at the

25 September 2003


New York, 25 September 2003.

Mr. President,

For the United Nations, and for the system of collective security that it represents, the past year has been a traumatic one.

Our Organisation could ill-afford the loss of the dedicated and experienced members of staff who were killed by an act of terrorism in Baghdad on the 19th of August. I do not diminish the contribution of each and every one of those who lost their lives in the cause of humanity if I give individual mention-to Sergio Vieira de Mello. I would like to pay particular tribute to his work in bringing to birth the new state 'of Timor Leste which has become the latest member of the United Nations.

Mr. President,

We are living in a period of great insecurity. We are stalked by fear - fear of war, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, famine, disease, ethnic and religious hatred, organised crime. Governments are acting, individually and in groups, to shield their people from these threats. However, the nature of the challenge requires coordinated global action. .

Fortunately, we have the United Nations Organisation, which brings together the nations of the world in the service of international peace and security. If we did not have already have such an organisation, we would surely have to invent it. The tragedy for mankind is that we do not make the most effective use of it. We are frequently told by commentators that the United Nations has failed. All too often, it is difficult to disagree.

So, who is to blame? To answer that question we have to ask: what is the United Nations? The answer is to be found in the Charter. This Organisation was established in the name of the peoples of the United Nations. When the United Nations fails it is because we, the governments who represent the peoples of the United Nations, have failed, individually or collectively, to meet our obligations.

Our most common failing, I would submit, is that we frequently overlook the fact that this organisation was created to serve not just our own nation, but all mankind. Too often, Members seek to use this organisation to pursue their. national interests; by seeking to have it adopt resolutions that are partial or biased; by ignoring its resolutions when these do not suit them; and by encouraging action on certain issues and conflicts while blocking action, or even consideration, of others. All too many of us have been guilty of such an approach.

We simply cannot afford to continue with this attitude.. The world is fast changing., Every day brings a new awareness of just how interdependent we all are. The option of shutting ourselves safely away behind protective walls no longer exists. We have to learn to live together, to share the resources of this planet, and .to look after each other. We can retain our national, cultural -and religious identities, but we need to recognise that we are, first and foremost, all members of the human race and. we must act accordingly.

We need a viable system of global governance that can ensure international peace and security. To be viable, such a system must possess two essential qualities: effectiveness and legitimacy. To be effective, it requires the unambiguous support of. the entire community of nation states. Its decisions must be respected and, where necessary, we must be ready and able to act to secure such respect. To retain legitimacy, the system must be seen to work in the interests of the entire international community.

I appeal, therefore, to the governments represented at this General Assembly for a change in our attitude to the United Nations. Let us cease treating it as a tool useful only to the extent that it can deliver our own national agenda. Instead, let us use the United Nations to harness our collective resources in the interests of each and every member of mankind. To adapt the words of President John F. Kennedy, let us ask not what the United Nations can do for us, but what we can do for the United Nations.

The United Nations needs reform. We all accept that. Our institutions are not sufficiently effective and, in some instances, are not adequately representative of today's membership. We have discussed these issues at great length, but we have baulked from taking the hard decisions. The time has come to put the interests of the wider international community before narrow national concerns.

We are fortunate, at this moment, to have as Secretary-General a man of the stature of Kofi Annan; a man who is held in universal regard and who is seen to stand for the interests of the entire international community. He has not shrunk from grasping the nettle of reform, and in his address to this Assembly he called on the members of this organisation to grasp it with him. We must find the courage and generosity to take up this challenge.

Mr. President,

The past two years have been a particularly sombre period in the history of mankind. There has been so much death and destruction across the globe. How much of this might have been avoided if the United Nations had been better able to fulfil the noble purposes set out in the Charter?

I do not claim that it is possible to eradicate man's capacity for evil or to totally eliminate the tendency to seek to resolve disputes through violence. But I do submit that a stronger, more resolute, more respected, more active, UN might have prevented some of the suffering of the past two years.

The world today is very different from that which existed when the UN Charter was drawn up. It is smaller, more crowded, more combustible. Isolated pockets of human habitation have been brought together by a population explosion, migration, faster and cheaper air travel, television, the internet, the growth of free trade and the development of weapons of mass destruction. What happens in one part of the world can increasingly have an instant and dramatic effect in another part.

