Engagement with the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations

I am very pleased to welcome H.E. Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland's permanent representative to the United Nations. She is very welcome, albeit in virtual form. On behalf of the committee, I wish her all the best particularly as she takes up her important role, on behalf of Ireland, at the Security Council. I also welcome the diplomats, officials and her team joining us.

The format of the meeting is such that we will hear the ambassador's opening statement before a question and answer session with members of the committee, some of whom are here. Others who are joining us from the convention centre, such as Deputy Stanton and Senator Ó Donnghaile.

I remind witnesses that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentation they make to the committee. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action taken based on anything they say. However, I know neither the ambassador nor her team is going to in anyway adversely interfere with or abuse this privilege.

It gives me great pleasure to call on the ambassador to make her opening statement. In terms of time, we are obliged to bring matters to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. at the latest, having regard to the Covid restrictions operating for the length of our meetings.

H.E. Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason

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.

I thank the ambassador. On behalf of the committee and on my own behalf, I acknowledge the role she played in ensuring that Ireland has a seat on the Security Council. Her leadership, commitment, dedication and professionalism was outstanding in terms of service. We have seen in her address the exciting programme that lies ahead for her and her team, and indeed for Ireland.

I wish a good afternoon to the ambassador from Dublin and a good morning to everyone in New York. I am happy to hear there will probably be a white Christmas over there. I thank the ambassador for her comprehensive statement at the start and specifically for recognising the sacrifices and the work of Irish troops and gardaí abroad, which is important. I also thank her for focusing on the situation in Idlib, north-west Syria, which is quite close to where our troops are at the moment.

I have two brief questions, both related to international peacekeeping. First, over the next two years is it likely there will be new United Nations peacekeeping missions deployed somewhere on the planet? The fact that Ireland now has a seat at the Security Council means that, from a credibility perspective, it is probably expected we will put boots on the ground. I am keen to know the ambassador's thoughts as to whether it is likely there will be Irish Defence Force involvement in new peacekeeping missions over the next two years and, if so, where would those missions likely be?

Second, I am happy to hear what the ambassador said about the strengthening of United Nations mandates for peacekeeping troops. She mentioned she is keen that they be more robust, fit for purpose and capable of being implemented on the ground. She outlined the process by which that is to come about. What is the likelihood of success there? Are we likely to have the same mandates again? How does she rate her chances of strengthening those important mandates? Without a strong mandate, one cannot have a strong presence on the ground.

I am at the Convention Centre, participating remotely. It is good to see the ambassador again. I enjoyed my visits to New York in two different years with the Commission on the Status of Women, CSW. I congratulate the ambassador on her work in that and chairing it at the time. She worked equally hard on lobbying for our place on the Security Council.

When I met ministers from island nations, African nations and so on, one common theme that came across was the issue of climate change, the conflicts it can cause and is causing and the concerns people have. Some island nations in the Pacific are worried about their lands disappearing completely under the ocean. Will the Security Council be focusing on that to any degree from the point of view of security? Linked to that is the issue of refugees and asylum seekers, which has caused so many difficulties, more so for the refugees and asylum seekers themselves. We have seen thousands drown in the Mediterranean and unspeakable suffering going on all over the world linked to climate change and to other conflicts.

The other issue has to do with South Sudan. The ambassador says we are moving from a military to a political mission. There is a lot of concern there and even yesterday the representative there gave a report to the Security Council on his concerns about South Sudan and the concerns of people there who feel vulnerable and fear that the UN will move away from protecting them. Is the ambassador happy that will be okay? We do not want a situation arising where people could be vulnerable or threatened, as happened in the past.

I wish the ambassador all the best on the Security Council. I know she will do extraordinarily well and do us proud. I wish all her team in New York a happy Christmas and thank them for their hospitality when I met them there over the last number of years.

H.E. Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason

I thank Deputies Berry and Stanton. I will speak to Deputy Berry's question on upcoming possible new peacekeeping missions. The first point is that as we go on to the Security Council, we take on a responsibility for international peace and security.

As a traditional peacekeeping nation, we always say that we see peacekeeping as being at the heart of that mission. Deputy Berry is absolutely correct that this will be a critical issue and there will be ongoing discussion as we build our two years up. The question of whether Ireland might contribute troops to any new mission would be a Government decision. As has always been the case, that decision would be taken on a case-by-case basis.

