Kenya, to have played an instrumental role in the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030. 

With Jordan, and drawing on our own experience of emigration, Ireland co-facilitated the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants. 

Over the last eighteen months, Ireland has chaired the OCHA and ICRC Donor Support Groups, and the CERF advisory board.  Ireland complements its engagement with the Peacebuilding Commission with membership of the advisory board of the Peacebuilding Fund. These leadership roles have given us particular insight into the impact of the virus on conflict-affected countries – something which no doubt will impact on the work of the Security Council in the period ahead.

In all of these roles, we have been privileged to work in partnership with others.  They will have got to know Ireland’s independence, focus and hard work, but particularly the commitment to getting the best result for all.  

Partnership – A Belief in the Multilateral System

Effective partnership is the root of Irish foreign policy.  Being an island does not make us insular.  Quite the opposite – it reminds us of the importance of connections, of working with others to achieve common goals, and of our interdependence with others.

Partnership does not mean homogeneity.  It does not mean settling for the lowest common denominator.  It requires work.  It requires understanding.  It requires challenge.  It requires a commitment to working towards the highest common factor.

A high functioning multilateral system is the best guarantee of effective partnerships.  It is in the multilateral space that the countries of the world come together to work on building those understandings and providing that challenge.

However, any honest reflection on multilateralism today would recognize that we do not always achieve the highest common factor.  Each member state has to reflect on why that is. 

Effective multilateralism requires wise investments of money, effort and imagination. 

It requires patience too – it takes time to deliver change, to build peace, to move up the human development index. 

We must also remember that progress is not linear.  UNDP say that, as a result of Covid-19, global human development will decline this year for the first time in three decades.  The poorest countries, the poorest people, are the most affected. 

Addressing this complex knot of crises – health, economic and social – is a test of the multilateral system and of the Secretary-General’s reform agenda.  It is also a test of the Member States.  We must all step up, in partnership.  If we do not, unfortunately the risk of destabilisation and conflict increases.

There is good news.  The UN global response to Covid-19 has seen the humanitarian and development agencies work effectively together.  The new Resident Coordinator system is stepping up. 

Ireland has been a strong supporter of that coherent, coordinated UN response – bilaterally, as a committed member of Team Europe and through our leadership within the humanitarian architecture.  We have complemented that with Irish support to the Global Fund and GAVI, and our engagement with the International Financial Institutions on such important issues as debt relief.  And with this crisis likely to continue, Ireland will stay steadfast in our efforts, our responses and our contributions.

The impact of Covid-19 has been a reminder of the deep interconnection between everybody, every society on Earth. Collective action is helping us tackle the virus and the associated economic and social crises.  It is important that we learn lessons from our response, which we can then apply to other challenges such as tackling poverty, inequality or the root causes of extremism.

Those lessons can inform a more effective response to climate change, the great challenge of our age notwithstanding the immediacy of Covid-19.  Indeed, climate change is already amplifying the economic and social crises accompanying the virus, at a time when the humanitarian system is stretched to respond to the impacts of conflict, food insecurity and displacement.  

Greater consideration needs to be given also to the interplay between climate change and conflict, something with President Robinson has highlighted in this lecture series.  She said:

“While no armed conflict has one single driver, there is an increasingly strong body of evidence that suggests that climate change, interacting with other factors, such as political, economic and social conditions, is a major contributing factor.”

No country on its own can stop climate change.  However, acting together, we can ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a better world – and we know what we need to do.  We have map.  We have a process.  We have targets.  Working in partnership, we can achieve those targets. 

Failure to do so is frightening. 

There is, as I said, the risk of increased conflict.

There are island states facing existential threats, which might literally be under water in our lifetimes. 

Food systems will need to change, fast.

There will be increased demand on the humanitarian system.

In addition to our efforts to do better at home, climate action is a cornerstone of Ireland’s international development policy.  I see delivery on climate action not just as enlightened humanitarianism but, fundamentally, as part of our future national security. 

And expanding Ireland’s international engagement on climate has deepened our networks, our friendships, including with many other small island states.

We are all aware of the challenges ahead.  Addressing climate issues is not easy.  It requires difficult trade-offs between today and tomorrow.  It requires agile politics.  It requires countries to lean in, to trust that others too will make the effort to change, to work in partnership listening to all voices, big and small.  This will enable the achievement of optimal solutions to shared problems. 