This evolution has raised questions concerning the interpretation of two important provisions of the Charter. First, Article 2.7, which in effect excludes the UN from intervening in matters that are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. Yet the problem increasingly arises in our global society as to whether and when a matter can be considered as falling entirely within the domestic jurisdiction of a state. Some situations are clearer than others.

In my view, when events within a country threaten international peace and security, they become the legitimate interest of the international community. Similarly, I cannot accept that the international community should stand by and accept the large-scale flagrant and persistent violation of individual human rights. We have received sharp lessons in the past. The trigger for intervening to prevent an attempted genocide should not be the moment that refugees begin to flood across the border.

At the same time, international intervention raises serious questions. It can also pose very serious risks to the international regime. Clearly, intervention is objectively called for in some extreme cases. But there is a need to work carefully through this concept with a view to forging an international consensus around it.

Another issue which has recently come to the fore, and which was highlighted by the Secretary-General, is that of Article 51 of the Charter and the conditions under which Member States have the right to act in self-defence. The development of weapons of mass destruction in the period since the signing of the Charter, and the appearance of non-state actors with the capacity for mass destruction, raise serious questions as to the point at which a State might consider it necessary to act in self-defence. This is an issue which also requires serious reflection.

My Government would be deeply concerned at the widespread acceptance of a doctrine of pre-emptive strike. Given the ever more lethal nature of modern weapons, the risk of large scale death, destruction and escalation are enormous.

More effective than striking pre-emptively, of course, is to pre-empt the risk of conflict through a wide range of steps in the diplomatic, economic, humanitarian and other areas.

We should devote more attention to dealing with the root causes of conflict. We must seek to identify potential conflicts as early as possible and to deal with them before they get out of hand. Where conflict nevertheless becomes a possibility, we should act more assertively to head it off. We simply cannot afford to accept the existence of so-called forgotten or ignored conflicts. Any conflict which threatens international peace and security is the UN's legitimate business and should be on the agenda of the Security Council.

Mr. President,

I would now like to touch briefly on a number of specific issues which are of concern to my government.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people continues to pose a serious threat to world peace. My own country's difficult national experience shows that there is no such thing as a straight line to peace. Our experience in Ireland clearly demonstrates that far-sighted leaders cannot allow their efforts to be held hostage by terrorists and extremists. They must have the wisdom to look beyond the politics of the last atrocity.

What is more, leaders must be prepared to deal with each other. As the Nobel Laureate John Hume once said, "you make peace with your enemies, not your friends". President Arafat has a responsibility to lead his people away from violence and back to the negotiating table. It is a responsibility which he must assume. Threats to expel or assassinate him are deeply misguided and dangerous and can only further delay efforts to achieve a settlement.

Lasting peace can only be achieved through negotiation. Palestinians must realise that. violence has failed. Terrorism is wrong and has brought nothing but misery to both Israelis and Palestinians. It has made compromise more difficult than ever.

Israel must see that repression and attempts at physical separation will not deliver long-¬term security. The most effective means for Israel to secure a peaceful future would be to accept the Palestinian people's right to a viable state of their own on the basis of the 1967 borders. Israel should immediately reverse its policy of building settlements, settler-only roads and a security wall on Palestinian territory.

It is imperative that the parties re-engage in the task of implementing the Road Map, leading to a two-state solution based on the vision enshrined in Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1397. They need the support of the Quartet. But such mediation will not succeed if it is, or is perceived to be, one-sided. We must be careful to ensure that our demands are balanced and that we hold both sides equally to account.

Mr. President,

The people of Iraq are suffering from events which in most cases are not of their making. We want to see this suffering brought to an end as soon as possible. The Iraqi people can play a part in that by rejecting those who engage in violence and industrial sabotage. The occupying powers must be scrupulous in meeting their obligations under international law.

