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Minister Cannon T.D. speech on the Council of Europe's response to current and potential challenges

As we prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe next year, we are collectively facing one of the most serious crises to the current and future well-being of the Organisation since its creation among a spirit of new hope and beginnings in 1949.

As a founder member, with a deep commitment to human rights which permeates our foreign policy, Ireland has always had a strong and deep attachment to the mission and values of the Council of Europe. We should never forget the remarkable achievement to establish this pan-European body which has played such a crucial role in securing democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe.

The European Convention on Human Rights, supported by a legally-binding Court of Human Rights and providing the focal point for a wider convention-system, was and continues to be one of the great achievements of the European Continent. It has provided a backbone for the protection of human rights and is so rightly referred to as a ‘jewel’ - it so deserves our political support and protection.

It is against this background that we are increasingly dismayed about the fundamental challenges currently facing the Organisation, which threaten to undermine the basis on which we operate and are having a corrosive impact on our Organisation.

The drip-feed of allegations relating to alleged activities of a corruptive nature has impacted on the overall reputation not only of the Parliamentary Assembly, but also on the Council of Europe more generally. We welcome the publication last month of the Report of the Independent Investigative Body on the allegations of corruption and would urge the Assembly to follow up on the recommendations so an atmosphere of greater trust and confidence can be re-established in the coming months.

These political challenges are compounded by the impact of a deep and serious financial crisis. We regret the inevitable impact that the decision by one grand payeur (Turkey) to reduce its contribution is seriously impacting on the overall budgetary situation of the Organisation. Moreover, the decision by another grand payeur (Russia) to cease all payments to the ordinary budget since July of last year, resulting in a dramatic shortfall in funding, if sustained, presents existential challenges for the future of the Council. We would recall that membership of the Council of Europe, as provided for in the founding Statute, has both rights and obligations. We would call on all members to respect their obligations in full. We support full implementation of the Council of Europe statute in this regard.

Faced with these challenges, it is important for the Council of Europe to look towards the future and to identify a longer-term perspective.

[To this end, Ireland warmly welcomes the draft proposals outlined in the mandate from Elsinore to Helsinki that seeks to chart a political horizon for the Council of Europe for the next decade. We wholeheartedly agree that there should be renewed focus on the core values articulated in articles 2, 3 and 4 of the Convention - on the right to life, the prohibition of torture and prohibition of slavery and forced labour. The Convention has provided us with the gold standard for human rights protection. Developing future policies on the nexus between human rights, bio-ethics, artificial intelligence and new technologies is necessary if our European conscience is to keep abreast of science. The Council of Europe should focus on being a centre of excellence for human rights protection in the 21st century.

It is through respect for the Convention and the institution that we are strengthened collectively. The Council of Europe is unique in its composition and we should strive to renew, reform and nurture this institution which has stood us in good stead. Ireland stands ready to play its part in resolving the current challenges and consolidating the Council of Europe’s achievements for the future.

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