Sunday 20 October 2019

Cormac McQuinn: ''Fighting Irish' spirit could help propel us to UN top table'


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks during the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York. Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks during the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York. Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Cormac McQuinn In New York

Ireland's battle to defend its interests in the Brexit process could have a curious side-effect on the international stage - it could propel the country to the top table of global diplomacy.

President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and other ministers are in New York for UN meetings, including the Climate Action Summit and the General Assembly.

In the background there will be between 80 and 100 engagements with other visiting dignitaries as Ireland seeks to win a prestigious seat on the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022. There has already been feedback that the so-called 'fighting Irish' spirit - as demonstrated during the tortuous Brexit talks - is working in Ireland's favour.

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Ireland's politicians and diplomats have been staunch in their defence of the Good Friday Agreement and the backstop to avoid a hard Border.

There is a view in international diplomatic circles that Ireland is seen as a country which could stand up for itself and win solidarity from the EU.

And if Ireland can do that in the face of the greatest threat to peace and prosperity in Ireland in a decade, it can bring that strength to the UN Security Council, where our diplomats would sit alongside those from the US, Russia and China.

Ireland is up against Norway and Canada for the temporary seat on the Security Council, both countries with vast resources and proud traditions in the UN.

It is hard to gauge Ireland's chances of success at this point in the process with two seats up for grabs. There are 193 countries in the UN General Assembly and each - from the tiny Marshall Islands to China and its 1.4 billion people - have one vote. A two-third majority of 129 countries is needed to win a seat and it is a secret ballot so a crystal ball would be needed to assess the intention of such a diverse electorate.

Ireland is pushing hard to win over as many as possible and this week gives Mr Higgins, Mr Varadkar and the rest a chance to meet foreign counterparts they would not usually get to engage with.

Along with Ireland's crusade to defend itself from the worst of Brexit, our experience of emerging from a colonial past, violent history and successful peace process are all seen as points in our favour.

These attributes are believed to appeal to other post-colonial countries, and Ireland's support for the Palestinian cause is a plus in the Arab world. Particular attention is being paid to small island nations - there are 39 of them in the UN - and Mr Higgins will co-host a reception marking the UN summit on sustainable development for such countries later in the week.

It could prove to be fertile ground for picking up votes. Ultimately, the UN ballot won't happen until next year. Whether Brexit is wrapped up by then or not is anyone's guess.

Ireland taking a seat on the UN Security Council could be one of the unforeseen results of the all-consuming saga.

Irish Independent

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