IRISH PHOTO ARCHIVE

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Friday, 24 October 2014

United Nations Day

Today is United Nations Day. The UN is a body that comes in for a lot of criticism, particularly over the Security Council members ‘ ability to veto and peacekeepers inability to intervene in certain situations, e.g. Rwanda, Srebrenica. However, the organization was set up for the right reasons and who knows what state the world’s most vulnerable people would be in right now without it.

Ireland has contributed a lot to the UN since its establishment. This was noted by JFK on his visit in 1963. In his address to both houses of the Oireachtas, he said: “Ireland's influence in the United Nations is far greater than your relative size. You have not hesitated to take the lead on such sensitive issues as the Kashmir dispute, and you sponsored that most vital resolution, adopted by the General Assembly, which opposed the spread of nuclear arms to any nation not now possessing them, urging an international agreement with inspection and control, and I pledge to you that the United States of America will do all in its power to achieve such an agreement and fulfill your resolution.”

JFK and Frank Aiken, 1963
The opposition to the spread of nuclear arms was led by Frank Aiken, who was also Minister for External Affairs at the time of Kennedy’s visit. When his work in this area led to the introduction of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, Aiken was given the honour of being the first to sign the document.

Seán McBride, perhaps best known globally for his part in the foundation of Amnesty International, also served in several roles with the UN including High Commissioner for Human Rights, High Commissioner for Refugees and Assistant Secretary General. Another Irish politician to serve as High Commissioner for Human Rights was Mary Robinson, who resigned from her post as President to take up this position. Her criticism of the United States led to her being pressurized to leave this role.

Mary Robinson (left), 1989
The Irish Army have also contributed a lot to the UN, many making the ultimate sacrifice as part of their service. To date, 85 members of the Irish defense forces have lost their lives on while on UN peacekeeping duties. Irish forces have served in the Congo, Cyprus, Lebanon, Iran, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo, East Timor, Liberia, Chad and Syria. Our forces have built up a strong but fair reputation for themselves, and are often turned to for help in the most delicate of diplomatic situations.

Body of Private Stephen Griffin, killed in Lebanon, being returned to his home soil
19 April 1980

As one of the “small nations”, we have played our part, as we have in all other aspects of global business, culture and sport. Hopefully, we will maintain our neutral and trusted reputation in the years to come.