Ireland at the UN table – An authority in soft power

In the world of international diplomacy, something remarkable happened this week to boost the morale of the UK’s closest neighbour, Ireland. She was elected on the first count to the table of the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, beating the far bigger power of Canada in the process.

You might wonder why Ireland would even want to be there, or why in fact, others would want her to be there. In the short history of the recent state that is Ireland, it will be the fourth time that Ireland has taken its place at that table. An impressive statistic given it’s just a small island in the North Atlantic. To answer this question, you need to get right into the soul of the Irish people to understand why being at the centre of shaping global decision-making and politics is important.

There’s a sense of national pride attached to it – Ireland, the underdog, holding its own amongst the big guns of global politics. More importantly, the island of Ireland has known its own troubles and has overcome them. We understand what feeling oppressed is like. We understand how hard peace is to come by. We understand the importance of language and identity. We understand conflict resolution. We lived it, and if we can come out of it the other side, so can others. 

Let’s look at the result of the count this week. The quota was 128 out of 192 votes. There were three countries up for election – Canada, Norway and Ireland. One the first count, both Norway and Ireland were elected leaving Canada bruised again failing for the second time in recent times to get elected. Two features appeared in the vote – small nations voted for Ireland as well as all the Middle East Arab countries. A vote for Ireland was a vote for the small nations in the UN. Equally, Ireland doesn’t bring baggage to the UN Security Council as it does not have a colonial past and is deemed an honest broker.

The agenda Dublin will be focused on includes supporting a rules-based order that helps to enable small nations to survive. Plus, it intends to lobby for action to be taken against Israel if the planned annexation of the West Bank goes ahead. Ireland regards annexation as a blatant breach of international law. As an honest broker, Ireland is much respected in this regard and has been an active participant in the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) since 1958. UNTSO, established in 1948, is the oldest ongoing United Nations peacekeeping operation. It operates in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel – the parties to the Truce Agreements that followed the fighting in Palestine in 1948. To date, Ireland still maintains troops in the Golan Heights and Lebanon. 

Without doubt, Ireland won its place again on the UN Security Council based on its reputation and record over many decades in the UN, including its history of peacekeeping. 

The downside of the UN Security Council is of course the use of the veto by the ‘Big 5’ – China, France, the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Kingdom. What tangible real power against this veto can any other member of the UN Security Council ever actually have one might ask. Well, this is where a nation’s soft power comes in. 

Ireland’s soft power won it a seat at the table for all the reasons listed above. In a world where we are seeing traditional international superpowers move away from multi-lateral co-operation, soft power as an influencer is going to prove very important. Ireland ranks in the Top 20 of the most powerful soft powers internationally. Add to this a powerful bi-partisan Irish-American lobby in Washington, what other small country gets an annual ceremony in the White House and what White House would ever risk cancelling it! What remains to be seen is what detrimental damage Brexit may have already done to Anglo-Irish relations in this forum.

Indeed, when you look at Ireland and its soft power, it’s far from the assumption that Irish people merely get drunk on St. Patrick’s Day – a complete disservice to what is a global phenomenon. International landmarks go green for St. Patrick’s Day and Irish music is played throughout. Her diaspora can be found everywhere and with pride. 77 million people claim Irish heritage. Her passport is much sought after, heavily evidenced by the rush for Irish passports with Brexit. Culturally, economically and politically, Ireland holds its own. ‘Ireland Inc.’ is alive and kicking. But bringing it back to basics, Ireland never started wars, and this is where, in the context of the UN Security Council, Ireland earns its most soft power arguably. 

If you’d like to join the mailing list for Liberal Irish, contact us on [email protected]

* Audrey Eager, Founder of Liberal Irish, the Irish Liberal Democrat Society. If you’d like to join our mailing list, contact us on [email protected]

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • A reminder of what a small celtic nation can achieve with the full powers of independence from Westminster.

  • A very interesting and informative article, Audrey, and a real breath of fresh air on LDV .

    Maybe it’s time for the Liberal Democrat Party, especially in Scotland, to get its thinking cap on and to reflect on your article if they inserted Scotland for Ireland into it.

    Maybe they could then face up to their contradiction of wanting to be in the EU but staying in the Tory Brexit dominated UK. As Charles Kennedy once said in a different context, “time to get used to it”.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Jun '20 - 12:55pm

    As a piece this is very constructive.

    It is also a little biased. I am of part Irish origin. And part English. And part italian. Married to a wife of American origin.

    Of these, only the Irish has less in the sense of self satire or criticism.On politics.

    Why is it that the Israeli lobby in the Us is denigrated, often, the Irish lobby celebrated.

    The latter got the Irish issue completely skewed in perception in the US.

    It was a back door recruiter for the IRA.

    Irish neutrality in the second world war and bias on Israel, against it, is why the Arab states supported it here I would suggest.

    Ireland deserves that place as it is a sensible and mainstream country. Now. It was not ever thus.

  • Are you sure this isn’t fake news and no more than a dodgy attempt to get the increasingly desperate Donald the Irish vote, Joseph ?

    I thought his mother was a Gaelic speaker from the Isle of Lewis and that his father’s lot were German.

  • David Raw,

    the Irish roots appear to come from his maternal great-grandmother who married her cousin Patrick Junior Macrump the President’s paternal great grandfather in the 1800s.

    The linked article ends with an outraged refutation by the researcher, Dr Polanski of any suggestion that this could be a crude attempt at garnering Irish-American votes:

    “Responding to questions from the unfriendly section of the media Dr Polanski denied that President Trump was simply trying to gather ethnic votes for his second run.”

    “Of course not,” she replied when asked. President Trump is very proud not only of his Irish roots but equally proud of his German, French, Polish, Afro American and of course Native American heritage also. In fact, we are hoping to announce strong genetic links to every ethnic voting block early next week.”

    “It is not expected that the BGI will discover any Mexican heritage in President Trump’s background.”

  • richard underhill 21st Jun '20 - 7:38pm

    Charles Haughey (Fianna Fail) helped to free kidnap victims in the Lebanon while Margaret Thatcher had done nothing to free British citizen John McCarthy until British Liberal Democrats put political pressure on her with help from The Observer, the National Union of Journalists and numerous individuals. He wrote a book ‘Some other rainbow’ jointly with Jill Morrell. Mrs. Thatcher had confused kidnappers with terrorists.

  • @ Joe Bourke ““Of course not,” she replied when asked. President Trump is very proud not only of his Irish roots but equally proud of his German, French, Polish, Afro American and of course Native American heritage also”.

    I’m an historian and you’re an economist, so I had to chuckle when I read that, Joe. I’m sure (and you certainly must be too) that Trump is as pure as the driven snow.

    Are we talking about the same Trump who was reported a a few months ago as,

    “apparently readying a revival of his racist attacks against the Massachusetts senator. During a rally in New Hampshire Thursday, Trump talked about how Warren is now “rising” in the Democratic field, lamenting that he may have launched his long-running racist “Pocahontas” attacks against her and her Native American heritage far too early in the race. “I did the Pocahontas thing. I hit her really hard, and it looked like she was down and out, but that was too long ago,” Trump said. ”I should have waited. But don’t worry, we will revive it. It can be revived. It will be revived”. Vanity Fair, 16 August, 2019.

    Are we to call him Hiawatha or Chief Sitting Bull ? I’ll let you choose.

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