Written Answers. - European Council.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

30 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the priorities he has set for Ireland at the Council of Europe. [15011/02]

Ireland, a founding member in 1949, has been a consistent supporter of the role and values of the Council of Europe since its earliest days and has contributed actively to its work, at intergovernmental and parliamentary levels. We continue to see the Council performing a key function in European construction. It is playing an essential role in ensuring that fundamental human values form the basis for the emergence of a democratic society throughout the European continent. Now with 44 member states, its rapid enlargement since 1989 has enhanced the relevance of the organisation.

Full compliance with the obligations of Council of Europe membership by all member states remains however a key challenge. Ireland supports the requirement that all member states continue to bring their institutions, legislation and practice fully in line with Council of Europe standards, and resolve any situation of conflict by peaceful, political means. In this context Ireland strongly supports the Council of Europe's important role in efforts to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Chechnya.

Following the last summit in 1997, a far-reaching review of Council of Europe priorities and procedures was undertaken in order that future challenges were correctly identified and addressed in the most efficient way. The following priorities for the Council were adopted; human rights, democratic stability, the rule of law, culture and education, social cohesion.

Ireland attaches the highest priority to the achievements of the Council of Europe in the area of human rights. Through its legal instruments, the Council has developed a unique acquis in the field of democracy and human rights; our objective is to ensure that the Convention on Human Rights, shortly to be incorporated into domestic Irish law, remains the essential reference point for the protection of human rights in Europe as a whole.

Ireland is actively supporting the Council's human rights activities, both in Strasbourg and in the field. Ireland's Permanent Representative in Strasbourg has recently been appointed Rapporteur on Human Rights of the Committee of Ministers and also chairs the Liaison Committee with the Court of Human Rights. Following upon an initiative during our Presidency of the Organisation in 2000, Ireland chaired an evaluation group on guaranteeing the continued effectiveness of the Court of Human Rights which is facing an exponential increase in its case load; the recommendations of this group, including a significant expansion of resources for the court and changes in the convention system, were endorsed by the ministerial session last November. A progress report on the implementation of the recommendations is being prepared by Ireland for presentation to the next ministerial session this autumn.

Ireland is committed to supporting the Council's assistance programmes in the field to promote democratic stability, human rights and the rule of law. Over the years 2002 to 2004, Ireland will provide bilateral assistance of more than €1.8 million to Council of Europe projects including training in the jurisprudence of the Convention on Human Rights for the entire judiciary in Yugoslavia in preparation for its accession to the Council of Europe; training in human rights for the police in Russia; and a number of projects for the development of democratic citizenship in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Romania. These allocations reflect our commitment to the countries of transition in Europe.
The Government will continue to secure the ratification of Council of Europe Conventions and other legal instruments which, now totalling more than 170, codify and consolidate best practice and give concrete expression to the core values which the Council exists to promote and defend. So far this year, Ireland has ratified Protocol 13 to the Convention on Human Rights on the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances and the European Landscape Convention; we have also signed the Convention against Cybercrime. Our priority is to ratify a number of other instruments, including the European Convention on the Exercise of Children's Rights as well as the Anti-Doping Convention. Ireland is participating actively in the Multidisciplinary Group on Terrorism, set up by the Council of Europe in the wake of the atrocities of 11 September 2001. This group will shortly finalise its conclusions, including on the updating of the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.
Ireland also this year ratified the Charter on Local Self Government. An important conference to develop awareness among representatives of all Irish local authorities of this instrument is being organised by the Government, in association with the Council of Europe, in Dublin in October this year. Ireland is a leading supporter of the Council of Europe's local democracy strategy now accepted as a priority within the Stability Pact for South East Europe. Three local democracy agencies are being established in Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo with Irish funding; Carlow County Council is playing a leading role in one of these agencies and it is hoped to involve other Irish local authorities.
Ireland is working actively to support the Council's role in promoting social cohesion throughout Europe. The Government, in cooperation with the Council of Europe, is organising a conference for the social partners in Ireland on social rights, including the Revised European Social Charter and the Protocol on Collective Complaints both of which were ratified by Ireland in 2000. In this context, the Government earlier this year decided to accede to the Council of Europe Development Bank. Accession, which will be the subject of special legislation to be presented by the Minister for Finance later this year, is an expression of Ireland's commitment to assist in the economic and social development of transition countries in Europe. Also in the area of social cohesion, the Government will, with Pavee Point, host a Council of Europe specialist meeting in Dublin in the autumn on problems faced in Europe by roma/gypsy and travellers.
Ireland continues to support the reinforcement of cooperation between the Council of Europe and other organisations, in particular the EU and the OSCE. The EU is committed to using the expertise and mechanisms of the Council of Europe to advance human rights standards across Europe. These standards are also complementary to the criteria for future EU enlargement. The further development of cooperation between the enlarged EU and the Council of Europe, including in the implementation of joint programmes, will form an important part of Ireland's EU Presidency in 2004.