The Iraqi people need, and deserve, the, support of a united international community in the political and economic reconstruction of their country. The United Nations, with its unique experience and legitimacy, is essential to efforts to help the Iraqi people recover their sovereignty as soon as possible and to forge a new Iraq, at peace with itself and with its neighbours. We look to the members of the Security Council at this crucial moment to assume their responsibilities and to reach agreement on a new resolution that reflects the interests of the people of Iraq and that can enjoy the necessary support of the region and of the broad international community.

Mr. President,

The proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons poses a serious threat to international peace and security. We must recommit ourselves to controlling the spread of such weapons, and working towards their complete elimination. This can only be achieved through a comprehensive and rigorous system of international treaties and obligations that are verifiable and universal.

Ireland, with its partners in the New Agenda Coalition, will continue its efforts in respect of nuclear disarmament during this year's General Assembly. Ireland calls on all States who are concerned about the issue of weapons of mass destruction to become constructively engaged in the multilateral disarmament and non=proliferation process. There can be no room for double standards.

We must also remain resolute in our determination to counter the threat of terrorism. We owe it to the victims of September 11, and to all the victims of terrorist atrocities before and since. The measures put in place by the Security Council have made it more difficult for international terrorist networks to organise and to finance their activities. These organisations, however, do not stand- still. We must remain vigilant and redouble our efforts. to make it impossible for the agents of international terror to operate.

In doing so, however, we must be clear that the need to act against terrorism offers no license for action contrary to the UN Charter, or against the body of international human rights and humanitarian law that we have so painstakingly constructed.

We must also seek to deal with the causes of terrorism. Terrorism is not some kind of original sin. No child is born a terrorist. At some point in their lives, some people become terrorists. We have to identify how and why.

If we find that young people are being indoctrinated into terrorism, we have to deal with those who seek to incite hatred and terror. If we find that they act, however wrongly, in reaction to real or perceived injustice, we have to confront this fact and, as far as is possible, seek to eliminate the reality or perception of this injustice. To seek to understand the causes of terrorism should not be misunderstood as being soft on terrorism. On the contrary, it is an essential step in its elimination. I can speak from experience of developments in my own country.

Mr. President,

The Government and people of Afghanistan face important challenges in the coming year, in particular the adoption of a constitution and the holding of national elections. Severe difficulties stand in the way, especially the precarious security situation. The sustained and wholehearted support of the international community is required if Afghanistan is to recover from its long ordeal. For Ireland's part, it has delivered on its pledges to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

In Africa, encouraging progress has been made in the past year towards the resolutionof some long-standing and intractable conflicts. ' We urge the parties to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to implement the commitments that they have. entered into. Neighbouring states must abide by their commitments, and their obligation, not to interfere in the DRC.

Sierra Leone remains on track, with the help of the United Nations, towards a future of peaceful development.

Progress has been achieved in Liberia. I wish to pay tribute to the efforts of. those member states that have contributed to this positive development. Their continued engagement, along with the United Nations, will be indispensable in helping the people of Liberia to consolidate what has been achieved and to build peace in their country. I am pleased to confirm that my government in the next few days will recommend to our Parliament that Ireland's Defence Forces participate with a sizable contingent in the forthcoming United Nations peacekeeping operation in Liberia.

Mr. President,

Respect for human rights is an essential foundation for peace and security. Lack of respect for human rights is at the root of many conflicts, internal and international. The promotion of human rights is rightly the concern of the international community as a whole. It must remain a central task of the United, Nations, and must be integrated into all of the UN's activities.

There is no room for complacency. We must all recognise that no country, including our own, is perfect. We can all do better.

I pay tribute to the many brave individuals around the world - defenders of human rights - who risk discrimination, imprisonment or worse to ensure that governments live up to their human rights obligations.

The establishment of the International Criminal Court was a clear signal of the determination of the international community to bring to justice those who perpetrate genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Ireland, together with its partners in the European Union, will continue to offer firm support to the ICC, as its work gets under way. I urge those who have not signed or ratified the Rome Statute to do so, and I urge all states to adhere firmly to the principles on which it is based.

Mr. President,

The peace process in Northern Ireland remains a major priority of the Irish Government.

Regrettably, due to diminishing trust between the political parties, the devolved political institutions in Northern Ireland were suspended nearly one year ago. Since then, we have been working to re-establish the trust and confidence necessary to restore and sustain these institutions.

