152. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which consideration has been given or is likely to be given to major reform of the UN with a view to enabling that organisation undertake humanitarian protection programmes with particular reference to the protection of civilians including children that have become vulnerable in such situations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8973/17 asked on 22 Feb 2017)

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): For over 70 years, the United Nations (UN) has played a vital role in the maintenance of international peace and security and in the resolution of conflicts, which are at the root of many of the humanitarian crises facing the world today. It does this primarily through the UN Security Council which has a variety of tools at its disposal to address threats to international peace and to contribute towards the resolution of conflicts: it has the power to deploy peacekeeping and political missions, to authorise military action and to impose sanctions against non-compliant States. Ireland is convinced that the principle of multilateralism upon which the UN is founded offers the best approach to address conflict and crisis situations. At the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, Ireland endorsed the UN’s commitments to help improve the humanitarian system so it can better respond to the needs of those affected by crises. This reform places affected people at the centre of all humanitarian action, to better ensure their protection. A coordinated humanitarian response is vital for the protection of civilians to ensure the most vulnerable receive the assistance they require, through safe and secure channels. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) plays a key role in strengthening the humanitarian system and improving international humanitarian coordination during emergencies. In 2016, Ireland provided €4.5 million of core funding to UNOCHA. Ireland also provided €12.75 million to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and just over €28 million to Country Based Pooled Funds (CBPFs) which are managed by UNOCHA.

The protection of vulnerable communities in emergencies is an essential element of Ireland’s humanitarian action. In addition to ensuring the humanitarian response is coordinated and safe, we provide support to UN agencies best placed to respond to those in need of protection services. In 2016 Ireland provided over €2.4 million to UNICEF for their work under the No Lost Generation initiative, which is dedicated to providing education and protection programmes to Syrian children and youth affected by the Syria crisis, both inside Syria and in the neighbouring countries.

However, we recognise that, in addition to the UN’s many successes and achievements, there have also been failures, and the need for the protection of the fundamental well-being of civilians caught up in conflicts remains a priority. The ongoing crises in the Middle East and Africa illustrate clearly the importance of the UN enhancing its capacity to respond more effectively to conflict and the associated need for humanitarian protection.

The blockages at the Security Council in recent years have prevented the international community from acting together in a way that would allow civilians in conflict zones to be afforded greater protection. Ireland is of the view that, in addition to the terrible consequences for civilian populations, including children, this inaction has resulted in considerable damage to the standing of the Security Council.

As a member of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group of states, Ireland advocates for reforms to the membership and working methods of the Security Council, including the use of the veto which, on some occasions, has led to inaction by the Security Council at critical moments.

While decisions of the Security Council, which are key to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the welfare of civilians in conflict zones, are the preserve of Member States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Guterres, who took office on 1 January, has announced a number of reform measures aimed at improving the management of the peace and security work of the UN Secretariat.

These measures include steps to remove structural and administrative barriers to better integrate the work of staff whose jobs address situations in conflict zones. Mr. Guterres, whose own work as UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005-2015 gives him a particularly clear insight into the scale of the humanitarian crises facing the world, is to focus on the implementation of recommendations from three major peace and security reviews which were completed in 2015. Ireland engaged fully with all three reviews, calling for the recommendations to be discussed and implemented as part of our broader calls for UN reform. We will continue to engage on these reviews in the period ahead.

Ireland will continue to advocate for reform of the UN to ensure that it is equipped to fulfil its critical role in the prevention, reduction or resolution of conflict, and also for the protection of civilians who are trapped in the many humanitarian crises arising from conflicts.