The Green Party’s Reproductive Rights Policy: An Appraisal

By Professor Fiona de Londras, University of Birmingham E: T: @fdelond

The Green Party has released a reproductive rights policy in advance of the general election. The policy is very welcome, and is a further indication that reproductive justice is likely to be a central issue in the forthcoming election. The policy is especially interesting in that it speaks to a broad reproductive rights policy, endorsing better maternity care and more choice in maternity and birthing options, and committing to access to safe and affordable contraception, which is a very welcome development. The publication of this policy also speaks to the Green Party’s decision to support repeal of the 8th Amendment by means of a referendum, although its support is given “on the condition that the Government have provided draft legislation which will be put in place if the referendum passes”. It is on this proposed law that I want to concentrate here. Continue reading “The Green Party’s Reproductive Rights Policy: An Appraisal”

The Green Party’s Reproductive Rights Policy: An Appraisal

Why Thinking about ‘Effectiveness’ Matters for Rights in Counter-Terrorism

It is striking that counter-terrorism tends to be treated as an informal exception to the ‘normal’ expectations of public policy and administration: measures are rarely subjected to full ex post facto review with appropriate access to information, evidence-based law- and policy-making is more or less absent, and the classic ‘learning loop’ ‘good old fashioned public administration’ seems rarely to be completed. This has clear implications for rights: the debates about necessity, impact and effects often remain at the level of rhetoric and key claims are unsubstantiated, while counter-terrorist measures frequently violate individual rights and act as the platform for systemic ‘downgrading’ of the content of core rights such as fair trial and privacy. Addressing these patterns requires systemic, heuristic and operational reform, but one starting place is the concept of ‘effectiveness’ and the role it plays in counter-terrorism discourses.  Continue reading “Why Thinking about ‘Effectiveness’ Matters for Rights in Counter-Terrorism”

Why Thinking about ‘Effectiveness’ Matters for Rights in Counter-Terrorism

Legal Gender Recognition in Ireland

On 15 July, 2015, Ireland became the final European Union Member State to enact legal gender recognition. As has been noted on this blog many times (e.g. here, here and here), under current Irish law, persons living in this jurisdiction do not have any mechanism – statutory, administrative or judicial – for amending their birth certificate and obtaining state acknowledgment of their preferred gender. More than 20 years after Dr Lydia Foy first requested recognition, 13 years after the European Court of Human Rights declared that recognition was a Convention Right and eight years after the Irish High Court found the State in violation of its international obligations, the Irish Parliament has finally created a legal structure which will acknowledge the existence and dignity of trans persons.

The Gender Recognition Act 2015 has travelled a long way to reach its current format and structure (and, as discussed below, there is still significant progress to be made). When the Gender Recognition Advisory Group – a consultative panel established to advise the Government on legislating for recognition – announced its recommendations, the proposed legislation still retained references to surgical interventions, lived-experience, “gender identity disorder” and gender panels. Delivered in 2011, by an advisory body with no trans members, the “GRAG” report appeared at a time when advocates were increasingly applying human rights standards to legal gender recognition. Its highly medicalised recommendations were not only out of step with international best practice, but also failed to engage, in any meaningful way, with the lived-experience of Ireland’s trans community. Amendments, additions and omissions have characterised the legislative process in the intervening years. Surgery and diagnosis were removed, but medical supervision – in the form of a controversial “physicians statement requirement” – remained frustratingly present until earlier this year. The particular situations of married couples and young people have been a source of intense debate. To differing extents, these issues remain unresolved, as do concerns relating to non-binary recognition, intersex persons, gender-specific crimes and the status of trans parents.

