Address to the Committee of Ministers [Approx. 15 minutes]
7 November 2022
Ireland assumed the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers in Turin six months ago, at a point of profound crisis for our continent and challenge for this Council.
Grave moments, I maintained then, must be matched by great ambition.
And our aspirations reflected that.
As Presidency, building on the foundations laid by our Italian friends, we set out to renew what we consider ‘‘the conscience of Europe’’.
Recognising that, in deciding in March to expel Russia, the Council had acted as conscience demanded.
But that the task now was greater still.
To show the same conscience, the same conviction, the same urgency in supporting Ukraine.
In holding Russia to account.
And in reaffirming democracy, human rights, and rule of law across our continent.
As I told the Parliamentary Assembly in June, Ireland’s Presidency has had no higher priority than Ukraine.
These past six months, our first duty, working with President Kox, Secretary General Buric and others, has been to ensure the Council’s expertise is channelled as effectively as possible towards Kyiv.
To that end, we backed agreement of the Council’s new adjusted Ukraine Action Plan.
In July, we helped fast-track Ukraine’s accession to the Council of Europe’s Development Bank, establishing a new Donor Fund there to aid those displaced by the war.
In September, we joined more than twenty other states here in intervening as a third party before the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ukraine v Russian Federation.
While ahead of High Level Week at the UN, Ambassador O’Reilly led the Committee here in reaffirming the need for an unequivocal international legal response to the crime of aggression against Ukraine.
We must hold authorities in Moscow and Minsk to account.
But we should not sunder ties with the Russian and Belarussian people.
Rather, where possible, we must support those seeking to protect human rights and promote democracy in either country.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a friend of Ireland from her teenage years, addressed this Committee in July, calling for “more Council of Europe in Belarus, and more Belarus in the Council of Europe.”
In September, this Committee delivered just that.
Committing to holding regular exchanges with Ms Tsikhanouskaya and inviting Secretary General Buric to establish a “Contact group” to engage with representatives of Belarusian democratic forces and civil society.
I commend you on this initiative.
Recognising that it is this Council’s imperative, in Vaclav Havel’s famous phrase, to give ‘‘power to the powerless’’.
And voice to the vulnerable.
Across our six-month term, alongside weekly meetings of this Committee, our Presidency has held over forty policy related conferences, seminars, and roundtables.
Importantly, for a nation whose values are inseparable from her culture, the team here has also hosted more than twenty cultural events.
From classical concerts to Halloween Céilís, poetry jukeboxes to the jurisprudence of James Joyce, it’s been an eclectic programme.
Reflecting the diversity of modern Ireland.
And, after the disruption of the pandemic, helping to bring diplomats and officials together.
For this and for much else, I want to thank Breifne and his team.
Whether in chairing Committee meetings, hosting visits, or posting tweets, their creativity has been considerable, and their efforts tireless.
On that theme of tirelessness, let me commend all here who were amongst the 250 people to complete our Presidency’s walking challenge.
Collectively, I understand you covered well over a thousand kilometres, striding from Strasbourg to Dublin.
I would have had you go a little further, perhaps, to my own hometown of Cork.
But no matter, Ambassadors, it was a hugely impressive effort. Although, being diplomatic, I won’t comment on the teams’ names. [Especially the Steprechauns!]
I don’t have time to list – nor will you have inclination to listen – to all our Presidency’s initiatives.
But alongside those already mentioned, I might reference a few we consider especially important under each of our three priorities.
As a founding state, our first thematic goal was to reassert the Council’s founding freedoms, above all its systematic protection of human rights.
Domestic, sexual and gender based violence is amongst the most egregious and persistent violations of rights on this continent.
So in September, our Justice Minister Helen McEntee led thirty eight of our states in agreeing a new Declaration, recommitting to the Istanbul Convention and bolstering our collective efforts to tackle violence against women.
We celebrated the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by our friends in the UK and Ukraine – a tremendous achievement, above all, for the Verkhovna Rada.
Freedom of expression and association are integral to documenting such abuses – whether by individuals or states.
Without civil society and a free press, there can be no freedom.
But for journalists and human rights defenders, the risks are rising.
It was with this in mind that in September, Ireland convened a special meeting of this Committee on media freedom and safety of journalists.
