Global Forum - Higher Education Leadership for Democracy, Sustainability, & Social Justice
Dublin City University
17 June 2022
Closing Remarks by Minister Byrne
President Keogh, Provosts, Professors,
I’m told the best way to stay awake through a closing conference speech is to deliver it.
So after two days of deep deliberation on democracy, and having already heard from my colleague, Minister Harris, I promise I will not keep you long from your lunch.
Or from the joys of a Dublin weekend.
However, as Minister for European Affairs, I do want to say a little about how your work this week aligns with the values to which Ireland aspires.
And the priorities we’ve set for our Presidency of the Council of Europe.
In that context, let me first offer special congratulations to Dr Sjur Bergan (Shoor Bergan) on his conferral with an honorary doctorate yesterday.
As a student of history, Sjur (Shoor), you’ll be interested to know that, in this month fifty-nine years ago, another great advocate for political and academic freedom was awarded a doctorate here in Dublin.
Dublin City University did not exist at that time.
So President John F Kennedy had to make do with a degree from Trinity and University College Dublin.
Awarded in St Patrick’s Hall, rather than here, on St Patrick’s campus.
Still, the President accepted it with the best Boston grace.
Remarking, as he did so, that, when the two colleges’ football teams next clashed, he would cheer for Trinity and pray for UCD!
Now, friends, if you learn nothing else about DCU this week, know this.
Given this college’s superlative record on the playing field, Sjur (Shoor) can look forward to a great deal of cheering in the years ahead.
And will have little need for prayer.
Of course, as if to underscore its sporting pre-eminence DCU boasts its own star Ronaldo!
So, while congratulating Sjur (Shoor) and his colleagues at the Council of Europe, let me - let us - pay tribute to Professor Ronnie Munck, and all those who worked with him these many months in organising this vital Forum.
A round of applause, please, for Ronnie!
Last year, in a stimulating essay on the promise of education, Sjur (Shoor) wrote that:
‘‘Without education, no future – or, at least, not one worth waiting for’’.
To me, that captures succinctly part of the imperative for this Forum.
Our planet’s future depends on the values, knowledge, and modes of thinking and behaviour that our educational institutions – and those who lead them – foster in the next generation.
There is no planet B, President Macron observed.
And while there are many paths to a progressive education, there is no alternative to it.
If we are to tackle the problems of the world – to combat climate change, protect liberal democracy, and promote social justice - the ideas, the energy, and the execution must come through the young people you all work with and advocate for.
That is an awesome responsibility. But also a special privilege.
And one I know everyone here is determined to fulfil.
The diaries and papers of Seán Lester, one of Ireland’s greatest diplomats, reside here in DCU.
Born to a staunchly unionist family in 1888, as a young man Lester was won over to the cause of Irish nationalism.
Having helped secure our independence a century ago, he was amongst our young state’s first diplomats.
And would go on to become the last Secretary General of the League of Nations, leading the organisation through the Second World War.
His biography reminds us how complicated our island’s history is.
But also how, since its inception, this state has been committed to – and dependent on - multilateralism.
The Council of Europe speaks to that story too.
Last month, we marked the fiftieth anniversary of Ireland’s vote to join the European Economic Community.
But a quarter century before that vote, Ireland lived – and shaped – European values.
In London, in 1949, in the wake of war on our continent, we were amongst the ten original signatories to the Statute that created the Council of Europe and the European Convention and Court of Human Rights.
It was on Ireland’s initiative that a commitment to ‘‘the pursuit of peace’’ was added to the preamble to the Statute.
And on the 20th of May, with war again unfolding, we assumed the Presidency of the Council’s Committee of Ministers for a seventh time.
And it’s that ‘‘pursuit of peace’’ - and accountability for its violation - which occupies our minds today.
Here, we’ve always considered the Council to be ‘‘the conscience of Europe.’’
In expelling Russia, it acted as such.
As Presidency, we are now determined the Council should show the same conviction, the same conscience, in supporting Ukraine.
