#UNIRL Concluding Observations for Ireland on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

UN imageOn June 22, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued their concluding observations on Ireland’s compliance with obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). You can access the concluding observations of the Committee here. Ireland’s next report under ICESCR will not be considered until 2020 at the earliest.

Positive Aspects (paras. 3-5)

The Committee commended Ireland in a number of respects, relating to accession to a variety of international instruments and recent developments in terms of marriage equality, establishing the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and various strategies on poverty prevention, social inclusion and mental health.

Principle Subjects of Concern (paras  6 -38)

The Committee has expressed concerns surrounding the following:

  • Non domestic applicability of ICESCR (para.  7);
  • The State should recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority (para. 32);
  • Recommends that the Legal Aid Scheme in Ireland be widened and additional resources be provided to the Legal Aid Board (para. 8);
  • The State should engage  more widely with civil society organisations when adopting changes in legislation, policy etc. (para. 10)
  • The State should conduct a review of the measures adopted during the period of austerity, plan for the phasing out of these measures; review its taxation and spending policies and consider instituting a human rights impact assessment of its policies (para. 12)
  • Alternatives to institutionalised care for persons with disabilities must be considered by Ireland (para. 13);
  • In terms of asylum seekers: the Government should expediate the International Protection Bill, and also improve the poor living conditions for persons in direct provision and overall Ireland has to take steps to improve reception conditions for asylum seekers (para. 13);
  • Ireland should amend Article 41.2 of the Constitution (para. 15).
  • The Committee is concerned at high unemployment, in particular amongst vulnerable groups. The State should introduce targeted measures to combat this, in particular for Travellers, Roma and persons with disabilities (para. 16).
  • The minimum wage is too low and does not ensure a sufficient standard of living for a worker and their families  and consider legislation to ensure just and favourable conditions of work in a number of areas (para. 17);
  • There should be “a prompt, thorough and independent investigation” into forced labour in the Magdelene Laundries (para. 18).
  • Initial social welfare decisions need to be made in a fair and transparent manner, and is concerned that the habitual residence condition disproportionately impacts on already marginalised groups (paras. 20-21).
  • The State needs to increase its efforts as regards poverty prevention, hunger and malnutrition, in particular amongst marginalised groups in society (paras. 24-25).
  • The State needs to give consideration to ensure adequate housing, including protecting those in mortgage arrears, those at risk of homelessness, increasing rent supplement, effective complaints mechanisms for local authority tenants, and providing Travellers and Roma with culturally appropriate accommodation (para. 26).
  • Healthcare services and mental health services need to be delivered in a rights compliant manner (paras 27-28). The Committee recommends that Ireland take  “all necessary steps, including a referendum on abortion, to revise its legislation on abortion” (para. 29).
  • The Committee is concerned at the permissibility of discrimination as regards school admissions for a number of groups and recommends that admissions criteria adopt a human rights framework (para. 30).

#UNIRL Concluding Observations for Ireland on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

#UNIRL Update No. 6: Minister Sherlock & Irish Delegation Respond to ICESCR Committee

UN imageThis is a summary of the response of Minister Sherlock and the Irish Delegation to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. [Finalised. Where the Government did not respond directly to a question, this is to be provided for in a written answer post the meeting and within 48 hours. Concluding Observations to be issued within 10 days.]

General response: Minister Sherlock

Between 2007 and 2015, our expenditure on social protection increased in % terms by 33%. That is how Ireland responded to issues of austerity. In terms of the lessons learned, may discuss this later.

Minister Sherlock also discussed overseas aid. It will be challenging for Ireland to reach the 0.7% target.

Health, education and social welfare spending were “as best protected” as possible during the recession. The social welfare budget was increased by €4 billion during the recession. The number of teachers increased throughout the period of the recession. Ireland sought to ensure that dilapidated and pre-fabricated school buildings were replaced by bricks and mortar. Every child, no matter their background or religion, “as citizens would be taught in classrooms that would be conducive of learning”.

The Constitution is a living document. The State guarantees not to endow any religion. Article 44 of the Constitution is interpreted harmoniously as regards equality of treatment. The Irish Supreme Court has consistently said that all persons are guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion, to all persons, and to those of no religious persuasion.

In spite of the difficult decisions, Ireland has done its level best to ensure we’ve lived up to the spirit of ICESCR. We will endeavour to ensure all our citizens to flourish. Government policy is now conducted in a much more collaborative way. Ireland is more collaborative as regards governance and ensure we are “compliant with and adherent with” our international obligations. Ireland will continue to progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights. Minister thanks the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Colin Wrafter (Director of Department of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights Unit)

Ireland has not yet ratified the optional protocol (but have signed this document). Ratification will only be done after screening of obligations and appropriate government consultation. This is to ensure that State can comply with obligations once ratified.

The Constitutional Convention was an “innovative” method of assessing constitutional issues. The Government held referendums on marriage equality and age of Presidential candidates. The Convention recommended the insertion of ICESCR rights, and these rights are cognisable by the Courts. The Government’s response to this recommendation will be given shortly.

Geraldine Luddy (Department of Health) (Abortion Matters)

Acknowledged that the law in Ireland on abortion is very limited. The 8th amendment was inserted in 1983. Abortion is prohibited unless a woman’s life is at risk, and that risk can be averted by termination of her pregnancy. Once the clinical decision is made, that a woman has a right to abortion, she is then entitled to that termination. In this particular case, the right to life of the woman takes precedence. In terms of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities, a further referendum will be required.

