LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s main Catholic development agency has urged the Republic of Ireland to use its new position on the United Nations Security Council to protect the human rights of the world’s poor and marginalized.

Ireland won the two-year term on the UN’s most powerful body on June 17 – the first time it has held a seat since 2001 – with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar commenting Ireland is “a small country that has a big presence and is a force of good.”

“I believe it was a vote for the values that Ireland represents on the world stage – multilateralism, freedom, human rights, and the basic concept that countries in the world should work together to build a more peaceful, prosperous and stable world order,” he said.

“Our return to the UN Security Council is a recognition of our work on the world stage over many decades, and we will use our presence to advance the causes we’ve championed – peace and security, conflict resolution and reconciliation, climate action, sustainable development and gender equality,” Varadkar added.

United States ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, right, casts a vote during U.N. elections, Wednesday, June 17, 2020, at U.N. headquarters in New York. Norway and Ireland won contested seats on the powerful U.N. Security Council Wednesday in a series of U.N. elections held under dramatically different voting procedures because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Credit: Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo via AP.)

Trócaire, the international development agency of the Irish bishops, said it welcomed Ireland winning a seat on the Security Council, saying “Irish values of peace, human rights and international cooperation will be a lifeline for people living in conflict and insecurity around the world.”

Caoimhe de Barra, Trócaire’s chief executive, said Ireland will take its seat on the UN Security Council at a challenging time.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened poverty and hunger in countries already struggling in the face of climate change and conflict. This, in turn, increases the risks of violence and displacement of vulnerable people,” she said.

“At a time when other governments are looking inward, we should be proud that Ireland continues to seek to have an impact on global issues. We are an outward-looking country, one that is proud of its values and which wants those values to shape the world in which we live,” de Barra continued.

“Ireland has for many years punched far above its weight diplomatically and this is yet another example of that. Around the world, we are known as a country that values human rights and peace. Ireland can play an incredibly positive role in bringing these values to the UN Security Council,” she said.

De Barra said Ireland’s campaign was built on “a solid platform of promoting human rights, climate action, gender equality and humanitarian support.”

“Our actions now – domestically and at the UN Security Council – must be firmly rooted in that platform. Ireland can and must be a strong voice for the rights of people living in poverty,” she said.

Irish President Michael Higgins said the country promised to work on peacebuilding and peacekeeping, the elimination of global poverty, the strengthening of multilateralism, and the reform of the United Nations.

De Barra also noted that Varadkar has committed Ireland to increasing its overseas aid budget and taking stronger climate action measures.

“Both of these actions are fundamental to securing peace and prosperity around the world. Ireland winning a seat on the UN Security Council further highlights the need for the Government to follow through on its pledge to meet its international overseas aid spending commitments,” she said.

The Trócaire head also called on Ireland to use its position on the Security Council to defend the rights of the Palestinian people in the face of “the very real threat” of Israel annexing large parts of the West Bank.

“Ireland has been a strong and vocal defender of international law and the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state. Ireland’s voice at the UN Security Council will be crucial if the Israeli government follows through with its threat to annex more land that does not belong to it,” de Barra said.

The UN Security Council has 15 seats. The five permanent members — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China — have the power to veto any proposal. The other 10 members are elected for two-year terms.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome