'Her Place among the Nations of the Earth': Irish Votes at the UN General Assembly, 1955-2005

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Abstract. Since joining the United Nations in 1955, Ireland has enjoyed a good reputation within the organization because of its commitment to multilateral diplomacy and its progressive position on human rights, self-determination and disarmament. However, when voting on resolutions in the General Assembly, the Irish delegation must take into account its effectiveness and impact on the UN, as well as the position of other countries. The USA has exerted particular pressure from the beginning, and since 1973 Ireland has also had to comply with the requirements of European solidarity. Nonetheless, various studies of Irish votes at the General Assembly show that on the whole Ireland has maintained a distinctive profile, faithful to its traditional values. Despite some changes over time, continuity seems to be the hallmark of Ireland's UN policy, which is characterised by a moderate, constructive approach within the framework of a progressive grouping of states.

Key Words. Irish foreign policy, United Nations, General Assembly, European Union, EPC, CFSP, United States, human rights, decolonisation, disarmament, Frank Aiken.

Resumen. Desde su adhesion a las Naciones Unidas en 1955, Irlanda ha alcanzado una reputacion considerable dentro de la organizacion debido a su compromiso con la diplomacia multilateral y su posicion con respecto a los derechos humanos, la autodeterminacion y el desarme. Sin embargo, a la hora de votar las resoluciones de la Asamblea General, la delegacion irlandesa debe tener en cuenta la efectividad de las mismas y su impacto en Naciones Unidas, asi como el posicionamiento de otros paises. Las presiones estadounidenses han sido de importancia desde el principio y desde 1973 Irlanda se las ha tenido que ver con su compromiso con la solidaridad europea. Aun asi, varios estudios sobre las votaciones en la Asamblea General demuestran que en general Irlanda ha mantenido un perfil caracteristico, fiel a sus valores tradicionales. A pesar de algunos cambios en el transcurso de los anos, la continuidad parece ser el sello distintivo de la politica de Irlanda en Naciones Unidas; la cual se caracteriza por un enfoque moderado y constructivo dentro del marco del grupo de estados progresistas.

Palabras clave. Politica exterior irlandesa, Naciones Unidas, Asamblea General, Union Europea, Cooperacion Politica Europea (EPC), Politica Exterior y de Seguridad Comun (CFSP), Estados Unidos, derechos humanos, descolonizacion, desarme, Frank Aiken

Introduction

Ireland's record at the United Nations is that of a distinctive contribution, notably in the fields of peacekeeping and of disarmament, which is recognised both abroad and at home. In 2004, Kofi Annan praised the country's UN record, a record which helped Ireland to be elected to the Security Council in 2001-2002 (Gillissen 2006: 31-32). In 2005, on the fiftieth anniversary of Ireland's UN membership, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, emphasised that the United Nations Organization was the "cornerstone of Irish foreign policy", an expression used in the 1996 White Paper on Irish foreign policy (Department of Foreign Affairs 1996: 150).

The organization also enjoys considerable support among Irish voters, one opinion poll conducted in 1989 showing that the Irish came second among the then twelve European member states in their approval rate of the UN (United Nations 1990: 3). This can be partly explained by the widespread perception that Ireland was able to play an important role in the UN in the late 1950s--the "golden age" of Irish foreign policy--by facilitating agreements between East and West, and North and South. Its role as model international citizen was seen as a vindication of the struggle for national independence, since Ireland demonstrated that a small independent state could make a significant contribution to the international order.

However, from the early 1960s onwards, Ireland's high profile at the UN faded somewhat, and since then there has been some debate as to the independence of the Irish delegation, in particular in relation to the United States and to the European Union. …