Due credit in passing the Gender Recognition Act 2015 must be offered to the two Government ministers, Tanaiste Joan Burton and Kevin Humphreys, who have had responsibility for legal gender recognition since assuming office. In the space of four years, they have achieved what successive Irish Governments failed to do: acknowledge that Ireland’s trans community exists. Both ministers have also come a long way in their own personal understandings of trans issues, and received a warm welcome at Trans Pride in Dublin earlier in the summer. However, the Gender Recognition Act 2015 is, in truth, a testament to the incredible work of Ireland’s vibrant, engaged trans community and their allies (TDs, political groupings, NGO-based groups, and members of the public). Committed, dedicated and strategic advocacy over the past four years has managed to transform GRAG’s recommendations into the progressive legislation enacted on 15 July. While often subject to lurid, highly offensive commentary, the Irish trans community has retained a focused, dignified drive in working to achieve recognition of its membership. This drive has been epitomised by the legal fights waged by Dr Foy. Her courage and resilience has inspired advocates for reform, and rightly won her the European Citizen’s Prize 2015.

As noted, from a comparative prospective, the Gender Recognition Act 2015 is highly progressive. Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) observes that Ireland is only the fourth country in the world (after Argentina, Denmark and Malta) to pass legislation which allows trans persons to obtain recognition on the basis of “self-determination.” Once the new legislation comes into force, trans people will be able to apply for legal recognition based solely on their “settled and solemn intention of living in the preferred gender for the rest” of their lives. Instead of having to show that they have undergone surgery, sterilisation, have a diagnosis or are supported by doctors, applicants for recognition need only confirm that they understand “the consequences of the application” and are seeking state acknowledgement of their own “free will.”

The movement away from the physician’s statement model – announced by the Government after the marriage equality referendum – is extremely important both in practical and symbolic terms. From a practical point of view, it means that trans people, in order to obtain recognition, do not have to rely upon the notoriously difficult healthcare pathways in Ireland. Anecdotal evidence regarding access to gender confirmation treatments in Ireland means that, with a requirement to obtain support from a “primary medical practitioner”, applicants for recognition would likely have faced a waiting period of months, possibly years. In addition, as recognised in numerous EU-wide reports, a significant section of the trans community cannot access even basic healthcare services. Thus, medicalising legal gender recognition – even through medical supervision clauses – would have had the effect of removing enjoyment of recognition from a significant proportion of Ireland’s trans population. However, perhaps more fundamental, a self-determination model respects the autonomy and dignity of applicants for recognition. It acknowledges that trans persons should be the arbiters of their own identity. Living and experiencing their gender, applicants for recognition are best placed to identify their true self. They should not be subject to arbitrary or discriminatory medical assessments.

The scheme (not the current text) of the Gender Recognition Act 2015 is notable for its removal of forced divorce. Under the initial, pre-referendum proposals, trans persons were required to be single or divorced in order to obtain recognition. The stated aim was to avoid unconstitutional marriages. While many people have challenged this historical view of Ireland’s constitution, the Government’s actions were supported by legal advice and thus remained in place. However, following the marriage equality referendum, the forced divorce requirement is no longer an imperative and thus the aim was to remove those conditions completely. However, as the referendum is now subject to legal challenge, the forced divorce requirement has been initially retained. The Government has committed to removing the requirement as part of the enacting legislation for marriage equality. This move has huge significance. It means that trans persons, who remain in a marriage that they do not want to dissolve, are able to maintain and protect the integrity of their legal family.

Of course, the Gender Recognition Act 2014 is certainly not without critique. A major omission is young trans individuals. As noted previously (here and here), trans children and adolescents are not adequately provided for in the new legislation. People under 16 years are completely excluded. Their lives and identities are erased from Irish law. Individuals aged 16 and 17 years are nominally included. However, the legal process for seeking recognition is so onerous – two doctors, parental consent and a court order – that few, if any, applicants will obtain recognition before the age of majority. The negative consequences of excluding children from recognition – mental health concerns, denial of services, peer bullying and violence – are clear and well-known. Yet, so far, the Government has shown little willingness to move.

One light of hope is a promised review in two years time. This will be an opportunity to illustrate the need for increased recognition. It is unclear, however, what the Government believes that it will learn in 24 months time that it cannot already now discover. Numerous young people have spoken openly about their experiences in a legal environment which has no obligation to recognise their true identity. By 2017, an increasing number of States – Norway, Sweden etc – will have allowed children to access recognition. Yet, these countries have already announced their intention to do so and, in some cases, have already published the specific legislation to be enacted. Yesterday, the same day that the Government enshrined the second class status of trans children, the first Trans Youth Forum took place in Dublin. It was an incredible example of the vibrancy and resilience among trans youth in Ireland. Yet, the stories told also reinforced understandings about the real difficulties which trans young people face, and the links which exist between discrimination and the absence of recognition in this country.

