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National Speech at the Council of Europe by Minister of State Cannon T.D.

I wish to congratulate you, Minister Samuelsen, and your team for the excellent leadership shown by the Danish Chairmanship over the past six months. You have steered and successfully delivered an ambitious programme during what has been a testing time for the organisation.

I very much welcome the opportunity to review the work of the Council of Europe over the past year and commend the Secretary General for an excellent report which at once captures the progress that has been achieved and the profound challenges we continue to face.

At this turbulent time for the Council of Europe, Secretary General, you are indeed justified in turning the spotlight in your report on the key role of institutions in upholding the rule of law and guaranteeing the fundamental freedoms enjoyed by citizens across the continent.

The institutions of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights are essential to realising the rights guaranteed in the Convention. Each Member State has a role to play in strengthening the organisation through their commitment to our shared values and by ensuring that the Council and the Court are well-equipped to tackle the pressing issues of our time. To quote one of the founding fathers of the European Union: “Nothing is possible without men; nothing is lasting without institutions”. As we approach the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe, we should redouble our efforts to preserve and nurture the structures that have served us so well.

The keystone of our institutional structure is, of course, the Court which underpins the legal protection of human rights in Europe. The expeditious execution of judgments by Member States lies at the heart of the normative power of the Convention. In a small number of cases, the obligation on us to abide by the Court’s judgments is being ignored. We share your concerns Secretary General regarding the worrying increase in challenges to the authority of the European Court of Human Rights. A particularly serious case is that of Ilgar Mammadov, a political prisoner in present day Europe. The triggering of infringement proceedings under article 46.4 is a strong signal of the importance that Member States attach to respect for the Convention in order to ensure the integrity of the entire human rights edifice.

Indeed, a key raison d’être of our organisation is to preserve the rule of law. We cannot therefore tolerate the existence of so called “black holes” for human rights on the continent. Regions of Europe, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Crimea, remain beyond the reach of the monitoring mechanisms. Ireland restates its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and of Ukraine within internationally recognised borders. We welcome the election of Ms Dunja Mijatović as Commissioner for Human Rights and would call for her to be given full access to all unmonitored and unresolved conflict zones on our continent. When considering, as we are today, the role of human rights in Europe, our primary task must be to respond to those individuals in the affected areas whose human rights are threatened.

Moreover, it is shocking that in Europe in 2017 five journalists paid the ultimate price for their courageous reporting on corruption and organised crime. Ireland is a proud supporter of the Platform for the Safety and Protection of Journalists. We echo your call Secretary General to Member States to implement measures to secure a favourable environment for the safety of journalists and to follow up on the alerts received via the platform.

Turning to future challenges, your report rightly highlights how new technologies can impact on freedom of expression, free and fair elections and the functioning of democratic institutions. We greatly value these forward looking policy debates and the expert guidance that the Council provides on new technology issues as it has done in other major areas of standard setting, such as the recently agreed Data Protection Convention.

Finally, Ireland welcomes the proposals for the Helsinki Ministerial next year that seek 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 organisation can build on an already important body of work on modern slavery and forced labour which represents one of the new and profound challenges of our time. 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 challenges are severe and daunting, but given sufficient political will and commitment, they are thankfully not insurmountable. The Council of Europe provides the essential framework and has the instruments to tackle them systematically.
As we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the organisation next year, let us focus on buttressing our institutions and consolidating our human rights acquis for future generations.

Thank you

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