By Barbara Walshe
13/1/2021: Ireland has taken up its non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council alongside Norway – two small countries on the periphery of Europe at a time when jockeying for power is rife, multilateralism is under threat and economic uncertainty is further exacerbated by the current global pandemic. We are also in a time scarred by thirty live violent conflicts that currently rage around the globe. Many are fuelled by geopolitics which have resulted in proxy wars in already fragile states. These tensions are often played out in the politics of the fifteen-member UN Security Council.
Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason stated, when elected, “We do not intend to be there merely to make up the numbers. We will work with realism and ambition to make the council work for the most vulnerable trapped in conflict.” The focus of Ireland’s two-year term will be on building peace, strengthening conflict prevention and ensuring sustainable, accountable development. Ireland is already seen as a voice for smaller countries in the UN of which there are currently over 100 member states with a population of under 10 million.
Values that will guide Ireland’s two-year term are empathy, partnership and independence. Ambassador Byrne Nason brings her considerable knowledge, diplomatic and personal skills to the role. Her experience as Chair of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to gender equality, will ensure promotion of women at the decision-making table when peace agreements are being signed and, more importantly, when they are being implemented.
The values of inclusivity, equality and respect for diversity are central to the work of the Glencree Centre and have sustained our work here in Ireland and in conflict affected societies around the world for almost 50 years. Glencree’s founder Una O Higgins O Malley, a quiet, resolute woman who had experienced loss of family as a result of the violence of the War for Independence and the Civil War learnt early on that the key to resolving violent conflict was through dialogue and understanding ‘the other’. Before the words ‘soft power or soft diplomacy’ were ever spoken, she practiced it. Una and her colleagues at Glencree brought together political leaders and influencers from both sides of the border and the UK to have quiet conversations away from the media spotlight on contentious issues that led to greater understanding of the ‘other’ and helped chart the difficult road towards peace.
Una’s favourite quotation came from one of her assassinated father’s letters; ‘…but we carried our brick and we laid it fair and square as well as we knew how’. The same can be said today for Ireland’s work for peace led by the Department of Foreign Affairs on the UN Security Council and Glencree’s ongoing work for peace and reconciliation wherever it is needed. Ireland will face many challenges over the coming two years as it works to build consensus around some the critical issues facing the UN. Glencree reaffirms our support for this important work and will continue to play our part in ensuring that Ireland does indeed make a difference.
Barbara Walshe is Chair of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation