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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

Simon Coveney: 'It is time to bin climate change denial'

The Tánaiste also used tonight’s speech to the the UN to state the Israel-Palestine conflict is a big foreign policy priority for the Irish government.

Simon Coveney Tánaiste

TONIGHT IN NEW York I delivered the national address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This annual gathering of every country on earth is, quite literally, the world stage and a hive of activity for the governments of more than 7.4 billion people.

My speech came at the end of a feverish week for Irish diplomacy. On Monday, Ireland co-sponsored a declaration at the Mandela Peace Summit. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela and the Taoiseach took the platform at the assembly to give Ireland’s pledge to renew our efforts to work for a culture of peace, tolerance and respect for human dignity globally. 

With so many governments in one place there are excellent opportunities to meet each other and discuss shared challenges, big and small.

This week, more than any other event in my calendar as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, gives me a chance to speak with nations that are outside our immediate circle of neighbours or members of the EU.

‘Ministerial Speed Dating’

It is so busy that the halls of the UN are packed to capacity and have cubicles set up for what someone described as “Ministerial Speed Dating”.

Since landing on Wednesday, I have met with presidents, prime ministers or foreign ministers of Vietnam, Lebanon, Oman, Grenade, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Saint Lucia, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Morocco, The Arab League, Somalia, Dominica, Nepal, Tunisia, Suriname, the UAE, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Jamaica, Liechtenstein, Trinidad & Tobago, Sudan, Algeria, the Seychelles and Costa Rica.

I also attended events on the Middle East Peace Process, the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund and Climate Change, and to support Irish people working in UN agencies.

In all of these meetings, my counterparts know Ireland as a generous country; a place where peace emerged from violence; with a fiercely loyal diaspora of tens of millions around the globe; and as an ally on so many global issues. The distance between the Irish people and the people of Costa Rica or Sri Lanka is much shorter than the map would suggest.

This was a core point of Ireland’s national address for 2018.

While the UN is imperfect and in need of reform, what does the alternative of closing borders and focusing solely on your national interest look like? 

Geographically, Ireland may be a small island on the Western edge of Europe. But in Ireland we see ourselves as an island at the centre of the world, with a global diaspora more than ten times the size of our population at home.

We have learned that, in an inter-dependent world, the challenges of our time do not respect geographic boundaries. Finding solutions is a shared responsibility, whether you are a small Polynesian Island or a superpower – we breathe the same air.

The air we breathe and the oceans that surround us were a constant topic of discussion with the smaller island states of the world, of which we are one. The need for collective action to address climate change is more evident every month.

We learned centuries ago that the waters surrounding our island cannot deter forces beyond our control. It is time to bin climate change denial.

Ireland experiencing hurricane conditions and drought

Since I spoke here last year Ireland has experienced its first hurricane, generated in the east Atlantic, its most severe winter cold weather snap and the most sustained drought in living memory. The denial needs to end and the collective action on climate adaptation and abatement must intensify.

Our world is still a violent place and I used Ireland’s address to applaud the countries that carry the heavy burden of war amongst their neighbours.

Over 134 million people around the world are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Over 68 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide, with over 25 million cross-border refugees.

States like Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey and Uganda, and many more, are hosting enormous numbers of people displaced by conflict.

Israel-Palestine conflict an Irish priority 

Ireland has experience of a prolonged and intractable conflict and the Israel-Palestine conflict, and lack of progress on a lasting two-state solution, is a big foreign policy priority for the Irish Government. Ireland’s own experience shows that even decades-long conflicts can have a turning point.

From my visits to the Middle East, I know that the current situation serves the interests of neither people. I am also conscious that the burden of being under occupation is the heavier one.

Settlement construction underlines this, and is causing ever-greater damage to the prospects for peace.

Ireland is very conscious of the threat to Khan al Ahmar and other strategically-located West Bank villages. What happens there will tell us much about whether we can count on a real commitment to negotiating a two-state solution.

The situation in Gaza is simply untenable and the 1.9 million people living there desperately need the decade-long blockade to end, so that they can start to rebuild normal lives, reject the twisted promises of radicals, and look to the future with hope.

Peace is a process, not a moment. To bear fruit, that process requires untiring work and commitment. And we all surely realise that forced outcomes with winners and losers can never be the basis for lasting peace.

The week has been a busy one for our team campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021-22.

Empathy, partnership and independence are our pitch and from my meetings this week, I’m confident that, if we sustain this momentum, the votes will be there for us to hopefully win a place at the top table.

Simon Coveney is Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

About the author:

Simon Coveney  / Tánaiste

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