The Gender Recognition Act 2015 also fails intersex persons and individuals who do not fall within traditional gender binaries. Although the legislation is intended to cover intersex people (and hopefully will be interpreted as such) the lack of express reference to intersex and the specific mechanisms of the Act may place legal acknowledgement out of reach for many intersex applicants. In addition, an increasing number of Ireland’s trans community identify outside male or female legal classifications. The current recognition model offers no solution or recognition to the problems which these persons encounter. Other jurisdictions have looked at providing third gender options for non-binary persons on identity documents, such as passports. While a third gender or “X” gender option will not address the needs of all non-binary persons, it would be a first, good faith effort on behalf of the Irish state.

The passage of the Gender Recognition Act 2015 is a momentous event. It is another step towards promoting the equality, dignity and full citizenship of all persons. The legislation is certainly not perfect and, in many aspects, remains deeply flawed. However, the movements towards self-determination and away from forced divorce will significantly ease the application process for countless individuals. Self-declaration is a powerful statement of the autonomy and dignity of trans persons. After a long struggle, this is a moment to savour. Moving forward, the fight for full and equal rights will continue.

Legal Gender Recognition in Ireland

The Direct Provision Report: A Missed Opportunity

DP ReportYou can find my preliminary analysis, including a full summary of the core recommendations from the McMahon Report on the Protection Process and Direct Provision System here. 

You can access the McMahon Report here.

From an initial reading and examination of this report, in my view, this is a report of two halves. One half of the report (Chapter 3 in particular) on the protection process and recommendations on the five-year grant of a form of residency status are clear and coherent. Clear recommendations are made as regards status determination and a substantial analysis of the rights of the child (along with other areas). That is not to say that the narrative of the McMahon Report in Chapter 3 is not without its issues (but I will leave this for another day). Throughout Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, highly qualified language and significant caveats infects the totality of recommendations on direct provision accommodation and ancillary supports.

Human Rights Obligations and Direct Provision Accommodation and Supports

From my initial reading of the report, there appears to be two unequivocal recommendations that may impact on those currently in direct provision, who are not resident in the centres for five years: an increase in direct provision allowance and the provision of a locker for each individual adult in direct provision accommodation centres. All other recommendations are subject to significant caveats as regards contractual obligations and implementation restricted in so far as reasonably practicable. For over 15 years, report after report has emphasised the significant violations of human rights that occur on a daily basis for those subject to direct provision accommodation and supports. The McMahon Report, while recommending an increase in direct provision allowance, does not recommend the payment of child benefit to those seeking protection in Ireland.

In my preliminary analysis (available here, pp. 19-26), I argue that the Working Group should have taken into account Ireland’s international obligations, in particular the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. By not doing so, the McMahon Report entrenches the notion that asylum and protection seekers are less than human, deserving of only the most highly qualified rights in highly institutionalised settings.

Embedding Institutional Living in Direct Provision (see further, pp. 26-31, here)

The recommendations on living conditions and ancillary supports leave much to be desired. The solution to greater protection of protection seekers lies in neither in law nor in strategic litigation. While these are important in achieving broader aims and seeking to use law to promote human rights; only a fundamental re-evaluation of society’s approach to protection seekers in Ireland will result in the recognition of, what Arendt terms, “the right to have rights.” To date law and administration, and now the McMahon Report, will be used to justify exclusion, separation and distancing of protection seekers from Irish society and placing people in the direct provision system. Until there is more fundamental societal introspection, on “the rights of others”, institutionalised and impoverished living for protection seekers will continue. The significant controls over living conditions, eating arrangements’, near total supervision of the parental role, are relatively unchallenged by the McMahon Report. While there are some soft recommendations “in so far as practicable, and subject to any contractual obligations” as regards family living quarters, allocation of rooms to single applicants, possibility for individual or communal cooking, no other societal group has such enforced supervision of intimate aspects of daily lives. Public support for political action in limiting social rights of protection seekers have seen the most restrictive and punitive forms of control utilised within social welfare provision in the modern era.

