Recently my colleague at North South Perspective and the team at The Progressive Brief published a report on the Seanad entitled, “Reform or die.” The gist I caught was that the Seanad must reform or face indefinite ineffectual peripherality within Ireland’s bicameral parliamentary system. The report raises and tackles a number of valid critiques from the perspective of young people disillusioned with the continuance of such a flawed legislature. I dare say few institutions are perfect, and thus most face calls for reform of some degree. However, on occasion these calls for reform are effectual when faced with a system particularly incumbent with systemic inadequacy. I hope such is the case with the Seanad and that the report garners enough traction within the Irish political scene to bring about meaningful institutional reform of the Seanad.
If we are to look to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) however, I wouldn’t get my hopes up on the topic of institutional reform. The UNSC, to which Ireland has just become elected rotational member to sit alongside the big bad permanent boys, or the P5 (The UK, US, France, China and Russia,) has heedlessly faced decades of calls for reform. Like the Seanad, there are a number of substantive flaws with the UNSC and calls for reform tackle these issues that can be broadly subsumed as, regional underrepresentation, permanent member expansion and the notorious, P5 veto power.
It is this veto power that contributes most significantly to the gridlock of UNSC reform. If hypothetically, the conundrum of regional underrepresentation and expansion could be solved and the quarrelling reformist strands of the G4, UFC and AU agreed upon a reformed UNSC composition (unlikely) then even still, the chance of achieving reform is diminutive. The reason lying at the feet of that intolerant veto power, wielded in the hands of five states each of which think they know best – or in the case of the UK, fears to think it knows better than the US and therefore follows it along submissively in the carcass of its former ‘greatness’. Given the internal opposition plaguing the P5 paired with the evident caveat that one could not possibly be seen to support the other, the prospect of reform passing without a veto remains tremendously low. Hence, UNSC reform’s continued and unwavering existence solely within the realm of debate, far out of plausible reach.
Thankfully, Seanad reform and UNSC reform are not as parallel as I may have previously indicated. I do believe the Seanad’s hopes for reform aren’t such doom and gloom and I think I would be correct in pointing out that no senators hold a crippling veto power. So perhaps, the Seanad with its opportunity for reform is not destined for impasse. The UNSC however, which is stifled by the safeguards embedded in its very structure, does not have such opportunity and as such, is fated to the margins of institutional irrelevance. We already see the foundations of such irrelevance as the tribal cohorts of the P5 veto otherwise approved action on the basis of intra council tensions, a notable example being Russia’s veto of the numerous UN resolutions attempting to address the Syrian Civil War. Or alternatively, one could look to the epitome of irrelevance, when one of the UNSC permanent members, the US, negates the core purpose of the entire UNSC (to authorise the legitimate use of force) and decides to plod on ahead with a war in Iraq without even seeking approval. Some effective and meaningful security council that is. Ignore, suppress and give students something to debate about in the shape of reform – that is all the UNSC is good for in its current and indefinite arrangement.