The question on whether there may be new missions and where they might be is a very good one. A new mission indicates a new source of tension and conflict. We hope that much of the work we do in the next two years will be to resolve existing conflicts. The reality is that we are dealing with very unstable situations. If the Deputy asked me where they might be, I would say that we constantly look to Africa and the Middle East as the two regions where the largest deployment of peacekeepers is currently in place. We have more than 100,000 peacekeepers on the ground. A number of those missions are in transition.

Deputy Stanton asked a very interesting question about the transition out of a peacekeeping mission into a political situation. Where that is possible we support that. There are, of course, situations which arise that require more peacekeepers on the ground. One area which is under discussion – it is early days yet – is the question of securing the ceasefire in Libya. There have been no discussions. I do not think a scenario will arise where there will be a major deployment of a peacekeeping mission in Libya, but early discussions are under way on the notion of monitoring a ceasefire. In that context, one might imagine that there would be a need for monitors. The scale of that is nothing like what we talk about in UNIFIL or UNAMID. There are more than 7,000 peacekeepers in South Sudan. As a troop contributor, our views on this will be sought. We will, of course, be guided by the Government and will work very hard on any upcoming peacekeeping missions.

The majority of peacekeeping missions are now resourced and sourced by the global south. Our African partners, in particular, play an enormous role in securing the region of Africa where most peacekeeping missions are needed.

The strengthening of mandates is an important issue for us. We go to the table with more than 60 years of unbroken peacekeeping experience. Frankly, we know what we are talking about when we see a mandate. The question of an ongoing international environment for conflict is changing, and includes jihadists and groups of mercenaries moving across borders destabilising fragile regions. It is a changing international environment. It would be foolish to try to use rollover mandates each time to address changing conflicts.

We are working with the members on the Security Council and other troop contributors to look to the new challenges. I want to mention issues that come up with increasing frequency. One is the inclusivity of the mandate. In other words, do the mandates properly look out for the protection of civilians, something Deputy Berry touched on. Not all mandates have a civilian protection element. We are working hard to make sure that where they have that mandate the peacekeepers on the ground, including those who are Irish, are properly trained. Ireland plays a role in training and supporting that aspect of mandates.

Deputy Berry asked if we were in with a chance. We certainly are. Just after the recent coup in Mali, we saw the renewal of MINUSMA, a peacekeeping force involving Irish soldiers on the ground. That mandate was adapted to cope with the changing situation. While many discussions around mandates at the Security Council can be difficult, and sometimes issues of performance are resources are raised, we will work for the safety and security of our forces and to make sure they are fit-for-purpose mandates.

It is a pleasure to see Deputy Stanton again. I thank him for his great assistance to us in the Security Council campaign. He was one of our warriors as the Chair of the committee in getting us over the line.

He raised two very important issues. The first was climate insecurity. This is a kind of breakthrough issue in the UN. It is a sensitive issue. We know climate insecurity is a big driver of conflict and tension. Deputy Stanton mentioned the Sahel region. It is destabilising and fragments small island states. We have not yet seen conflict there. However, across Africa from Mali to countries that are in a peaceful environment, such as Namibia, where deserts are increasingly reducing economic capacity, we know it makes ongoing situations more fragile.

There is a resistance on the part of some members of the Security Council, in particular Russia and China, to address climate and security at the Security Council table. It relates to a principled position they have about the concept of security. However, nationally we see it as a driver of instability and believe that, as we have said so often, there is no peace without development and no development without peace. It comes into the nexus of prevention for us.

If we see climate insecurity and an abuse of human rights, we can tell people that is a precursor of instability or conflict. We are working very hard. It is good news to be able to say to Deputy Stanton that the German delegation, working with a country from the Sahel, Niger, recently succeeded in getting an informal working group on climate and security established, which is significant in terms of the Security Council. Ireland hopes to play a key role in that group, and we are already preparing for that.

The human aspect of this was mentioned by the Deputy. It has an ongoing effect in terms of refugees, something the Secretary General raised with me in a conversation this week. In 2011, he spoke about the impact of climate security on refugees.

