I thank the Chairman and it is a pleasure to see him on the screen. Good morning from a very snowy New York where overnight we have had one of the largest snow storms in five years. We are looking to Dublin from a very snowy city.
It is a real pleasure to address members of the committee virtually in my capacity as Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I look forward to discussing with members Ireland’s priorities and preparations for our upcoming term on the United Nations Security Council. Professionally and personally, I hope this is the first of many encounters we will have over the busy two year tenure.
After a long and hard fought Security Council campaign, we were thrilled to be elected on 17 June. We take our seat in 15 days' time and we are marking down the days. Preparations here are at full throttle. The committee recently had the opportunity to engage with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and he briefed members on the key principles that will underpin our overall approach when we are on the Security Council. They are building peace, strengthening conflict prevention and, importantly, ensuring accountability.
As the Minister said, they are the principles that are at the heart of Irish foreign policy. Our commitment to these principles will be consistent and determined on the Security Council. Simply put, we will remain our recognisable selves, true to our principles and values, anchored in our traditional commitments to disarmament, human rights and international law. These principles encouraged two thirds of the 193 member states at the United Nations to vote confidence in Ireland on election day. I see that as a vote of trust in Ireland’s trademark foreign policies.
The Council has nothing less than the ambition to maintain international peace and security. We are in a challenged international environment, to put it mildly, where global superpowers, like the United States and China, have uneasy relationships. Tensions, indeed open conflict, are raging variously across Africa, the Middle East and even closer to home in Europe. Often, these tensions are exacerbated by a changing climate. We know the two years ahead will test us. Multilateralism itself is challenged. We will be steering a course through choppy waters.
Where are we now in our preparations? Our dedicated Security Council team is well assembled in Dublin and in New York.
This is a once-in-a-generation project. We have assembled a team of some of our most talented diplomats who bring a really wide range of expertise and great energy to this endeavour. I am laying the groundwork here in New York with Security Council members and with the Secretary General and his staff in the UN secretariat. I have also been working with civil society organisations and with ambassadors from countries right across the General Assembly.
Today, I am looking forward to hearing from committee members and listening to their thoughts on how Ireland can contribute at the Security Council table. I keep saying that Ireland does not go to that table to make up numbers. We want to make a difference. As the ambassador dealing with the coalface, day-to-day work of the council, negotiation by negotiation and sometimes sentence by sentence, I thought it would be best to highlight several of what the Minister, Deputy Coveney, calls our weighty briefs. From early in our tenure, we will be expected to work on those briefs and, in many cases, to offer leadership on them. However, I should add that the Security Council agenda is a huge and wide one. There are more than two dozen specific country situations officially on that agenda, as well as many thematic focus issues which get the attention of the council. We are preparing for all eventualities.
I will start with an issue that is now, and has been for a while, of particular focus for the council, namely, the situation in Syria. One of the positive actions the Security Council has taken to try to ease human suffering is under the Syria file. This is done through what we know as the Syria humanitarian resolution. Security Council authorisation is the means by which humanitarian actors, by whom I mean people delivering food, medicine and shelter, can provide the cross-border assistance into north-western Syria that is so badly needed. Right now, thousands of Syrians are facing into another bleak winter in the desperate situation that is the tenth year of conflict. We plan to do everything we can to ensure that life-saving humanitarian assistance can continue to be delivered to millions of internally displaced persons in north-western Syria throughout our term on the council and for as long as that support is needed. The ongoing need for humanitarian aid, both to the Syrians internally displaced within that country and to those who have had to take refuge in neighbouring countries, underlines the urgency there is that the UN-led political process, which is aimed at resolving the conflict, should make progress and do so soon. We fully support the efforts of the UN special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, whom I spoke to the other day. He is working hard, but I have to admit that progress is painfully slow.
I mentioned that the dynamics of the Security Council at this time are less than optimal. This year, as members may have noticed, it took more than three months for the council to endorse a call made by the Secretary General for a global ceasefire in Covid times. That was, frankly, shameful. Clearly, the approach of the incoming US Administration will be a factor in shaping and, we hope, changing the dynamics at the Security Council next year. I am very much looking forward to meeting and working with the new US ambassador-designate, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She is a professional diplomat with long experience, particularly in Africa, and we hope to work closely with her on the council.
A key area I want to signal, which we will be watching very carefully in the coming months, is Iran and the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, nuclear deal. In particular, we will be watching in the context of possible US re-engagement with the deal. With elections in Tehran due by June and following the change of Administration in Washington, it is likely to be a critical year for these issues and a difficult year, if we are realistic, for the Iran nuclear deal. The window of time for both sides to re-engage is short and narrowing. As an EU country, Ireland will do everything it can at the Security Council to preserve the JCPOA. We see that agreement as a major diplomatic achievement and the best way to keep Iran's nuclear ambitions in check. We also think it is the best way to help bring peace to the region. Our long history of support for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation allows us to play an impartial but principled role in the council's stance on this issue.
