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'A watershed moment': Resolution to ratify UN disabilities convention to go before the Dáil

Ireland is the only EU country that has yet to ratify the Convention.

Protesters outside Leinster House last year who claim the government has broken its promises to disabled people by not ratifying the UN Convention on Rights for Disabled people.
Protesters outside Leinster House last year who claim the government has broken its promises to disabled people by not ratifying the UN Convention on Rights for Disabled people.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated 1.30pm

THE TEN-YEAR delay in ratifying the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities (CRPD) is approaching an end with a memo brought to Cabinet today beginning the formal ratification process.

Today, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney brought forward a Memorandum for Government on the formal ratification process which will happen in the coming weeks.

Coveney brought the memo on behalf of the Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

McGrath said it was a “historic day”.

The junior minister has been under pressure to get the ratification of the convention over the line ever since he committed it would be done before last Christmas.

McGrath said today is a “watershed moment for all of Irish society”.

“Today marks a key moment, not only for people living with a disability, but also for
their families, friends and support networks and for Irish society generally. Today the
government reaffirms its commitment to the protection of the rights of persons with
disabilities by approving the process to initiate ratification of the Convention” said the
minister.

The government confirmed last year that it planned to ratify the convention.

Ireland’s failure to ratify 

Ireland is the only EU country that has yet to ratify the Convention. Ireland signed it in March 2007, however, technically, signing the Convention declares only an aspiration to ratification.

Ratifying it means Ireland is bound to it by international law. It would only become the law of the land here were the Oireachtas to pass CRPD legislation in the aftermath of ratification.

The CRPD, the first such human rights convention of the 21st century, was drafted in December 2006.

Fundamentally, it works as a target for nations to aim for in granting equal status to people living with disabilities – for example with regard to public transport adequately catering for wheelchair-users.

The convention states its purpose as being “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity”.

However, the Irish ratification has been mired by delays.

As our FactFind stated, Ireland set out its stall early on stating that it did not wish to ratify until all of the country’s laws were sufficiently compliant in order for it to be legally viable.

2018 target set 

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told reporters before Christmas that he wants to ratify the convention in 2018.

“We do need to anticipate the ratification, at long last, of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the new year,” he said.

He outlined that the government had already decided to proceed with the ratification, and the next step was a specific memo being brought to Cabinet with a view to having a vote in the Dáil and Seanad in February.

“We will shortly bring a resolution to the Dáil that enables us to ratify the CRPD. This
will be followed by the depositing of the instrument of amalgamation with the United
Nations. The convention enters into force 30 days after being deposited,” explained McGrath today.

The government has today agreed to prioritise all remaining necessary legislation.

The government has already approved the publication of draft legislation which will outline proposed safeguards for older people, persons with a disability and certain categories of people with mental health issues to ensure that they are not unlawfully deprived of their liberty in residential facilities.

Deprivation of liberty is a sensitive and important matter which goes to the heart of fundamental freedoms and human rights, according to junior minister McGrath.

Legal barriers 

In order for the convention to be implemented there are two issues that need to be prioritised: The enactment of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 and the commencement of the Assisted Decision Making Capacity Act 2015, two very complicated pieces of legislation.

The primary purpose of the Disability Bill is to address the remaining legislative barriers to Ireland’s ratification. A number of amendments are being made to the Heads of the Bill.

One new head proposed, which is not contained in the original General Scheme of the Disability Act, relates to the law surrounding employers and the percentage of people with disabilities working in public bodies.

Under the current law, public bodies must aim to reach a target for the number of staff employed with disabilities of 3%.

However, one of the key recommendations in the government’s Comprehensive Employment Strategy for people with disabilities is to increase public service employment of those with disabilities from 3% to 6% over a phased basis by January 2024.

It is now proposed to amend the legislation to include the recommendation that the new target for public bodies be raised to 6%.

The Disability (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill will be enacted by the end of 2018
along with a new Bill to provide safeguards for older people, persons with a disability
and certain categories of people with mental health issues to ensure that they are
not unlawfully deprived of their liberty in residential facilities.

McGrath concluded:

Ratification of the convention was a key commitment in the Programme for government and has been one of the highest of priorities for me since becoming minister.I am very pleased to now be able to deliver on that commitment. It
rebalances the right of people with disabilities to make decisions for themselves, rather than have decisions made for them.
With ratification soon to be in place, I can now focus on using the convention to better equip and resource people with disabilities to improve their quality of life.

After 10 years, Ireland is to finally ratify UN Convention on rights of people with disabilities>

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