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The UN is reviewing Ireland's protection of rights – how will we fare?

We take a closer look at the economic, social and cultural rights situation for three Irish social groups, as they stand today.

IRELAND IS BOUND by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which protects rights like health, housing, work, education, family life, social security, cultural life and adequate living standards.

The UN is conducting a review of Ireland’s compliance with the Covenant, culminating in a formal examination of the government delegation led by Minister of State Sean Sherlock TD in Geneva on 8-9 June. A delegation from Irish civil society will present a comprehensive alternative report, Our Voice, Our Rights, drawn from evidence from more than 80 organisations and co-ordinated by legal rights group FLAC and its Public Interest Law Alliance project, on how these rights are being fulfilled on the ground.

The following pieces present the economic, social and cultural rights situation for three Irish social groups – children, disabled people and Travellers & Roma, all represented in the Civil Society report being presented in Geneva next week.

Part two will examine three areas covered by Covenant articles: housing, social security and cultural life.

Poverty in Ireland has a child’s face: Children’s economic, social and cultural rights

– Edel Quinn, Senior Legal and Policy Officer, Children’s Rights Alliance

Every day in Ireland, almost 60,000 children wake up hungry, in households struggling to survive, in families without the means to provide for them. This is happening today, in 2015. It is to our collective national shame that our children have been – and continue to be – the victims of the recession. While the country’s economy recovers for some, children of poor families still bear the brunt of the decisions of those who had the power to help them.

Every child has the right not to grow up in poverty.

Since 2008, the Government has failed to adequately protect the most vulnerable children, young people and families from the force of the recession and subsequent austerity measures. This has had a devastating impact. How do we know this? Children in Ireland are 1.4 times more likely to live in consistent poverty than adults. Almost 20% are at risk of poverty. The child poverty rate has almost doubled since the recession began. One in six children does not have breakfast on weekdays.

Poverty in childhood can have a damaging and lasting effect on a child’s life, their education, their future job opportunities as well as their mental and physical health. Teachers across the country have reported that children coming to school hungry have lost up to six weeks of learning as a result. Given the high cost of quality food, poor families are unable to buy healthy, nutritious food for their children setting them down a path of a lifetime of bad food choices and potentially poor health and obesity.

There has been a dramatic rise in homelessness amongst families with children over the past year. Some 40 families became homeless each month in 2014, double the number per month in 2013. These families find themselves in emergency accommodation, often with just one room for the entire family, no cooking facilities and no place to play or do homework. Children living in the State’s direct provision centres for asylum seekers face similar difficulties.

In 2015, we have reached a tipping point. Children must be prioritised in the economic recovery, for they were neglected in the boom and in the recession. Families with children must have the opportunity to earn a ‘living wage’ and to afford healthy food. The Government must implement a plan that places responsibility on all departments and agencies to work together to address child poverty in all its guises, and to ensure a future worth striving for, for all our children.

Poverty in Ireland has a child’s face. We can’t afford to do nothing.

The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Disabled People

– Jim Winters, Advocacy & Rights Officer, Inclusion Ireland 

Next week, Ireland faces the UN to answer questions about the situation of the 600,000 disabled people in Ireland, around 13% of our population. Let’s ask some questions ahead of that examination:

International human rights standards recognise that disability “results from the interaction between persons with impairments and the environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society.” This identifies disabled persons as rights-holders with entitlements, as opposed to passive recipients of care.

Disabled people are not a homogenous group. Disabled people are women. They are also gay, lesbian and transgender. Disabled people are children and older people. As a consequence, many disabled people experience discrimination on multiple grounds.

If you are a disabled woman you are twice as likely to experience sexual violence as a non-disabled woman. If you are a mother with an intellectual disability you are far more likely to have your children removed by the State. As a victim of a crime, you face significantly more barriers to accessing justice if you have a disability. You could be one of thousands of disabled people denied the right to make decisions about your health, to marry or to leave the country. Under current Irish law you could be treated as a lunatic, a person of unsound mind or mentally impaired.

As a disabled person in Ireland, you are twice as likely to experience deprivation. It is very expensive to have a disability: it is estimated to represent 35% of disposable income.

You could be in the lucky 30% of disabled people of working age to have a job. Then again, you might be working in a sheltered workshop, without pay or employment rights, and not regulated or inspected by the State.

You could be one of the 3,000 disabled people that continue to live in large institutions, segregated from mainstream society. You might live in a residential centre found to be non-compliant with basic standards of care. In residential care, you will have little choice over where or with whom you live. Your personal finances are likely to be controlled by the service provider.

As a disabled person, you probably rely on public transport. But the government’s cutting of two transport support schemes means you’re stuck at home.

If you are an intellectually disabled person in a consensual sexual relationship, you could be charged with a criminal offence under present Irish law.

You could be the parent of one of over 20,000 children and young people on a waiting list for speech and language therapy. You could be the parent who must choose between heating your home or paying for private therapy. Your disabled child may not be able to attend pre-school with other children because the HSE does not support this need.

As a disabled citizen, you’re likely to ask why Ireland remains one of the few EU Member States which has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

No doubt the Irish government will have some solid answers to these questions in Geneva next week.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Travellers & Roma

– Siobhan Curran, Roma Project Coordinator, Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre

Since Ireland’s last examination under the International Covenant in 2002, we have experienced boom and bust. Despite the boom, Travellers and Roma remained marginalised in Irish society. In 2008, after an unprecedented period of economic growth, suicide in the Traveller community was six times the national average.

We were then told that we all had to share the pain of the recession. The 2013 report by Brian Harvey, Travelling with Austerity, shows an extraordinary and disproportionate level of disinvestment in the Traveller community by the State since 2008.  It states that ‘one can think of no other section of the community which has suffered such a high level of withdrawal of funding and human resources.’.

Travellers are still striving to have their ethnicity acknowledged by the Irish State. Some 55% of Traveller children have left school by the age of 15.  Many Roma live in Ireland in a constant state of insecurity, with little access to employment, social protection or access to health care. These are issues Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre will raise with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.  The examination is an opportunity to look at issues facing Travellers and Roma through a human rights lens, rather than a political lens or through stereotypes. This is important, as we saw recently, how stereotypes about Roma, reinforced through negative reporting, provided a context in which two Roma children were removed from their families in 2013 – just for not looking like their parents.

An issue Pavee Point would like to see advanced is Traveller ethnicity. Travellers throughout Ireland have identified this as a key part of progressing Traveller cultural, social and economic rights. Recognition would be an acknowledgement that racism is core to the situation of Travellers’ exclusion and symbolise a move by the State to respect Travellers’ cultural rights.

For Roma families, a lack of access to social supports, including Child Benefit, means that many Roma children are living in poverty as their parents struggle to provide for them. At a minimum, Ireland should ensure that children are not experiencing poverty due to the status imposed on their parents.

Underpinning all of these areas is the need for comprehensive data to monitor the extent to which Traveller and Roma human rights are being fulfilled.  The Government’s recent response to questions raised by the Committee in December 2014 states that, ‘It is not possible to accurately measure the impact of specific interventions on the health outcomes of different groups as ethnic or cultural identifiers are not used to identify service users.’

This is true for accommodation, social protection, education and other areas. The absence of this data undermines accountability. It means we cannot identify when things actually are working and thus we fail to identify positive outcomes.  It also means we cannot identify discriminatory policies and practice.  Travellers and Roma need to be counted, the question is, can they count on the Irish Government?

The UN is currently conducting a review of Ireland’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The review will culminate in a formal examination of the government delegation in Geneva on 8-9 June 2015.

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