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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 12 Jul 1961

Vol. 191 No. 5

Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation—Motion of Approval.


"Go n-aontaíonn Dáil Éireann le téarmaí Bhunreacht Eagras na Náisiún Aontaithe um Oideachas, Eolaíocht agus Cultúr ar glacadh leis i Londain an 16ú lá de Shamhain, 1945, agus a leasaíodh ag Comhdháil Ghinearálta an Eagrais ag dara, tríú, ceathrú, cúigiú, séú, seachtú, ochtú, naou agus deichiú seisiún na Comhdhála Ginearálta."

The object of this motion is to enable Ireland to become a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. The Organisation is a specialised agency of the United Nations in the same category as bodies like the I.L.O., F.A.O., W.H.O., I.C.A.O., the World Bank, the I.M.F. U.N.E.S.C.O. took over the functions and assets of the former International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation of which Ireland was a member and, like the Institute, has its headquarters in Paris. Its Constitution, copies of which have been presented to the Dáil and circulated to Deputies, was drawn up at the end of 1945 and came into force in November, 1946. In its present text the Constitution incorporates a number of amendments adopted at successive sessions of the General Conference.

The purpose of the Organisation, as defined in Article 1 of its Constitution, is "to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the member nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world without distinction of race, sex, language or religion by the Charter of the United Nations." This purpose is to be realised by international agreements to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image, the development of educational opportunities by collaboration of the nations, by assuring the conservation and protection of the world's inheritance of books, works of art and monuments of history and science, and by encouraging co-operation among the nations in all branches of intellectual activity, including the international exchange of persons active in the fields of education and science and culture and the exchange of publications, objects of artistic and scientific interest and other materials of information.

With the exception of the International Atomic Energy Agency, UNESCO is the only specialised agency of the United Nations of which this country is not a member. Its membership is indeed as big as that of the United Nations, as it includes some countries which do not belong to that body, and the only European members of the UN which are not at present in UNESCO are, in addition to ourselves, Portugal and Iceland. We did not apply for membership when the organisation was founded because it was then felt that the question should be deferred until we became a member of the United Nations. Subsequently, the matter was further deferred having regard to our limited economic and staff resources and other priorities in our international relations.

There are many reasons why we should join a body with the objectives of UNESCO. There is, in the first place, the fact that our people have always taken a deep interest in educational, scientific and cultural matters—were, indeed, through the centuries prepared to make considerable sacrifice to secure educational facilities and access to them. Furthermore, Ireland has had substantial achievements in these fields and we have, of course, a particularly high reputation in many aspects of cultural activity. We have, too, a long tradition of Christian civilisation and philosophy and, indeed, our missionaries have in many countries contributed to the spread of education which constitutes one of the principal objectives of this Organisation. Finally, the fact that so very many countries belong to UNESCO makes it difficult for us to defend remaining longer outside it.

Of the seventeen newly independent African States admitted to membership of the United Nations last autumn, all have already become members of UNESCO. These countries will look to it as an independent body from which they will hope to get, without political or other commitment on their part, assistance in developing their educational systems, their scientific equipment, and their technology, which they so badly need. Ireland is in a relatively favourable position to co-operate and to contribute in these fields. We could also hope to gain from the various detailed schemes which are operated by the Organisation in relation to such matters as educational development, promotion of scientific teaching and research, the exchange of documentation in the fields of education, the natural and social sciences and culture, the development of libraries and museums, the fellowship programmes, and schemes for exchange of workers and teachers and co-operation in the broadcasting and television fields and copyright.

Article VII of the UNESCO Constitution provides for the establishment in each Member State of a National Commission or analogous body representative of the Government and of all aspects of the country's educational, scientific and cultural life. If the House approves of this motion the Government will proceed with the establishment of such a Commission in this country. Each National Commission acts in an advisory capacity to the Government and to the delegation to the General Conference. It can also maintain liaison with the Secretariat of UNESCO. As an institution these Commissions are one of the significant contributions which UNESCO has made in furtherance of the ideal of an international society of democratic states: through them citizens representative of diverse aspects of the country's intellectual life participate in the work of UNESCO. Thus the individual citizen becomes a part of a wider international effort to lay the foundations of an enduring peace.

This country's contribution to the Organisation will be of the order of £8,000 a year and provision for payment of our initial subscription has been made in the Vote for Education for the current year. The General Conference of the Organisation is held every two years in Paris and would require the attendance of a delegation of about five persons, which is normally led by the Minister for Education of a member country. The travelling and subsistence expenses of such delegations will also be borne on the Vote for Education; and the main body of work entailed by membership will be carried out by the Departments of External Affairs and Education. A permanent secretary must be provided for the Irish National Commission, but, otherwise, it is not expected that any additional staff will be required for the time being as a result of membership.

