On stage to speak up for Ireland were Bono, Mary Robinson, Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Ray O’Hanlon
The setting was appropriate, the speakers were top drawer, and the case, no surprise, was duly made and made well.
Ireland rolled out top politicians, a United Nations icon, and a rock star last week at a reception held on the North Lawn at the United Nations headquarters complex abutting the East River in Manhattan.
The setting was splendid and of sufficient size for what looked almost like a roadshow, albeit one with just one stop.
And it was a grand affair featuring a stage, a wooden dance floor, and a semi-circle of mercifully open sided tents on an evening of heat and humidity that tested the Irish contingent, if not so much some of the invited diplomats who hailed from countries where such conditions might be considered comparatively cool.
Ireland’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Geraldine Byrne Nason, was the calm and cool host for the gathering which featured a quartet of speakers who flew the Irish flag, and forcefully made the Irish case for one of ten rotating Security Council seats for the 2021-22 session, this following a vote in June, 2020.
It all seemed like a long way off but, this being the United Nations, it is generally advisable to take the long view.
And taking that view from the stage were Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, former Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, and Bono, who took what some might see as being an unusual stance for a rock star by fervently pleading with his audience for support of the established world order as exemplified by the United Nations.
Fronting the stage were tents telling stories of Ireland’s past, present and future. One display focused on Irish sustainable food production, another on Ireland’s exemplary record as a UN peacekeeping member nation.
The words of President Kennedy praising that unbroken peacekeeping role echoed from the tent that was occupied by a contingent of serving Irish soldiers, and a couple of veterans from peacekeeping missions dating back to the 1960s in the Congo and Cyprus.
Supportive words also came, in a film shown before the speeches, from Nelson Mandela and former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
Another tent was home to a display by EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum based in Dublin. Its siting was apropos as it was right beside the bronze sculpture, “Arrival,” which depicts 19th century Irish immigrants stepping ashore from a sailing ship.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in his remarks, alluded to “Arrival,” the work of Irish Sculptor John Behan and which is the dominant permanent feature on the North Lawn.
“We gather at the headquarters of the United Nations to formally launch Ireland’s candidature for election to the Security Council for the 2021-2022 term,” he said.
“We do so alongside a sculpture depicting Irish emigrants disembarking from a ship on the East River in the nineteenth century. It remembers the Irish people who travelled the world in search of new and better lives, and the countries that welcomed them,” he said.
Continued Varadkar in part: “Ireland has also welcomed people from around the world to our shores. My own family’s history is testament to that.
“We have now become a country of net immigration. And we welcome that. Migration has strengthened our economy and enriched our society and culture.”
If they were not already aware – and it’s fair to say that most of the several hundred guests assembled would not have been – Varadkar alluded to the Irish government’s current decade of commemoration and underlined why the 2021-22 Security Council cycle would be especially appropriate for Irish membership.
“In 1921-1922 Ireland became an independent state, escaping a history of colonialism and conflict. It is not a unique story and we have much in common with so many of your countries.
Like the United Nations, we were born out of war and violence. It has shaped how we view the world and our responsibilities as global citizens.
“Our membership of the United Nations helped us to take our place among the nations of the world. We support a rules-based order in international affairs. We have acted as a voice for the disadvantaged and defenseless, promoting freedom and defending human rights.
“In areas such as peacekeeping, disarmament, sustainable development, human rights and humanitarian assistance we have matched our words with our actions.
“We understand the need to listen, and the importance of respecting differences. On the UN Security Council, we would bring our hard-won insights and practical lessons to the table.
“As a nation that has experienced colonization, conflict, famine and mass migration, Ireland’s lived history resonates with the aims and objectives of the UN Charter.
“We believe that we are far stronger acting together than we are acting alone. At its best, the United Nations is the conscience of humanity. In these troubled and uncertain times as a Global Island we want to play our part in defending, supporting and promoting its values.”
Mr. Varadkar’s sentiments were underlined by Minister Coveney who spoke after him and of “a small country with big thinking, a country that listens and a strong independent voice.
They were underlined again, passionately, by Mary Robinson, who reminded her listeners that she had an inside track when it came to the workings of the UN, this because of her years of service to it and various global causes.
Ireland’s campaign for a seat would be a difficult thing to accomplish, Robinson cautioned.
“It is a hard, hard labor of love if you really love what the UN stands for, and I think Ireland really does,” Robinson said.
Bono brought up the rear, though he was really the main act.
“We live in a time when institutions as vital to human progress as the United Nations are under attack,” said the U2 front man who, the previous evening, had performed with the band at Madison Square Garden before an audience that included a significant number of invited national ambassadors to the UN.
Bono warned his latest audience that the very existence of the European Union, the G7, NATO, and the World Trade Organization, were now being threatened.
And as for the cloud over the Paris Climate accords after the U.S. pullout, Bono delivered a little plain Dublin-speak: “Paris, what the f… was that!”
Bono spoke of the importance of “storytellers.” The United Nations needed its storytellers because words mattered, and one word was a standout in this regard.
“The word is compromise because that’s how you achieve peace and compromise is a word that the Irish people understand very, very well. It is part of our story, our recent story, and we are storytellers,” he said.
“We are storytellers but this is the best story ever,” Bono added while pointing toward the towering stone side of the United Nations headquarters building to his left.
Ireland will be competing for its seat against two countries that on any given day would be considered good friends: Norway and Canada.
Bone alluded to the bonds between his native land and the two rivals for a Security Council seat.
The worst thing he could say about Canadians was that they were “nice.”
“And Norway? Who can ask for a better neighbor, a more committed peacemaker? Here’s the worse thing I can say about them: they are tall.”
There was a Canadian representative at the event, a military attaché from the Canadian Mission to the UN.
There were no Norwegians in evidence, though there might have been some shorter ones working, as Bono might view it, undercover.
The Irish Mission will now be following up its splendid curtain raiser with a campaign aimed at wooing votes from its 192 fellow UN member states.
The magic number of votes is 129.
It would be surprising if a few of them are not already in the bag after the big East River kickoff.