3rd Department of Foreign Affairs/NGO Human Rights Forum - Keynote Address by Minister of State, Liz O'Donnell T.D.
The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Liz O'Donnell T.D., has appealed to the media for sensitivity in the coverage of refugee issues. Speaking this morning (Saturday, 1 July 2000) at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham at the 3rd NGO Forum on Human Rights, the Minister said that "disinformation has filtered its way into media coverage of the refugee issue in Ireland. Sensational headlines, misleading statistics, unsourced claims and demonising of the refugee community can and have contributed negatively to public opinion and fuelled misinformed intolerance of asylum seekers and refugees".
Minister O'Donnell advocated the need for a sound legislative environment for a comprehensive asylum policy and explained how the Human Rights Unit in her own Department monitors all legislative proposals for compliance with the Constitution and international conventions to which Ireland is a party. "After all", she said, "if disgraced politicians, criminals and paedophiles can enjoy the full protection and clout of the Irish courts, it is right and fitting that one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups under Irish skies, refugees and asylum seekers, can likewise have their fundamental rights of equality of treatment and access to the courts vindicated by the Constitution".
At the Forum the Minister announced grants totalling over IR£300,000 in support of human rights and democratisation projects in developing countries. The latest allocation brings to almost IR£1.1 million the amount committed this year to human rights activities worldwide. The latest grants include support for:
- a conflict resolution programme in Medellin in Columbia;
- girls at risk of violence, sexual exploitation and child prostitution in Brazil;
- the peace processes underway in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo; and
- the participation of women in the democratic process in Bangladesh.
Announcing the grants, the Minister said that it is inevitable that as income inequality between nations grows, as rich economies like Ireland harness information technologies to underpin their economic growth and to benefit from globalisation, large numbers of the poor, the marginalised and the excluded will try to migrate to countries where they and their children can prosper. "Those EU countries like Ireland who complain about a ‘problem' or ‘burden' of refugees and ‘illegal' migrants should reflect on the fall off for overseas development assistance at a time when 1.3 billion people live on less than $1 dollar a day", she said. "It is to defy the compelling logic of human survival to expect the poor to put up with underdevelopment without trying to escape it".
The Minister predicted that the long waited Human Rights Commission, which will soon come into being, will become a powerful engine for change in society and for conciliation, seeking to achieve accommodation and compromise between competing rights. "The composition of the Commission will also be a guarantee of its independence", she said. The establishment of the Commission and the imminent incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law will have a profound influence on the direction Irish society takes in the coming years.