I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allocating time to discuss this important topic. I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the House on the International Day of Democracy. It is entirely appropriate that Dáil Éireann should mark this event and consider how we as a nation, which has been fortunate enough to enjoy a strong parliamentary democracy for the past 90 years, can strengthen and support the cause of democratic governance globally. I commend the UN General Assembly on instituting this important annual event in 2007.
The year, 2011, is likely to prove a landmark year in terms of efforts to spread democracy and foster greater respect for human rights and the rule of law internationally. Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall came to epitomise the historic events set in train in eastern Europe in 1989, so it is likely that the ardent pro-democracy activists who occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo for 18 days last February and the recent wild scenes of jubilation in Tripoli and Benghazi which marked the fall of Gadaffi will be the images instantly invoked when we recall 2011 in future years.
The Government has fully supported the democratic aspirations which lie behind the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere throughout the Middle East and north Africa. We have recognised that the demand for reform and change has come in large part from genuinely popular movements which have not been pursuing any particular political agenda other than seeking the types of rights which we in Europe have perhaps come to take for granted. These include the right to a decent livelihood for oneself and one's children and the right to protest peacefully and not to have to live in fear.
The Government has been consistent, furthermore, in the attitude it has taken to the pressures for change across this entire region. We have been just as strong in our support for the demands for democratic change and reform in Bahrain as we have in regard to the popular movements in Egypt and Libya. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has spoken out about the plight of detained medics in Bahrain and called for their release, conscious that the European Union must uphold the rights of all who engage in peaceful protest or who peacefully seek reform and democratic change across a region which has historically been deprived of such freedoms. The Government welcomes the fact that all those medics detained in the aftermath of last March's events have now been released on bail by the Bahraini authorities, although they still face potentially serious charges. We will continue to monitor that situation.
The human rights of Palestinians and the fulfilment of their legitimate aspirations to statehood are equally important and very much a topic of interest. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has clearly stated that he wishes to see a state of Palestine come into existence as soon as possible.
Libya is the latest country to have savoured the freedom offered by the Arab spring and is moving steadily along the path of democratic transformation. The fall of the cruel and oppressive Gadaffi regime is greatly to be welcomed, as is the victory of the Libyan people and the National Transitional Council, NTC, which has successfully led the challenge to Gadaffi's rule. The Government has been glad to offer what political and humanitarian assistance it could to the Libyan people in the past six months and looks forward to working closely with the NTC in the coming months as, in co-operation with the UN and the international community, it prepares the ground for the adoption of a new constitution and the holding of the first truly free and democratic elections in Libya. Close attention to, and strong support for, the development of a human rights culture in Libya will be of crucial importance in the coming months.
Democracy has by no means come to all parts of the Middle East as yet. The repression visited by the Assad regime upon those large parts of the Syrian population demanding democratic change has been appalling. I again add my voice to all those urging President Assad and the Syrian authorities to desist from effectively waging war on their own people, to recognise the need for change and reform and to pursue dialogue, not violence. If it does not do so, the Assad regime will relinquish its legitimacy and all authority to rule.
Events in Syria remind us that the Arab Spring is unfolding before our eyes. We are witnessing living history and a process which is still far from complete. Any assessment or comparison with the events of 20 years ago in eastern Europe would suggest that we are only at the Gdansk shipyard, rather than Berlin Wall, stage of this historic train of events. We must be mindful that consolidating the democratic gains that have been achieved in those countries undergoing transition may prove to be just as difficult as the initial throwing off of oppression. We must be honest enough to recognise that there may still be discrepancies between the quality of the democracy emerging in some countries and the democratic standards and norms which we apply in our own societies.
The important point, however, is that Ireland and its EU partners are prepared to walk with, encourage and support those undergoing the process of democratic transformation, wherever they may be in the Middle East and north Africa or globally. For its part, the Government intends to stand shoulder to shoulder with all those pursuing tahrir, or liberation from oppression.