Ireland’s Priorities for the UN Security Council, 2021-2022
Speech22 January 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Institute of International and European Affairs for inviting me to speak to you today. It is always a pleasure to participate in IIEA events, even virtually.
Let me start by noting that today marks the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This is the first time nuclear weapons have been expressly prohibited in an international treaty. Ireland has a long tradition of support for nuclear disarmament, and we played a key role in bringing this Treaty about. I hope it will help to increase pressure for progress towards the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.
As you know, we took up our seat on the Security Council just over three weeks ago.
As I told the members of the Council last week, Ireland takes the responsibility entrusted to us very seriously.
Over the next two years, we want to play a constructive and thoughtful role on the Security Council, and to support its vital work of promoting international peace and security.
This is in keeping with our values and with our interests.
As a small country, Ireland depends on the international rules-based order and the multilateral system for its very existence. The United Nations sits at the heart of that system, and at the centre of Irish foreign policy.
We join the Council at a complex moment in international affairs.
The threefold increase in the Council’s workload, compared to when we last served twenty years ago, testifies to a sad reality.
Conflicts and their devastating impact – hunger, human rights abuses, the proliferation of weapons and the spread of instability - have increased. Many of the conflicts which we dealt with as members of the Council 20 years ago remain on the Council agenda today.
We face an uncertain global landscape, marked by tensions and regional rivalries; the unravelling of international arms control regimes; the threat posed by terrorist organisations and other non-state actors, and the global challenge of climate change, increasingly seen as a multiplier of conflict and instability.
These challenges have been compounded by the Coronavirus pandemic, and by an increasing skepticism in some quarters about the value of multilateralism.
We, however, believe that the UN remains indispensable. We ran for election to the Security Council because we want it to succeed.
We now have an opportunity to help push back against this tide, and make a concrete contribution to the work of the UN at the highest level.
What we heard in President Biden’s inaugural address on Wednesday is a welcome change of tone and direction from the United States. His decisions to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and to halt the US departure from the WHO in the first hours of his Presidency is enormously significant. His intention to seek a five-year extension to the New START Treaty with the Russian Federation, a treaty that is crucial for international and European security, is also a very welcome development. I hope we will also see an early review of the US decisions to stop funding to UNRWA and to the UNFPA.
There is clearly a wide range of issues that we now have an opportunity to work on closely with the US, as like-minded partners on the Security Council. I look forward to engaging soon with Anthony Blinken and Jake Sullivan and their teams in the State Department and in the NSC to discuss how we can cooperate.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Government have set out our priorities for our time on the Council. We went to help build peace, including through improving UN peacekeeping. We want to strengthen conflict prevention, by investing in early warning and addressing factors that lead to conflict. We also want to ensure accountability; grave breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law should be called to account.
These broad principles will guide how we approach our work on the Council.
In a number of areas, we will make a particular contribution, as chair of subsidiary bodies or as penholder on specific files.
We will work as Facilitator for UN Security Council Resolution 2231, on the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the JCPOA, and we will work with Norway as co-penholder on the challenging Syria humanitarian file.
We will serve as chair of the Somalia Sanctions Committee, and work with Niger to support conflict prevention and peacebuilding as a penholder for the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).
We will work to promote inclusive peace, as co-chair of the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security agenda, together with Mexico. And we will be addressing one of the key drivers of conflict, as co-chair with Niger of a new Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security.
I want to focus today on some of the most pressing challenges facing the Council.
The first of these is Syria.
Earlier this week, the Council held its first discussion this year on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria. As we approach the tenth anniversary of this brutal war, the Syrian people continue to endure unimaginable levels of suffering.
Over 11 million people in Syria depend on humanitarian aid. The situation is particularly acute in the North West of the country.
Our primary concern is the humanitarian crisis and alleviating that suffering. We will be working closely with Norway, as co-penholder on the Syria humanitarian file, to ensure that vital aid reaches all of those in need.
We will also support efforts to achieve a lasting solution to the conflict in Syria. The only way to secure this is through the framework established under Security Council Resolution 2254. I hope to see progress in the meetings of the UN facilitated Constitutional Committee in Geneva next week.
We will continue to urge accountability for all incidents of chemical weapons use. I will urge the Syrian authorities to act immediately to meet its legal obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, cooperate with the OPCW, allow access, and destroy all of its chemical weapons.
Equally pressing is the question of the Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA. The potential for Iran to develop nuclear weapons is one of the greatest risks to regional and international peace and security.
The JCPOA was a major diplomatic achievement and is an important contribution to stability in the Middle East. It remains the best way to manage the threat of nuclear proliferation.
We are all aware of the enormous challenge in keeping the JCPOA alive. I am deeply concerned by Iran’s actions breaching the agreement, particularly the decision to enrich uranium up to 20% and begin R&D activity into uranium metal. Earlier this week, I spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to discuss this and urged Iran to return to full compliance.
I am encouraged by the new US administration’s commitment re-engage with the agreement. We need collectively to create the conditions and the sequencing that will allow for the full implementation of the JCPOA.
As Security Council Facilitator for the implementation of Resolution 2231 on the JCPOA, Ireland will be making an active contribution; a contribution that is very much in keeping with our long-standing commitment to disarmament and non-proliferation.
Another issue where I see prospects for progress is on the crisis in Libya. We have seen some positive progress in recent months with a permanent ceasefire announced in October and a decision earlier this week by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to move forward on selecting the interim executive authority. This is an essential first step for national elections by the end of 2021. The Security Council must provide every possible support to the political dialogue process now underway. Much difficult work also remains to implement the ceasefire agreement, and the international community will have an important role in monitoring that ceasefire.
