Remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to mark Ireland’s Fiftieth Anniversary of UN Membership
Embargo: 19.00 14/12/05 – check against delivery
Iveagh House, 14 December 2005
Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
You are all very welcome here this evening as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of Ireland's membership of the United Nations.
It gives me particular pleasure to see so many of my predecessors here this evening;
Liam Cosgrave, who, as Minister for External Affairs, in 1956, delivered Ireland's first national statement in the UN General Assembly.
Paddy Hillery and Garret FitzGerald - distinguished predecessors, who went on to higher office.
This evening we should also remember our departed colleagues.
Brian Lenihan, who graced the office no fewer than three times, and John Kelly, who occupied the office very briefly.
I am sure none of my predecessors will grudge my devoting a special word of remembrance to Frank Aiken, and not just because he was my predecessor as TD for Louth!
During his long second tenure – twelve years – as Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken, as we all know, devoted a very large part of his time and energies to Ireland's role in the United Nations, and set the multilateral orientation of Ireland's foreign policy on very firm foundations.
He believed very strongly in the UN as a universal organisation. During his tenure the membership of the UN expanded enormously, due to the great tide of decolonisation. UN Membership is and remains the prime symbol, and guarantee, of sovereignty, and Frank Aiken acted as mentor to many of the leaders of developing nations as they achieved membership.
Many of the themes vigorously pursued ever since by Ireland at the UN were developed during his time, most notably disarmament and non-proliferation. Our extensive involvement in UN peacekeeping also commenced during that time.
His tenure was crowned, in 1968, by an invitation to be the first signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in recognition of his own and Ireland's contribution to the negotiation of this first effort to reduce and avert the threat of nuclear holocaust.
I am delighted to announce tonight that I have asked the Department to commission busts of Liam Cosgrave and Frank Aiken which will stand in this building as a permanent symbol of our bipartisan commitment to the UN, and as a token of the role played by all holders of this office.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Tonight, we also launch the publication of:
“Obligations and Responsibilities: Ireland's Membership of the UN 1955-2005”
commissioned by my Department, and published in association with it by the Institute of Public Administration.
The essays in this book are, of course, independent works of scholarship by specialists in modern history and international relations. The views they contain are entirely those of the contributors, who have drawn on a rich variety of archival material in examining some of the chief themes of our UN membership.
I wish to thank and congratulate the individual contributors, many of whom are with us this evening. I wish to pay tribute to the skill and professionalism of the joint editors, Michael Kennedy and Deirdre McMahon. I want also to thank the staff at the IPA, who were responsible for the production of this handsome volume.
The book offers an outstanding review of Ireland's participation in many aspects of the work of the United Nations. The contributors recount, in fascinating detail, what UN membership meant for Ireland, and what Ireland's membership meant for the UN.
This morning I attended the Defence Forces commemoration ceremony at McKee Barracks which marked their contribution to United Nations Peacekeeping. Peacekeeping stands out as a major contribution by Ireland to the UN and it is dealt with comprehensively in the book we are launching here this evening.
Many veteran peacekeepers were honoured at this morning's moving ceremony. In the Congo, in Lebanon, in Central America, in the Balkans, in East Timor, in Afghanistan, and now in Liberia, Irish soldiers have helped to bring peace and stability.
I salute the memory of the 85 members of the Permanent Defence Force who have sacrificed their lives in the cause of peace. I ask the members of the Irish UN Veterans Association who are with us this evening to pass on our heartfelt thanks and good wishes to all of their colleagues and also to their families, who bear the brunt of their partners' absence on overseas duty.
I also welcome representatives from the Gardaí, who have contributed in no small way to peacekeeping Missions, including in Namibia, in Cyprus and in the Balkans where, sadly, they lost a colleague, Sergeant Paul Reid, whom we remember here this evening.
I wish to extend a special welcome to Mrs Marie de Mora Eivers, whose husband Frank lost his life on 18 September 1961 along with Dag Hammarskjöld and other UN officials on their mission of peace in the Congo. Under the rules of the day, Frank Eivers resigned from the Gardaí in order to serve with the UN, and it is right that we remember him also this evening.
I wish to pay tribute to the many Irish people who served in the UN Secretariat and agencies. These include our former President Mary Robinson, who held the office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Our aid agencies participate in many UN programmes and in its essential humanitarian and relief work. They will remain valuable partners as we continue to increase our participation in the UN Funds and Programmes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When I spoke recently at the Conference in International Affairs of the Royal Irish Academy, I spoke of Ireland's tradition of well-considered support for effective multilateralism. I said that it was in the spirit of that tradition that I acted this as one of the Envoys of Secretary-General Annan for UN reform, in the run-up to the Summit in September.
The need for a renewal of the UN, and for a fresh commitment to its principles, is not, of course, a new theme. As long ago as 1987 Brian Lenihan made it the centre-piece of his National Statement to the General Assembly. UN reform will always be work in progress, but the UN has passed through a period of unprecedented challenge, and the need for change now is correspondingly acute.
The United Nations has proved, during the fifty years of Ireland's membership, that it is a powerful force for good.
Alone among international bodies, the United Nations is based on a recognition of the essential equality of all of the peoples of the world, and of the states in which they are organised.
It alone can confer undisputed legitimacy on action to maintain international peace and security.
Two weeks ago, I was able personally to review progress on UN reform with the UN Secretary-General in New York. I pledged the Government's continuing support for ensuring that the commitments made by world leaders at the September Summit are implemented, so that the United Nations can remain the central, pivotal, organisation through which to address the ever more global challenges faced by mankind.
Robert Emmet asked that his epitaph not be written until his country took its place among the nations of the earth. I would not presume to interpret his wishes, but his spirit must surely have rested easier on this day fifty years ago, when Ireland, as a fully sovereign state, finally took its place as a member of the United Nations.
I ask you therefore to raise your glasses in a toast to the United Nations, and to the men and women who have served Ireland and the world through the United Nations during the fifty years of our membership.