Michael O’Flaherty makes history as first Irish person elected as Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights

Michael O'Flaherty is a leading human rights lawyer who also has an excellent track record on LGBTQ+ rights.

Michael O'Flaherty, who was elected as the new Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, smiling at the camera, wearing a blue suit, with a blurry background.
Image: Via X - @DrAndrewForde

Irishman Michael O’Flaherty has been elected as the Council of Europe’s new Commissioner for Human Rights. He is the first Irish person to hold this position since the Council was founded in the wake of World War II.

The election took place yesterday, January 24, at the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg, France, where Michael O’Flaherty won 104 out of the 211 available votes, beating Bulgaria’s Megleva Kuneva and Austria’s Manfred Nowak. O’Flaherty will take up the post of Commissioner for Human Rights on April 1, marking the start of his six-year term.

The role of Commissioner for Human Rights was instituted in 1999 and will see O’Flaherty involved in advocating internationally for human rights by coordinating with national authorities and civil society and advising and reporting on how protections are upheld.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin welcomed the election, commending O’Flaherty for having served “with great distinction in several high level positions in the field of human rights” and adding that “his election as Commissioner is a mark of the high regard in which he is held.”

Martin continued saying that O’Flaherty’s “extensive human rights expertise”, as well as his leadership skills, courage, integrity and resilience are “qualities that will benefit him as he takes up his new role”.


Born in Galway, Michael O’Flaherty is a leading human rights lawyer, who became a member of the UN Human Rights Committee between 2004 to 2012. Later, he was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission between 2011 and 2013.

He also served as the Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland and became the Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) between 2015 to 2023.

O’Flaherty has an excellent track record on LGBTQ+ rights. In 2006, he led the drafting of the Yogyakarta Principles, a document on the application of international human rights law in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity. Moreover, in April 2023, while he was serving as FRA director, he gave a speech on LGBTQ+ equality across Europe at a high-level conference in Stockholm, Sweden.


After his election, Michael O’Flaherty spoke to The Irish Times about the honour of taking up the post, saying: “The role of the commissioner is particularly important today, at a moment when we don’t just have human rights abuses, but we have a rejection of the system.

“If we reject the human rights system, we reject the only universally agreed roadmap to honour human dignity and that will be a disaster,” he continued. “So much of what we take for granted in terms of our freedoms and our rights in our societies, is because of the Council of Europe.”

Speaking about what he intends to do as Commissioner for Human Rights, he said: “In the first place, we have to stand up for the people of Ukraine, their human rights. Then we have to tackle all the other problems: the shocking levels of hate in our societies, the rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the inequalities between people, the backsliding on democracy and rule of law.”

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