Many readers are probably aware of the US Department of State’s practice of releasing annual human rights reports for every country. This week the US State Department released its reports on human rights in 2010, including this report on Ireland. Although the report notes that, by and large, fundamental civil and political rights are protected by the Constitution, respected by the government, and enjoyed by residents in Ireland, there are a number of areas where the report raises concerns. There are, of course, also a number of interesting omissions from the report or places where perhaps the analysis is not quite as thorough as it might be if such a report were intended to provide a true picture of the human rights situation in Ireland. The report, of course, barely mentions socio-economic rights at all, but even in the area of civil and political rights it is a little shallow at times. It is important to remember that these reports are not intended to be critical reviews; rather they are intended to be essentially descriptive accounts. In addition, what is and is not included in such reports of course is likely to have as much to do with domestic politics in the United States (abortion, civil partnership, Shannon Airport etc) than it is with the human rights situation in the countries reported on. In this post I want to raise a couple of issues to give some more depth to the State Department report.

The report raises the matter of overcrowding and detention conditions in Irish prisons as a major concern. The concern expressed is primarily with the implications for safety and patient welfare, including in particular the welfare of detainees with poor mental health within the mainstream prison population. This concern was expressed in a manner that included concern with the use of mainstream prison detention for individuals who might be more appropriately placed within mental health facilities, conditions in which were also said to be an area of some concern. Not included is any mention of the reports released by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (REPORT) and the Ombudsman for Children (REPORT) identifying serious human rights concerns in relation to the Irish prison system (see Yvonne’s post here). Neither does the report specifically address our ongoing and degrading system of slopping out (which Yvonne discussed here) or the concerns raised last year about deaths in Garda custody (considered by Vicky here).

Policing is addressed to some extent in the report, noting in particular the operation of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. However, the area in which perhaps the most express concerns about policing in Ireland were raised last year—policing the Corrib Gas Line—is not placed under any kind of spotlight or, indeed, expressly mentioned. This is in spite of ongoing concerns about aggressive and intimidating policing mechanisms there which Vicky addressed here and here during 2010.

Domestic violence is raised by the report as an area of major concern, with the volume of domestic violence remaining high. In addition, the report notes the extent to which child sexual abuse remains a concern in Ireland with a high volume of all calls to Child Line, for example, relating to matters of sexual abuse of children. What the report does not note is the continuing representations by the Irish government in 2010 that it does not hold any responsibility for the abuse of women and children in the Magdalene Laundries and Bethany Homes and the exclusion of those who suffered in these institutions (both women and girls) from the redress scheme. Neither does it mention the IHRC’s recommendation for a statutory enquiry which I blogged about here and to which Justice for Magdalenes responded on HRinI. Maeve O’Rourke contributed this guest post to HRinI on slavery and the Magdalene Laundries last year

The report mentions that unaccompanied minors continue to be a matter of serious concern in Ireland. Of course, we know that many unaccompanied minors are children who go missing from HSE care and, in many cases, the Children’s Rights Alliance claims these children are trafficked. What the report does not raise, in spite of the fact that it continues to be an almost unfathomably large problem, is the death of children who are known to or in the care of the HSE which I blogged about here.

Social discrimination against immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities is given substantial attention in the report, with a special focus on Travellers who the government recognise “as a social group, rather than a distinct ethnic group”. The report notes that Travellers continue to experience serious societal discrimination in the relation to access to premises, goods, facilities and services in spite of equality legislation and “longstanding government policies to redress imbalances” (p. 14). The report also notes the difficulties that Travellers often have in enrolling their children in school, the absence of electricity or sanitation at many halting sites, and lack of economic participation because of a lack of educational opportunity (p.p. 14-15). The report also notes the difficulties experienced by Travellers in securing halting sites or other accommodation mechanisms that respect and are consistent with Traveller traditions including nomadic living patterns (p. 15). David has blogged about the issues surrounding the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group here.

Although the report notes the provision in Article 40.6 of the Bunreacht relating to blasphemy, it does not address the introduction last year of a new blasphemy provision in the Defamation Act 2009 which came into force on 1 January 2010 attracting much attention, including here on HRinI. The passage of the Act was noted in the 2009 report.

The report notes that refugees have access to employment, education and so on but does not mention the position of asylum seekers in any substantial way. As we know, asylum seekers in Ireland find themselves in a particularly difficult situation, subject to a system of direct provision that is both measly and strips one of one’s autonomy. Neither can asylum seekers engage in paid employment, which has serious implications for one’s capacity to attain economic empowerment and play a full role of social and civic life. These conditions led to demonstrations and protests by asylum seekers in 2010, which Máiréad addressed here. During 2010 Liam wrote about reception conditions here, and Aoife Nolan addressed difficulties asylum seekers can face in securing education in Ireland here.

The Report is curiously silent on the issue of availability of abortion. While this might not usually be a matter of surprise in the State Department report, the fact that the European Court of Human Rights handed down its important decision in A, B & C v Ireland in December makes it a strange omission. We have blogged extensively on this case and its implications here on HRinI, including in a blog carnival, and you can find all relevant posts on this page.

Although the Report mentions that gay pride parades were held peacefully in towns and cities throughout the country and provided with any required elements of support from the state (including through policing), it does not mention the passage of the important (if unromantically named) Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, which then came into force in January of this year. Here at HRinI we have blogged extensively on this legislation, both as a Bill and subsequently as an Act, including by means of a blog carnival. You can access the blog carnival here.

Last, but not least, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Shannon Airport and its role in the ‘War on Terrorism’, including possible human rights implications thereof, receive no mention whatsoever in the report apart from a note on p. 16 to the effect that “There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the export processing zone at the Shannon airport”.

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Written by Fiona de Londras

Fiona de Londras is a Professor of Law in Durham University. Her third book, Detention in the War on Terrorism: Can Human Rights Fight Back?, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011. She specialises in terrorism and counter-terrorism, human rights protection in Ireland and more generally, and international criminal law. You can contact Fiona at fiona.de-londras[@]durham.ac.uk