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Remembering Brian Urquhart and his co-author Erskine Barton Childers

Date: Tue 26th Jan, 2021 | 12:40

“The news of the death, earlier this month, of Sir Brian Urquhart was heard with great sadness by all those who know and value the role of the United Nations and its organisations, and who were aware of his deep commitment to the values and practice of the global organisation on which so much of our hopes depend.

Sir Brian Urquhart will be remembered as one the foremost architects of the United Nations’ peacekeeping activities, having been closely associated with its processes from the very beginning, and in directing some of its most challenging missions.

For four decades, Brian Urquhart worked at the highest level at the UN, including 12 years as Assistant Secretary-General, and it was his role in the UN’s first peacekeeping mission, during the Suez crisis in 1956, and his later work in other crises such as the Congo, Cyprus, Kashmir and Lebanon, that shaped his vision of the future of multilateralism.

It is so important that this work has been acknowledged by current leaders, including Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Simon Coveney. For those of us who wrote or taught of the United Nations and the need for it to be supported and made more effective, there was a further need to acknowledge Brian Urquhart.

His works as co-author with Erskine Barton Childers of books on the workings of the United Nations in the 1990’s remain a valuable source on the neglected theme of United Nations reform.

In 1990 these committed scholars produced ‘A World in Need of Leadership – Tomorrow’s United Nations’; In 1992, ‘Towards a More Effective United Nations: Two Studies; In 1994, ‘Renewing the United Nations System’.

The aim of these works was, as they put it - 'to analyse the present state of the UN system and to suggest changes and reforms which might allow it to function in a more systematic and effective manner.' 

I had the privilege of knowing Erskine Barton Childers as a friend and saw his work and books with Brian Urquhart as most important, at a time of great hope for the United Nations. I was equally aware of his interest in seeing the hopes and prospects of the United Nations from, as he put it “the whispers in the Gallery”. I often discussed with Erskine Childers his experiences as an international journalist of the de-colonisation ceremonies in Africa and elsewhere of which he was writing under the title ‘Amnesia at Midnight’.

Now, as Ireland takes a seat at the UN Security Council, the citizens of all nations can be proud of the contributions of these two literary workers for the global organisation that carries our best hopes for peace and responsibility. May their books be read.

To Brian Urquhart’s family, who also mourn the loss of Brian’s wife Lady Sidney Urquhart, to his friends, and all his former colleagues at the United Nations, I send my deepest condolences.”