That we partnered with the Venice Commission and OSCE to hold a conference here on New Challenges to the Freedom of Association.
And that last week, we hosted Commissioner Mijatović in Dublin for a roundtable with leading Human Rights Defenders, building on an initiative by the Finnish Presidency.
In protecting these and other fundamental freedoms, the European Convention on Human Rights is our North Star.
And the Court our compass.
We recognise the implementation of Court judgments not only as a legal requirement.
But as a moral imperative.
From our own experience, we’ve seen, time and again, how judgments not only protect individual rights.
But often spur societal progress.
That’s why we treat seriously, as all on this Committee must, failure or reluctance to implement the Court’s rulings - a point I have stressed to my Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, on the continued detention of Mr Osman Kavala.
It’s why we supported the University of Galway in convening a conference in September to consider how to better enforce the Convention in areas of conflict and contestation across this continent.
It’s why, as part of a package of over two million euro in new voluntary contributions to the Council, I this morning extended Ireland’s support to the Court’s Special Fund to €200,000.
Finally, and most happily, it’s amongst the many reasons why we are so very proud in Ireland of Judge Síofra O’Leary’s election as the Court’s first Irish and first female President.
I look forward to joining Prime Minister Jakobsdóttir in calling on the court later this morning to honour Judge O’Leary and her Icelandic predecessor, Judge Robert Spano.
Alongside that engagement, and this Presidency handover, Prime Minister Jakobsdóttir and I will today address the World Forum for Democracy.
Promoting democratic participation, above all youth engagement, was our Presidency’s second priority.
Over the past decade, democratic backsliding has gained pace.
In Moscow, and elsewhere, we’ve seen how readily power can be consolidated.
How a free media can be discredited.
Judicial independence eroded.
And civil society curtailed.
We know the results.
We’ve witnessed them far too often.
Democracy is amongst our world’s most precious metals.
But left unpolished, it tarnishes.
And, over time, corrodes.
One of the tasks of the Council – one of the objectives for next year’s Summit - must be to restore its lustre.
To that end, with the support of the Secretariat, our Presidency has invested where we see the greatest need – working to strengthen youth engagement in democracy and reinforce civic education within our schools and universities.
In June, we hosted a Global Forum on the Democratic Mission of Higher Education, which gathered 200 University leaders in Dublin. And sponsored Youth Democracy Action Week, which brought five hundred brilliant young people to Strasbourg.
Last week, we held a Congress on Global Education, where many here agreed a new European Declaration committing to investment in Education for Global Citizenship and Human Rights.
And tomorrow, we will share Ireland’s hugely positive experience of Citizens’ Assemblies at the Forum, as we have already done at PACE.
Our Presidency’s final priority was to foster a Europe of inclusion and diversity, framed under the title ‘Fáilte’, the Irish for welcome.
As the brave organisers of Europride in Belgrade affirmed to the world in September, LGBTI+ rights are Human Rights.
Last month, Slovenia made history as the first eastern European state to establish marriage equality.
In 2015, the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly for the same right.
But the path to that remarkable referendum result was laid in the courtrooms of Strasbourg in 1988.
Inspired by Senator Norris’s example, and by the change our society has since enjoyed, Ireland has made protecting LGBTI rights a priority of our Presidency.
In June, we invited leading LGBTI+ activists to address a formal meeting of the Committee of Ministers for the first time.
And a fortnight ago, in Dublin we hosted a European roundtable on combatting LGBTI+ hate crime – a tragic example of which we saw in Bratislava last month.
Above all, our Presidency has set out to counter the false pretext some states advance that, by denying individual rights, they are somehow defending traditional values.
That by promoting fear, they are protecting families.
The truth is very much the opposite.
No value is more traditional than welcome.
And what does family entail if not love?
That is what the people of Ireland voted for in 2015.
What Slovenia embraced last month.
And what this Council ultimately represents.
We have been proud to serve at this Committee’s helm these past six months.
We are grateful to you all for the support you have lent us.
And know that you will be just as generous with our Icelandic friends.
Recognising that here in Strasbourg and across our continent, the old Irish proverb holds:
Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.
We live in one another’s shadow.
Now, I open the floor to comments or questions on our Presidency term.