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Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade Simon Coveney, T.D. address United Nations General Assembly

Diplomatic Relations, International Relations, Ireland, Irish Aid, European Union, Human Rights, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, United Nations, Speech, Global, 2017
Minister Coveney UNGA 2017

Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade Simon Coveney T.D., address to the United Nations General Assembly. New York, 23 September 2017


Allow me to begin by offering Ireland’s sympathy to all of those in Mexico affected by the devastating earthquake earlier this week and to commend all those who have been engaged in the heroic rescue operations of the last few days.  I also want to extend condolences to the representatives of people in the Caribbean islands who are facing extraordinary difficulties following the recent relentless hurricanes.


This is no time for business as usual at the UN. The international community is facing unprecedented challenges, and must respond.

I’m here because I think this Organisation matters.  This is an Organisation that now faces daily challenges to its political authority and management missions.

My country, Ireland, has kept faith with the UN since we joined as a young Republic, which had fought hard for its own independence and saw being a member of the UN as fundamental to its future and the future security of its people.  We still do over 60 years later.

Our faith has not been misplaced, and it is as strong today as ever. But we certainly have something to say about the future of the Organisation and the role we believe it must play in reducing suffering across the globe, and securing a shared peace, and security, and prosperity for everybody.

Given our history as a small country, with its own troubled past, we see very clearly the advantages of a rules-based order in international affairs. It is because Ireland is small, outward looking and heavily dependent on external trade for our own well-being that we pursue an active foreign policy as we do.

As Ireland’s experience in the European Union has shown us, we are far stronger acting collectively than we are acting alone.  Partnership and cooperation has brought peace and prosperity to the European continent.  In fact, for Ireland, our membership of the European Union, working closely with other Member States has strengthened our independence and self-confidence and security rather than diminished it.

So it is through collective actions that we reinforce our own security and well-being, and that is what the UN needs to be all about.

The case for international cooperation and multilateralism is compelling.  By working together we lay foundations of trust, we align our perspectives more closely, we accept our differences more willingly and we build habits, perhaps most importantly, of cooperation that better allow us to address the common threats and opportunities that we should be facing together.

The alternatives of unilateralism, transactional diplomacy, protectionism and confrontation are not, in fact, viable alternatives at all.  Their short-term populist appeal obscures their long-term cost, and surely we have learned that from history.

We are living in an era where local and global challenges are intersecting with increasing force.  Today’s problems do not carry passports or recognise international borders.  There are no unilateral solutions for the vast majority of the global challenges that we face together.

Local and regional issues - from climate change to migration, to armed conflict, to hunger, to the destroying of the marine environment in certain parts of the world – often become global issues, including in corners of the world where their origins are far, far away. 

The enormous scale of the challenges facing the world might lead some to question whether multilateralism and the UN is up to the task.  My response is that we can be and we must be.

When properly mobilised, when we pull together and move from debating chambers like this one to actually getting things done on the ground, we can move mountains together.  The UN delivers extraordinary results such as the Paris Climate Change Agreement.  The UN has led the global effort to eradicate Smallpox; to end Apartheid; to promote Arms Control; to save the lives of millions of children through UNICEF; and to protect our cultural heritage through UNESCO.  

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a stand-out recent achievement. The Sustainable Development Goals have the power and potential to transform our world, addressing the root causes of poverty, inequality, and instability. However, their potential can only be realised through a strong and confident multilateral system which empowers Member States to reach ambitious but necessary targets that we set for ourselves.

Having played an important role in facilitating agreement on the SDGs in 2015, Ireland is committed to their implementation, domestically and through our foreign policy.

Failure should not be an option here.  The UN is the fulcrum upon which we can leverage the change required.  But the walls dividing the three pillars of the UN – that of development, human rights, and peace and security- have in the past impeded our efforts to accelerate sustainable development.  The SDGs represent a fundamental breakthrough in my view, recognising the many aspects of sustainable development that straddle these pillars. As we move forward on implementation we must break down this Organisation’s institutional silos that do sometimes hinder progress. 


Since we gathered here a year ago, we appointed António Guterres as Secretary-General of this Organisation.  Ireland believes that he has the skills, the experience and perhaps most importantly, the compassion to do a very tough, but hugely important job. The difficult international environment demands more than ever brave and principled leadership.  We welcome the clear direction the Secretary-General is providing and the steps he is taking to reform this Organisation.

And, while we, the Member States, have expressed confidence in the Secretary-General as to the abilities to lead the UN forward at a time when the world is crying out for better multilateral engagement, we must allow him to lead. It is very tempting for Member States, particularly large ones, to micro-manage the work of the Secretariat here.  But such an approach is likely to impede, and not enhance, reform.

But it is not enough that only the UN internal mechanisms meet the twenty-first century standards.  The UN political bodies must also reflect today’s world and today’s realities.  Nowhere is this more evident than with regard to the composition of the UN Security Council.  The Security Council does not reflect the world that has evolved since the UN was established in 1945.  Quite plainly, we would be hard pressed to find any entity, anywhere in the world, public or private, that remains so untouched by the changes and realities of the world around it.

