Patrick J.


President of Ireland

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 2 October 1984

A Uachtarain, gabhaim buiochas o chroi leat, a Uachtarain, as an bhfâilte mhôr chroiüil a chuir tü romham anseo. Is mor agam an onoir a thug tü dom tri chuireadh a thabhairt dom teacht anseo agus labhairt le tionôl chomh céimiüil. Is mor an chüis âthais dom é bheith anseo.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for giving me the great honour and the deep personal pleasure of addressing this Parliamentary Assembly, the tradition and practice of which reflect the faith of our peoples in greater European unity and its members’ commitment to that noble ideal.

As I listened to your generous words of welcome to me, Mr President, I felt grateful indeed. My presence here today to address the oldest of the European political institutions rekindles for me very happy memories of earlier visits which I made.

I am very conscious of the honour which you, Mr President, and the Assembly have conferred upon me by your invitation. It is an honour which, I assure you, is deeply appreciated by my country. In accepting your invitation I was eager to emphasise Ireland’s deep attachment to the ideals of the Council of Europe and to emphasise my country’s and my own personal commitment to the goal of European unity.

My visit, therefore, is a great personal pleasure and is renewed evidence, if such were needed, of the high esteem in which the Council of Europe is held by the Government and people of Ireland.

I take this opportunity of extending a special greeting to the distinguished Secretary General to whom as it begins I offer my best wishes for a successful and fruitful term of office. I am confident that his idealism and his great personal talents will give a new impetus and dynamism to the activities of the Council.

Ireland has been an active member of the Council of Europe since the organisation’s creation in 1949. It is proud of the fact that from the beginning it joined with other member states, which were moved by the same vigorous commitment to European unity, in wholehearted pursuit of the objectives enshrined in the Council’s statute. It is significant that the founding members sought inspiration in the ancient roots of European culture and in the European heritage of shared spiritual and moral values. Their realism and their vision are expressed in the direct, precise language of the Statute. At the centre of the activities of this organisation—the first political offspring of the European movement—they put the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The European concept of the dignity of man is thus essentially related to that moral centre of gravity in which the Council is firmly anchored.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Council’s first convention was the European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force thirty-one years ago. In an age when we have become accustomed to delays before a convention is ratified and implemented, it is significant to recall the speed with which the European Convention on Human Rights, the Council’s masterpiece, was drafted, ratified and implemented.

The clear-sighted realism which inspired the minds of the drafters of the convention was given eloquent expression in the machinery devised for its implementation—the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission of Human Rights, as well as the Committee of Ministers acting as an organ of the convention. This machinery safeguards human rights in a most effective manner. Its effectiveness is a tribute to the Council of Europe and to its mission to protect human rights.

Much has been written about the protection provided for the individual against states, including his or her own state. It is scarcely an exaggeration to claim that, while the European Convention on Human Rights has been resorted to by thousands, it has affected the daily lives of millions. This result has arisen not solely from the inherent potential of the convention but also because in practice laws in member states have had to be adjusted to the requirements of the convention as applied by its organs. This, I need not emphasise, is a process which is of universal significance.

The individual right of petition is without doubt of great significance in heightening public awareness of the Council’s human rights system. This awareness, in turn, has contributed generously to the effectiveness of the system. Nor are the positive effects of that system confined to the legal and social fields. There are also significant political consequences. Individual citizens, or minority groups, who believe that their basic human rights are denied or eroded by deficiencies in political institutions can take courage from the fact that these rights are internationally guaranteed and protected.

I recall with pride that Ireland was among the countries which accepted at the outset, and without limitation of time, the right of individual petition and the jurisdiction of the Court. I am glad to note that, far from being complacent as a result of what has been achieved to date, the Council is making progress in its deliberations on means of improving and strengthening the system and speeding up procedures in dealing with applications.

I would like to pay tribute to the Council’s contribution over the past twenty years to social progress in member states through the European Social Charter and its associated treaties, including the European Code of Social Security. If the Social Charter is now generally regarded as the Council’s second most important convention, it is, I think, a measure of the deep desire which exists in Europe for a society which is socially just, as well as being economically integrated.

The Parliamentary Assembly, no less than the Committee of Ministers, can take justifiable pride in providing the creative drive which resulted in the formulation and drafting of the two major instruments of the Council for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Assembly, to its credit, has never been content to rest on its laurels in a mood of self-congratulation on past achievements. Over the years, mindful always of your mission, you have continued your efforts to promote human rights throughout our continent and to adjust their protection to any new dangers which may threaten to erode them. This unfailing vigilance is of special importance in an age of rapid transformation in European society. It is equally encouraging to see that the Committee of Ministers continues its efforts more vigorously than ever to ensure that the values and ideals enshrined in the Council’s statute are promoted and realised.

The highlighting of the concept of human rights in the field of international relations has been one of the most significant developments in international politics during the past forty years. It has been, as I mentioned earlier, one of the greatest achievements of the Council of Europe and its member states to have the interest of the individual, even in relation to his or her own government, accepted as a legitimate and significant matter of international concern. It is an achievement which has had major consequences for relations between states.

If I have spoken at some length about the Council’s achievements in the realm of human rights and fundamental freedoms, it is because I am convinced that the Council first proclaimed its vocation and established its identity on the international scene in this area. It was manifest from the very beginning that the Council was not content with a statute. At a very early date it established institutions as well, and these institutions have become closely identified among people far and wide with the basic principles which inspire all of the Council’s activities.

It is no surprise that the Council of Europe, which required its member states to accept the principles of the rule of law and of the right of enjoyment by all of human rights and fundamental freedoms, should attach such importance to co-operation in legal affairs. In this field the Council’s achievements are indeed considerable. Substantial progress has been made in the development of international law. The progressive approximation or harmonisation of the legislation and legislative policies of member states in areas of common interest has been steadily pursued. The noteworthy advances made in this field are clearly visible in the many conventions dealing with such diverse and complex subjects as data protection, legal aid, migrant workers, extradition and many other agreements.

It is encouraging to see countries of such different legal traditions engaged in such fruitful cooperation. Is this not an area where close cooperation between the European Community and the Council is necessary? The need for such cooperation was made clear in the relevant section of the Solemn Declaration on European Union issued in Stuttgart last year. In that perspective, the possibility of accession by the Community to certain conventions of the Council would appear to be worth exploring.

Mr President, I have already spoken of the Council’s ability to respond to the needs and aspirations of our peoples. Ever since the adoption of the European Cultural Convention thirty years ago that ability has been evident in the fields of education and culture. Indeed I had the opportunity, while Minister for Education, of obtaining first-hand knowledge and experience of this ability. There is no need for me to review before this Assembly, which has so often been the stimulating force behind bold initiatives in that sector, the Council’s very considerable and enduring achievements in the cultural field.

We draw lessons and inspiration from the past, we live in the present, we must prepare for the future as we scan the horizon of the year 2000. As we turn our faces towards that horizon, the adoption of the European Declaration on Cultural Objectives at the recent Conference in Berlin of European Ministers responsible for Cultural Affairs is to be warmly welcomed. The adoption of this important declaration is renewed evidence of the Council’s timely response to current aspirations and realities by setting out, as a first step, guidelines for future action. It is a declaration which will, I am confident, provide a fruitful basis for collective reflection and action in the future.

We must never underestimate the strength of the impetus which the cultural forces and shared values of Europe can give to the endeavours of all European institutions towards the goal of closer European unity. We need, especially in support of these endeavours, projects that will promote, particularly among our young people, a greater sense of our European identity. There is room here for fruitful cooperation between the European Communities, which have economic and social responsibilities towards the cultural sector, and the Council of Europe, which has cultural development among its prime objectives.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the areas of cooperation to which I have made brief reference illustrate the value of the Council’s specific contribution to the pursuit of the great goal of closer unity among Europeans. That is a goal which is shared by all of us here in the Council of Europe.

I am happy to see that relations between the European Communities and the Council of Europe stand on such firm foundations and that mutual co-operation, pursued in a spirit of complementarity, has produced positive, tangible results. It is logical, in view of the different structures and procedures of the Communities and the Council that complementarity should characterise co-operation between them. Nobody would deny that the avoidance of competition and duplication is to the benefit of Europe as a whole. This calls for a constant exchange of information between Brussels and Strasbourg, particularly at inter-Secretariat level. Member states must always have a wholehearted interest in ensuring that the best use is always made of available resources in the cause of the overall objective of European unity.

The designation of 1985 by the Council and the Communities as European Music Year to celebrate the tercentenary of the birth of three great composers, Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, is to me an impressive example of fruitful cooperation between Brussels and Strasbourg. I commend the enthusiasm of this Assembly in playing such a very active and constructive part in bringing this project to fruition. Apart from emphasising the common cultural heritage of Europe, of which music is such a rich part, this joint project, which has been very warmly welcomed in Ireland, must bring in its train many practical benefits in the form of more and better opportunities, and improved conditions for young composers and performers.

I hope that we are destined to see further laudable initiatives of this kind, and that all of them will be inspired by a warm sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of young people. Such initiatives cannot but help to deepen our appreciation of our common heritage and strengthen the sense of our European identity.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, my conversations here today have given me fresh insights into your work. I know, too, that you have been giving a good deal of thought, both in the Assembly and in the Committee of Ministers, to the future role of the Council. I think that, bearing in mind the point which we have reached in our progress towards European unity, you have chosen an opportune time for reflection about the future. Indeed, the reports to the Assembly of Mr Lied and Mr van Eekelen contain many thoughtful and stimulating ideas and suggestions in relation to your future role.

In the light of the main features of the sectors which I have already mentioned it seems to me that the guidelines for a broad framework of future work may be discerned in your achievements to date. Your identity is firmly established as regards democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Your work has, in the main, focused on the individual in society, with the emphasis on the individual’s human dignity. Emphasis may change with altered circumstances, but I believe that there will always be a need in Europe for development and continuation of the work which the Council is now carrying on so effectively.

Perhaps the potential of this unique forum for democratic Europe has not been fully appreciated. In the Committee of Ministers a like-minded approach, based on shared values and common principles, can help to reconcile varying interests and attitudes of countries belonging to different groups. This is especially true in relation to foreign policy issues. Just as Europe’s historic identity has always been characterised by an outward-looking attitude to the wider world, so, I believe, the democratic countries here represented are steadily developing a greater sense of European unity by adopting common responses to shared perceptions of issues and challenges which affect us all.

Coming here again after an absence of some years, I have noticed a considerable development of political discussions in the Committee of Ministers. Looking at the subjects which are now on the agenda for such discussions—among them European co-operation, East-West relations, human rights and other issues arising at the United Nations, North-South questions, and so on—one can see the extent to which political dialogue has progressed in recent years, and at the same time discern the outlines of its potential for further extension. In that perspective I see no conflict between the intensification and co-ordination of political co-operation among the Ten—soon to be the Twelve—and the development of greater cohesion among the Twenty-one here in the Council of Europe.

The Parliamentary Assembly, of course, provides the most broadly-based forum for political dialogue in democratic Europe. The vision of the Council’s founders in providing this important democratic dimension to intergovernmental cooperation has been well rewarded. Representing the voice of public opinion in Europe, the Assembly’s opinions and recommendations enhance the value of the Council’s executive decisions. It is unnecessary to say that the intergovernmental deliberations leading to the taking of such decisions should be accompanied by a sensitivity to as wide a range of opinion as possible. On many occasions this internal dialogue of the Assembly—if I may so describe it—has provided the inspiration and vigour for some of the greatest achievements of the Council at intergovernmental level. I am convinced that there exists a continuing need for this sharing of ideas and experience among European parliamentarians.

The sense of European identity which we feel when we discuss matters in this Assembly should reflect understanding of other peoples and other cultures. Abundant evidence of that awareness of others is manifested in your deliberations on current major issues of international concern. The central place you assign to human dignity and freedom is very much in evidence in your discussions of East-West relations and the Helsinki Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe process. Once again, the Council has played a valuable role in enabling member countries to find instinctive common ground while gaining a closer knowledge of one another’s attitudes.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the challenges to democracy are increasing in range and complexity. I congratulate you on your deliberations in which you have dealt with such issues as terrorism, extremism, intolerance and social disparities. May I also congratulate you on holding the first Strasbourg Conference on Parliamentary Democracy, thus providing an enlarged forum for the discussion of all these challenges. Democracy is vulnerable to attack from many sources, so there will be a continuing need for these conferences and deliberations.

In a world where rapid scientific and technological changes have such profound effects on the sociological and cultural fabric of our countries, it is essential that parliamentarians exchange ideas and experiences in the evaluation of the consequences of such changes. There is no more appropriate forum for such exchanges than the Council of Europe, which can act as a laboratory of ideas as we prepare to respond to new challenges.

Members of the Assembly, I know, share my deep concern at the tragic situation in Northern Ireland. For more than fifteen years, violence has brought death, injuries and destruction of property on a large scale to its people. The situation that exists there can and must be ended. The search for a peaceful solution to the conflict must continue. In my country that search is accorded the highest priority and led in May of this year to the publication of the report of the New Ireland Forum.

The Forum had been established a year earlier to consult on the manner in which lasting peace and stability could be achieved in a new Ireland through the democratic process, and to report on possible new structures and processes by which this objective might be attained. Participating in the Forum were the four main constitutional nationalist parties in Ireland, from both North and South. These together represent 90% of the nationalist population and almost three quarters of the population of the whole island. Representatives of the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland, although invited to participate in the work of the Forum, declined to attend. The Forum did, however, benefit from the contributions of individual Unionists and of churchmen representative of the majority Protestant tradition in Northern Ireland.

The final report of the New Ireland Forum is generally regarded as the single most important statement of constitutional nationalist opinion for many years and as providing the opportunity for a new approach by the Irish and British Governments to the task of finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland. In a preliminary response, the British Government have welcomed major elements of the report. A considered response from the British Government is now awaited.

I know that members of this Assembly will share my hope that on the basis of these exchanges the Irish and British Governments together will find an early and lasting solution to the problem of Northern Ireland. The Assembly itself is, I know, aware of this problem and I look forward to the outcome of its deliberations. This, I feel sure, will provide a useful and positive contribution to the efforts of the Irish and British Governments in their search for just and lasting peace in Northern Ireland, a peace based on reconciliation between the two traditions in Ireland.

It is unnecessary for me to point out to this Assembly the political implications of the unemployment which is now widespread in Europe, particularly among young people. It is important that the idealism of youth should not be undermined by despair or disillusionment. That idealism with which all youth is blessed should be encouraged and supported in a positive and forward-looking manner.

Young people must be taken into our confidence as we grapple with the problems which confront our world. They must be given the opportunity of seeing the full complexity of the problems and of bringing their vision to the efforts which are being made to overcome them. Your invitation to young people from all over Europe to come here a few months ago to discuss major problems was an admirable way of celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Council of Europe. It was an initiative which complemented the valuable work already being done for youth by the Council and clearly underlined your sense of urgency. I am confident that the Conference of Ministers responsible for Youth to be held next year will give added impetus to your work in this field.

The citizens of Europe, and especially its young people, must be involved in the shaping of their own destiny. You, the democratically elected representatives of the people, have a constructive role to play in winning the understanding and support of all our citizens for policies aimed at the realisation of their aspirations. As members of national parliaments, you have a unique opportunity to make European co-operation better known and understood. I am confident that, inspired by the same vision and courage which launched the Council thirty-five years ago, this Assembly will make an enduring contribution to the work which lies ahead as we face the future with confidence.

I thank you.