That is why Ireland is a member of the Alliance for Multilateralism, an important investment in the framework enabling and underpinning international trust and partnership.   As Helen Keller, a woman who knew so much about triumph through adversity, said, ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.

Priorities for the Security Council: IHL, Protection of Civilians, Addressing the roots of conflict

Membership of the Security Council brings with it great responsibility.  It also provides opportunities to help frame circumstances where humanitarian need can be reduced – or prevented.  

Our values of empathy, independence and partnership will inform Ireland’s contribution to those elements of the Security Council’s work which reduce and prevent humanitarian need, including:

-        ensuring respect for international humanitarian law, and accountability for violations;

-        strengthening the Security Council’s work on the protection of civilians; and,

-        addressing the root causes of conflict, and sustaining peace.

For as long as humans have made war, we have made rules to govern combat, drawing on religion and culture.  This was the inspiration for the codification of international humanitarian law in the 19th century.  These rules are intended to mitigate the effects of conflict on civilians or those who have stopped fighting.  They provide the umbrella under which civilians as well as humanitarians can shelter.

Today that shelter is often inadequate – with tragic consequences.

Respect for international humanitarian law is being eroded.  When that respect is given, lives are saved.  When international humanitarian law is ignored, lives are shattered.  Too often we see indiscriminate attacks on civilians, on hospitals, on health workers.  We see humanitarians denied lifesaving access.  Cruel political games are played with vital permissions repeatedly delayed or refused. And humanitarian aid workers are often deliberately targeted for kidnap or murder.             

This is inexcusable.

Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC, spoke at the Security Council on the 70th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions.  He said “continued violations of the law do not mean the law is inadequate, but rather that efforts to ensure respect are inadequate.” 

President Maurer urged the Council to do more. I agree.

A key building block in the peace we have achieved on the island of Ireland was building trust in institutions and in the rule of law.  Arrangements were put in place to uphold rights and to instil confidence in justice systems.

International humanitarian law needs an investment of analogous confidence building measures.  It is essential that members of the Security Council take the lead, calling out breaches of international humanitarian law no matter how uncomfortable the politics.  Silence facilitates wrongdoing.  By speaking up, by taking action in the face of breaches of international humanitarian law, the Council will save lives not just today but into the future. 

We cannot allow a culture of impunity to emerge.  

Where international humanitarian law is violated, the Security Council needs to be proactive.  It has an important role in ensuring accountability and effective remedy, and in referring certain violations to the International Criminal Court.  When countries fail to give effect to the Court’s decision, the Council must be seen to act.  Arrest warrants must be executed.  And this support must be backed up by a renewed commitment to the adequate financing of the Court.

On the Security Council, we will work in partnership to maximise humanitarian space.  

There should be no toleration for those who deliberately target humanitarian workers. 

While international travel remains complicated by public health restrictions, we need to be vigilant in protecting humanitarian access.  We need to watch that it is not deliberately restricted for other motives – indeed, in the face of increasing humanitarian need because of the interlocking health, economic and social crisis, there is a strong argument for prioritising humanitarian access at this time.  

We also need to be particularly mindful of the impact of other Security Council decisions on humanitarian space.  Our own actions should not undermine humanitarian action. 

Sanctions regimes or counter-terrorism measures are essential tools in the Council’s armoury.  However, when their design does do not take sufficient account of the complexity of humanitarian action during modern conflict it can close the space for principled humanitarian action.  And even when that space is kept open, the overhead navigating them imposes on humanitarian organisations – or even the United Nations itself – is too high and itself compromises their ability to respond to need. 

Some actors deliberately misinterpret sanctions measures in order to limit or shrink humanitarian space.  Humanitarians can be subject to mischievous legal action by elements sympathetic to one or other party to a conflict. 

Principled humanitarian action, and brave humanitarians who risk their lives for others, should never be instrumentalised – humanitarians should not have to run the gauntlet of civil or criminal jeopardy.  That is why I believe that in designing sanctions regimes greater consideration must be given to safeguards for humanitarian action.