Vast areas of the world are either insufficiently represented, or not represented at all on the Security Council.  The need to increase the size of the Council in our view is clear.  Ireland sees the obvious need for a much stronger African representation on the Council so that there can be a greater African say in Council decisions affecting their own continent.  We would also favour consideration of a designated seat for Small Island Developing States. These changes are politically controversial, but we cannot ignore them forever.

But the makeup of the Security Council is not the only problem. And let’s be clear and honest. While the use or threat of the veto remains in place, as it does today, the work of the Council is often impeded and the UN can be paralysed in its response capacity to the gravest crises facing the international community.  The failure of the Security Council to take action to prevent mass atrocity crimes – most recently with regard to Syria, but also on other occasions – betrays victims and weakens the credibility of this Organisation.  The case for reform is thus not an academic or an institutional question.  It is a deeper question of fundamental legitimacy and effectiveness, and credibility for the UN in the future. 


Although geographically a small island on the periphery of Europe, Ireland’s people and our outlook are global, influenced by connecting with people and events around the world as we do. Ireland, like some of the other nations represented here, are like a global tribe in many ways, that extend far beyond our own island.

No part of our contribution though, to the UN resonates more with Irish people than our UN peacekeepers.  The thousands of men and women who have served under blue helmets representing Ireland, our people and our values.  They are true ambassadors. Since 1958, when Irish troops first began serving with the UN, not a single day has passed without Irish participation in the UN peace support operations.  We believe we are making a difference.

Ireland’s peacekeepers have been natural soldier-diplomats in trouble spots across the globe, particularly in Africa and the in Middle East, doing the UN’s work day by day and deed by deed.   Today, we have almost 550 troops in the field, Ireland is the highest per capita European Union contributor of troops to UN peacekeeping with deployments to six UN missions across the Middle East and Africa.  We are making a substantial contribution to UNIFIL in particular, where, as always, our peacekeepers act with impartiality and integrity, and provide the necessary leadership required in a very difficult and challenging environment.

I am pleased to note that Ireland is committed to doubling the number of women in our Defence Forces, I was the Minister for Defence when that decision was made, with the aim also of significantly increasing female participation in peacekeeping, which is an ask of the Secretary General.  As the Secretary General said at the Security Council this week, and as we know from the Women Peace and Security agenda, increased female participation leads to better decision making, improved situational awareness, and a better focus on protecting civilians, and enhanced reporting of and accountability towards sexual exploitation and abuse.

We all know that conflict prevention has the potential to save lives and to protect hard-won development gains – and that it comes at a far lower financial cost than peacekeeping operations, or post-conflict peacebuilding, and in some cases state building.     We strongly support the Secretary-General’s efforts to re-orientate the international community’s thinking toward crisis and conflict prevention.  Ireland seeks to share its own national experience and past in our work on conflict prevention, mediation and state-building. We have made some mistakes, but we have had successes too, and we would like others to share the learnings from that experience.

As the first State to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 we have a deep commitment to its full implementation.  Earlier this week I was very pleased to sign the recently approved Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which was supported by 122 members of this Assembly, and growing.  Ireland is proud to have played a leadership role together with Austria, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa, in bringing forward the UN Resolution convening the Diplomatic Conference that negotiated this ground-breaking treaty.

The case for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons has never been stronger as the volatile situation in the Korean Peninsula makes clear this week.  I unreservedly condemn the recent series of missile and nuclear weapons testing by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. These developments highlight the urgent need for the swift and immediate entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

I understand that I will be followed today on the podium by the representative from the DPRK, and I would urge him to deescalate the provocative language and tensions of this week. This is a conflict that the world does not need, and we need to move away from.


The scale and the severity of humanitarian crises is one of the greatest challenges facing the international community. Ireland is committed to providing humanitarian assistance and contributing to international efforts to ease the plight of civilians caught in conflicts in South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq to name but a few. As these large-scale crises dominate the headlines, Ireland is conscious of the many ‘forgotten’ or underfunded crises and the need to maintain a focus on ensuring that human suffering, wherever in the world it occurs, is not ignored.

The vast majority of displaced people are being sheltered in communities already experiencing high levels of vulnerability and poverty, placing a huge strain on already very limited resources. As such, Ireland is supporting both refugees and vulnerable host communities, on the basis of need. And I particularly want to acknowledge the generosity of so many States – States like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya and Uganda, and many more - who are hosting very large numbers of people displaced by conflicts in neighbouring countries.

Ireland is proud of its strong and targeted contribution to eradicating global hunger, reducing extreme poverty, addressing conflict and instability and responding to humanitarian crises wherever they occur. And it is horrifying to think that in 2017 we have four famines, effecting more that 20 million people, 70% of them children, and that we as an international community have allowed that to happen, knowing that it was on the way.

