Behind the Flags: My Experience at the United Nations
By Orla Murphy, Irish Youth Delegate
I had tried to envisage what my first steps at the United Nations would look like, but never did I imagine that I would bump into David Beckham in the turnstiles entering the international power hub.
As a graduate of Politics and International Public Policy and Diplomacy, the United Nations was, in my mind, an omniscient organization that was impenetrable. However, at the launch of Ireland’s inaugural United Nations Youth Delegate Programme in May 2015 with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, I was invigorated; the dream was becoming a reality.
On 25 September 2015, the sun rose over the United Nations at 5:30am as my co-delegate Eoin O'Liathain and I stood among 193 youth representatives from the Organization’s 193 Member States watching the United Nations security staff raise our national flags. Shortly afterwards, I was standing between the Israeli and Palestinian representatives in solidarity with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai as she addressed the General Assembly during the opening day of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, the largest ever congregation of world leaders. Beginning her speech Malala demanded the attention of the audience, asking them to turn around and listen to the voice of young people.
His Holiness Pope Francis was also present at this event but he wasn't the only superstar in white robes; moments later, the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Shakira took to the stage in a white maxi dress to perform a poignant rendition of John Lennon's “Imagine”. A swell of emotion seemed to wash over the room; the pride of the imminent adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the intimidating enormity of the task lying ahead – the implementation of those goals by 2030. When the gavel finally dropped and the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals were officially adopted the General Assembly hall erupted in celebration.
Later that day we had the privilege of addressing our President, Michael D. Higgins, at a meeting that he hosted for members of civil society. This allowed Eoin and I the opportunity to share the concerns of young people which we had received through our outreach initiatives prior to departing for New York. Our statements to the Third Committee of the General Assembly also allowed for this, as Eoin highlighted the success of the Irish Referendum on Marriage Equality while voicing concern for the mass emigration Ireland is experiencing, and I focused on the need for Irish society to embrace minority groups.
During our New York visit, Eoin and I organized a workshop for Youth Delegates where we exchanged ideas and created actionable outputs for communicating the SDGs at home and campaigning for youth engagement at local, national and international levels. The Youth Delegates made elevator pitches and action cards – this made for focused discussions and also great ideas for us all to utilize upon our return home.
My time in New York was unforgettable: I walked down corridors alongside Heads of State; met 007 himself Daniel Craig as well as the United Nations Mine Action Service Representative; watched the Palestinian flag being raised in the United Nations Rose Garden; but most of all, I saw the heart of the United Nations. I met with change-makers, true global citizens who work for a better world for us all.
It is a cliché to call the experience life-changing, so perspective-changing might be a more palatable description. My spirit has been reignited with vigour and I am truly excited to engage with young people at home, and connect with those I met in New York, with a view to changing the world for the better.
About the Author:
Orla Murphy, aged 23, is an Irish Youth Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly for 2015. Orla has been a member of the Irish Red Cross Society since she was ten years old and has represented Ireland internationally on the Irish First Aid Team and as a Youth Delegate and Youth Leader. Orla is a three-time graduate of University College Cork, initially completing her B.A. in English and Politics in 2012. In 2013 she graduated with a Master's in International Public Policy and Diplomacy, with a focus on international human rights law, migration, and refugee law.
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