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Dublin: 19 °C Friday 31 October, 2014

Austerity has ‘weakened’ the human rights of Ireland’s most vulnerable

The State is appearing before a United Nations committee to hear concerns over human rights in Ireland.

Image: Bebeto Matthews

THE CIVIL AND political rights of the most vulnerable in Irish society were weakened by austerity measures, Ireland’s Human Rights and Equality Commission has told the United Nations.

In an oral statement to the UN Human Rights Committee, the designate outlined a number of areas of both progress and concerns, including a failure to implement previous recommendations.

One of these is a recommendation that the existence of the Special Criminal Court should be reviewed every three years.

“Grave concerns”

It also outlines the lack of recognition for Traveller ethnicity, discrepancies in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, and “grave concerns” with the system of Direct Provision.

This statement comes ahead of the Irish State’s delegation, led by Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald, appearing before the committee in Geneva later this afternoon.

The statement highlighted ‘unaddressed calls’ for an investigation into alleged abuse in Magdalen Laundries, notes a further call for a similar inquiry into mother-and-baby homes and the practice of symphisotomy.

Investigation

However, the designate said that any investigation will be hindered by “the absence of speedy and timely statutory investigative mechanisms”.

They called for these ‘difficulties’ the State has when carrying out timely investigations into human rights abuses to be addressed.

“We have identified key problems with the Commission of Investigations Act 2004 as including no linkage between a finding of a violation and consequential redress,” the designate said.

The State has on three recent occasions been found in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In each case, at issue were constitutional doctrines under which human rights could not be vindicated before the Irish courts.

The statement highlighted several areas of progress, including the establishment of an independent policing authority, enhanced powers to carry out independent investigations of deaths in custody, and in the area of human trafficking, including the adoption of a National Action Plan.

More analysis of how effective these measures to stamp out human trafficking are is needed, the designate said.

Overall as a society, the designate said “austerity measures have weakened the civil and political rights of the most vulnerable in our society on a number of levels”.

The impact of public spending cuts has resulted not only in economic and social rights violations, manifest in a current crisis in housing and accommodation for families and individuals, but has also impacted on the effective protection of their civil and political rights.

It also warns that these cutbacks are having a “serious impact” on protecting vulnerable women in society, including Traveller women, migrant women, asylum-seeking and refugee women and women with disabilities.

“Domestic, sexual and gender-based violence remains a serious problem in Ireland,” the report read.

To address the ‘grave concerns’ the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has in relation to the system of Direct Provision for asylum seekers, the designate said “comprehensive reform” is needed.

“We are particularly concerned at the effects of the current system on children and on families,” they said.

Conditions are having an enormous impact on the dignity and mental and physical well-being of residents, compounded by the lack of independent complaints procedures.

Another concern is that “Ireland has yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities although we signed the Convention in 2006″.

“In our report, we point out our serious concern at the interplay between the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, on which we have a number of serious concerns, and the Mental Health Act 2001,” the designate said.

Read: Alan Shatter wants a human rights commission to examine how the Guerin Report was put together >

Opinion: Ireland’s record on civil and political rights comes under the UN spotlight >

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