Francis Martin O'Donnell

Francis Martin O'Donnell is the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations system in Ukraine, having arrived on 30 September 2004. He has worked in UN service for 32 years , and is therefore one of the longest-serving and most senior Irish citizens currently in UN service worldwide.


He was born in 1954 in Dublin, Ireland, and is descended from O'Donnells of Ardfert, previously of Tyrconnell, and on his mother Stephanie's side from Tyndalls, originally from Northumberland in England, where they were Barons of Tynedale and Langley Castle in the 12th century. He lived initially in County Kildare, and later in Glasnevin, Fingal, north of Dublin City.

Brought up largely in Ireland, he was also schooled in Jerusalem and Nazareth in 1965-1966, at a time when his late father, Patrick Denis O'Donnell, served briefly as a United Nations military observer with UNTSO, the oldest UN peace-keeping operation in the world.


He was schooled in St. Vincent's Christian Brothers School in Glasnevin (1960-1965 and again in 1967-1972), and also in the College des Frères De La Salle in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1965, and in St. Joseph's School in Nazareth in Galilee in 1966. He is an honours graduate in Economics and Philosophy from the National University of Ireland at University College Dublin, and has also read International Law and Diplomacy at postgraduate level in Geneva, and qualified in Disaster Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the summer of 1997, he was the subject of a two-page feature as a successful graduate in the inaugural summer 1997 issue of "UCD Connections" (University College Dublin, his alma-mater), and more recently in the CoRD magazine in Belgrade.

UN career

Since 1976, when he started as a United Nations Volunteer in Sudan, he has also served the UN in Lesotho, Mauritania, Niger, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States of America, and recently in Serbia & Montenegro. He also undertook short missions in over 40 other countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, North America, and the Caribbean.

At the end of the Cold War, he was requested in late 1991 to launch a rapid response capability for deploying UN Volunteers (UNV) to UN emergency operations worldwide. He overhauled recruitment methods, and oversaw the rapid deployment of thousands of UN volunteers to crisis zones, where they became the front-line link between relief and aid delivery agencies such as UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP, UNDP, and WHO and suffering war victims, refugees and internal displacees. The effort saved lives during the years 1992-1994 in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and many other war-torn countries during the raging inter-ethnic tragedies that succeeded the Cold War's proxy conflicts. True life stories from the field featured in Volunteers Against Conflict, a book praised by former Presidents Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, and Jimmy Carter, and written by volunteers recruited under his leadership.

Based later in Turkey, he helped assure the humanitarian corridor through Turkey into northern Iraq after the first Gulf War from 1994-1996, and coordinated earthquake relief in Turkey itself. Subsequently he held a senior emergency management role in UNDP headquarters in New York, and later lead a systemic governance team for crisis countries, developing a new policy approach to tackle root causes for preventing crisis in vulnerable countries.

In 2000, he played an important role in leading missions that helped the late Sergio Vieira de Mello lay the foundations for public administration capacity in East Timor before independence. In late 2000, he landed in Belgrade in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević, and supported the new democratic forces in bringing stability to the remnant of the former Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), preventing nascent conflict with marginalised ethnic Albanians in the Preševo Valley of southern Serbia, launching reintegration programmes, promoting human rights, and supporting reform of governance institutions, and bolstering civil society . In 2002, he was appointed by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Resident Coordinator of the UN system in Yugoslavia/Serbia-Montenegro, and later again in Ukraine in October 2004, just before the so-called Orange Revolution. He also contributed to housing sector policy in south-east Europe .

He presented his credentials to the President of Ukraine on 16 November 2004. As Resident Coordinator, he is the designated representative of the UN Secretary-General and leads the UN Country Team of UN agencies and related bodies and is primus inter pares amongst several such accredited UN system chefs de mission diplomatique. As a chief of diplomatic mission accredited to the President of Ukraine, he is accorded the diplomatic courtesy title of Excellency (see ).

Public life

Since the early 1990s, he was actively involved in promoting global peace services and inter-faith dialogue, with World Peacemakers (see ) and the United States Agency for International Development, Global Alliance of Peace Services, the Life and Peace Institute (see ), the Swedish Christian Council, Pax Christi , International Alert, and others.

He has also addressed public and expert audiences, and delivered keynote addresses at several international conferences. More recently he delivered an address (see ) to the XXII International Congress on the Family in Kiev, Ukraine (see ). Several of his papers have been published and he has contributed chapters to several published works on peace and governance issues.

He has appeared on national TV and radio programmes in several developing countries and in France, Italy, Turkey, as well as on Irish RTE, UK Radio-4 (see ), KRTV (see ) and FOX NEWS (USA) (see ), and on the BBC and CNN, Serbian and Montenegrin TV channels (RTS, B92, Beta), and Ukrainian TV as well as in various print media.

Other interests

During his early student undergraduate years he was a member of the UCD Philosophy Society, the Student Christian Movement, and in 1968, an Irish-Middle Eastern society was also founded at his initiative, and played a key role in promoting Irish trade links and diplomatic relations with states in the Middle East and North Africa throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In later years he was a member of the Society for International Development, and served on the Board of an international school in Africa.