One way in which we can do this in by keeping our focus firmly on the protection of civilians, a theme which Vice Admiral Mark Mellett explored in his contribution to this lecture series.

Over the last 20 years, the Security Council has worked to develop a ‘culture of protection’.  Peacekeeping mandates have evolved: the protection of civilians, the intelligent use of sanctions regimes and development of the children and armed conflict agenda have been important, building on the landmark adoption twenty years ago of Resolution 1325, on women, peace and security.

However, there is no room for complacency.  As conflict evolves and new conflicts emerge, frequently not involving state actors, fresh protection challenges arise.  The Security Council must continue to enhance its work on the protection of civilians, including looking at how its work engages with, and is complementary to, work in other parts of the UN system.  For example, can greater complementarity be built between the Council’s work on women, peace and security on one hand and that of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on the other?

We can do more to bridge the gap between the Security Council’s stated desire to protect civilians and the translation of that into concrete actions on the ground.

To do this will require difficult discussions.  Negotiations for which Ireland is ready, bringing to the table the experience of an island which has only recently emerged from conflict.  A conflict in which civilians bore the brunt.  And a peace where the role of women negotiators was fundamental to achieving agreement.

We also bring to the Security Council the practical learning from sixty unbroken years of peacekeeping.  Our soldiers know the importance of designing peacekeeping mandates which are fit for purpose.  Mandates which do not adequately match the realities of conflict on the ground put not just civilians but peacekeepers themselves at risk.  Training and resources in turn must match mandates.

Irish peacekeepers have learned how to fully integrate the protection of civilians into policy and practice.  Ireland’s Defence Forces, through the United Nations Training School Ireland, are at the forefront of ensuring UN peacekeepers are fully trained in the protection of civilians, bringing together troops from across the globe in the Curragh.  These are resources on which we can draw in our contribution to the work of the Security Council.

That practical experience also gives Ireland an insight into the evolving nature of armed conflict, which the Security Council must take into account in its work. 

Over the past decade or so, we have seen the terrible humanitarian consequences of urban conflict and, in particular, the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas. New technologies, such as drones or artificial intelligence, mean that human control of weapons is changing.  International humanitarian law is trying to keep up.

Among the challenges is the toll which explosive weapons have not just on people but also on critical infrastructure.  

The destruction of schools means that a generation of children may miss the opportunity for education – and we risk the creation of a new generation of radicals.

The destruction of hospitals means needless deaths, not just from conflict but from otherwise treatable conditions.  Conflict related damage to public health systems is affecting the response to Covid-19 in many countries – a danger to their people today but to all of us tomorrow.  We have a shared interest in minimising such damage.

The destruction of sanitation systems heightens the incidence of cholera and other diseases.

And the eventual cost of reconstruction is higher, whether the restoration of infrastructure or the rebuilding of lives fractured by conflict.

Every day that systems are under strain is another day when more people somewhere else for safety, whether displaced within their own country or as refugees in another. 

It is clear that we cannot be complacent.  That is why Ireland is among those leading international efforts in Geneva to address the humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.  Consultations began last November on a political declaration which I hope will be concluded in the coming months and which will encourage behavioural change in those who use such explosives.  Through enhanced compliance with international humanitarian law adequate to the realities of modern warfare, we will strengthen the protection of civilians.

Of course, the best way to protect civilians from the effects of armed conflict is to avoid conflict in the first place.  The Secretary-General’s vision on prevention is also Ireland’s vision.  He said we must “do everything we can to help countries to avert the outbreak of crises which take a high toll on humanity, undermining institutions and capacities to achieve peace and development.

Signs of a looming conflict are apparent in advance. Yet, too often it is only when the first shots are fired, the first wave of people are displaced, or the first massacre occurs that the world starts to take notice.  At that stage we find ourselves challenged to respond to humanitarian emergencies, to stabilisation – using funds that would be better invested in development.

That is why I agree with the Secretary-General when he says that “Prevention must permeate everything we do.” 

This is the philosophy at the heart of Ireland’s policy on international development, A Better World.  

This is the philosophy behind Ireland’s contribution to disarmament over many decades.

This is the philosophy which will inform Ireland’s contribution to the work of the Security Council. 

This understanding is at the heart of Ireland’s development policy and the priority we attach to reducing humanitarian need. 