The Deputy's second question concerned South Sudan and transition. It is a critical issue, which is preoccupying us. In our early weeks on the Council we will deal with this issue. The peacekeeping mission UNAMID is due to be drawn down or, to use a more appropriate term, ended at the end of this year. We have concerns about moving away from a peacekeeping mission into what will, of course, ultimately be a very effective political mission which we call UNITAMS. There will be gap factor, where 7,000 peacekeepers will leave the world's youngest nation. The protection of civilians, many of whom have depended on the peacekeeping mission until now, will be affected. There will also be a huge logistical operation in terms of withdrawing personnel and hardware. All of that is a major undertaking in a very short timeframe. A number of members of the Security Council would have preferred a slower and more orderly draw down, and we share this view. At the moment UNITAMS is at about half strength on the ground. Some 7,000 peacekeepers will leave and I understand UNITAMS will comprise 70 personnel in total. I am sure they will be highly effective and integrated once operational, but we are very concerned about that transition moment. Deputy Stanton touched on what will be an issue we will grapple with on several occasions over the next two years.

I thank the ambassador for her presentation and congratulate her and all the staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs on their work in securing the seat on the seat on the Security Council. She mentioned multilateralism and how support for it has been under threat. Perhaps she might outline how policymakers, legislators and the UN can promote concepts around multilateralism and multilateral organisations.

The UN delegate programme is a very successful. The ambassador might talk about how that could be expanded.

It is important that we look at encouraging young people to take an interest in international affairs, particularly in multilateral organisations and their role in areas such as peacekeeping and trade.

It is wonderful to have the opportunity to talk to the ambassador today and, once again, to echo my congratulations to the ambassador and her staff.

I ask the ambassador to talk about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which she mentioned in her presentation, the enforced peace that happened there over the past couple of months, and if that peace and the manner in which it was achieved has been somewhat undermining to the traditional structures of peace we associate with the West. It has been said that the UN, the EU and even the US were found wanting in that conflict. I ask her to talk about that peace.

I would also ask the ambassador about the role that water shortages will play in conflict over the coming years, particularly in the Middle East. Elsewhere, the ambassador mentioned hunger as a source of conflict. I would like to get a greater understanding of how we will focus on water and who has control of water.

H.E. Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason

I thank Senator Byrne and Deputy Gannon.

Senator Byrne raised a subject close to our heart here. Every hour of every day we, in everything we do, believe we are strengthening the multilateral system. I think one of the reasons Ireland was elected to the Security Council - frankly, it is quite a big deal that 128 members or two thirds of the General Assembly chose us to represent them - is that we have always been regarded as a cheerleader and a consistent country in reinforcing the values and principles that underlie multilateralism.

The small country approach here is a very important issue to mention in terms of our angle of entry to multilateralism. In realpolitik, in countries such as Russia, China and the United States, multilateralism is often seen as à la carte for a big power country. Such countries could get on with their business perhaps without multilateralism. We would argue, though, that the nature of the challenges that these superpowers and small countries are facing today - challenges we have just heard about this morning in the discussion such as climate change, terrorism, insecurity across borders and, as a primary example, pandemics - do not have solutions in countries that have a nationalist or protectionist agenda. Ireland's support for multilateralism is now in many ways perversely being validated by what we see of the nature of the challenges the international system is trying to deal with.

Ireland's promotion and respect for international law also covers our human rights record. It covers the humanitarian law, which is very often, for example, in the case of Syria these days, challenged. International humanitarian law and international human rights law underpin the structures for multilateralism and that is what we do at the table. We constantly will speak to that while showing that, in fact, multilateralism itself operates. The way we build public trust for multilateralism, frankly, like any form of governance, is to show that it delivers and that it works, and I would be the first, as a permanent representative at the UN, to say that the Security Council has not always covered itself in glory.

To come to Senator Byrne's second point about the role of youth, he is touching on a really critical issue, and I am glad to say one where Ireland has a profile in leadership here at the UN. I have been delighted in my three years here - all the visiting Ministers at the General Assembly have also been very happy - to be accompanied by and to engage with Ireland's youth representatives. We consistently choose young, bright, articulate, creative people to express our view - I am always extremely proud - and we engage with them. However, the Senator's question goes to how we can bring that to the Security Council. I will take only one example of where we certainly plan to do it. We will have youth voices at that Security Council table. I am constantly saying this famous slogan, "Nothing about us without us". Women and youth voices are missing from that Security Council table and Ireland has worked very closely with the Secretary General's youth representative. Particularly coming back to Deputy Stanton's question on climate and climate insecurity, we have a position, which Ireland supports, in the headquarters of the UN working on that very issue. Climate is an issue where we have seen youth not only lead, but prod governments into action. We believe that that is something that we should bring with us as a message, and, indeed, in a listening way, to the Security Council table. Ireland led with the Marshall Islands on bringing a whole youth dimension to the climate action summit here last year and youth voices have an important role to play at the council table. We will bring them to that table. We will do that, not with decades of experience like someone like myself in diplomacy but because we are talking to the young people of Ireland, whom members invited, by the way, into their own chamber in the Dáil for a whole day's climate debate which had huge resonance here. I would say to Senator Byrne that it was not symbolic; it was substantive. We will follow through on that.

