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A Multilateral Future: Ireland, the European Union and the United Nations

by Stephen O’Shea & Richard Cunningham, European Movement Ireland

Dublin, 16 June 2021: European Movement Ireland and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung organised the second in a three-part series of events to offer a range of different perspectives on the issues and opportunities that impact Ireland and its global relationships. Featuring high-level speakers, these events focus on areas for potential cooperation, mutual challenges and practical solutions.

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This event, introduced by Matthias Barner, Director Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung UK & Ireland, and moderated by Noelle O Connell, CEO European Movement Ireland, examined the importance of multilateralism and the rules-based international order, from the perspectives of the EU and the UN. Ireland’s seat on the UN Security Council presents major opportunity for it to shape multilateral developments. The EU and its member states, including Germany, continue to defend and advance principles of global cooperation while the Biden Presidency has renewed America’s commitment.

The panel consisted of HE, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations; Frances Fitzgerald, MEP, Vice Chair of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, Former Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) of Ireland; Ben Tonra, Full Professor of International Relations at the University College of Dublin School of Politics and International Relations

Speaking at the event, HE, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN referred to the challenges facing the UN Security Council such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate and cyber security among others as the Council develops its overall approach to encounter such challenges. She contended that answers do not arise without multilateral solutions. Collective multilateral engagement enhances rather than diminishes Ireland’s sovereignty, as is true for all nations. As a member of the European Union and as a member of the UN Security Council, Ambassador Byrne Nason highlighted Ireland’s role in relentlessly promoting multilateralism and its commitment to shared solutions. Ireland’s EU membership and engagement ensures it has the necessary capabilities at the UN Security Council and shared EU priorities are Ireland’s “north star” in this regard. For example, as a facilitator on UN Security Council Resolution 2231, on the Iran Nuclear Agreement or the JCPOA, Ireland directly and indirectly supports the work of the EU.   Ambassador Byrne Nason also highlighted the current US administration under President Biden has created a more enabling environment to pursue shared priorities at the UN.

Frances Fitzgerald MEP for Dublin and Vice Chair of the EPP Group in the European Parliament pointed to the evolving nature of multilateralism which depends on the socio-political context, evident today in relation to the role of EU, China and the US. The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new dimension and complexity to global politics, highlighting the extent to which nations are interconnected as many common problems must be tackled through global cooperation. Ms Fitzgerald added that multilateralism has been viewed through the lens of economic progress, which should now be reoriented towards a resilient, equal, more sustainable and caring society that takes into account social concerns.

Ireland has always been a bridge-builder and staunch supporter of the multilateral rules-based international order that citizens have enjoyed over the last number of decades. However, many do not enjoy these values of liberal democracies that we sometimes take for granted. In the midst of a turbulent geo-political period, the renewed transatlantic relationship under President Biden gives Europe and Ireland the opportunity to further exert their influence on global fundamental values. Ms. Fitzgerald also outlined the important role that gender equality plays in multilateralism, an issue that has been placed on the peripheral of high-level foreign affairs discussions to date.

Professor Ben Tonra stated that Ireland stands at a turning point in its foreign policy. Ireland has been driven by a tradition of commitment to the rule of law, collective security and multilateral institutions, working with its many international partners. It is time for Ireland to redouble its efforts in their defence not only based on principle but also because multilateralism in Ireland’s self-interest. Therefore, Ireland must defend these values within the EU as well as defending them beyond its borders. Professor Tonra spoke of the gap that sometimes exists between the rhetoric Ireland deploys versus the resources it applies and of the necessity to match a mandate of principle with a practical mandate underpinned by sufficient resources. Therefore, the ongoing extension of Ireland’s  diplomatic network and the review of the role of the Defence Forces are important in that regard., Mr Tonra added that Ireland potentially has both the will and capacity to raise its game in the pursuit of advancing global peace, security and justice.

Following the discussion, various questions were raised on the EU’s position within the UN. Ms. Fitzgerald mentioned that the EU has been a leader in the area of climate action but stated that Europe could be a stronger player at UN level as the possibility of structural change of the UN arose. Ambassador Byrne Nason acknowledged that the UN has features of an anachronistic structure, particularly at the Security Council and discussed the important role that elected members play in pushing boundaries. Also, the Ambassador outlined the complexity of reaching agreements on foreign policy matters, adding that Ireland is open to greater discussion about reform of the Security Council. Professor Tonra emphasised the significance for the credibility of the multilateral system to respond and preferably prevent crises including in relation to climate change and pandemics, among others.

Further questions arose on peacekeeping, threats to the multilateral system and reaching agreement at UN level. Ambassador Byrne Nason said that fellow member states look to Ireland’s peacekeeping capacities to help build up peacekeeping capacities in Africa. Ms. Fitzgerald spoke of the importance for multilateral actors to address the threat of cybersecurity, an area through which authoritarian powers interfere with European democracies, calling for cooperation by European democracies on this matter. Ambassador Byrne Nason spoke of the importance of building alliances with fellow UN states and emphasised Ireland’s commitment to human rights underpins all its work on the Security Council. Professor Tonra reflected on the similarities between the EU and UN regarding the difficulty of finding agreement on foreign policy matters and the possibility of further conversations on how  decisions can be made at EU level, particularly the requirement of unanimity in many foreign policy decisions. On EU-US relations, Professor Tonra sees the relationship at the heart of the UN multilateral system which nevertheless must adapt to geo-political realities.


You can watch a recording of the event here.

The next event in the KAS EMI 2021 series will take place in October.

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