As we address ongoing tensions and conflicts, we will also be working at a more subterranean level, looking at root causes of conflict and its impacts. An area we know well in this regard is hunger. The biggest driver of hunger now is conflict, which is undermining food security in some of the most vulnerable regions in the world. The alarm bells signalling the risks of famine are ringing loudly in Yemen, South Sudan and many other places. Yesterday, I spoke here in New York with the ambassador of Burkina Faso, in which country there are risks of food shortages that are becoming serious. In September next year, the UN will host a major food systems summit. That is the same month in which Ireland will take the presidency of the Security Council. We plan to draw a clear link between food systems, food security and conflict.
The truth is that there are far too many files to cover in this statement that will be at the top of the in tray in January. The majority - more than 60% - of the country situations the Security Council is dealing with are in Africa. We will be very active in leading the council's engagement in this regard, particularly its work in west Africa, in the troubled Sahel, and in Sudan, where the UN is in the midst of a very complex transition from a peacekeeping mission, UNAMID, to a political mission called UNITAMS. That is an issue I discussed with several parties yesterday. As the UN is adjusting to a new reality in that country, we need to be really careful that the protection of civilians in Sudan is maintained. In neighbouring Ethiopia, we are watching a very worrying situation, with ongoing reports of atrocities against civilians and possible ethnic profiling. Ethiopia, traditionally and regionally, plays a very important role in peace and security for the Horn of Africa. What happens in Ethiopia affects both Sudan and Somalia. It is really important that stability be restored and that Ethiopia get back to paying its role. As a long-standing development partner of Ethiopia, we will support the African Union and all regional partners in working to bring an end to this worrying crisis and to ensure the humanitarian access that is needed in Ethiopia is assured. That effort will, of course, be aimed at ensuring the well-being of citizens, through the unfettered humanitarian access that we have not yet seen.
Ireland comes to the Security Council table with a very well-respected and long-standing position of support for a negotiated two-state solution in the Middle East peace process. The presidency of the Security Council will be held in January by an Arab state, the Tunisian delegation. My expectation, not least in light of recent developments in the region, is that there will be a full debate on the Palestinian situation in our first weeks at the Security Council table. The Tunisians, we understand, will bring a focus on co-operation with the Arab League, which is active in a range of theatres across the Middle East region. Of course, we are already watching developments in the region carefully and every day. Last month, for example, we joined with other EU members of the Security Council to call publicly on Israel to reverse its decision to open a tender for illegal settlement construction in the highly sensitive area of Givat HaMatos. I can only hope that during our two-year tenure on the Security Council, we will see more signs for optimism than I can attest to today.
The Government rightly puts women, peace and security front and centre in both our foreign policy and development policies.
I served here for two years as the chair of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which is the principal global intergovernmental body that is exclusively dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The story of Irish women's involvement in the peace process in Northern Ireland resonates widely in the corridors of the UN. For peace to be sustainable, women must be at the table and meaningfully involved in the decision-making. Famously, the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, WPS, is the most translated ever and the annual debate on WPS is always oversubscribed. We look forward to playing a central role on this critical issue at Security Council when we take up our role there. Germany did that for the last two years and we look forward to taking over the baton. The WPS agenda includes, for example, ongoing peace talks in Afghanistan and the burgeoning peace process in Yemen. They concern us and we hope to bring those live negotiations into focus in WPS work.
I have not had time to get into depth on some of the issues, such as crises in Europe - which the Security Council has on its agenda - Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh or Latin America, which is another region we know well. Colombia, for example, will be accompanied in its ongoing implementation of its peace process. That is a debate we will also have in January.
Just as we are working at full tilt in New York, the Department of Foreign Affairs at headquarters and in all our embassies across the globe is pulling together to ensure we will step up as an effective, credible and, I hope, impactful member of the council, just as we aim to be in all our foreign policy work, whether at the EU, the UN or in our bilateral relations. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is already actively engaged in extensive consultations with his counterparts across the globe, not just with countries who are members of the council but countries that are the focus of the council, are undergoing conflict and are regularly discussed at the council. He is also engaging with key partners across the UN membership.
I could not finish my remarks without also mentioning the extraordinary service of the women and men of Óglaigh na hÉireann and An Garda Síochána. Our reputation at the United Nations is built on our record of peacekeeping and on their extraordinary service in the cause of peace. Today, Irish women and men wear blue helmets in seven UN peacekeeping missions. These range from the Golan Heights, where we have Brigadier General Maureen O'Brien, Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, UNTSO, in the Middle East, Western Sahara, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The important point about our tenure for the next two years will be that the mandates of all those peacekeeping missions come to the council table and are shaped, negotiated, discussed and adopted at the Security Council. In Cyprus, where our gardaí are deployed, the renewal of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, UNFICYP, mandate will be up next month when we sit at the council in January. For the next two years, we will be at that table with a real opportunity to look out for our peacekeepers, to make a difference by building on their experience as peacekeepers and on our experience as a peacekeeping nation to help shape those mandates and make them more fit for purpose.
I thank the chairman again for this opportunity to introduce myself and, importantly, the work we look forward to doing for the next few years to the committee.