Next week, at the European Council we will firmly support Ukraine’s application for EU candidacy status.
In New York, as a member of the UN Security Council, we have pushed forward resolutions seeking to end the conflict and mitigate its worst impacts.
In Strasbourg, likewise, we are committed to ensuring the Council of Europe uses every tool at its disposal to aid Ukraine and to bring Russian authorities to account.
In the short-term, that means documenting and responding to violations of human rights perpetrated on Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
Safeguarding the rights of those displaced by the conflict, above all the most vulnerable groups; children, women who may be a target for sexual violence, and minorities, including Roma.
Over a longer time horizon, the Council has a still greater task.
To aid Ukraine in building back its judicial and democratic institutions.
To support the authorities in embedding the rule of law.
And to foster a vibrant civil society which will hold leaders to account.
These and other reforms are essential not as a means to the end of EU membership – although they will deliver that.
But as an end in themselves.
Because they are the freedoms Ukrainians are defending.
They are the future for which they are fighting.
And for which we are all rooting.
One of the most important of those freedoms is the freedom to be yourself. And to be respected for it.
This lecture theatre is dedicated to a remarkable woman, Ann Louise Gilligan.
A theologian and teacher here in St Patrick’s College, she and her wife Katherine Zappone, a former Minister, were two of the leading activists in the drive for marriage equality in Ireland.
Their embrace in Dublin Castle on the day the referendum resoundingly passed in 2015 was captured in newspapers the world over.
But that remarkable achievement can be traced to a courtroom in Strasbourg.
In 1988, a friend of Ann-Louise, Senator David Norris, took a case against our state to the European Court of Human Rights.
He was represented by a barrister who would go on to be our first citizen, former President Mary Robinson.
Their victory resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.
Protecting individual rights.
Forcing change on a state and society that needed it.
Just as Ann-Louise did.
She died, before her time, five years ago, this very week.
But on this campus, and across this country, her legacy endures.
Indeed, it’s inscribed on the wall beside us.
That legacy is love.
As President Kennedy said all those years ago in Dublin ‘‘democracy is a difficult kind of government’’.
It asks us to work towards the common good.
To be selfless in promoting the rights of others.
‘‘Never a final achievement… it is a call to untiring effort.’’
If it’s to survive, and thrive, in the decades ahead, our young people must understand what makes this effort so essential.
Civic education – at all levels – is key to that.
That’s why Ireland has made the promotion of participatory democracy and youth engagement one of our three priorities as Presidency.
Why we so welcome this Forum.
And why, in November, as our Presidency term draws to a conclusion, we will host a Congress in Dublin Castle to agree a new European Declaration on Global Citizenship Education to 2050.
A reason for some here, perhaps, to make a return visit.
I promised to be brief.
And Ministers, of course, always keep their promises – or try to!
Yesterday, as you all know, was Bloomsday.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Joyce’s epic Ulysses.
A novel in which almost nothing happens but that encompasses almost everything, it ends with literature’s most celebrated closing chapter - Molly Bloom’s soliloquy.
But the last words of Ulysses aren’t ‘‘yes I said yes I will Yes’’.
They are ‘‘Trieste - Zurich – Paris, 1914-1921’’.
Because the most Dublin of Dublin novels – a work so intrinsic to this city that Joyce said of it that if ‘‘one day Dublin suddenly disappeared from the Earth it could be reconstructed out of my book” – was written on the European continent. In a time of war.
It’s a reminder, if reminder is needed, of how deeply European Ireland’s identity is.
How much a part of Europe we are.
But let me end, by quoting from another of Joyce’s masterworks.
In ‘The Dead’, the final story in Dubliners, Gabriel Conroy laments that: “sometimes I fear that this new generation, educated or hyper-educated as it is, will lack those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humour which belonged to an older day”.
We know that this new generation will be highly educated.
But, through your collective efforts, through the initiatives you’ve discussed this week, through the ideas you take home with you, I know too that the quality of humanity that Conroy feared, a century ago, may be lost for good, will endure still.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh a chairde.
Thank you all.