Ireland’s election earlier this week to the United Nations Human Rights Council represents a real opportunity for this country to try to do some good for others in situations far more difficult than our own. In a very secondary way it offers, especially at this difficult time in our history, an opportunity to do good for ourselves on the world stage and at home.
Membership of this body gives Ireland an opportunity over the next three years to rebuild and hopefully change our international image from a beggared country humbled by our own hubris to one where we might be seen a capable, positive force for good and progress. It offers an opportunity for us to show that we can help advance the belief in human dignity and freedom we hold dear.
Because of our relatively recent and bloody history we are especially well placed to make a contribution to conflict resolution, one based on experience rather than classroom theory.
Being elected, along with Germany and the US to one of the three seats reserved for western member countries on the council, is a considerable achievement in itself and the first step along the road to realising admirable ambitions.
It should be acknowledged that being elected to the council is the result of a well organised and concerted campaign by Irish diplomats over a good number of years. It is a real achievement and one our public service, especially Ambassador Anne Anderson, Ireland’s permanent representative to the UN in New York and her staff, can be very proud of.
Though the UN is not always as effective as it or we might wish, or as widely supported as it should be, it is still by some considerable degree the benchmark international peacekeeping organisation. Ireland has made a considerable contribution to international peacekeeping for many decades by sending our soldiers wherever they were required. This must have influenced the vote.
The success can have several positive domestic consequences. It will mean that we cannot ignore failures in human rights in our own society. The continued existence of St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders, the appalling conditions that, despite report after report, still exist in some psychiatric hospitals and, to a lesser degree, in some maverick nursing homes must now be seen in a far less tolerant light.
The appointment might put our own situation in a slightly different perspective too. Though there is undoubted hardship in this society, through membership of this committee we may be exposed to crisis after crisis — Syria for example — that may make our own situation less disheartening.
Ireland joins the United Nations Human Rights Council on the very day we take over presidency of the European Union and despite all the EU’s great difficulties we should grasp these opportunities to recover lost ground with both hands.