Wednesday, 26 January 2005
Department of Foreign Affairs
Human Rights Issues
The Government maintains regular contact with the Turkish Government on a wide range of issues, including Turkey's progress towards accession negotiations, the political reform process and the Cyprus problem.
Last year, during Ireland's EU Presidency, the Turkish Government made a very positive contribution to the efforts of the UN Secretary General to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, and this was recognised by the European Union. The United Nations has the lead role in the search for a comprehensive settlement. However, the issue of Turkey's attitude to the Republic of Cyprus was an important one in the context of the decision by the European Council in Brussels on 16-17 December 2004 on the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey. Turkey still does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state. In our contacts with the Turkish Government, including discussions between the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Erdogan during the European Council, we made it clear that to enable agreement on accession negotiations, it was important that Turkey move to start a process leading to the normalisation of its relations with Cyprus. The European Council welcomed Turkey's decision to sign the protocol on the adaptation of the Ankara Agreement of association with the EU to take account of the accession of the ten new member states. It also welcomed the declaration by the Turkish Government that it would do so before the actual start of negotiations on 3 October 2005.
The Government's concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey, including the situation of the estimated 15 million people of Kurdish ethnic origin, are raised regularly in our official contacts with the Turkish Government and its representatives, and in co-operation with our partners in the EU. Turkey has been a candidate country for membership of the European Union since 1999. It has made very significant progress over the past three years in introducing wide-ranging legislative and constitutional reforms, including measures to enforce human rights and enhance the cultural rights of all citizens, including those of Kurdish origin. I have already welcomed a number of decisions in recent months on cultural rights and on matters which had been raised directly with the Turkish Government by Ireland during the EU Presidency. These include the implementation of the decision to allow radio and television broadcasts in languages and dialects other than Turkish, notably in a number of Kurdish dialects, and the implementation of a regulation permitting teaching in languages other than Turkish.
The December European Council decided, on the basis of the detailed report and recommendation presented by the Commission, that Turkey sufficiently fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria to enable the preparation of a negotiating framework with a view to the opening of accession negotiations next October. It also decided that in order to ensure the irreversibility of the political reform process and its full, effective and comprehensive implementation, notably with regard to fundamental freedoms and to full respect of human rights, the process will continue to be closely monitored by the Commission, which will report regularly to the Council on progress. The pace of implementation of the reform process will determine the pace of progress in the accession negotiations. The European Council also decided that, in parallel to the accession negotiations, the Union will engage with Turkey in an intensive political and cultural dialogue, which will fully involve civil society.
The Government welcomed the report on Turkey by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, which was presented on 15 December 2004, and which was drafted on the basis of the visit to Turkey by a delegation from the committee in November. The delegation held meetings with representatives of the Turkish Government, including Foreign Minister Gul, with representatives of NGOs and of civil society and with Kurdish political representatives. The report noted the support of human rights groups for the accession process, on the basis that the prospect of membership of the EU will help guarantee constitutional change and democratic reform.
The decision by the European Council to set the date for the opening of accession negotiations and to set out the main elements for a negotiating framework, will contribute to the further strengthening of the reform process in Turkey and to the continued improvement of the situation of the Kurdish population. The Government will work closely with our partners and with Turkey in the months ahead to ensure that all the elements are in place for the successful opening of accession negotiations in October.