Deputy Gannon raised the question of Nagorno-Karabakh. Certainly, it is a crisis that we are preoccupied by. For now, we seem to have overcome at least the worst of the period of tension. We know that the Minsk Group co-chairs were involved in discussions in bringing a resolution between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Right now, we are watching developments. We could not in any way say that we have signed out from vigilance on the current situation on the ground. One of our primary concerns remains both the maintenance of the ceasefire and, importantly now, humanitarian access and addressing the humanitarian challenges on the ground for the people of the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Hospitals, schools, and important infrastructure in the delivery of water and energy have been badly affected by the crisis.

We want a sustainable solution. This will mean dialogue. It will mean negotiation. For now, the de-escalation of tensions is holding. There is much rhetoric, of course, but we really want to see future hostilities avoided. I come back to something that will be a focus for Ireland at the table on any of these situations, and will be the protection of civilian population. We will continue watching. The OSCE, of course, is an important actor in the region as well. We are working very closely through all our missions to ensure that the situation is resolved.

Deputy Gannon also raised a very important issue relating to water. He is absolutely right. At a general level, we often hear that future wars will be about water and, of course, we see growing evidence that water is a source of tension. He raised areas such as the Middle East. Of course, the Middle East is one critical area. We have seen in Lake Chad, for example, where former President, Mary Robinson, who was also a wonderful spokesperson for Ireland throughout the campaign, was the UN representative, an enormous source of water support for that region in Africa where the waters have receded tremendously and generated another climate-related source of tension.

In the summer, on the Security Council, for the first time we saw an informal discussion on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Obviously, it is a water issue disputed now between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. It is very much something that could lead to further tension. I touched on Ethiopia in my introductory remarks. Certainly, something we would watch very seriously is the Nile, as a lifeline for all three countries. Seeing any tension breakout around that would be of great concern.

To conclude, the issue of water, peace and security is a recognised subject for discussion and, indeed, for engagement here. In 2017, Bolivia, then a member of the Security Council, hosted an informal meeting on water, peace and security.

The Security Council is aware and apprised of it. We hope it will not need its attention brought to this in the context of an outbreak of conflict but it is a key issue. Going back to Deputy Stanton's original point, in the work we will do on climate and security, we certainly know water will become a critical issue.

I am sorry if my answers are a bit long, Chairman, but I will finish up on this point. On the question of water, I refer to the small island states that we have built a close and very important relationship with in the past few years. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, presided over the development of a strategy for small island states as part of our development policy. Many of them have no access to fresh water. They import their water. This is one of the complexities of the changing nature of the instability caused by the pandemic. When they had to close down their tiny islands to protect their populations, this meant they had to close down their economies. Many of them are tourism economies, which also means the available resources open to them to import water, for example, are being reduced. Even their ability to develop systems to desalinate water is being critically reduced. We see this as one vicious circle feeding into another. Water is very much a subject of concern right across the board.

Are members satisfied with that reply? Is Deputy Stanton satisfied with it?

Yes, that was fine. It was a very convincing reply and very informative. I thank the ambassador.

Before we conclude, I will put a question to the ambassador. As she looks out at snow on the ground in New York, we look forward to our Christmas vacation, albeit so far without snow. This is the last day of our parliamentary sittings before the Christmas recess. Similarly, this time last year on our last day before the Christmas recess, there was a full schedule of Dáil and Seanad business. However, in the course of the debates this time last year, there was not one mention in the Houses of Covid-19.

As the ambassador and her team will appreciate, Covid-19 has dominated our agenda right throughout the year. In respect of Covid-19, and with particular reference to the vaccine, she mentioned the issues in her in tray that will be dominated by African issues. In this context what plans, if any, does the United Nations have to ensure vaccine equality?

