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After support from Bono and Mary Robinson, Ireland's bid for UN Security Council seat to be decided

Ireland is facing a “very competitive” field as it vies with Canada and Norway for a seat on the UN Security Council this Wednesday.

File photo. Meeting of UN Security Council from early March.
File photo. Meeting of UN Security Council from early March.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THIS WEDNESDAY 17 June, the Irish government will find out if the country has won a seat on the UN Security Council.

Despite the current restrictions around Covid-19, the vote will go ahead as planned and will see Ireland go up against Canada and Norway for a seat on the council for 2021-2022.

It would be the fourth time the country has been elected to the council, having previously served in 1962, 1981 and in 2001.

Here’s exactly what the UN Security Council does, and why Ireland wants a seat at the table:

UN Security Council

In its own words, the UN Security Council “has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”. 

All member states of the United Nations – of which there are 193 – are said to be obliged to comply with the council’s decisions. 

It has 15 members and each member has one vote. Five of these have permanent seats on the council – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. Each of these has the power to veto significant resolutions. 

It calls upon parties in a dispute to settle it through peaceful means. In some cases, it can resort to imposing sanctions or authorise the use of force to “maintain or restore international peace and security”. 

However, tensions between the permanent members can often mean a lack of consensus. 

Writing in TheJournal.ie, Concern Worldwide CEO Dominic MacSorley said that the track record of the security council is marred by inconsistent stances and a frequent lack of unity around moral decisions.

“A stark example of its shortcomings is the use of the permanent member veto, where resolutions on the conflicts in Syria and Gaza were vetoed by Russia and the USA in [2017/18],” he said. 

Countries on the council can draft resolutions deciding action to be taken in a bid to preserve peace and stability in a country or region.

Earlier this month, for example, Germany drafted a resolution to extend the inspection of ships accused of breaking an arms embargo on Libya. It was passed unanimously but Russia – which backs an opponent to the UN-backed government in Libya – expressed doubts about the resolution, saying that the arms embargo was being breached on both sides in the conflict. 

Why do we want a seat? And what have we done to secure it?

In launching Ireland’s bid for a seat at the table at a reception in New York in 2018, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the UN is “the conscience of our humanity” and that “in these troubles and uncertain times, as a global island we want to play our part in defending, supporting and promoting its values”. 

He said previously: “Winning a seat on the UN Security Council would place Ireland at the heart of UN decision-making on international peace, security and development.”

Some of the country’s biggest hitters have come out with a charm offensive aimed at putting forward our case to be on the security council. 

U2 frontman Bono and former president Mary Robinson set out their stall for Ireland at the same launch reception in 2018.

Bono said Ireland’s experience of colonialism, conflict, famine, and mass migration “give us kind of a hard-earned expertise in these problems, and empathy and I hope humility”.

“If you look at the agenda of what the Security Council will be addressing in the coming years, doesn’t it look a lot like us?,” he asked.

Robinson, meanwhile, said that Ireland understands what the Security Council stands for.

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“Ireland is a bridge builder which the UN badly needs, with an empathy and an ability to understand the other,” she said.

Earlier this year, over 100 UN ambassadors were treated to a 25th anniversary performance of Riverdance in a bid to convince them to vote Ireland

‘Very competitive’

Canada and Norway will provide “very competitive” opposition for the two available seats on the council according to Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. 

The vote is done among the other member states by secret ballot, and requires a two-thirds majority. 

In a recent answer to a parliamentary question, Coveney said both countries are “strong members of the UN and important bilateral partners”. 

“In making our case to the 192 other Members States of the UN, we are highlighting our consistent record at the UN throughout more than six decades of active membership,” he said. “We have a strong record at the UN in the areas of peacekeeping, sustainable development, humanitarian action, disarmament and human rights.”

While the pandemic has prevented Coveney from travelling to New York, it’s understood he has held talks with important stakeholders in the process in recent weeks, and diplomatic efforts have been ongoing to secure support. 

The vote will be held on Wednesday. 

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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