OPINION: Ireland secures seat at UN Security Council table


“From Cork to the Congo, from Galway to the Gaza strip, from this legislative assembly to the United Nations, Ireland is sending its most talented people to do the world’s most important work – the work of peace”

President John F. Kennedy, Address to the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas, 28 June 1963


By Barbara Walshe

26/6/20:  A successful 15-year campaign to secure a seat on the UN Security Council came to fruition last week with Ireland’s prestigious appointment to this key world organisation which plays a pivotal role in issues ranging from global security to human rights.

There are many who would question and doubt the value of Ireland’s presence and effectiveness on the Security Council for reasons such as “the [often] paralysing effect of veto powers held by its five permanent members and its resulting inability to act on some of the major issues of the day”, as noted by Ruadhán Mac Cormaic in his article (Irish Times 20/6/20). But in her statement following the appointment, Ambassador to the UN, and Ireland’s representative on the Security Council, Geraldine Byrne Nason, firmly stated, “We do not intend to be there merely to make up the numbers. We will work with realism and ambition to make the council work for the most vulnerable trapped in conflict”.

With this spirit of realism and ambition, from 2021, Ireland, together with Norway, India, Mexico and Kenya, will take its place in ensuring that the voices of those trapped in deeply rooted violent conflict will be heard, despite the power play of larger entities. As Dag Hammarskjold, a celebrated secretary-general, said, “(the UN) was not created to take mankind to paradise but to save humanity from hell”. Ireland is now at the top table in this effort.

Underlying the Irish campaign has been the lens through which we as a society view our role in world affairs. This translates into a preparedness by successive Irish governments to speak up on pillars of its foreign policy such as multilateralism, human rights and disarmament. Highly regarded Irish diplomats such as Dr Noel Dorr (1980/81) and Mr Richard Ryan (2001/2002) served with distinction during conflicts that threatened global security. Ambassador Byrne Nason, the first woman to hold this diplomatic position, is recognised as a formidable leader for global peace.

Ireland’s role in international peacekeeping, unbroken since 1958, has seen Irish men and women from the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochana serve throughout the globe in environments that are both profoundly risky and fragile. Our international peace-keeping presence and impact is reflected by Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, Defence Forces Chief of Staff in the 2018 Defence Forces Review, “The Irish Defence Forces has over 650 personnel serving overseas in 13 missions, in 13 countries and on one sea”.

With almost half of the UN’s work relating to Africa, and one third concerning the Middle East, Ireland’s foreign policy, measured by financial and political investment, is focused heavily on these two regions.  Concurrent with this, civic society in the form of NGO organisations such as Trócaire, Concern and Gorta, under the auspices of Irish Aid at the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFaT), have also deployed volunteers around the world. As part of our international work, Glencree has also shared our learnings in over 10 conflict and post conflict countries, more recently in Bougainville and currently through our work with gangs in Haiti which started over seven years ago in partnership with Concern.  Together, we NGO’s play a pivotal role assisting local populations under stark conditions of war and strife and acting as impartial observers of human rights standards.

The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation has been at the heart of peacebuilding on the island of Ireland for almost fifty years. Our recent plan to develop Glencree as a Global Peace Centre, so that we can share our learnings in peacebuilding, our experience in facilitation and dialogue, and work in closer collaboration with like-minded partners, will further contribute to this great Irish achievement and our ongoing effort to create a sustainable peace globally.


Barbara Walshe is Chair of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation