A Conversation With Taoiseach Micheál Martin of Ireland

Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Johanna Geron/REUTERS/Pool

Taoiseach, Ireland


President, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, The World: A Brief Introduction; @RichardHaass

Taoiseach Micheál Martin discusses what he will prioritize while Ireland holds the UN Security Council presidency, the future of transatlantic relations, and Ireland's approach to Brexit.


HAASS: Well, good morning. Welcome to today’s meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. I’m Richard Haass, president of the Council, and I am really, really pleased, and more, to welcome in person the taoiseach, for those of you who are slightly unfamiliar, the prime minister of Ireland, Micheál Martin—“Michael” in the Americanization.

Look, Ireland’s always important—let me just put that on the record—but particularly so now. This month Ireland sits in the presidency of the U.N. Security Council, so at the center of the storm. Mr. Biden yesterday called for “relentless diplomacy.” Well, Ireland is in a position to promote it. Obviously, issues of climate and vaccine availability are at the center of things, so one of the areas I look forward to hearing from the taoiseach on is what Ireland is doing with not just this month but it’s on the Security Council for a couple years. Ireland’s obviously important to many Americans because of Northern Ireland and our involvement in that. But most important, we are a country of 330 million people; what to me is politically, sociologically, and mathematically fascinating is that of our 330 million, 350 million claim Irish heritage. (Laughter.) And that is a truly impressive statistic.

Taoiseach, great to have you here. It’s a real honor. We look forward to hearing from you. I look forward to a conversation, a lot of interest in what you have to say today. So, sir, the podium is yours.

MARTIN: Thank you very much indeed, Richard, indeed the board and membership of the Council on Foreign Relations, for this opportunity to talk with you today. And I would echo what you said in terms of the penetration of the Irish in America, because everywhere I go we end up asking somebody the question, well, where was your grandfather, great-grandfather, mother from, and we start making connections immediately, which is the Irish way of life.

I thought that I might set the scene for our conversation by—it might be useful to say a little about how Ireland views some of the big challenges that the world faces, our approaches, and our values, and how we are bringing them to bear as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council.

In Ireland today, we have a good-news story to tell around COVID with a 90 percent-plus vaccination rate for all over sixteen years of age, the resilience of our economy, and the adaptability of our communities throughout the crisis, and perhaps we can go back to those issues in our discussions later.

As this is U.N. high-level week, a good place to start might be the work Ireland is doing at the U.N. It is a good gateway to understanding Ireland’s approach to global affairs more generally, including how our approach to multilateralism sits comfortably alongside our incredibly warm and strong bilateral relationship with the United States, and how trusting and working the multilateral system and the bilateral relationships on which it relies has enabled Ireland to manage the unexpected, such as Brexit, for example.

Ireland took up its seat on the U.N. Security Council in January of this year, for the fourth time in our history. Membership of the Council is a solemn responsibility. For Ireland, it was important to put ourselves forward for election to bring our perspectives to the table and to represent the broader United Nations membership. It is also in Ireland’s interest as a country—like the United States, which has benefited from multilateralism and the rules-based international order—to play a role in promoting and strengthening the U.N. body that is charged with maintaining international peace and security. We are always ready to put her our shoulder to the wheel.

Drawing from our lived experience of overcoming conflict on the island of Ireland, we have made building peace, strengthening conflict prevention, and ensuring accountability the guiding principles of our tenure on the Council. This month Ireland holds the Security Council presidency, and that in particular is why I’m here at this high-level week. The significant responsibility of the presidency comes at a critical time, with a number of pressing issues under discussion, in particular Afghanistan but also Libya, Syria, and the Middle East peace process. Stewarding the Council’s work to ensure unity and a shared sense of purpose across these agenda items is a challenge, but also a powerful opportunity.

Tomorrow I will have the honor to chair a high-level meeting of the Security Council on the important issue of climate and security. The impacts of climate change on peace and security can be seen in many parts of the world, from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. Climate change is a generational challenge that demands a concerted global response. In this context, I wish to acknowledge the leadership of President Biden and Special Envoy Kerry in bringing global attention to the issue of climate change more broadly.

We are active in a number of other areas as a Council member, in working to ensure vital humanitarian aid continues to reach those in need in Syria and to support efforts to uphold the Iran nuclear deal, and on the issues of peacekeeping, disarmament, and nonproliferation. We’ve also made gender and conflict a golden thread running through all of our work on the Security Council, ensuring that women’s voices, particularly women who have experience of conflict, that those voices are heard at every meeting of the Security Council this month and they’re at the table. And we’ve been very effective in doing that, because that’s where their voices count.

We’ve also maintained the focus on the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, a country with which we in Ireland have a long partnership. And we continue our active engagement in support of a lasting settlement to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

As we survey the many challenges that face us as a global community, the need to find common cause is clear. And yet, from around the world, we hear voices questioning the effectiveness of multilateralism and the values on which the United Nations is based. Our answer is that unfortunately there are no shortcuts to achieving peace and security. Our values teach us to engage, both in listening and in transmission mode, and to redouble our commitment to the U.N. Charter. As leaders I believe we have a duty of informed hope that by working together we can find solutions to even the most seemingly intractable problems.

Since our independence nearly a century ago, Ireland has always sought to be a constructive and responsible member of the global community. Put starkly, as a small island nation on the geographical periphery of Europe, a strong rules-based international order in the political and security sphere is an existential issue. This is why our commitment to multilateralism reflects both our values and our interests. We want a multilateralism that is strong and effective, and that means it must be agile and responsive to new or growing challenges, such as climate change. And this is one of the reasons Ireland is so pleased to see the United States reengage and use its heft and positive leadership within international organizations, and in particular the U.N., to meet these challenges.

Being a committed member of the European Union is another important strand of how we in Ireland see ourselves in the world, working with our European partners to achieve more together than we could alone. The European Union and the United States share so many interests and values in the world; we can and should do more together on the big global challenges of our times. The EU-U.S. summit held in June brought needed renewed momentum to transatlantic relations across the board, human rights, global health, climate change, trade, and technology. I welcome this and look forward to wider and deeper cooperation in the period ahead.

Of course, our bilateral relationship with the United States is of immense importance to us as a country. It is a real friendship, one that has stood the test of time. It is old but it is not static. On St. Patrick’s Day, when I met President Biden virtually, we agreed a long and rich list of areas where we will cooperate, some reflecting the work we do together on global issues, such as climate and global health, others reflecting our distinct bilateral shared interests, others—and of course, that includes protecting the Good Friday Agreement and our peace process, our bilateral trade, and celebrating the contribution which Irish culture and Irish people have made to the great diversity which powers America and of which President Biden is a leading and proud example.

One of the greatest achievements of my political lifetime, the Good Friday Agreement, could neither have been achieved nor implemented without the constant engagement and encouragement of our friends here in the United States and of successive United States administrations.

And I want to take this opportunity today, Richard, to acknowledge the contribution which you personally made as President Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland. It was immense, and we thank you most sincerely for that.

The decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, which was their sovereign decision to take, has been the biggest challenge to peace and stability in Northern Ireland in recent years. Our shared European Union membership provided a basis on which the border on the island of Ireland had, to all intents and purposes, become invisible, supporting peace and increasing reconciliation on the island. From the outset, it was clear to us that Brexit had the potential to cause profound disruption for Northern Ireland. The Irish government, together with our European Union partners, and with the backing of our friends in the United States, worked hard to minimize that disruption and to reduce its impact. The outcome was a special arrangement for Northern Ireland, as set out in a protocol to the European Union-United Kingdom Withdrawal Agreement, that respects the integrity of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland’s constitutional position, while allowing it seamless trade with the European Union’s single market in a way that avoids the need for a hard border on the island. This special arrangement offers real opportunities to Northern Ireland. We are already seeing unprecedented levels of investment interest in Northern Ireland, but stability and certainty are required to realize these.

And so, we return to the well from which we have always drawn: the well of consensus building, the well of engagement, the well of relations built and rebuilt, all within the orbit of a rules-based international order in the political and security sphere, which makes peace and prosperity possible. So this week, in the United States and in the United Nations, I will be speaking up in favor of strong and effective multilateral organizations, institutions that are fit for purpose, and that can help the world approach the challenges we face together.

I will also be expressing my firm view that strong and effective multilateralism requires not only a clear set of ground rules, but also foundations of good and trusting relations between countries. So during my visit, I will also be celebrating the unique Irish American partnership. Long may it endure.

Thank you very much indeed for the privilege of addressing you. (Applause.)

HAASS: Thank you.

The taoiseach demonstrated his political skills; not just anyone gets to where he’s gotten. He was overly generous in his words about me, which now make it near impossible for me to ask the tough questions I was going to ask. (Laughter.) Very wise man here. But again, thank you for that.

MARTIN: Thank you.

HAASS: Much appreciated.

Let’s start with your month, this month in the Security Council. You several times talked about your commitment to multilateralism, but, full disclosure, you’re sitting with someone who, while committed to it, is painfully aware of the gaps between where the world is and where the world needs to be. And we often use the phrase international community and I would say there isn’t much of one, in many cases. Take vaccines. There’s a powerful critique, indictment in today’s New York Times about the world’s failure to essentially produce and distribute anything remotely like the number of vaccines.

So what is your sense about how to turn—how would I call it?—the aspirational nature of multilateralism into reality, either vaccines, climate change? We can go through the issues. What is your sense of what’s missing?

MARTIN: I think two points I would make. It depends whether the glass is half full, half empty. I mean, one could argue that one of the great developments of the last year has been the discovery of vaccines, which is a huge global win of science at the outset of a pandemic. We would not have expected maybe within twelve months that so many vaccines—available. But I would take your point. I think it has annoyed me to a point that in the earlier part of this year there was a lot of angst about vaccines within Europe, U.S., elsewhere; people were looking for export bans, for example. That happened in some instances, which I didn’t agree with. I was a passionate advocate for no export bans on vaccines or components in relation to vaccines.

HAASS: There was not an “Ireland First” movement in your country?

MARTIN: I mean, European Union has exported 750 million vaccines all over the world. I think the European Union as a continent is the model to follow, and we have—750 million were used within Europe. Now, to be fair, these were countries who had contracted into companies who were manufacturing within Europe, but nonetheless, Europe—and there was a bit of a—there was a moment in time when there was an issue around AstraZeneca and the U.K. were perceived to be grabbing all the AstraZeneca—(laughs)—vaccines. Tensions were running high. Now, what our pharmaceutical experience—I spoke to all the CEOs and it was very clear to me that anything that would interrupt what were essentially global supply chains could have disastrous impacts in terms of the worldwide supply and production of vaccines. But, to your point, it still isn’t good enough that we have a very lopsided world story to tell in terms of those who are vaccinated and those who are not.

The COVAX is one such instrument and one such mechanism. I think production is picking up substantially and supply chains are improving. And I think the next six to nine months are critical in getting the vaccines out to low-income countries. Now, one of the nicer initiatives we’re doing—I spoke to the president of the European Commission yesterday—is we are bringing or putting about a billion into Africa—South Africa, Senegal, and others—in terms of giving them the capacity—

HAASS: I’m sorry, a billion dollars or a billion euros or a billion doses?

MARTIN: Euros, yeah.

HAASS: Euros.

MARTIN: No, sorry, around building up the manufacturing capacity. They don’t have it at the moment, and this is to give them the capacity to manufacture mRNA vaccines, plus potentially mRNA medicines into the future and vaccines for other infectious diseases. That ultimately is the way to do it is to build up and facilitate technology transfer, know-how to those countries in Africa that can do it. So Europe is very committed to it. And we’re in partnership with the United States. We want more from the United States in that respect: relax the export bans a bit more, and they are doing that now and America is now exporting as well. I think between the U.S. and the EU it’s up to them, really, to do the lion’s share of this.

HAASS: Will this be the focus of your presidency at the Council, or will it be some other issue or set of issues?

MARTIN: Climate is a big focus. Climate is a very significant issue for us on the Security Council, the idea of getting unanimity, which is challenging. We have about—I mean, the vast majority of the countries are on board with us in making the link between climate and security. And I think that is very important because there is a clear linkage between climate change and security.

HAASS: Let me ask two specific questions, then, on climate, because it seems to me the question is—you talked about—you complimented the president and Secretary Kerry for increasing global attention. The question is whether we can translate that into results. So two things they’ve been reluctant to do—I’m curious your views—one is to sanction Brazil for its mishandling of the Amazon rainforest. Should that be part of our arsenal? And the other is, cross-border carbon taxes, that trade agreements should now essentially penalize those countries whose manufacturing, for example, relies on coal. Should those now become part of our climate arsenal?

MARTIN: Well, in the first instance, how we’re dealing with it in Europe is to try and build a consensus around it because coal-producing nations in Europe are under a lot of pressure. So, for example, Europe is doing Fit For 55, to get a 55 percent emissions reduction by 2030. That will have huge implications for Poland and other countries. But we’re going to hammer out an agreement on that and there’ll be trade-offs and compensation measures and so on and like that. And ultimately, it’s better to do it that way, I think, than a position—so on the—on the Amazon one, I think yes, there’s a balance to be struck here, and certainly we are very reluctant to enter into free trade agreements. This is going to be a hot topic in Europe in terms of the Mercosur trade agreement. If the Amazon is consistently being chopped down for agriculture, then there’s an issue for us because that’s not consistent with our climate goals. And so increasingly, trade agreements now have to reflect—seriously reflect the climate objectives, and it can’t be just clauses in the agreement which are ticking boxes. And that—there’s growing resistance in our country and Europe and elsewhere to the idea that we’d sign up to trade deals that give people free rein.

HAASS: Let me ask two questions about Europe, if I might. One is on Europe and China. One of the areas of some friction between the United States and Europe—all the friction is not simply about diesel submarines. One of the areas we have some friction is about handling relations with China. Europe signed an investment treaty, the EU with China, and then suspended it, if I understand, what, eight, nine months ago, so it hasn’t actually been implemented. And human rights-type concerns were central. What is Ireland’s position on that? Would you favor going ahead with that agreement? Is it human rights concerns that have to be met? Is it climate? Is it something to do with Taiwan? What is your sense of how Europe’s economic relationship with China ought to be managed?

MARTIN: Human rights issues will be a significant part of this—the Uighur community, Hong Kong, what’s happening within Hong Kong itself. There will be moves to seek an accommodation on climate. And to be fair, it’s not always our sense that China’s a reluctant partner to the climate issue. I think China has at times moved forward on climate, then moved back again.

HAASS: Yesterday was a good day because they announced that they would no longer build new coal plants abroad.

MARTIN: Yes. Exactly.

HAASS: They did not, however, say they would stop building them at home, so it was a mixed—(laughs)—

MARTIN: Yeah, it’s a challenge, yeah. And the issue is—let’s be honest: China is a huge economic power now. The trade relationships with Europe are significant. And ultimately the world—coming back to your multilateralism point, we’re interdependent, whether we like it or not. I took heart from President Biden’s line yesterday that the U.S. is not seeking to build new, rigid blocs in the world and that we’d enter into a new cold war-type scenario vis-à-vis U.S.-China and that people would have to pick sides and so on and like that. We don’t particularly like that trajectory or that direction of travel, so—but there will be tensions. Human rights is what will motivate Ireland most, and the climate.

HAASS: You know, your European connection is obviously central to—are you worried about Europe? You’ve got—you have Brexit; it’s already happened. You’re now entering the post-Merkel era in a matter of days in Germany. It’s hard for me to see that Mr. Macron’s hand in his elections next spring have been strengthened by events of the last few days. Polls are fairly close. Are you worried about the trajectory of Europe?

MARTIN: Ireland’s identity is inextricably bound up with Europe. We see ourselves as European. So when Brexit was happening, there was never any question of Ireland following suit or giving any truck to it. And in fact, Brexit has enhanced Irish popular support amongst the people for Europe and we experience great solidarity.

The biggest threat to all of us, really, in democratic politics is populism, is extremes growing on the right and the left. That is what I’m more concerned about and the degree to which those dynamics can impact European politics, which then creates disruption of how Europe performs, how Europe behaves and acts. I mean, there are twenty-seven member states around the table. The meetings are long—(laughs)—you know?—lots of bilaterals. Our last meeting, a significant one on climate, took twenty-three hours. That beat Northern Ireland talks, Richard. (Laughs.)

HAASS: I should make it clear that we’re thankful, though, that the EU exists because if it were not for the EU, we would have more meetings than any other organization in the world. So I feel that they’ve basically taken some of the pressure off the Council on Foreign Relations.

MARTIN: (Laughs.) Absolutely. No, on the overall, though, I’m optimistic because, in response to COVID, Europe broke new ground. For the first time collectively Europe borrowed funding on the markets to fund a massive economic stimulus package, which was against the conventional grain of how Germany would approach this in the past, and credit to Merkel and Macron for spearheading that. Ireland were enthusiastic supporters of that, even though we’re net contributors, so it was costing us a lot more, but we looked at the overall picture. Ireland exports everything we produce, and if the European market lifts, the European economy can be resilient against COVID, we will do well in terms of sending of goods and services. So—and it’s also—we’ve been longstanding—I’ve been calling for a long time for this type of approach, because we suffered during the great economic crash through a lack of that type of European response. And it was great to see it during COVID. Now, whether it sustains is the big question. I would be more optimistic than pessimistic in terms of the future of Europe.

HAASS: I’m sure I would disappoint you if I didn’t spend a few minutes on Northern Ireland. You’ll have to forgive me. I want to put that out before I open it up to our members.

Without getting into all the gory details, I was thinking about how I could try to simplify it for the likes of me. But essentially, when all is said and done, given these endless negotiations between Her Majesty’s government and the EU, do we still come down to something of a choice between that either you reestablish barriers between Ireland and Northern Ireland, between the Republic and Northern Ireland, which would be inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement, or you create some degree of a barrier, however it is defined, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom? Is that essentially—does it boil down to that?

MARTIN: In terms of the protocol? I would think we’d like to be much more nuanced than that.

HAASS: (Laughs.) You are where you are and I am where I am.

MARTIN: Yeah. (Laughter.) But the actual where we want to be is that, as I said in my remarks, opening remarks, Richard, that Northern Ireland would have a seamless access to the U.K. market, in real terms. You know? Now, there is issues around sanitary, phytosanitary checks and so on. It can be resolved. That’s the point. It can be resolved.

HAASS: Then why hasn’t it?

MARTIN: And the European Union wants to resolve it and they’re very flexible and they’re in solution mode to resolve this. I mean, I’ve met with Šefčovič, who is the vice president of the European Commission charged with this. He went to Northern Ireland. He met with all the parties. The U.K. need to also engage, meaningfully now, to bring about a resolution to this because we cannot risk this issue destabilizing Northern Ireland. And in my view, you know, the European Union’s bona fides I accept fully, without question, so it doesn’t have to be as hard as kind of a barrier. I mean, that word barrier—wrong word. And you know, we want sort of seamless movement and reduced to a minimum the necessity for checks.

HAASS: I sit corrected.

Are you worried that Stormont and local institutions could come apart over this?

MARTIN: I’m always worried about—I mean, remember the institutions were down prior to last year, but three years, and I made it a commitment and objective as taoiseach that I keep saying to all the parties the number one priority has to be the upholding of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland executive, the assembly, the north-south institutions, and the east-west, the British-Irish relationship. Good Friday was based, as you know, on three sets of relationships: British-Irish, north-south, and the two traditions on the island. No matter what happens into the future, those are the three sets of relationships that have to underpin the situation on the island of Ireland.

And that’s why I started a Shared Ireland Dialogue, where I now have entered into a series of dialogues with women’s voices, young people, to say, how do you think we should share this island in the next fifty years? How can we share it today? And so we’ve had very good dialogues on environment and climate on the island, which knows no borders, on environmental issues, protecting biodiversity, on academics.

So I have half a billion in euros attached to this Shared Dialogue Initiative. So we’re now funding cross-border research projects between our third-level institutions, which we would fund, on common topics that can help everybody living on the island.

So, to me, that’s the immediate way forward, to keep engaging, because that’s one of my disappointments of the Good Friday Agreement, if I’m honest—

HAASS: Right.

MARTIN: —that has stalled so much, in terms of the human to human contact.

HAASS: So you’re talking what I would call, without changing the political architecture, greater functionalist type interaction.


HAASS: So let me ask just a couple more questions, then I’ll stop. You know, I’ve looked at the German experience a lot. I’ve looked at the Korean question. And in both West Germany before unification and the Republic of Korea, South Korea now, there was and is some resistance to unification. There was in Germany. There is in South Korea.

How much enthusiasm is there for it in the republic? Is it an idea that in principle is supported but in practice less so? I mean, quite literally, if there were a border poll and it would require votes on both sides, would there be a clear majority in the republic for a united Ireland?

MARTIN: Yeah, there would be a clear majority. The people in the republic in principle support the unity of the Irish people, and I think people is more important than territory. And I’ve been longstanding of that view, because it’s the old Wolfe Tone idea of uniting Protestant, Catholic, and the center, and that has to be what it’s all about, ultimately.

But I would qualify what I’m saying in terms of, you know, you can do polls and so on like that. What people also want in the here and now is they want Northern Ireland to work, to function, that the institutions would work, and people want stability and they want the relationship to evolve in all facets of that relationship.