The Direct Provision Report: A Missed Opportunity

The Direct Provision Report: Recommendations on Improving the Quality of Life for Protection Seekers

DP ReportYou can find my preliminary analysis of the McMahon Report on the Protection Process and Direct Provision System here.

You can access the McMahon Report here.

The Working Group have made a number of recommendations as regards improving the quality of life of those in the protection process. These recommendations include, improved financial supports, education and training, health care, further assistance to vulnerable protection seekers and supports to enable person’s transition out of direct provision accommodation.[1]

  1. Unqualified recommendations

Increase rate of direct provision allowance: The working group has recommended an increase in direct provision allowance (DPA) for adults and children. It is recommended that the adult rate to increase to €38.74 and child rate to €29.80 (qualifying child allowance under Supplementary Welfare Allowance).[2] There is an additional recommendation for the Department of Social Protection to reinstate Community Welfare Service officials in direct provision centres[3] and strive for consistency in administration of Emergency Needs Payments.[4]


  1. Qualified Recommendations

The Right to Work: Once the single procedure is “operating efficiently”,[5] provision for access to the labour market for a protection applicant, if the first instance protection decision is not provided within 9 months, and the applicant has been cooperating with status determination bodies.[6] The right to work should continue until the end of the protection determination process.[7] Where an applicant does succeed in entering employment, she should make a contribution to her accommodation and food within direct provision, if the right to work is provided and exercised.[8]

Access to Education: For school-going children, access to a homework club (on school grounds or in the direct provision centre) is necessary.[9] There are 60 students aged 15-18 who are currently in direct provision and will sit their leaving cert in 3-4 years time.[10] 100 young people obtained their leaving certificate in the last 5 years and live in DP centres.[11] 21 students sat the Leaving Certificate in 2014. 22 students were scheduled to sit their leaving cert in 2015.[12] For adults (new arrivals, the McMahon Report recommends access to English language education within one month.[13] For those 6 months + in the direct provision system, information on other potential courses open to them should be made available.[14] Universities and colleges should consider applying EU/EEA rates to those in the protection process or leave to remain stage for five years or more.[15] In courses above NFQ Level 4, those in the system for two years or more should be eligible to apply but subject to same conditions as others (i.e. if there is a requirement to be unemployed, and on the “live register”, this would apply to protection seekers).[16] The McMahon Report recognised that this does not impact in any way on those currently in the system.[17] No rationale is provided for the reason as to why it will not apply to current applicants.


Healthcare supports: The McMahon Report welcomed the HSE initiative to waive prescription charges, and calls for it to be implemented as soon as possible.[18] A number of health promotion initiatives and information leaflets on health services should be made available to protection seekers.[19]


Support for Vulnerable Protection Seekers, including LGBT Protection Seekers: Organisations providing services to protection applicants “should consider training staff in LGBT issues”.[20] The McMahon Report also recommends that representatives of Department of Social Protection should exercise discretion in administering Emergency Needs Payments to “support LGBT people in the system to access appropriate supports and services”.[21] The McMahon Report also recommends that information leaflets to highlight LGBT issues “displayed prominently”, along with RIA Safety Statement highlighting LGBT issues. [22]


Supports for Separated Children: All separated children over 16 should have an aftercare plan.[23] Currently, the HSE provide aftercare support to 82 separated children who have reached 18 years.[24] “As far as practicable and subject to their wishes”, separated children moving into direct provision should be accommodated in a direct provision centre near to residential placement or previous foster carers.[25] Training and other supports should be provided to foster carers to assist a young person’s transition to direct provision.[26] The McMahon Report also recommends that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs “should convene” a “stakeholder group” to consider “optimum supports” for separated children, including integration into Irish society.[27]

Linkages with Local Communities: The Government to “give consideration” to including protection applicants in integration strategy and to make funding available for local integration strategies. Consideration to be given to set up “Friends of the Centre” groups[28] and building community linkages. This also includes a suggestion to open up direct provision centres for an “Open Day”.[29]

  Continue reading “The Direct Provision Report: Recommendations on Improving the Quality of Life for Protection Seekers”

The Direct Provision Report: Recommendations on Improving the Quality of Life for Protection Seekers

The Direct Provision Report: The People Impacted

DP ReportYou can find my preliminary analysis of the McMahon Report on the Protection Process and Direct Provision System here.