I welcome the appointment earlier this week of Jan Kubis as the new UN Special Envoy for Libya. The EU is also making a tangible contribution to this process, both through our sanctions regime, targeted at spoilers of the peace process, and through Operation IRINI, which is helping to implement the UN Arms Embargo on Libya and in which a number of Irish Defence Forces personnel are serving.
One issue on which the Council cannot afford to wait is Yemen, where six years of devastating conflict have created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Last week, UN Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock warned that 5 million Yemenis are at imminent risk of famine. We urgently need to bring an end to this devastating conflict and ensure humanitarian access.
The recent formation of a Yemeni government, and its return to Yemen, are welcome steps. I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on the government at the airport in Aden. We’re also deeply concerned by the potential implications of the US decision to designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization, particularly the risk of further deepening the humanitarian crisis.
I hope to see an early review of the decision by the new US Administration.
One of the longest-running conflicts before the Council is the Middle East Peace Process. I have personally been very engaged on this issue and it will remain a priority.
Next Tuesday, I will participate in a Security Council Open Debate on the Situation in the Middle East. There is no question but that this is enormously challenging. We will promote all efforts towards a negotiated two-state solution on the basis of international law and the internationally agreed parameters, which have been endorsed in multiple Security Council resolutions. Adherence to these resolutions is critical, not just in respect of accountability, but to help to rebuild the trust and confidence needed to ultimately restart negotiations.
I welcome Secretary-General Guterres’s recent appointment of Tor Wennesland as his new Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. I look forward to working with him and hope that the period ahead will see a reinvigoration of the Middle East Quartet to help achieve progress. I have made clear that Ireland is ready to support the process in any way that is helpful.
The Security Council frequently addresses situations in Africa, but all too often African voices are not heard in those discussions. We are working closely with our African partners on the Security Council: Kenya, Niger and Tunisia. One area of priority will be to promote closer cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union. The AU makes a valuable contribution to peace and security on the continent, and has the potential to do more. Ireland has stepped up our partnership in recent years with the African Union, with a focus on supporting their work on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, with a particular emphasis on the role of women.
As Chair of the Somalia Sanctions Committee, peace and stability in Somalia will be a key priority of our tenure: we want to use sanctions mechanisms as a tool of prevention, addressing Al-Shabaab financing, advancing human rights and accountability and maintaining humanitarian access.
In Sudan and South Sudan our focus will be on responsibility for the protection of civilians, as both countries undergo fragile transitions.
Events in Ethiopia in recent months have been a cause of grave concern. All parties have an obligation to respect International Humanitarian Law, and the government of Ethiopia must allow unconditional and unrestricted humanitarian access to all areas of Tigray.
As both Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, I am particularly proud of the contribution made by members of the Defence Forces to UN peace operations over more than 60 years. Through their service, Ireland has earned a reputation as a steadfast and valued contributor to UN peacekeeping.
Today, there are 529 Irish troops serving in UN peacekeeping operations, including in Syria, Mali, Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I would like to pay tribute to their service and commitment.
Sadly we have once again seen the great risks involved in helping to deliver peace and stability as 9 UN peacekeepers have been killed in UN missions in Mali and the Central African Republic since the start of 2021. My deepest sympathies goes to their families.
Sympathy though is not enough. We have a responsibility to ensure that the men and women serving in UN peacekeeping operations are properly mandated and equipped to do their work effectively and securely. This will be an area of particular focus for us in our work on the Council.
We want to improve peacekeeping mandates to make them fit for purpose, and strengthen the link between peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In doing so, we will draw from the long experience of our Defence Forces.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Civilians are protected by international law, but they often suffer the most in armed conflict. As a member of the Security Council, we will prioritise adherence to international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, to help protect civilians.
We will support the fight against impunity and stand by the International Criminal Court and other international criminal and accountability mechanisms. Effective accountability can serve as an essential element in improving compliance with the rules of international law.
We know that climate change is a challenge for us all, but we are also now increasingly aware of how it can be a driver or a multiplier of instability. In the countries of the Sahel, as one example, we have seen how climate change is one of the factors that is diminishing land availability and quality. Competition for fewer resources has led to increased tension and conflict between pastoralists and farmers. In my conversations with Ministers from many African countries and Small Island Developing States during the Security Council campaign, the need to do more on climate change, and its implications for security, were consistently raised with me.
At the end of last year, a new expert group on climate and security was created at the Security Council. Ireland will be co-chairing that group in 2021, providing leadership and promoting a greater climate focus in the work of the Council.
I am encouraged that John Kerry will be leading US work on climate issues; I will be meeting with him later today, along with other EU Foreign Ministers, to discuss practical steps to tackle this existential challenge
In all that we do on the Council, we are also keen to draw from the extensive expertise, experience and networks of Irish civil society and academia. I thank the IIEA for the support they have provided in the establishment of the Security Council Stakeholder Forum .
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is a challenging agenda. There are many other issues that I could have mentioned – North Korea, the Great Lakes area, Myanmar or Ukraine – which will also command our attention over the next two years.
We are committed to being an active member of Council on all of these issues.
We are not naïve. I know how difficult it can be to find agreement among members of the Council. The Council has failed to fulfil its responsibility to act on some crucial issues.
We will make every efforts to build bridges and the political will necessary to find agreement.
We enjoy good relations with all of the other members of the Council, including the permanent members, and we will engage openly with each of them. We will agree on some issues and fundamentally disagree on others.
In doing so we will not be afraid to bring our views to the table, as we were elected to do.
We know all too well from our experience on the island of Ireland that the work of building peace moves slowly. We will bring this experience with us to the Security Council, as we do the slow, and sometimes frustrating, work of seeking agreement on some of the most difficult issues on the global agenda.