Ireland on Security Council: “Multilateralism central to Irish foreign policy”

Ireland served on the United Nations Security Council as an elected member from 2021 to 2022, its fourth time with a seat on the Council. Its two-year term was underpinned by three core principles: building peace; strengthening conflict prevention; and ensuring accountability.

Tánaiste, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, Micheál Martin TD, looks back on Ireland’s term in an interview with the United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC).

What are your main takeaways from Ireland’s 2021-2022 term on the UN Security Council?

Micheál Martin: The key takeaway for me is that elected members of the Security Council, including small States like Ireland, can make a real difference and deliver concrete results.

Through painstaking and careful diplomacy, working in a very challenging geopolitical context, we secured important outcomes on a range of geographic and thematic files.

To mention a few:

  • Building on the extraordinary experience and expertise of Irish peacekeepers, we negotiated a ground-breaking Resolution on Peacekeeping Transitions. Resolution 2594 – which was supported by all 15 Council members – aims to ensure that, when UN peacekeepers leave, peace is sustained.
  • Working with the United States, we led negotiations on Resolution 2664, which delivered a horizontal carve-out for humanitarian activities, across all UN sanctions regimes.
  • Ireland and Norway led negotiations on successive renewals of the vital Syria Humanitarian cross-border resolution, ensuring that humanitarian aid can continue to reach over four million Syrians. We worked hard to secure a further renewal in early January this year, just after we left the Council.
  • The EU-led crisis management mission, Operation Althea, plays an indispensable role in safeguarding stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ireland led negotiations on the renewal of the Mission’s Security Council authorisation in October 2022 and secured unanimous agreement on that text.
  • We led the Council’s work on Ethiopia, focusing international attention on the catastrophic humanitarian crisis caused by the war, and supporting the mediation efforts of UN Secretary-General [António Guterres] and the African Union.
  • Ireland co-chaired the Council’s expert group on Women, Peace and Security, working hard to promote the full implementation and operationalisation of the Council’s WPS resolutions. The promotion of gender equality was a golden thread running through all of our work on the Council, with a situation in Afghanistan a particular priority.

What was one of Ireland’s greatest achievements during its term?

Micheál Martin: I was very pleased to end our term on such a positive note, with the adoption in December 2022 of Resolution 2664, establishing a horizontal humanitarian carve-out across all UN sanctions regimes. Sanctions are an important tool in the Security Council’s toolbox, but we have known for some time that they can have unintended consequences for humanitarian action.

This issue was a priority for Ireland from the outset of our term, and in the final months of our term we partnered with the US to negotiate the resolution, a ground-breaking initiative which changes this paradigm.

It ensures that the Council can continue to make use of sanctions, without impeding the provision of humanitarian assistance. We are now working hard to ensure that the resolution is fully implemented, in UN and EU sanctions regimes.

Can you share a particular moment from Ireland’s term which stands out?

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Micheál Martin, then Taoiseach of Ireland at the United Nations in New York, September 2022
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Micheál Martin, then Taoiseach of Ireland at the United Nations in New York, September 2022 © UN Photo/Jaclyn Licht

Micheál Martin: During Ireland’s presidency of the Security Council in September 2021, I chaired a high-level open debate on Climate and Security. It is very clear that climate change is already contributing to conflict in many parts of the world — in the Sahel, in the Horn of Africa, and in a number of other regions. We convened that debate because we believe the Security Council has a responsibility to respond to this reality, and I urged the Council to act.

Working in close partnership with Niger, a country that understands this issue more than most, we chaired the Council’s expert group on Climate and Security and led work on a draft resolution. Although that text was ultimately vetoed by Russia, it attracted a historic level of support from UN members, and advanced the Climate and Security agenda on the Council in a decisive way.

Ireland’s Security Council presidency fell shortly after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, and my predecessor as Minister [Simon Coveney TD] chaired a Council debate on the situation, speaking out strongly in defence of the rights of Afghan women and girls. We helped ensure that the Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate for the UN Mission in Afghanistan that included clear language on human rights and women’s participation.

We prioritised the Women, Peace and Security agenda throughout our Presidency, setting a new record for the number of women civil society briefers at the Council table, and pioneering monthly commitments on Women, Peace and Security, which have since been adopted by 14 Council Members.

I would also like to note how I was struck by the talent of the young officials and people who worked on Ireland’s tenure on the UN Security Council. I was left with a strong confidence in the future of Ireland on the international stage.

What lessons can you draw from this term?

Micheál Martin: It is now even more clear to me that the veto is an anachronism that has no place in the UN of today.

113 UN Member States co-sponsored the draft resolution on Climate and Security that Ireland and Niger tabled in December 2021. One State — Russia — blocked its adoption.

And while we used our seat on the Council to deliver consistent and principled criticism of Russia’s illegal further invasion of Ukraine, Russia wielded its veto to prevent the Council from taking any meaningful action in response to that invasion.

This is simply untenable. The need for Security Council reform was irrefutable for a long time before the invasion. It is now more pressing than ever.

 What does your term showcase about Ireland’s commitment to multilateralism?

Micheál Martin: Multilateralism has been central to Irish foreign policy since the foundation of the State. Indeed, later this year we will mark the centenary of Ireland joining the League of Nations, shortly after we gained independence. This reflects our values, but also our interests — as a small State, we depend on the multilateral system and the rules-based international order.

We know that the UN’s success ultimately depends on its Member States, and we have always sought to make a constructive and principled contribution. We ran for election to the Security Council because we wanted to play our role in ensuring that the Council can deliver on its vital mandate.

We have left the Council, but we will remain an active and committed UN member state. Ireland is now co-facilitating negotiations on the Political Declaration that should be adopted at the SDG Summit in September. It is vital that we get back on track towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We also hope to serve again on the Human Rights Council, and we are running for election for the 2027-2029 term.


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