- 04 Jul 18
The U2 frontman mixed humour with realism, and emphasised Ireland’s reputation as a nation of storytellers, in a speech which helped get the country's bid for a place on the UN Security Council off to a strong start.
Bono has joined forces with the Irish government and former President Mary Robinson to seek a place on the UN Security Council for Ireland.
The official launch of the Irish bid took place in New York on Monday night. There, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was joined by the U2 frontman – with Bono grabbing the headlines, following a speech which was both humorous and challenging. Among Ireland’s rivals for the coveted position are Canada and Norway. All three nations are seeking a two year term that will cover 2021 and 2022.
The U2 singer was listened to avidly by hundreds of UN diplomats and staff, with Bono announcing that “you can count on Ireland to do its part in that work.” It is a statement which he is uniquely entitled to make. Alongside his career as a rock star, he has been unstinting in his activism, and always more than willing to share the burden of work in relation to poverty and AIDS.
Bono spoke about these being “troubled times” and while he didn’t name the United States explicitly, this was clearly a reference to the increasingly polarising policies of US President Donald Trump, who has been openly dismissive of the United Nations as well as criticising both the EU and NATO.
Bono’s view of the UN is very different from Trump’s.
“I love that it exists,” he said of the organisation. “And I’ll tell you, I don’t take for granted that it exists, or that it will continue to exist because let’s be honest, we live in a time when institutions as vital to human progress as the United Nations are under attack.”
He also spoke about the existential threats to the EU, NATO and to the G7.
“(It’s) not just these institutions but what they stand for,” he said, “(which is) an international order based on shared values and shared rules, an international order that is facing the greatest test in its 70-year history. Not just these institutions but what they’ve achieved is at risk.”
The ambassadors from 192 UN member nations had been invited to U2′s concert at Madison Square Garden by the Irish government. The strangeness of this was not lost on the U2 singer, who spoke of how it was “unusual" having a load of ambassadors jumping up and down at a rock and roll show.
“At least you weren’t shouting at each other, so that was good,” he added.
However, there was real substance to the message conveyed by Bono – and it will surely do no harm to the Irish bid. He talked about Ireland’s experience of colonialism, conflict, famine, and mass migration and how what we have been through gives us "a hard-earned expertise in these problems, and empathy and I hope humility. If you look at the agenda of what the Security Council will be addressing in the coming years, doesn’t it look a lot like us?”
In making comparisons with Ireland’s rivals for a place on the Security Council, Bono sang the praises of the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, describing him as “a remarkable leader who’s put together the most diverse Cabinet on the planet.”
“That Canada is nice is the worst thing I can say about them,” he added. He praised Norway too. “Who could ask for a better neighbour or (more) committed peacemaker?” he asked, before joking in a self-deprecatory way about his own height. “Here’s the worst thing I can say about them,” he said. “They’re tall. They’re too tall.”
However, he returned to speak of Ireland’s storytelling talents –and one word in particular that matters.
"That word is compromise,” he said, "because that's how you achieve peace… Compromise is a word that the Irish people understand very, very well.
"It is part of our story, our recent story, and we are storytellers. So you honourable peace activists, if you need some storytellers to describe what's really important about this place… let us tell the story."
The former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson – who is Chairman of the Institute for Human Rights and Business – also spoke in support of Ireland’s application.
“Ireland is a bridge builder which the UN badly needs” she said, "with an empathy and an ability to understand the other.”
Leo Varadkar’s speech conspicuously lacked Bono’s humour.
“We see ourselves as an island at the centre of the world,” he told the UN diplomats, “and we’re deeply aware that in an interdependent world, the great challenges of our time do not know international boundaries.”
The Taoiseach insisted that as a result of Ireland’s independence in 1921, and its UN membership since 1955, the country promotes of freedom and defends human rights.
“The United Nations is the conscience of our humanity,” Leo Varadkar stated. “In these troubled and uncertain times, as a global island, we want to play our part in defending, supporting and promoting its values.”
As part of the bid, an exhibition area has been set up outside UN headquarters, with tents and stalls where Irish music, food and culture is showcased.