This involves both ensuring that all vestiges of paramilitary activity are consigned to the past and that all parties commit themselves to the full and stable operation of the democratic institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. Following intensive negotiations, we came tantalisingly close in April to making the required breakthrough but unfortunately did not get matters fully resolved at that time.

After one of the most peaceful summers on the streets of Northern Ireland, the process is now entering another decisive phase of challenge and opportunity. Developments over the next few weeks will have a crucial bearing on whether elections - which I believe should take place before the end of the year - will be held in an atmosphere that is conducive to forming a working administration on the other side of the polling date.

For this to happen, all of the pro-Agreement parties must show leadership and courage; must face up to their responsibilities and take the decisions they know are right; and must stretch their constituencies so that they can reach out to others. As partners in this process, Prime Minister Blair and I - and our two Governments - are working closely together to support and encourage all of those political and community leaders who are taking risks for peace.

From other areas around the world struggling to escape from a legacy of violence, we in Ireland know all too well that a process of conflict resolution cannot rest still. Either it continues to move forward or it loses momentum and direction and falters. To complacently assume that current opportunities for progress can be deferred until a more politically convenient moment is both wrong and dangerous. In the case of Northern Ireland, the moment of opportunity is now and it is my hope that in the weeks' and months ahead all of the parties who subscribed to the Good Friday Agreement will collectively rise to that challenge.

Mr. President,

Poverty and insecurity go hand in hand. The efforts of the United Nations to promote international, peace and security must be closely aligned with its, work in tackling the. root causes of poverty.

When I launched the UN Human Development Report in Dublin last July, I noted how powerful a reminder it was that the world was becoming a more unequal place. Fifty-¬four countries, according to the Report, the great majority in Africa, were poorer now than they were in 1990. A world where over 1.2 billion people continue to live on less than a dollar a day, where 14 million' children are orphaned because of HIV/ AIDS, where women in the poorest countries are 175 times more likely to die in childbirth than in rich countries, is inherently unjust, and hence insecure.

At the UN Special Session on HIV/ AIDS in 2001, I said Ireland would increase its contribution to the fight against HIV/ AIDS by an additional $30 million per year. Our spending on HIV/ AIDS programmes in 2002 exceeded $40 million, a ten-fold increase over the past three years.

The Millennium Declaration called for a global partnership for development, and as in any partnership, there are responsibilities on all sides. Undertakings on Official Development Assistance, on debt relief, and on governance must be achieved.. We must be rigorous in assessing our progress, as we are committed to do, in 2005.

At the Millennium Summit, I committed Ireland to reaching the UN target for Official Development Assistance of 0.7 per cent of GNP by 2007. Since then, Ireland has increased its ODA to 0.41 per cent, and remains committed to reaching the target by 2007.

Mr. President,

Fair and open international trade is essential for global peace and prosperity. It is an integral part of the multilateral system that we are pledged to protect.

I regret that it did not prove possible to reach agreement at the recent WTO talks in Cancun. I understand the frustration of those who consider themselves unfairly treated in global markets. But if we turn our back on the multilateral trading system, and allow trade and investment to be diverted and distorted by bilateral and regional arrangements, we will damage, perhaps irreparably, the best tool available to us to make serious inroads into poverty and to raise standards of living on a global basis. Let us redouble our efforts to achieve an agreement that offers fair market access and at the same time allows all of us preserve the essence of our rural culture and environment.

Mr. President,

The past year might have been a difficult one for the United Nations but events have demonstrated that, for the people of the world, it is the indispensable organisation at the centre of our system of collective security. We have invested it with unique legitimacy and unique authority. People around the world look to it in hope and expectation.

Let us work together to make sure that the United Nations is an organisation worthy of the ideals enshrined in its Charter; worthy of the trust of those who rely on it for help and protection; worthy of the idealism and dedication of those who work for it, and of the. sacrifice of those who have given their lives in its service.

As the Secretary General made clear when he addressed this General Assembly: we are at a fork in the road. Let us be sure to take the right road.

Thank you, Mr. President.