Having regard to the possible advantages of membership, the contribution which Ireland can make to the work of UNESCO and, above all, the desirability of our being a member of a world organisation of this nature, the Government are satisfied that the question of Ireland's membership of the Organisation can no longer be deferred. I hope that the Dáil will, therefore, approve the motion before it.

We shall not oppose this motion. One of the most significant features of the Minister's introductory observations is how little he has to tell us of what UNESCO has done during the 16 years since it was established. I do not know if UNESCO will provide us with any materially increased opportunity to help in the work of education in young countries which stand in need of help in that department. I believe we are doing about as much as we can do at present and I think we will continue to do it whether we are members of UNESCO or not.

I get one of the publications of UNESCO called Courier. It is a very interesting publication, circulated regularly at a very modest price. But I would have been interested to hear from the Minister in greater detail what other contribution UNESCO is making to the advancement of the world. I am bound to say, having had some experience of bodies like FAO and other subsidiary bodies of the United Nations, that there is a tendency for these bodies to multiply and, having multiplied, there is a tendency for them to grow almost indefinitely.

I spoke yesterday on the Estimates for External Affairs of the capacity of bodies of this kind to pour forth great masses of documentation, which in my experience few people ever read but which require an ever-growing staff to prepare, distribute and record. I would have been glad if the Minister could have told us what the staff of UNESCO has been in each year since its foundation. I think we would find it expanding on a truly heroic scale. Instinctively, we will lean towards any international activity designed to spread about the world the benefits of education. But that right and proper instinct does not excuse us from asking the Minister on an occasion of this kind to give us some account of what contribution UNESCO has made or is likely to make to the advancement of education about the world.

The Minister tells us its purpose:

... is to be realised by international agreements to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image, the development of educational opportunities by collaboration of the nations, by assuring the conservation and protection of the world's inheritance of books, works of art and monuments of history and science, and by encouraging co-operation among the nations in all branches of intellectual activity, including the international exchange of persons active in the fields of education and science and culture and the exchange of publications, objects of artistic and scientific interest and other materials of information.

I think, when one comes to analyse that, one is astonished by the paucity of its content. From an international organisation that has been functioning for 16 years—allowing that the first three or four years would be a period of organisation and preparation—that has been functioning in full gear for at least a decade, I cannot help feeling we are going to get very little out of it. If it does provide us with an opportunity of putting something into it, there might be a very valuable argument for our joining. On the whole, if there is an international organisation concerned with education and with promoting the free flow of ideas by word and image Ireland probably has a rôle to play and I do not think we should recoil from playing it.

I should be glad if the Minister could tell us: Do the Cominform countries belong to UNESCO and, if so, in how far do they promote the free flow of ideas by word and image in their direction? We are all too familiar with their promotion of the free flow of ideas by word and image from their enclave outwards but I have not yet heard of any substantial flow in the opposite direction. If it is part of UNESCO's task to communicate the ideas of a free world to the enslaved populations of the Communist bloc, there is a great deal to be said for UNESCO.

I think it is right to say that if there is in existence a subsidiary organisation in the United Nations of which we are a member concerned with education and the dissemination of ideas, even if we get little from it, we may have some contribution to make to it and for that reason we are prepared to approve the resolution now before us.

I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that there is a tendency for these organisations such as FAO and UNESCO to expand their staff very rapidly and it is one of the tendencies we question in these organisations when they meet. However, UNESCO has been joined by practically every country in the United Nations. With reference to the question as to whether the Communist countries are members the answer is "yes." In 1946 Czechoslovakia joined; in 1954 Bulgaria joined and in 1958 Albania joined. I think that is all of them.

In that context is it not rather remarkable to speak of promoting the free flow of ideas by word and image?

That aim is laid down in the Constitution and let us hope they will evolve so that the free flow of ideas will not be only outwards from Russia but inwards as time goes on. We have already cultural exchange operations between the United States and Soviet Russia and between Britain, France and Russia, and so on. I join with the Deputy in hoping that the free flow of ideas will flow East as well as West and that the ideas that flow from the West will be of some use and will contribute to the happiness of the peoples in that part of the world.

I agree with Deputy Dillon that our joining means that we have an opportunity of giving rather than getting. We receive all the publications that UNESCO has published and as this organisation is becoming representative of all the countries in the world we believe we should be there in order to help by our advice to see that its activities are directed in the way we should like them to go and which our people traditionally would like them to go. That is the dominant idea that weighed with the Government in making this proposition. For a long number of years we are getting all the information and the publications that UNESCO produces. We kept an observer at these bi-annual conferences but we had not the right to vote. We believe we should now join and exercise our vote and our voice in the organisation.

Question put and agreed to.