"Moral obligation to advance human rights at home and abroad" O'Donnell
"Human rights are the birthright of all human beings. The protection and promotion of these rights is the first responsibility of every government" said Minister O'Donnell this evening. The Minister, who has special responsibility for human rights, was speaking to the Dail in a debate marking the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She said that a meaningful human rights policy cannot exist in isolation. "We need to ensure that awareness and vindication of human rights permeates the whole of our foreign policy including humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, conflict prevention and crisis management, peacekeeping and asylum issues".
Referring to asylum-seekers and refugees, Minister O'Donnell said that there can be no place for racism in Ireland. An additional £ 90,000 will be spent next year on increased activities to combat racism and xenophobia. "I am confident that we are moving towards the establishment of a credible system. Asylum-seekers and refugees now ask from us what we received from others in the past - security and the chance of a better life".
The Minister welcomed the recent agreement on multi-annual funding for the aid budget. " Far from the target of 0.45% of GNP being abandoned, we have put it within reach". The total amount of £ 400 million committed for spending over the three years will bring Ireland from twelfth into eighth place in the table of donor generosity. The Minister said that the new approach will enable funds to be guaranteed in advance "The aid practitioners who work at the coalface of the aid delivery process are unanimous in the view that predictability of funding is the single most important factor in terms of effective programme planning".
The Minister paid tribute to the many NGOs and individuals active in the area of human rights. She said that the new Human Rights Commission, as agreed under the Good Friday Agreement, would greatly increase human rights awareness in Ireland. Legislation is to be published "shortly" to establish the Human Rights Commission and this, together with our new anti-discrimination legislation "will shore up the system of protection of human rights into the next century".