Labour TD criticial of Ireland’s OSCE role

A LABOUR backbencher has expressed concern over Ireland’s ability to successfully lead the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) given the financial constraints and crises closer to home.

Michael McNamara, who once worked with the OSCE, said the timing of Ireland’s year-long chairmanship was not ideal.

The Clare TD said Ireland’s acceptance of the position when it was offered in 2009 had raised eyebrows.

“There would have been question marks at the time, both in Irish political circles and within the organisation, as to why is Ireland going for this. But that was a decision made by the last government.”

The OSCE has 56 members from Europe and Central Asia, as well as the US and Canada, but it focuses chiefly on conflict resolution in Central Asia, the South Caucasus and Western Balkans.

Ireland’s term as chair makes Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore the chairman at a time when domestic crises and strains on the Coalition demand careful handling.

Mr Gilmore will set out his priorities when he makes his inaugural address at the organisation’s Vienna headquarters today.

His predecessor, Lithuania’s foreign affairs minister, made the role a full-time job. Audronius Azubalis made 23 official trips to 18 countries and issued 90 public statements on OSCE-related issues.

Mr McNamara said he feared Ireland’s contribution would pale by comparison.

“The quality of the chairmanship has varied considerably and you would have to say that countries that did not have a strong strategic involvement in the region have been less successful. That would not do our international reputation any good.”

Professor Ray Murphy, the director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, who also worked under the OSCE, also expressed concern about the availability of resources to tackle the role at this time.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has already been warned it will have to meet the additional demands within existing budgets.

The department said it had the expertise of a permanent staff in Vienna to draw on. Mr Gilmore has also appointed two former ambassadors to part-time special representative roles for the year and will delegate to junior ministers and cabinet colleagues responsibility for particular events.

However, Mr McNamara said Ireland’s position would not be helped by the decision to close the embassy in Iran, which was influential in many of the conflict zones. He said the decision was a “terribly bad move”.

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