And I said earlier in my speech that when U.K. was in the European Union, because there were common—and there still are common standards, common regulations—the border was relatively seamless, even during COVID-19. I mean, there was no border. And we had people who were advocating zero COVID policies like New Zealand and who said to us, you can seal off the border between north and south because we were (sanctioning ?) people fleeing to the north or they—you couldn’t. It’s so seamless, the interaction north and south on the island in terms of people working, going to work, playing sport, and so on like that.

And that’s the reality of the island of Ireland and I think the politics have to reflect that, too. And notwithstanding the different applications of rules and regulations and guidelines around COVID-19, there was still a fair degree of interaction between our two chief medical officers and pragmatism had to take—you know, had to take over in terms of something like COVID. And I think that’s why the protocol has, unfortunately—it really was a technical trade issue. It’s been elevated to the constitutional identity level now, which I don’t think merits that. But that’s where it is and we’ve got to deal with that reality.

But, in essence, much of the standards around food, much of the regulatory frameworks that were there in the EU still stand one year after Britain has left the European Union. So I think pragmatism needs to reign supreme for the time being.

HAASS: Given that—I just want to make sure I understand you on this, and if I don’t, I apologize—what I hear you saying a little bit is that it’s premature to bring the question of a border poll to the forefront simply because things have to still happen within Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland. In a sense, it’s premature.

MARTIN: That would be my assessment, yeah, and I’ve been consistent in that.


MARTIN: And I think that wouldn’t add a whole lot to the equation right now and I think we have a lot more to do, and that’s what the Shared Ireland Dialogue was about.

HAASS: That’s what I thought.

Last question on Northern Ireland. I promise. The legacy issue. There seems to be something of a difference between yourself and the British government about how to deal with the past and to what extent proceedings ought to continue or be closed. Is that also a fair statement?

MARTIN: That’s a fair statement. That’s very fair, and two points I would make on that. What concerns us to some degree with the U.K. government is they tend to do a bit of unilateralism now and again.

HAASS: Really? (Laughter.) In my experience, that never ever (laughter)—

MARTIN: So very insightful, and particularly on the legacy issue. Now, to be fair, they’re gone back into a process with the British—through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Council. Their announcement on legacy really upset the victims and the families of the victims of violence in Northern Ireland, and also all of the political parties were against what the British government announced and so were we as a government. We made it clear to them that the agreement that you were involved in around legacy should stand and the principles around that should stand, and the discussions are underway.

Now, it’s a challenging legacy, as we know, but the progress has been far too slow. And above all, we must prioritize the families of the victims in their search for truth and also closure. And in some instances, we can’t say to someone whose father was murdered that you cannot bring the perpetrators to justice even if we find them.

HAASS: Yeah. Thank you for that. I could pursue that but I won’t.

So let’s open it up to questions. It’s—let me read my points here. This is on the record. I should have told you that before, and anything you said can and will be held against you in some future election, I’m sure. I’m always encouraged—don’t shoot me—to have the first question virtually. I do not understand why that is the case. But I am just a puppet here. So let’s have the first question from one of our members from afar. Then, I promise you, I will address those in the room.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll take our first question from Joanna Shelton.

Q: Well, as someone sitting out here in Montana and enjoying this very interesting discussion, I have to say I’m very pleased that you are reaching out to your Zoom audience first. (Laughter.)

So I would like to just shift the questions a little bit to the process of policymaking during your presidency of the Security Council. I have the pleasure of knowing your ambassador to the U.N., who is Geraldine Byrne Nason. She was my very able assistant when I was deputy secretary general at the OECD, and it’s my impression she’s doing also a great job at the U.N.

So my question is, how do you and your office interact with your permanent delegation at the U.N. as you seek to determine what issues you’d like to pursue during your presidency, and then the management of those issues?

Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you very much, indeed, and I appreciate your comments in relation to Geraldine, who’s doing a fantastic job as—at the Security Council.

And prior to taking up the seat, of course, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, and I in the government, our priorities would be laid out. So the preparation in advance is extremely important. And as I said earlier, the key themes are around climate and security that we want to advance and get consensus on, and also in relation to gender-based violence, but also around those issues where we have responsibilities in terms of the Syrian corridor—humanitarian corridor—in terms of Ethiopia, in terms of making sure that we can get a consensus on those issues to, essentially, help the people on the ground get access to the essentials that they require.

And so it’s an interactive, but we also trust our team and so there are always in the Irish system very strong synergies between the elected representatives and the permanent civil servants working on various files, and so on. So it’s—the process is one of trust, and we complement each other in terms of the various levels at which we advocate/lobby for particular positions, if that kind of meets—deals with the question that you raised.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am? We have a microphone that will find you. You can take your mask of, I think, when you ask the question. No one here will attack you for doing so.

Q: Thank you, Richard. It’s so wonderful to be back in person in the Council. I’m Lauren Leader. I’m CEO of All in Together.

I wanted to ask you, in your role at the Security Council about Afghanistan, of course, the immense threat to the progress, safety, and security of women and girls. Such a core of that—the nation over the last twenty years has been that progress as a stabilizer for the nation and, of course, just on basic human rights levels. You, clearly, have been focusing on gender issues in the Council.

So could you speak about—give us maybe a little bit of hope? What are your sense of—what is your sense of what the levers of influence may be in the Security Council to effect better outcomes, encourage the Taliban to respect the rights of women? It seems pretty grim. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.

HAASS: Can I just piggyback on that, like, in two things in particular? Would you be prepared to propose or support that aid be made conditional on certain behaviors, or that recognition of a government be made conditional on certain behaviors?

