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Priority Questions. - UN High Commissioner.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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[633]

 26. Mr. J. O'Keeffe Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  if discussions took place with Mrs. Mary Robinson with a view to encouraging her to seek an extension of her term as the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights; and if discussions took place with representatives of other countries to ascertain whether support would be available internationally for such an appointment. [10348/02]

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen As the Deputy is aware Mrs. Robinson announced on 18 March that she will leave the Office of the High Commissioner at the end of her current term. The Taoiseach issued a statement on behalf of the Government praising Mrs. Robinson's achievements as High Commissioner. Mrs. Robinson has expressed warm appreciation for this statement.

Ireland backed Mrs. Robinson when she sought the post of High Commissioner in 1997 and she would have been confident of receiving our renewed support had she decided to let her name go forward again.

Mrs. Robinson's term of office as High Commissioner has been marked with distinction. She pursued the promotion and protection of human rights with the utmost vigour. She saw those rights as universal and indivisible and did not flinch from drawing attention to and condemning violations wherever they occurred.

Mrs. Robinson was the driving force behind the World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa last year. For the first time, on this issue of crucial importance to societies throughout the world, agreement was reached on an outcome document. This document, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, will provide a solid basis for work on a global scale to combat the scourges of racism and xenophobia. It was not easy to achieve this outcome and the success of the conference was due in large part to Mrs. Robinson's tenacity and clear vision in looking beyond particular grievances to the wider picture. Mrs. Robinson has demonstrated strict independence in the execution of her responsibilities. The Government has respected that independence and regarded any decision on whether Mrs. Robinson would seek a further term of office as a matter between her and the Secretary General. The Government, therefore, had no discussions with Mrs. Robinson on this matter, neither did the Government seek to raise the issue with other countries.

Mrs. Robinson's tireless advocacy of human rights has enhanced the prestige of the office of the High Commissioner and, of course, has reflected well on her own country. I want to place on record today the Government's appreciation of her work. I also wish her well for the future. We may be sure that her voice will continue to be heard and will not be lost to the victims, the marginalised and the vulnerable, on whose behalf she has spoken so effectively.

[634]Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe I pay tribute to Mrs. Robinson for the job she did as UN High Commissioner. It seems that, despite the Minister's tribute, Mrs. Robinson was left out in the cold by her own Government. I appreciate that there could be no question of the Government's interfering in the performance of her duties. She is absolutely independent, and rightly so. However, when one considers the international efforts we made to secure a seat on the Security Council, the Government could at least have inquired as to whether she was willing to continue in office.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins Exactly.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe If that were so, the Government could have used its diplomatic and political strength to ensure she was invited to do so.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins It could have talked to those who were blocking her.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe Is it the case that she was just left swinging there on her own, without any indication of support from her own Government? It was an utterly wrong thing to do. I appreciate that to continue in office or not was her own personal decision but could the Government not have inquired if she wanted to continue? Could the Government not have given her some measure of encouragement and support? The Government stands condemned on the basis of the Minister's statement.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I must intervene. This is an outrageous effort by Deputy O'Keeffe. It goes beyond normal political debate to make such charges, which are totally unsubstantiated.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe The Minister said there were, “no discussions with Mrs. Robinson on this matter”.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Deputy O'Keefe made an analogy to Ireland's candidacy for the UN Security Council. Ireland was supported once it had announced its candidacy. If one respects the independence of the office and the relationship between the UN Secretary General and the High Commissioner one must accept that it is a matter for Mrs. Robinson, whose independence the Deputy has mentioned and praised, to make the decision as to whether she wishes to proceed and that she must be allowed to do so.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe The Government did not bother finding out.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen The Deputy must allow me to answer correctly so that he knows the facts. When it was brought to my attention, informally through official channels, that there was a suggestion of opposition from various people we made our position very clear, namely, that Mrs. Robinson was doing an excellent job and that we [635] would wholeheartedly support her if she decided to run again.

It is totally unwarranted, without substantiation or evidence and contrary to the facts for Deputy O'Keeffe to suggest the Government would not, did not and does not support the High Commissioner in her job. In every respect we do. On any occasion when it became known to us that she did not have the support of any quarter we made our position very clear, as would be expected.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe What answer did the Government get?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen It is a matter for each country to make up its own mind as to the position. The derogatory remark of Deputy O'Keeffe about people being left swinging is very unwelcome language in the context of what we are discussing. The High Commissioner has been fully supported in her work by successive Governments and by everyone in this House. I take exception to any charge to the contrary, particularly when it is totally unsubstatiated and not in accordance with the facts as I have outlined them.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe Why did the Government not inquire of Mrs. Robinson as to her willingness to continue in office and offer support to her if she was so inclined? Did the matter not even warrant an inquiry?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen The Government has respected Mrs. Robinson's independence and regards any decision on whether to seek a further term of office as a matter between her and the Secretary General. She had our continuing and full support in all circumstances.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe The Minister did not even bother talking to her.


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