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Column: We have a duty to share our peace-building skills with the world

Ireland has seen first-hand the benefits a third party can bring to a peace process; it owes it to the forgotten conflicts throughout the world to help, writes Colm Bergin.

Colm Bergin

IRELAND HAS SUFFERED a lot in recent years. With the retraction of its economy, public morale has fallen and its standing in the world has been tarnished.

However with the recent announcement by the Tanaiste that a review of the Department of Foreign Affairs policies and strategies is to take place, an opportunity has presented itself that would help Ireland regain its reputation as a global player. It has something that cannot be measured in terms of money or bonds; its real standing in the world should be derived from its experience as a nation, and more specifically the experience its public servants have in the area of peace building.

Not wanting to take away from last year’s achievement of being elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, as it will truly enable Ireland to show on the world stage what it can do and to show that it really knows what is important, there is another branch of the United Nations that Ireland could really contribute to in a dynamic way: this is the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission.

What is the Peacebuilding Commission?

The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) was created in 2006 to provide the political support for peacebuilding efforts in troubled regions throughout the world by focusing the efforts of the international community on a coherent strategy, and by persuading the actors to work towards the respective strategies aims.

The composition of the PBC allows for the representation of 31 UN member states. Of these 31, seven are elected by the UN General Assembly (much like the election for the Human Rights Council) and Ireland should seek election to it.

Throughout the world, divisions and conflicts exist where Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs’ expertise and experience could be used. It will not be able to offer solutions to every problem but will approach it with a solid foundation upon which the peace sought can be built. At its most basic Ireland has two main attributes that can benefit its application for this new role …

History

Ireland has never been the aggressor in any conflict. In the parts of the world where its expertise could be most beneficial eg, Africa, South-East Asia and the Middle East a long-standing mistrust exists between the local governments and the world’s superpowers (rightly or wrongly). Many of the most troubled regions in the world are either former colonies (eg, Burma, Somalia) or are battlegrounds where the Cold War was fought between the superpowers (eg, Korean Peninsula, Afghanistan).

This accusation cannot be levelled at Ireland as it is a country that has been oppressed throughout history and has also remained neutral in all wars since its independence. It has only ever deployed its troops abroad to secure peace in many of these troubled regions. This history of neutrality, commitment to conflict resolution and its non-aggressive international history bode well for the country if an application to the PBC was made.

Experience

The fact that the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has worked to mediate one of the most volatile peace agreements that has been forged in recent history proves that it has the requisite experience and skills to deal with the problems that may arise throughout peace negotiations. This was the same Government Department that helped draft the Downing Street Declaration, in the turbulent time of the Troubles and only weeks after the Shankill Road Bombing and the Greysteel Attacks took place. That experience is limited in the world and it is highly valued.

Ireland has a wealth of expertise that must surely be tapped before it can no longer be accessed at all. Ireland had – and has – in its public service some of the most capable and admired peacemakers of our time and surely it would do justice to the world that Ireland uses that knowledge to teach others. This expertise was forged through difficult and challenging times, and it is important that before all of these negotiators retire, their knowledge is tapped. What better way to do it than to promote build peace throughout the world?

Ireland measured by something other than its balance sheet

Ireland has a duty to the world community to partake in such peace-building exercises because it has benefited so much from such interventions as George Mitchell and Richard Haass in its own peace process. Ireland has seen first-hand the benefits a third party can bring to a peace process and it owes it to the forgotten conflicts throughout the world to offer help.

Ireland needs to be measured by something other than its balance sheet. It needs a new role in the world, one that is more substantial than the Celtic Tiger. If Ireland could take a position on the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, it would be taking the position of global statesman.

Colm Bergin has experience in both politics and public policy having worked in New York, Brussels and Washington DC. He is a graduate of Government and Public Policy at UCC and holds a Diploma in Law from the IPA.

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Colm Bergin

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