You can access the McMahon Report here.

The McMahon Report is one of the first attempts by the State to systematically explore the total numbers of persons who are in the protection process and leave to remain process, including those who have unsuccessfully sought protection and leave to remain and who are now subject to a subsisting deportation order. Such figures had not been available as a matter of course, meant that there were significant unknowns as regards numbers within the protection process (and related migration areas such as leave to remain and those subject to deportation orders).

Some of the headline statistics emerging from the McMahon Report include:

  • As of February 2015, the McMahon Report identified 7,937 persons who are in the protection process (49%), the leave to remain process (42%) and persons whose claim for protection and leave to remain was not granted, and who are subject to a deportation order (9%).
  • There are 3,876 persons within the protection process. 1,189 persons have been in the protection determination system for 5 years or more.
  • There are 3,343 in the leave to remain process; 2,530 persons have been in the leave to remain process for 5 years or more.
  • There are 718 persons subject to a deportation order. 628 persons have an outstanding deportation order for 5 years or more.


Of this 7,937 persons in the system, 3,607 (46%) live in direct provision accommodation. 4, 330 (54%) of persons live outside direct provision. As the McMahon Report notes: Continue reading “The Direct Provision Report: The People Impacted”

The Direct Provision Report: The People Impacted

The Direct Provision Report: An Overview and Introduction

DP ReportYou can find my preliminary analysis of the McMahon Report on the Protection Process and Direct Provision System here.

You can access the McMahon Report here.

The Working Group Report on the Protection System and Direct Provision (McMahon Report) report was released on June 30 2015. The McMahon Report provides a significant number of recommendations on the protection process in Ireland and the system of direct provision.[1] That changes would be occurring to the protection process and the system of direct provision were hinted at in July 2014. The Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 outlined the need to

“address the current system of direct provision…to make it more respectful of the applicant and less costly to the tax-payer”.[2]

There was also a commitment to establish a single procedure for asylum applicants. The publication of the Heads of the International Protection Bill in March 2015 (before the Working Group reported) has indicated Government willingness to move the single procedure forward. However, the Working Group seems overly ambitious in estimating that the single procedure will be in place and operational by 01 January 2016.[3]

After consultation with Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in September 2014,[4] the terms of reference and membership of the Working Group was announced on 13 October 2014.[5] The terms of reference of the Working Group were:


“Having regard to the rights accorded to refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and bearing in mind the Government’s commitment to legislate to reduce the waiting period for protection applicants through the introduction of a single application procedure,

to recommend to the Government what improvements should be made to the State’s existing Direct Provision and protection process and to the various supports provided for protection applicants; and specifically to indicate what actions could be taken in the short and longer term which are directed towards:

(i) improving existing arrangements in the processing of protection applications;

(ii) showing greater respect for the dignity of persons in the system and improving their quality of life by enhancing the support and services currently available;

ensuring at the same time that, in light of recognised budgetary realities, the overall cost of the protection system to the taxpayer is reduced or remains within or close to current levels and that the existing border controls and immigration procedures are not compromised.”


The Working Group commenced work on its report on 10 November 2014.[6] The McMahon Report emerged over eight plenary meetings, with the sub-groups identified below meeting on 38 separate occasions.[7] The limitations on the terms of reference were accepted by NGO representatives at the first meeting. The McMahon Report notes that:

“organisations advocating an end to direct provision, and who may be disappointed in this limitation, had accepted their appointment on the basis of the terms of reference”.[8]

The core issue identified by the Working Group was “length of time” in the protection process and length of time protection applicants were subject to the system of direct provision.[9] An Agreed Work Programme was set out, with members decided which sub-group they would be part of (and could be part of all sub-groups if they so wished):[10]

  • Theme 1: Improvements within direct provision;
  • Theme 2: Improvements to ancillary supports for those in direct provision
  • Theme 3: Improvements in the determination process for protection applicants.

