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Pro-Choice marchers in Dublin. Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland
questions asked

UN anti-torture body questions Ireland's record on abortion and Magdalenes

It is the second time this month that a UN agency has voiced concerns about Ireland’s record.

THE UN HAS again posed a number of questions about Ireland’s record on abortion and the State’s redress for women held in the Magdalene Laundries.

Ahead of  a second report into practices in Ireland, the UN’s top anti-torture body, the Committee Against Torture (CAT), has asked the State to provide information on a number of issues. On abortion the submission asks:

Whether adequate guidelines exist in the State party for medical and other professionals on criteria to be met for legal termination of pregnancies. Whether adequate procedures exist to challenge differing medical opinions, and whether adequate services for carrying out abortions exist in the State party.

UNCAT has also requested “information on whether current legislation regarding termination of pregnancy upholds a woman’s rights to freedom from discrimination and to prevent other breaches of the convention”.

This new list of issues requiring attention comes on the back of the publication earlier this month of a list of UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) concerns about Ireland.

The UNHRC had urged the state to clarify its position on abortion in the case of a fatal foetal anomaly and to provide details of their plans to provide certainty and assistance to women in such situations.

The body also questioned the provisions of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 and asked to State to outline:

How it will ensure that a woman’s health and life will not be endangered by the distinction that doctors are required to make regarding a woman’s life, as distinct from her health.

The Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties Mark Kelly says that today’s publication is significant in that it is the second time in a month “Ireland’s cruelly restrictive abortion laws have been called into question by a United Nations treaty body”:

Today, the UN’s top anti-torture experts have added to an international consensus that the Government must act to end the degrading treatment of women seeking safe and legal abortions.

imageAngela Downey, whose mother was kept in the laundry at Good Shepherd. Pic: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland.

Magdalene Laundries

UNCAT have also called for a ‘prompt, independent and thorough’ investigation into the Magdalene Laundries and have asked the State to provide information on the work done to date to achieve this.

The UNCAT submission to the Irish authorities discusses the McAleese Report into the Magdalene Laundries but notes that “the duration of stay was not recorded for 58 per cent of admissions to the Magdalene Laundries”. It questions:

Whether the State party considers that the report provides a comprehensive and accurate evaluation of the number of victims and abuses encountered. Please clarify whether the State party compelled evidence from the private actors that ran the Magdalen Laundries and whether and why there may be plans to do so in the future.

The list of questions also asks for information on the information provided to Magdalene victims of the possibility of lodging criminal complaints.

The UNCAT submission was welcomed by by the Justice for Magdalenes group who say that questions still remain to be answered by the State.

That recommendation called for a ‘prompt, thorough and independent investigation’ and it underscored the State’s obligation to ensure survivors obtain redress. That these concerns, and others related to the McAleese and Quirke Reports, are foregrounded once again in today’s list of issues draws attention to continuing failures on the part of the Irish government.

The Irish authorities are required to produce detailed answers to these UN questions and will appear in person before both the UNHRC and the UNCAT in, respectively, 2014 and 2015.

The full submission by UNCAT can be read here.

Read: Women who travelled to UK for terminations to bring case to United Nations >

Read: ‘Serious errors’ with McAleese Report, say Magdalene survivors >

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