Over the past number of weeks, we saw great hope across the western world with country after country, with much resources and money behind them, queueing up to buy tens of millions of vaccine supplies. How are we going to ensure there will be vaccine equality? How can the UN help and the international community assist in ensuring poorer countries are not left further behind, taking into account the issues raised by Deputy Gannon about water and the issues raised by Senator Byrne and Deputy Berry in terms of ensuring every effort is made to bring people along with us not only in the developed world but also across the less developed regions?

It is one thing to have a vaccine, but in order to ensure the success of the vaccine there must be universal vaccination. There is a role to be played by the UN in terms of leadership. The ambassador might share with us any thoughts she has on this subject.

H.E. Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason

Indeed, the Chairman is right. How remarkable it is that the word "Covid" was not one we would have recognised 12 months ago and yet it dominates all our discussions now.

I have two big picture points to make. The first is that the Security Council was slow off the mark about Covid, as I said in my introductory remarks. There was an extraordinary call by the Secretary General to introduce a global cease fire and to insist on humanitarian access during the pandemic. It took more than three months for the Security Council to rally to that call. It did eventually but it was very slow.

The other part of the Security Council's responsibility and the whole UN system, as the Chairman appropriately put it, is to address the insecurity caused by Covid and, importantly, to try to assist those affected by Covid. Those of us at the UN will be looked to because of Ireland's record of solidarity across the globe. We were seen in the last pandemic, which was the Ebola crisis, to have played a really important role. Frankly, that was an occasion when the Security Council managed to step up. Also, Ireland's role on the ground in Africa was hugely respected during the Ebola crisis.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been working in Brussels to support EU support for not only the WHO, where our own Dr. Mike Ryan has done an outstanding job, but for other initiatives - for example, the global fund for COVAX by Gavi. We are definitely supporting equal universal access, as the Chairman put it, in terms of the roll out of the vaccine. As I understand it, two thirds of the world's population have joined the WHO's plan to buy and fairly distribute a vaccine. This comes back to a point, which I believe was made by Deputy Berry, about the multilateral system. I may have mistaken the name of the Deputy here. This is a clear example of the multilateral system being in a position to react.

We know the current US Administration took issue with the WHO during the pandemic but we quadrupled our support nationally to the WHO. We certainly look to the WHO and UNICEF, which is well known in Ireland having been led by a former Member of the Houses. UNICEF has a particular mandate in the distribution of vaccines and to ensure, as the Chairman said, the most vulnerable and those furthest behind, to put it in our classical sustainable development goal language, receive it. We want to ensure those who are furthest behind are reached first. That is clearly not going to be the case now. However, we hope there is a fair and equitable distribution.

The numbers in the country I am living in are shockingly high and I know Ireland has faced huge challenges on the ground. However, many of the global south countries have been spared the worst effects of Covid. We know the vaccine is critical in keeping the pandemic in check in the global south.

By being at the Security Council table, in our work with UN agencies and in terms of what the Minister, Deputy Coveney, does through all his contacts across the globe and importantly in Brussels where the EU really plays a central role, we expect to see all our efforts yield dividends and improve access and work towards universal access.

I want to correct myself. It was Senator Byrne who asked the question on multilateralism. How did I not remember that surname?

I thank the ambassador for what has been a most comprehensive report and a most interesting engagement.

Unless members have any further matters to raise, I will bring this session to a conclusion. On my own behalf and that of the committee, I wish the ambassador, our permanent representative, and her team a very happy and peaceful Christmas. Although challenging, I wish her a very successful new year and 2021. I thank her for meeting us today and I acknowledge the timing of this meeting is less convenient for her than it is to us. We acknowledge her attendance and look forward to engaging with her further during Ireland's term on the Security Council.

H.E. Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason

I thank the Chairman. It has been an honour and a pleasure. I wish old friends and new ones a very happy Christmas. I hope all members and their families stay safe and healthy.

We have 15 more sleeps to the Security Council so I know the committee members will be with us as we go. I look forward to seeing them again soon. I thank the Chairman.

Thank you ambassador. I thank the members. The clerk will be in touch before our next meeting in respect of ideas for our work programme and we will agree a date for the next meeting. There is one issue. Covid vaccine equality might be something we will look at in the context of our spring programme because I believe it will be an important, if challenging, issue. For countries like Ireland, particularly having regard to our role in the Sustainable Development Goals at early stages and having regard to our earlier issues, the whole concept of vaccine equality is one we should look at.

I again thank Ms Byrne-Nason and wish her a happy and peaceful Christmas and new year. We will be in touch early in the new year for our next meeting.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.31 p.m. sine die.