MARTIN: Yes, I think the—yesterday we heard the deputy speaker. I was at a particular session chaired by the EU president Charles Michel on women in conflict and we heard from the deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament, and her daughter was here in person. And they gave a powerful account, if somewhat depressing also, in terms of what they had achieved and their sense of going back to the start again and having to start from scratch.

To me, I think we have to use all the leverage we have to protect as best we can the gains that actually were made over the last twenty years. If I have one criticism, I think the analysis around the presence in Afghanistan has not given enough priority to the fact that it did transform the lives of women over the last twenty years in Afghanistan in terms of their access to the arts and culture, education, the judiciary, parliament, all aspects of life.

And while I understand the political and security aspects, you know, and the military side of it, the impact or, I mean, people will say to you that the contrast between 2000 and now is just an extraordinary one. But we risk that going backwards. So I think we have to use all the leverage we have and one of the key leverages is aid. This will be a very challenging issue for us because, you know, it is the key leverage we have.

And I think—I got a sense yesterday from (the people I meet ?) there is a sense of how do we do it? OK. How do we leverage this and how do we work in terms of the engagement and the relationship with the Taliban government to get the outcomes that we need in terms of women’s access to the most essentials in terms of access to education, freedoms, human rights?

Now, it’s not—I spoke yesterday also to our representative on the U.N. team on the ground there, and there are already restrictions being imposed on U.N. women working for the U.N. on the ground and capital in terms of the distribution of supports and aid.

So this is going to be very, very challenging. And what leverage do we have? To be honest, that’s the first question. And what leverage we have we have to use to protect women and girls in particular.

HAASS: Yes, sir? Then we’ll go to a virtual next. I promise.

Q: Hello. Thank you for being here. My name is Martin Flaherty. I am at Princeton University and Fordham Law School.

And I wanted to ask a follow-up on legacy, which is, is the goal of your government to have the British government withdraw the amnesty proposal and uphold its commitments not just under the Good Friday Agreement but under the Stormont House Agreement, which was, you know, a hard-won agreement laying out a roadmap for legacy, which is not all that old, as well as the Weston Park Agreement? And are you working with the U.S. government, which, apparently, based on President Biden’s statements yesterday, would be very sympathetic to those goals?

MARTIN: Yes. I mean, we want that amnesty proposal withdrawn. But parallel with that we—there are discussions underway at the moment between all the parties, the British government and the Irish government, in relation to legacy issues.

What we really want is a recommitment to the idea of a consensus-agreed approach. But unilateral approaches to the Good Friday Agreement are not acceptable and, ultimately, does damage to the process. So it’s extremely important that that consensus, securing all party agreement, that’s what has been most successful in the past in terms of the peace process within Ireland. So that, ultimately, is our objective, that sort of consensus principle, and that you can’t go it alone because that will cause a lot of damage and will particularly undermine the rights of victims.

And the U.S. government has been very supportive of the Good Friday Agreement and it’s been consistent in its messaging to the United Kingdom government in respect to both this issue and also in respect of the protocol issue. And our ambassador, Dan Mulhall, and the team there in Washington are constantly praising the president’s administration in terms of our priorities and our perspectives in relation to this.

HAASS: Let’s get a virtual question.

MODERATOR: We will take our next virtual question from Jeffrey Laurenti.

Q: Thank you. Jeff Laurenti, a Council member.

Taoiseach Martin, I’d like to pick up on your theme of agile and effective multilateralism. Ireland has been one of the few European countries to press for the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It was one of the main drivers of that treaty, which entered into force in January.

Hey, I’m all for nuclear abolition but, really, when not one of the nuclear-armed states has shown the slightest interest in being part of it, what does Ireland seriously think the treaty is accomplishing? You have, yes, the Holy See ratified it. But in Europe, even Sweden and Finland have refused.

So what is the treaty changing and what is the game plan for being able to move the nuclear abolition agenda down the road when this seems so stuck in the mud?

MARTIN: It is stuck in the mud but, I mean, historically, you’ve had progress on nuclear disarmament and different agreements. We’ve had progress. We’ve had setbacks. And I think we’re going through a phase at the moment with various agreements and so on where we are, certainly, not in the right, I would argue, globally, in terms of where nuclear weapons are going.

But that doesn’t mean you stop, you know. You keep—consistency matters too in terms of international policy and particularly around nonproliferation. It does matter, and we have to consistently articulate our views and principles on these issues irrespective of whether the going is tough or not globally. And I’m a great believer that there comes a time, and times change, moods change, approaches change, and if you look over the last forty years that’s, certainly, been the case in terms of the nuclear issue.

I mean, that is why we’re active on the Iranian issue, for example, as just one illustration to—we were strong supporters of that within the European Union, of that agreement, with all of the challenges and controversy that went with it. So we, I mean, take your point, but that doesn’t mean you just pack up and leave the table, you know. You keep pursuing your principles.

HAASS: I would actually hope that you would not pursue that agreement. I think one can—one can and should oppose horizontal proliferation. One can and should oppose forms of vertical proliferation. But nuclear abolition, I think, is a questionable not just possibility; of desirability. I would argue that the main reason we’ve not had a major war among the great powers for the last seventy-five years has a lot to do with nuclear weapons.

So I would just question the wisdom of that path. But that’s a(n) unsolicited personal abuse of the chair. (Laughter.)


Q: Thank you.

HAASS: You have to wait for a microphone.

