Address by Minister of State, Mr Conor Lenihan T.D., to the Follow-Up Seminar on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, 28 February 2005
Madam Chairperson, Ladies and Gentleman,
I am very happy to have the opportunity to address you briefly on behalf of the Irish Government.
Today's Seminar represents an important moment in Ireland's participation in the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
It closes the first cycle of reporting on Ireland and begins the preparations for the second. Politically, it illustrates the continuing relevance for Ireland of the work of the Council of Europe.
Council of Europe
Ireland's support for the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is a manifestation of our deep commitment to the Council of Europe, Europe's oldest political organisation.
As one of just ten founding members, Ireland has been involved with the Council of Europe since its inception in1949, in the aftermath of WWII.
To do this, the Council of Europe pioneered the promotion and protection of human rights on the continent of Europe. The organisation was the first to enshrine human rights standards in international law with the aim of making them universal throughout Europe.
Even today, what marks the Council of Europe out from other international organisations is its enduring concern with values, at the centre of which is the individual.
The Council of Europe's European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was the first multilateral convention which gave rights to individuals.
In terms of both guaranteed rights and judicial supervision of those rights, the ECHR remains, for Ireland and for the European Union, the essential reference point for the protection of civil and political rights throughout Europe.
For many years, the Council of Europe has had a focus on combating problems of racism and intolerance. Some national minorities may be vulnerable on this score. The Framework Convention has a key role to play in protecting them from racism and discrimination and protecting the rights and freedoms of persons belonging to those minorities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Council of Europe is a democratic anchor for the continent of Europe.
Following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, it supported the countries of central and eastern Europe in introducing and consolidating political, legal and constitutional reforms in parallel with reforms in the economic field.
A great deal is at stake for the Council of Europe at this time. Its Third Summit, in Warsaw in May, will chart the way ahead for the Council itself and for its relationship with the EU.
The Summit will certainly refocus public attention on the situation of human rights in Europe.
The Summit should copperfasten the Council of Europe's position as the European Union's key partner within the existing architecture of Europe in the work of promoting human rights.
The Summit, I think, must address the issue of ensuring coherence and complementarity between the different human rights instruments, machinery and activities emerging in Europe. Clarity and simplicity of systems is essential to broad-based democratic acceptance.
In arranging today's seminar the Government demonstrates its serious approach to fulfilling its commitments under this important multilateral instrument devoted to the protection of national minorities in general.
The Government's wishes, to continue the dialogue with the Advisory Committee. Through this dialogue, the Government hopes also to have the benefit of the Committee's experience of successful approaches adopted by other States in the implementation of the Framework Convention.
In arranging for governmental representatives, experts from the national administration, and representatives of civil society, as well as members of the Advisory Committee, to exchange views honestly on matters arising from of the first round of monitoring, we are continuing to follow an inclusive approach.
Ireland is no longer an ethnically homogenous society. We must work continuously towards building inclusive communities and intercultural respect.
In this context, the Traveller Community is an important, distinct cultural minority in Irish society. Travellers are a target group for positive action.
The high priority attached by the Government to the Travelling Community is reflected in the resources given to Traveller- specific programmes, particularly in the areas of accommodation, education, and housing.
Ireland now has one of the most comprehensive anti-discrimination codes in Europe, which is backed up by a range of statutory bodies charged with guarding against discrimination. Each of them is represented here today.
The Government are not standing still. Just a few weeks ago my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, launched the National Action Plan Against Racism, with the title “Planning for Diversity.”
Later this week, another comprehensive assessment of Ireland's record will take place when our first report under the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will be examined in Geneva.
As with the Framework Convention, we welcome this opportunity to set out achievements but also to learn about any gaps which may need to be addressed in terms of the protections we offer in a society whose population is now drawn from many and diverse sources.
But in all the discussion of rights it is vital to remember that they must also be balanced against the duties and obligations that citizens and immigrants owe to the State, community and civil society.
All of you, especially our visitors from the FCNM Secretariat in Strasbourg, are very welcome to Dublin Castle. I thank you for your participation in the Seminar and wish every success to your deliberations and to the ongoing dialogue fostered here today.