At the invitation of the Irish Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Foreign Minister in early 1995, he contributed towards the first White Paper on Irish Foreign Policy (see ). His monograph is lodged in the National Archives, and acknowledged in the published White Paper (1996). He is member of the Institute of European Affairs (see ).

His analysis of the historical evolution of the law affecting incorporeal hereditaments as elements of intangible cultural heritage (see ) has also been acknowledged by the Law Reform Commission in Ireland, during its consideration of the repeal of 150 statutes going back to 1285 (see ). Since mid-2006, the consequent Bill on Land Reform & Conveyancing now lies currently before the Oireachtas, for adoption, having already passed in the Seanad.

He is a Knight of Malta (member of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta) and also inherited an Irish title of territorial Baron dating back to a grant by King John in 1208 , as well as the title of Hereditary Lord Steward/Seneschal for an ancient Irish county, from his late father. In addition to such incorporeal hereditaments, he owns a mountain peak in County Kerry, and has interests in forestry and land, as well as in Dublin City.

Published works

  • Meeting the Humanitarian Challenge - Between Conflict and Development, foreword by Brenda McSweeney, Executive Coordinator (edited by Maria Keating); 43-page booklet published by United Nations Volunteers, Geneva, 1995.
  • Third Party Civilian Peace Processes in Conflict Situations, second chapter (pp.11-24) in Civil Intervention - The Role of NGOs in Conflict Prevention, published by Pax Christi International, Brussels, 1995.
  • International Cooperation for Drug Control, article published in Turkish Daily News, Ankara, 30 June 1995.
  • Tolerance: Respecting Diversity in a Complex World, pp.25-38, second chapter of 258-page book Uluslararasi Hosgoru Kongresi - International Congress on Tolerance BILDIRILER published by Ministry of Culture, Turkey, in November 1995. .
  • Tomorrow's Turkey Today - The Ankara Roundtable on Human Sustainability, (163 pages), contribution in pp.119-122 on the linkage between global governance and local environmental management, published by Indigenous Development International, Cambridge, UK, in 1996 (ISBN 1-900164-01-9).
  • Some Foreign Policy Options for Ireland (40-page monograph submitted by invitation for consideration by the Government of Ireland in the preparation of a White Paper on Foreign Policy presented to Dáil, Irish Parliament in 1996), Ankara, May 1995. The monograph has been subsequently lodged by the Government of Ireland in the National Archives.
  • A Day in the Life, published in UCD Connections, worldwide magazine of University College Dublin Alumni, inaugural issue no.1 (ISSN 0791-8747), Dublin, Spring/Summer 1997.
  • Time to be realistic – troubles loom ahead, not trumpets, article which appeared in Serbian [with title “Thorns ahead, not roses”] on editorial page A6 of the Belgrade daily newspaper “Politika” on 13 January 2003
  • Politics is Public Service - People care about lives and health of children, article on page 9 of the Belgrade daily newspaper “Danas” on 15 January 2003.
  • You need a vision, article in 2nd issue of CorD, English-language magazine for diplomatic, business, and professional community, published Belgrade, February 2004.
  • Wealth of Dignity, Poverty of Destiny – article published in O’Domhnaill Abu, Newsletter no. 32, Summer 2004 of the Clan Association of the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell (ISSN 0790-7389).
  • Global Stability through Multilateralism – Why a strong United Nations is essential to defend freedom and ensure prosperity, published (pp 11-15 in Ukrainian, and 16-19 in English) in Memory of Centuries: Ukraine in the UN – 60th anniversary, published by the General Directorate for Rendering Services to the Diplomatic Missions [chief editor: Stanislav Nikolayenko], issue no.5 (56) 2005,

Policy monographs

  • Review of the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States, Geneva, Switzerland, December 1990)
  • Conflict and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Geneva, February 1991.
  • The Continuum from Relief to Development, Villars, Switzerland, November 1993.
  • Humanitarian Assistance & Peace Management, Geneva, Switzerland, 1993.
  • The Concept and Promotion of Global Peace Service, paper presented as invited Guest Speaker at the "Global Peace Service" Conference at the Church Center for the United Nations, U.N. Plaza, New York, November 1993.
  • Humanitarian Access and the Opportunity for Building-up Peace from the Grassroots, paper presented upon invitation to international seminar on "Towards a Global Alliance of Peace Services", held by the Christian Council of Sweden, and Life & Peace Institute, at Stensnas, Stockholm, Sweden, May 1994.
  • Conflict Prevention, Response, and Post-Conflict Recovery, paper presented at meeting with European Commission (DG VIII), Brussels, November 1997.
  • Governance Foundations for Post-Conflict and Other Transitions, UNDP, New York, July 1999.
  • Guiding Principles for Development of a Comprehensive Policy Framework for Governance in Crisis Countries, UNDP, New York, September 1999.
  • Fundamental Challenges for Crisis Prevention and Post-Conflict Recovery, paper for restructuring UNDP, New York, November 1999
  • Foundations for Governance and Public Administration in East Timor, basic framework for initial capacity building in East Timor, according to the late SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello, who endorsed and presented it to Lisbon Donors Conference, on 21 June 2000, and reported it to the UN Security Council on 27 June 2000.