Q: Good point though, Richard. (Laughter.)

Taoiseach, thank you. I’m Michael Hodin, CEO of Global Coalition on Aging.

And I’d like to, by way of the question, thank you for the work we’ve done together on elder care giving. You were part of that partnership work. We spoke with Maura (sp) and your staff beforehand. But the work in Ireland on elder care giving. And my point is—

HAASS: Hope there’s a question there.

Q: Yes. My point is that in the context of multilateralism, this aging of society is a missed opportunity and the capacity to care globally. One thinks about China, where you will have more people over eighty over the next couple of decades than the entire American population. The need to care is essential and you’ve done a lot of work in Ireland directly. Maybe you can take some of that work into the multilateral efforts at the U.N.

Thank you.

HAASS: There’s several of us in this room who increasingly see the logic of that argument. (Laughter.)

MARTIN: It reminds me, I was a minister for health in the early 2000s, and someone came up with the bright idea that—in the OECD that we should put ministers for finance and ministers for health into one room because, you know, we always fight. Health want more money. Finance don’t want to give you the money. And it got—the meeting became very interesting, and I was—(inaudible)—of the Swiss guy, who kind of ended up saying people are—people are living longer, he said. They’re getting older all the time. It’s depressing. (Laughter.)

And so I was with Tommy Thompson, actually. That’s the—

HAASS: It’s also essential to our membership. We can’t—(laughs)—

MARTIN: And Tommy and myself whispered to each other—but Tommy and myself whispered to each other—I was the secretary of state for health at the time—and we—I probably wanted to live longer, you know, kind of thing. So we both got up and said, listen, this is a good story. (Laughter.) It’s the power of medicine. It’s the power of prevention and all of that and healthy living.

So I look at the fact that we’re living longer as a positive, but it does, of course, create challenges. And we’ve learned a lot in Ireland and we still have a journey to go because we’re still a relatively young population relative to others. And I think we can and we, certainly, can share some of our lessons with the global community, but others are doing it well as also, you know, and in some cultures age is held in the highest of esteem and respect and we could borrow a bit of that too, in the West from Asian communities, for example. And so it’s an interesting—I mean, that will be the—a growing challenge globally. Of that there is no question.

HAASS: A virtual.

MODERATOR: We will take the next virtual question from Jeffrey Rosen.

Q: Thank you, and thank you for presenting today and throwing some additional light on the personality of Dr. Haass. Any additional—any more that you’d like to say, of course, would be appreciated.

I’m curious about—

HAASS: Thank you, Jeffrey.

Q: —Ireland’s position on the—I don’t know that it’s an American initiative but, currently, it’s a global initiative—on a global minimum tax on corporations. My impression is that Ireland historically has benefited from a favorable tax environment for multinationals for manufacture and so forth. I’m curious how you look at this initiative and what its impact might be on you if it’s implemented.

MARTIN: Yeah. I mean, basically, we’re part of the OECD process. We have been since 2013, with the BEPS process and so on. We have a fully transparent tax system. And the first overall point I would make is membership of the European Union was perhaps one of the greater catalysts for Irish modern economic development and the access to the European market. That shouldn’t be forgotten, and that’s why a lot of American companies do well in Ireland as well, that sort of English-speaking, common-law country, access to the European Union.

Secondly, our investment in education, particularly from the 1960s onwards, has been a dynamic factor in our success. And yes, the corporate tax rate was an effective tool in addition to those tools. But without those two, the European Union and the education piece, and particularly in the ’70s and ’80s the third level piece and fourth level, no tax rate in the world would have facilitated Ireland becoming now a center of manufacturing excellence in the life sciences and in even technology, and I would argue that Ireland is a contributor to the global proposition that U.S. companies have to offer. We add value.

Now, on the OECD process, we have not signed up to the consensus yet. There’s a journey to travel here. We believe any deal must give certainty and continuity and consistency to the investment landscape. What do we mean by that? We mean that, you know, there’s a phrase in there, at least 15 percent. This can’t be changed every two years, every four years. People need long-term certainty around the environment into which they are investing, and that’s critical.

Now, there have been changes along the way in the OECD process. You know, the original rate of 21 percent has come down to at least 15 (percent). The financial services has been kind of carved out. There’s issues around the threshold at which this new minimum rate would apply.

So the next number of weeks will be critical in bringing this to a conclusion. Ireland wants to be part of an agreement. We want to be within the OECD process. But we’re in discussions and negotiations with the key players in respect of this, and that’s where it is right now.

HAASS: But are you worried that this could end up working to your disadvantage?

MARTIN: I mean, some aspects. Pillar One, for example, will mean—this is where you distribute some of the revenues to the country where the activities are—will result in a loss of revenue to our exchequer. We factored that in. That’s the Pillar One piece. It’s the Pillar Two piece that we’re more concerned about around the rate and the certainty around that.

There is merit in the OECD process if it gives certainty, if it brings things to a conclusion, which would be unprecedented in terms of a global agreement and that—but an agreement that gives us certainty, where we feel that that would protect our competitiveness. Now, like, we, obviously, want to protect our competitiveness on all fronts. But we think a global deal if it’s satisfactory and if it gives certainty, we believe we can be competitive in that environment.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am?

Q: Thank you for being with us, sir. Chloe Demrovsky, president of Disaster Recovery Institute International.

Much of the conversation around climate change is about mitigation, and rightfully so. But our security, certainly, depends on our ability to adapt. So can you speak a little bit to how your work will ensure our adaptation to what we know will occur in the near future?