While the politics of every conflict are different, many of the warning signs are similar.  We need to be attentive to increases in human rights violations and hate speech.  Inter-communal violence is a sign that fragility is growing. Conflict in neighbouring states is a danger sign, as is persistent gender inequality and the treatment of women.

We are beginning to see climate change impact on security, magnifying the discord which a lack of access to food or wealth can generate.  Climate change is creating competition for scarce resources.  It is already causing displacement – imagine the displacement should an island have to be evacuated before it disappears.

Covid-19, and the economic consequences of the global shutdown, is placing additional pressures in countries already battling many of these challenges.  

I am conscious that there are many places where government structures are very weak.  The virus is placing additional pressures on those who wish to stabilise and develop such places.  We know also that state absence or weakness is often exploited by armed groups – indeed, we have seen criminal groups in some countries try to use Covid-19 responses to carve out safe areas.  In many contexts, armed groups try to become de facto authorities, usurping the role of the state as a means to deliver on political objectives. More needs to be done to prevent the hollowing-out of state structures, to prevent the conflicts that inevitably flow from such challenges to state authority. 

If we are to deliver on the Charter’s ambition to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” we must act earlier and with more determination. Preventing conflict, building and sustaining peace must be a priority for the whole UN system. This means that development, humanitarian, human rights and peacebuilding efforts must work together better.

This is the right thing. 

This is also the smart thing. 

Peacekeeping and humanitarian action costs US$40 billion annually.  Imagine what we could achieve if that US$40 billion was invested sustainably and productively?

On the Security Council, Ireland will argue for early, full and effective use of the tools at the Council’s disposal, to enable a more comprehensive approach to the prevention of conflict.  

This would include deepening the relationship with the Peacebuilding Commission, convening Arria formula meetings, and strategic use of informal meetings so that Security Council debates are seen to be as informed as possible.

We would work to deepen the dialogue and cooperation with regional organisations, to better understand regional dynamics and to improve early warning systems.  We are backing this up with a sustained investment in Ireland’s bilateral relationships, through my Government’s Global Ireland strategy and in Ireland’s contribution to effective multilateralism.

Words matter.  We would work on the Council to use lines to the press and statements to send the right and timely signals to parties to potential conflict.

I have highlighted the importance of women, peace and security – twenty years on, we have not harnessed the potential of this agenda to prevent conflict.  We need more women at the table and in the Security Council chamber.  We must work to ensure that women at the table are representative. 

On the Security Council, we will listen to women’s voices, learn from women’s insight, take women’s guidance. 

We will work to ensure that women must be part of every mandate renewal, of every geographic and thematic discussion, of every local consultation, of every analysis completed in the field. This will make the work of the United Nations even stronger and, importantly, help ensure that where we have achieved peace we help avoid recurrence.

I know from my own involvement in talks in Northern Ireland how difficult, but essential, is the task of sustaining peace.  It takes engagement over the long term, patience, ingenuity, imagination and generosity.

 Since the adoption of the sustaining peace resolutions in 2016, the Security Council has engaged more deeply in this agenda, whether through discussions on conflict prevention and mediation, or through difficult issues of legacy such as reconciliation, accountability and transitional justice. This is important work, to which Ireland can bring the perspectives and value of lived experience.


Franklin Roosevelt spoke of his hope for “a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon”.

It was Roosevelt who first used the phrase ‘United Nations’.  I like to think that the UN is the vehicle for us to reach that better world, to bring that horizon closer.

The United Nations is us, its member states. We determine how effective it can be.  When we step up, the UN steps up. When we act in solidarity, the UN can act in solidarity.

At this moment when the world is facing the triple crisis of Covid-19 – health, economic and social – we need our United Nations to be at its most effective.  That will enable the best possible response to the humanitarian consequences of this crisis. To get there, each of must contribute to a renewed sense of global solidarity. 

Ireland will play our part in building that solidarity, bringing our values of empathy, partnership and independence, our history and our hard work.  [We will do so in the plenary halls of New York and Geneva, on the boards and in the backrooms, in capitals and, we hope, on the Security Council.]

With a clear, strong and independent voice, we will keep people at the centre of all our efforts and seek to leave no one behind.

Thank you

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