For Ireland, strong partnerships, especially with Least Developed Countries, will remain at the core of our approach as we, together, work for a peaceful and prosperous future. We applaud the Secretary General’s efforts to enhance coherence, effectiveness and accountability, and the delivery of results where it matters most – which is on the ground.

The UN Charter does not begin “We the Member States”, but rather “We the Peoples”. Our policies and actions must reflect the inherent equality of humanity at the core of our multilateral system. In practice this means listening to and heeding the voices of women, the voices of young people, the voices of the marginalised.  The Women, Peace and Security agenda has had a hugely positive impact globally with the realisation that we can create more durable and sustainable peace by working to ensure that women play their rightful role in conflict prevention and peacekeeping efforts.  Ireland will play our part, including as chair of the Commission on the Status of Women for the next two years.

A similar strategic approach must be taken in engaging young people, in all our countries. Young people must have a role in shaping the future that they will ultimately inherit. Otherwise we are, on a generational basis, robbing a future from them.

We have a phrase in Irish, which the translators won’t be able to translate, but in Irish, in the Irish language, it says “mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí” which, broadly translates, means “praise the youth and they will come”.     I can’t think of any continent where this is more relevant today than in Africa.  Young people are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and we must find ways to encourage their active participation again and again and again, ensuring that they are part of shaping the solutions for the future, their future.

There are positive signs.  The vitality of entrepreneurship and the creative use of technology.  Infrastructure development and the potential of renewable energy.  Increasing access to good education.  Improvements in agricultural yields and adding value to commodities.  Better prospects for women and girls in politics and economic life.

African countries are particularly affected by global challenges that are outside of their control in many ways, such as climate change, conflict and food security, which can only be addressed in their African contexts in a spirit of effective global partnership.  Such partnership requires understanding local perspectives anchored in local experience, in particular on how to tackle root causes. 

I want Ireland to play a leading role in Europe in helping to build better and more effective partnerships with the continent of Africa as a whole, rooted in shared interests and values, sustained over the medium to long term, on the basis of parity of esteem and equality.  We need a new political architecture in my view, for the relationship between the European Union and Africa; one that matches the urgency and scale of the shared challenges that we know we are going to face over the next twenty years. We are in the same global neighbourhood, and we need to put structures in place to treat each other as true neighbours.

The Middle East is also part of Europe’s close neighbourhood, and its challenges resonate deeply with people of Ireland.

The conflicts in Syria and Yemen have caused untold suffering.  Ireland has responded as generously as we can, with almost €100 million euros of humanitarian aid, but what the people of Syria and Yemen need most right now is peace, to enable them to rebuild their lives, and to start the process of rebuilding their countries. I urge all sides in the two conflicts to work for an end to violence, to engage in the search for peaceful political solutions under UN auspices and for accountability for crimes committed.

Ireland is committed to constructive and principled diplomatic action on the Middle East Peace Process. Next year will be 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, when they were signed. We cannot let ourselves become complacent about the status quo, because the status quo is not acceptable and we know where it’s going. And we cannot let our efforts to achieve peace to stagnate either. Palestinians need an end to occupation, and Israelis need security. Continued construction of settlements undermines both, and we need to act on that.  I wish the US efforts success as they seek to build momentum for the first time in quite some time for peace, and a new peace initiative. Ireland will give all the support we can to achieving a Two State Solution, which we remain convinced as the only way to secure prosperity and security for both peoples.  The time to act is now.  We must not allow ourselves to remain cynical or jaded.  We owe it to all Palestinians and Israelis to continue to bring energy and resolve and ideas to help them finally deliver a lasting peace, which is not only good for both of those peoples, but would be a desperately needed and welcome positive new story for the broader middle east as well.

In relation to Myanmar Ireland strongly condemns the violence in Rakhine State which has driven hundreds of thousands from their homes to neighbouring Bangladesh. Here at the General Assembly we have to insist on an end to violence, on the upholding of the rule of law and the recognition of the right of return for all those who have been forced to leave the country. I know this is difficult, and my friend from Singapore has highlighted the complexities of that, but we have to ensure that standards are met.


Ireland sees itself as a natural child of the UN.  We are small. We are an island which has experienced colonisation and conflict, as many here have also.  But here at the UN, we listen to others – especially if we hold a different view on an issue or a policy.  We are convinced that in today’s globalised world we must live in each other’s shelter and not in each other’s shadow.

Ireland’s contribution to the UN in the fields of sustainable development, humanitarian assistance, disarmament, human rights and the rule of law has been steadfast. UN membership has been, and will continue to be, at the very heart of Irish foreign policy.

Ireland is proud to be a candidate for a seat in the UN Security Council in the elections to be held in 2020.  We have presented our candidature because we believe deeply that we should step forward and play our part in support of multilateralism at a time of significant global instability and realignment of geopolitical influence.  We have something to say and we will listen to you when you speak.  We will be courageous on behalf of the UN when needed.  With Ireland, you know what you get – a small country with big thinking, a country that listens, and a strong independent voice that promotes the values that should inspire this Organisation in the future.



Thank you very much.