Thank you.

MARTIN: I think—well, the first thing we have to do is to get an acceptance across all members of the Security Council, for example, that there is this genuine link between climate and security because that acceptance isn’t fully there amongst all members yet. Now, we’re working on that and Geraldine and the team are in discussions with the various members in terms of achieving that, in the first instance.

You’re right in terms of the adaptability piece. I think we have to be far more working and developing supports in advance rather than waiting for the event to happen, or the—for example, desertification or in terms of production of food, and so on like that we do have to take steps well in advance and support financially those steps in areas that are most effective, and to offset the damage that will occur as a result of events and so forth and—

HAASS: Are you going to push for—one of the questions is the level of contribution to this international fund. Is that one of the things on your agenda for your Security Council presidency or for Glasgow? I mean, is that a realistic—

MARTIN: Yes. Yeah, it is, and I spoke to—but that will be in the—we will do that in our European Union context. I mean, President von der Leyen, I spoke to her yesterday morning on this and she’s very hopeful now because of President Biden’s statement yesterday, indeed, in the General Assembly that there’s a real prospect of getting to the 100 billion (dollars) target because of the American statement yesterday, and the EU’s contribution, of which we are a part.

HAASS: OK. Anything more in the room here? All the way in the back.

Q: Good morning. Global markets correspondent at CNBC, Seema Mody.

From speaking to executives across Silicon Valley and Wall Street, there is a really large concern around the supply chain shock they’re facing right now—congestion at ports, food prices now at the highest in a decade. I’m wondering, given your economy is so heavily reliant on imports, what you are doing to get around this risk and be more self-sufficient over time.

MARTIN: Well, so far, I mean, that supply chain is one potential sort of negative on the horizon, and at the moment our economy is bouncing back. Our FDI side, which is what we call the foreign direct investment that’s located in Ireland in terms of life sciences and technology, is exporting very strongly and our domestic economy is also bouncing back.

There’s two aspects to this for us. One is the COVID side of it—you know, the impact of COVID on supply chains, inflation. The ECB is of the view that the inflationary spike here will be short term, though the jury’s out on that, I’d say. But that is the ECB view still, and that things will settle.

I have a concern about the Brexit supply chain, which is being masked by COVID. And our sense is there are real difficulties manifesting on the U.K. around the supply chain shortage of hauliers, and some of that is related to the Brexit decision because Britain was not prepared for Brexit and many of their SMEs are really frustrated. Many of our SMEs are saying to us that whereas when U.K. was in the European Union, you could ring up. You’d get an order within days. It’s now taking weeks.

So you have a combination of both the COVID impact and also, under the radar for the moment, the Brexit impact on supply chain and the movement of goods. And British exports to Europe have come down significantly in a year. No one quite anticipated the level of reduced British exports to the European Union.

There’s increasing evidence that many of our smaller companies are sourcing to the mainland of Europe now in terms of goods, and so this will be very interesting as it plays out. I think the COVID situation will settle but it could take a year, I hear from analysts, for it to settle. The Brexit one actually will be more important to us because it’s our nearest neighbor and we have a very strong economic relationship with Great Britain, and that’s the one we have to keep a very close eye on in terms of what’s actually happening, what are the dynamics of Brexit on that relationship.

HAASS: I’ll squeeze in one last question. She mentioned Britain. One of the things we’re watching closely and reading about every day is the spike in energy prices, particularly natural gas, and the question I have is whether Ireland is experiencing some of that as well and what this says about Mr. Putin’s Russia and how we need to deal with it and whether you believe that Europe has made a major mistake strategically as well as economically in the whole Nord Stream process, that, essentially, by tying itself to Russia, Europe is going to pay an economic and strategic price.

MARTIN: Yeah, and the—first of all, we are experiencing that and the fuel prices are rising. We’re betting heavily on renewables. Offshore wind will be the next big play in Ireland for the next ten years. And so, I mean, you know, people looking for investment opportunities in renewables, offshore wind in Ireland. We have created new legislation. We streamlined the application process and—

HAASS: There’s a signup list outside the room.

MARTIN: And one thing Ireland has in abundance is wind—(laughter)—


MARTIN: —onshore and offshore—(laughter)—and so that’s the first—so I get in there.

But in terms of the Nord Stream project, I mean, you know, Germany is heavily invested in that. I respect German strategic thought. I do, and I admire them. They’ve been at the center of Europe for a long, long time.

So but there are risks attached to that relationship, which are back to your interdependence, you know. If someone has something to sell, they have to sell it, don’t they, ultimately? You can cut it off for a period, but you’re, you know, ultimately, going to have to, you know. So and Russia is going through its own challenges as well, even on the vaccination front and COVID and so on. And earlier on in the whole COVID, Russia was endeavoring to sell Sputnik to European countries as a geopolitical play, even though they didn’t have enough Sputnik vaccines and so on like that. But all that kind of petered out very quickly. And but they still have very low vaccine rates, which is affecting their economy.

But to cut to the chase, there is no simple answer to this in terms of going it alone or being self-sufficient, other than we think that the renewable agenda—

HAASS: Diversification into renewables.

MARTIN: —with hydrogen eventually is the Holy Grail that can be achieved.

HAASS: I wish you luck on that, and I wish you luck on all else.

Thank you, sir, for coming here today.

MARTIN: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you. (Applause.)

HAASS: We look forward to welcoming you back in the future. But thank you very much.

MARTIN: Thank you very much indeed, Richard. Thank you.


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