seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Ireland Becomes Founder Member of the Council of Europe

council-of-europe-logoOn May 5, 1949, Ireland becomes one of ten founder members of the Council of Europe, an international organisation whose stated aim is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.

The Council of Europe currently has 47 member states, covers approximately 820 million people and operates with an annual budget of approximately half a billion euros.

The organisation is distinct from the 28-nation European Union (EU), although it is sometimes confused with it, partly because the EU has adopted the original European Flag which was created by the Council of Europe in 1955, as well as the European Anthem. No country has ever joined the EU without first belonging to the Council of Europe, which is an official United Nations Observer.

Unlike the EU, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws, but it does have the power to enforce select international agreements reached by European states on various topics. The best known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council’s two statutory bodies are the Committee of Ministers, comprising the foreign ministers of each member state, and the Parliamentary Assembly, composed of members of the national parliaments of each member state. The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in the member states. The Secretary General heads the secretariat of the organisation. Other major CoE bodies include the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines.

The headquarters of the Council of Europe are in Strasbourg, France. English and French are its two official languages. The Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress also use German, Italian, Russian, and Turkish for some of their work.

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Nelson Mandela Awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin

nelson-mandela-freedom-of-dublinNelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first president of South Africa to be elected in a fully representative democratic election, is awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin on his 70th birthday, July 18, 1988. Mandela is not available to receive his award on the date it is conferred, however, as he is a prisoner in South Africa at the time. On July 1, 1990, after his release from prison, Mandela  finally receives the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a ceremony in the Mansion House Dublin.

The Freedom of the City of Dublin is awarded by Dublin City Council after approving a person nominated by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Eighty people have been honoured under the current process introduced in 1876. Most honourees have made a contribution to the life of the city or of Ireland in general, including politicians, public servants, humanitarians, artists, and entertainers. Others have been distinguished members of the Irish diaspora and foreign leaders, honoured visiting Dublin. Honourees sign the roll of freedmen in a ceremony at City Hall or the Mansion House and are presented with an illuminated scroll by the Lord Mayor.

Mandela is honoured with the Freedom of Dublin city for his contribution to society and commitment to the study and promotion of Human Rights and also his work in the area of development and social inclusion, which has enhanced the lives of local communities in Ireland and fostered global links with institutions and organisations.

Among the notable recipients of this award are American presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill ClintonMikhail Gorbachev, Éamon de Valera, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Aung San Suu Kyi, all four members of U2, Bob Geldof, and Ronnie Delaney.

Holders of this award have some ancient privileges and duties such as the right to bring goods into Dublin through the city gates without paying customs duties, the right to pasture sheep on common ground within the city boundaries including College Green and St. Stephen’s Green (this right is exercised as a publicity stunt by U2 members the day after their 2000 conferring), and the right to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections. Some of the ancient duties are that freemen/women must be ready to defend the city of Dublin from attack and, at short notice, can be called up to join a city militia. Also a law which was passed in 1454 states that freemen/women must own a bow, a coat of mail, a helmet, and a sword.


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Birth of Mary Robinson, 1st Female President of Ireland

mary-robinsonMary Therese Winifred Robinson, seventh and first female President of Ireland (1990-1997), is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. Robinson also serves as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 until 2002.

Robinson first rises to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner, and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989). Running as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers’ Party, and independent senators, Robinson defeats Fianna Fáil‘s Brian Lenihan and Fine Gael‘s Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming the first elected president in the office’s history not to have had the support of Fianna Fáil.

Robinson is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland, and for the Irish presidency, revitalising and liberalising a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigns the presidency two months before the end of her term in office in order to take up her post in the United Nations. During her UN tenure, she visits Tibet in 1998, the first High Commissioner to do so. She criticises Ireland’s immigrant policy and criticises the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extends her intended single four-year term by a year to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.

After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson forms Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which comes to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities are fostering equitable trade and decent work, promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and working to strengthen women’s leadership and encourage corporate social responsibility. The organisation also supports capacity building and good governance in developing countries. Robinson returns to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and sets up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, which aims to be “a centre for thought leadership, education, and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered, and the marginalised across the world.”

Robinson is Chair of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has also been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches international human rights. Robinson also visits other colleges and universities where she lectures on human rights. Robinson sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organisation which supports good governance and great leadership in Africa, and is a member of the Foundation’s Ibrahim Prize Committee. Robinson is an Extraordinary Professor in the Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria. Robinson serves as Oxfam’s honorary president from 2002 until she steps down in 2012 and is the honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation EIUC since 2005. She is Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and is also a founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders (2003-2009). Robinson was a member of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.

In 2004, she receives Amnesty International‘s Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights.

In July 2009, Robinson is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States. In presenting the award to Robinson, U.S. President Barack Obama says, “Mary Robinson learned early on what it takes to make sure all voices are heard. As a crusader for women and those without a voice in Ireland, Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland, before being appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. When she traveled abroad as President, she would place a light in her window that would draw people of Irish descent to pass by below. Today, as an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.”