Overall, the Report contains a mix of significant recommendations on the protection process and processing of asylum claims.[11] However, I argue, there are significant concerns with the recommendations that have emerged as regards direct provision accommodation and supports for asylum applicants.[12]

Pic Credit: Merrion Street

[1] For a glossary of core terms that will be used as regards immigration status in this analysis, see Thornton, L. Glossary of Terms: Irish Asylum Law (UCD, 2013).

[2] Department of An Taoiseach, Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 (July 2014), p. 9.

[3] Working Group report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers (hereinafter the McMahon Report), paras 66, 6.17, 6.31, 6.39 and 6.46.

[4] 18 September 2014: Consultation with NGOs as regards terms of reference for the Working Group and other aspects of the protection process.

[5] Department of Justice and Equality, Terms of Reference and membership of the Working Group (October 2013).

[6] Working Group report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers (hereinafter the McMahon Report), para. 6.

[7] McMahon Report, para. 20.

[8] McMahon Report, para. 8.

[9] McMahon Report, para. 3 and Appendix 6.

[10] McMahon Report, para. 4 and Appendix 1.

[11] See generally, Chapter 3 of the McMahon Report.

[12] See generally, Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 of the McMahon Report.

The Direct Provision Report: An Overview and Introduction

Mohammed Younis Succeeds in the Supreme Court

Younis PicIn August 2012, the Irish High Court ruled that as Mohammad Younis was in an irregular migration situation, he could not benefit from protections under employment law (see also Dr Darius Whelan‘s excellent analysis of the High Court decision here). Today (25 June 2015), the Supreme Court set aside the decision of the High Court. The decision was set aside, not on any explicit repudiation of the High Court’s analysis of employment law, employment contracts and irregular migrant workers, but on the basis of strict adherence to the role of a court in judicial review proceedings. Rather than focus on the human rights arguments pleaded before it, the Supreme Court simply considered the jurisdiction of the High Court to make its August 2012 decision. The Rights Commissioner made two monetary awards to to Mr. Younis in March 2011.

For breaches by Mr Hussein (Mr Younis’ employer) of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, the Rights Commissioner awarded the sum of €5,000 to Mr. Younis. For breaches of minimum wage legislation over a number of years, Mr. Younis was awarded €86,134.42. As Mr Hussein did not appeal this decision, but did not pay Mr. Younis compensation. the Labour Court issued two determinations that these sums be paid in September 2011.

In setting aside the decision of the High Court, Murray J. in the Supreme Court noted: Continue reading “Mohammed Younis Succeeds in the Supreme Court”

Mohammed Younis Succeeds in the Supreme Court

The EU and the 25th anniversary of the UN Migrant Workers Convention

IJELWe are delighted to welcome this guest blog by Alan Desmond. This blog first appeared on

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW), Migrants Matter, a group of postgraduate students and young professionals concerned with the treatment of migrants in Europe, is calling on Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, to support ratification of the ICMW by EU Member States.

Adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1990, the ICMW is one of the ten core international human rights instruments. It is similar to some of the other core human rights treaties like the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in that it takes the rights set out in the two treaties of general application, the ICCPR and the ICESCR, and codifies and elaborates on them in relation to a particularly vulnerable category of persons, in this case migrant workers and members of their families. What distinguishes the ICMW from the other core instruments is that it is the only one of the ten which has not yet been signed or ratified by any of the 28 EU Member States. Continue reading “The EU and the 25th anniversary of the UN Migrant Workers Convention”

The EU and the 25th anniversary of the UN Migrant Workers Convention

Committee Stage Amendments to the Capacity Bill – Semantic Change or Real Reform?

committeeTomorrow, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill finally progresses to Committee stage in the Dail. This Bill seeks to abolish the outdated ward of court system which currently provides the only mechanism in Irish law for removing the legal capacity of an adult and appointing a substitute decision-maker to take legal actions on that adult’s behalf. The introduction of this Bill has been broadly welcomed by civil society, organisations of persons with disabilities, healthcare professionals, families and state bodies – especially as it has been recognised by government as a key reform which is needed in order to enable Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, many organisations and inviduals, including a coalition of NGOs working in the fields of disability, mental health and ageing – have identified changes which need to be made to the Bill to ensure that it fully respects the rights of adults in Ireland to make their own decisions, with support, if they wish.