Research projects managed

  • Promoting Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution through Effective Governance, UNDP, New York, November 1999.
  • Governance Foundations for Post-Conflict Situations, UNDP, New York, January 2000.
  • Suspended Transition - an early warning report on the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, UNDP, Belgrade, August 2000.
  • The Challenges of Social Cohesion - an early warning report on the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, UNDP, Belgrade, November 2000.
  • Governance for Human Development – Overview of Key Issues in Yugoslavia (the 1st review of post-Milošević Yugoslavia), UNDP, Belgrade, December 2000.
  • Beyond the Democratic Breakthrough – Vulnerability Trends & Perceptions (an early warning systems report on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, UNDP, Belgrade, February 2001.
  • UN Inter-Agency Assessment Mission to Southern Serbia (framework for donor support to peace-process in southern Serbia), UNDP, Belgrade, March 2001.
  • First Country Cooperation Framework for Yugoslavia, (UNDP’s country programme for 2002-2004), UNDP, Belgrade, December 2001.
  • The Challenges of Implementing the Reform Agenda – One year after the Democratic Breakthrough (review of progress in democratisation, reforms, and impact on society), UNDP, Belgrade, January, 2002.
  • Military Conversion as an Element of Security Sector Reform in Yugoslavia, UNDP, Belgrade, June 2002.
  • Governance Transition in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - Report on a High-Level Roundtable (which brought together the Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers of the Federal Yugoslav Government and of the Republics of Serbia and Montenegro with a panel of eminent international leaders), UNDP, Belgrade, July 2002.
  • Building Blocks for Reform and Recovery, UNDP, Belgrade, July 2003.
  • Common Country Assessment for Serbia and Montenegro -UN inter-agency assessment, United Nations, Belgrade, October 2003.
  • UN Compendium – Activities in Serbia & Montenegro, United Nations, Belgrade, October 2003.
  • United Nations Development Assistance Framework for Serbia-Montenegro (2005-2009); Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro, 2004.
  • United Nations Development Assistance Framework for Ukraine (2006-2010); Kyiv, Ukraine, August 2005.

Other references/citations

  • Towards a Global Alliance of Peace Services, published by Life and Peace Institute, Uppsala, Sweden, 1994 (co-funded by SIDA and Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs). (one of several contributors).
  • Seeds of Peace, Harvest for Life by Sr. Mary Evelyn Jegen, SND (Abbey Press, St. Meinrad, Indiana, USA, 1994). O’Donnell’s contributions quoted and acknowledged in Chapters 2 and 13.
  • Keeping the Peace: Exploring civilian alternatives in conflict prevention (132 pages), by Lisa Schirch, published by Life & Peace Institute, Uppsala, Sweden, October 1995 (ISBN 91-87748-26-6).
  • Challenges and Opportunities Abroad - The White Paper on Foreign Policy (348 pages), published by the Government of Ireland (Department of Foreign Affairs) in April 1996 (ISBN 0-7076-2385-5). His contribution acknowledged in list of contributors.
  • Volunteers Against Conflict (ISBN 92-808-0923-7), published in 1996 by United Nations University and United Nations Volunteers, a collaborative effort with the Humanitarianism and War Project of the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, Brown University (USA). The book includes firsthand accounts of UN volunteers deployed by O’Donnell in Cambodia, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, ex-Yugoslavia, and Somalia. Presidents Mary Robinson (Ireland), Nelson Mandela (South Africa), and Jimmy Carter (USA), all endorsed the book. Book project initiated by O’Donnell.
  • Patterns of Partnership: UN Peacekeeping and Peoples’ Peacebuilding by Tatsuro Kunugi, Elise Boulding, & Jan Oberg, published by The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, Sweden, 1996. O’Donnell’s work cited.
  • Irishman heads UN programme in Belgrade, by Deaglán de Bréadún, Irish Times, Dublin, 13 October 2000.
  • The United Nations Development Programme - A Better Way? (372 pages), by Craig N. Murphy, published by Cambridge University Press, New York/USA & Cambridge/UK, 2006 (ISBN 0-521-68316-5). O'Donnell's work and influence in East Timor in early 2000, cited (page 341).


External links

  • Swiss TV clip, descendants commemorating Flight of the Earls; March, 2008
  • Institute of European Affairs, Dublin
  • Royal Family of Yugoslavia & Serbia
  • UNDP in Serbia-Montenegro, Belgrade
  • UNDP in Ukraine, Kiev
  • United Nations Office in Serbia-Montenegro, Belgrade
  • United Nations Office in Ukraine, Kiev
  • United Nations Volunteers, Bonn
  • USAID, Washington, D.C.
  • Wilton Park Conferences, England

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