The Department of Justice has published the amendments it proposes to introduce to the Bill at Committee stage here – where you can also read the amendments proposed by all members of the Dail Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Some of the amendments proposed by the Department are most welcome – and respond to the concerns highlighted by NGOs based on the text of the Bill as first published. One such amendment is the proposal to remove co-decision making agreements from the court process and to make them a more flexible and accessible instrument, similar to the decision-making assistance agreement. Another example is the change in the name of the state body which will oversee implementation of the new law, from the ‘Office to Public Guardian’ to the ‘Decision Support Service.’ While this might seem like a minor change, it can be viewed as an important reaffirmation of the purpose of the legislation – not to provide for paternalistic interventions into people’s lives – but rather to support individuals’ autonomy and self-determination.

However, other amendments proposed by the Department of Justice demonstrate that the ‘paradigm shift’ called for by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has not yet been fully achieved. The Centre for Disability Law and Policy, along with other NGOs, has argued that in order for the Bill to have practical and meaningful effect in the lives of people with disabilities – the threshold for ability to enter into a decision-making assistance agreement should be lowered from what was set out in the original text of the Bill. This has not been included in the Department’s proposed amendments to the Bill at Committee stage.

Further, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has now clarified in General Comment 1 that ‘perceived or actual deficits in mental capacity’ can never be used as a justification for a denial or restriction of legal capacity, ‘even in respect of a single decision.’ The Capacity Bill, as originally drafted, relied on an ‘assessment of mental capacity’ to determine what kinds of support an individual could access under the Bill, or whether an individual would have her legal capacity restricted by the appointment of a decision-making representative (a form of substitute decision-making). The amendments set out by the Department have not changed this approach – but the Department has proposed to replace the term ‘mental capacity’ in the Bill with the term ‘decision-making capacity.’ In my view, this change is no more than window dressing, as ‘decision-making capacity’ is given the same meaning as ‘mental capacity’ and continues to be used as a basis for restricting legal capacity. A similar critique can be made the Department’s proposal to remove the term ‘informal decision-making’ from the Bill, while retaining legal protection for third parties who make substitute decisions on behalf of persons who they believe ‘lack capacity’ (the very power which was originally provided to ‘informal decision-makers’ in the original text of the Bill). These proposed amendments therefore, do not address the concerns raised by civil society that those most in need of decision-making support will be denied the opportunity to make binding assistance agreements, and that an unacceptably wide power is granted to substitute decision-makers, who have not been chosen by the person or appointed by the court, to make decisions on behalf of a person they believe to ‘lack capacity.’

Based on the amendments proposed by the Department of Justice, the capacity/incapacity paradigm is now firmly embedded in the Bill – in decision-making assistance agreements, co decision-making agreements, decision-making representative orders, powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives. Again, while a number of submissions were made by NGOs to the Department to advocate that advance healthcare directives be recognised as legally binding in situations of involuntary detention (see here and here) – this proposal has not been reflected in the amendments introducing advance healthcare directives to the Bill at Committee stage. Finally, the relationship between this Bill and other areas of law where ‘mental capacity’ or ‘decision-making capacity’ is used as a criteria to restrict or deny legal capacity (for example in mental health law, sexual offences and eligibility for jury service) has not been clarified in the amendments proposed at this stage.

Along with many others, I will be watching the debate tomorrow with interest, and hope to see some of the concerns outlined here addressed by the members of the Committee. This debate is all the more significant since the Bill is one of the key pieces of legislation which government has deemed necessary in order to facilitate Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention. In my view, if the Bill is not amended to ensure compliance with the UN Committee’s interpretation of Article 12 of the Convention, then it will remain a barrier to Ireland’s ratification of this important human rights treaty.

Committee Stage Amendments to the Capacity Bill – Semantic Change or Real Reform?