Ireland has free services as regards post-abortion counselling. Migrant women, and in particular women “in our asylum centres”, the Crisis Pregnancy Programme have drafted guidelines to ensure that women are “aware of their rights in relation to the termination of their pregnancy”. Proper referral pathways are also been considered by medical practitioners.

Paula O’Hare (AG’s Office-Justiciability and Incorporation of ICESCR)

Recognises that the Committee contains a significant number of (former) Supreme Court judges. As regards why we would incorporate ECHR and not ICESCR?: Ireland is not distinguishing between civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights. However, we cannot assess the resource implications of providing justiciable economic, social and cultural rights.

The context of ICESCR is mainly incorporated through legislation (i.e. social welfare acts, housing acts, health acts). These laws are completely justiciable before the Irish courts. People can challenge non payment of a benefit within structures and systems. Nothing about this is barred from the courts on the basis that the content of the right giving rise to litigation is an economic, social and cultural rights. Procedural fairness as regards welfare (etc.) and other decisions are also justiciable (fair process, taking into account rational considerations, duty to give reasons for decisions). The Irish courts deal with these issues.

Irish judges are appointed and have minimum standards of practice. Everything mentioned above, judges are trained and expert in these issues. Judges undertake to do further training as presidents of their courts request them to do. This is for judges to decide. There is no judicial resistance to hearing of economic, social and cultural rights. There is deference by the judiciary as regards the role of the Executive and Legislature in matters of economic, social and cultural rights.

There is no judicial resistance to hearing of economic, social and cultural rights. There is deference by the judiciary as regards the role of the Executive and Legislature in matters of economic, social and cultural rights. In the last Supreme Court decision on housing (ed. note, case of O’Donnell) the Supreme Court did not make reference to ICESCR. However, the Supreme Court did note constitutional concepts of human dignity.

The Law Reform Commission is examining (as part of their work programme in 2015) the extent to which Irish government departments comply with international human rights obligations.

Response of ICESCR Committee Chair: While the Covenant provides for progressive realisation, it also imposes on State parties various obligations that are of immediate effect. Please keep this in mind. Certain rights under ICESCR are of immediate effect, and the party must take immediate steps to realise these rights (under General Comment No 3 & 9). 

On Tuesday, 9 June, Paula O’Hare responded to the Chairperson’s question responding to General Comments No 3 and No. 9. There must be access to redress for discrimination, that is not subject to progressive realization. There is explicit statutory protection under the Employment Equality Act & Equal Status Act that complies with our obligations under ICESCR. If the Committee disagree with this, then reference can be made to Article 40.1 of the Constitution, an article that “all Irish people are proud of….this has governed the country well since its enactment…other articles of the Constitution must be governed by this duty..” All of this is without prejudice to the fact, the Constitutional Convention has recommended greater inclusion of ICESCR, and this is still a live question that the Government has yet to consider.

National Minimum Wage

Minimum wage is high by international standards. The Low Pay Commission will be in operation. No plans to reduce exemptions to minimum wage, close relatives/apprentices. Family relationships reflect family  and cultural practices.

Deaglán Ó Briain, Department of Justice (Racism, Disability, Legal Aid, Magdelene Laundries, Direct Provision, Gender)

National Action Plan on Racism up to 2008 is still being implemented. Racism is a problem that the Irish government and police force takes seriously.

Ireland is not necessarily in favour of an over-arching human rights plan. Would this plan “add value”?

In terms of particular vulnerable groups (travellers, Roma, persons with disabilities), the Government are introducing inclusion plans. This is been passed in an open way. The case of two Roma children, wrongly taken from their parents, the Irish government is planning to ensure that this cannot take place again.

In terms of the legal aid scheme, legal aid will only be granted to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. However, legal advice can be provided to persons as regards the social welfare appeals office. The purpose of not granting legal aid before various tribunals (social welfare, employment etc.) is that they are more informal and not necessary to seek legal advice and aid.

Ireland has a robust equality infrastructure, and there are no plans to widen the grounds for prohibited discrimination under the Employment Equality Act or the Equal Status Act.

As regards the Magdelene Laundries, finance has been provided to persons in these laundries, regardless of whether any abuse took place. The payments have not come to a stop. A substantial amount of money has been expended on this redress scheme. The “group working with the largest number of survivors” are not interested in bureaucratic processes, or further inquiries. The Government have but forward “a generous, eh, a humane” scheme as regards Magdelene survivors [My note: Direct Quote of misspoken official!].

A working group has been set up under a “High Court judge” as regards direct provision. Direct provision was never intended to be a solution and we recognise issues. The report of the Working Group, “we understand”, will have recommendations on a right to work, right for asylum seekers to prepare their own food etc.

Tuesday, 09 June 2015

There is an increased gender pay gap between 2011 and 2012 on the provisional figures available to the Dept of Justice. Within the private sector, the gap has remained unchanged at 20%. The gap continued to decrease in a number of areas: defence, social work, administration. There is a 29% gender pay gap in the education sector, and the State is currently considering this issue.

The  Tainaiste has stated that she will consider introducing two weeks paid paternity leave in the forthcoming budget.

Mr O Briain provided the Committee with figures on domestic violence prosecution statistics, as well as orders under the Domestic Violence Act 1996. Ireland is committed to publishing new legislation on domestic violence by the end of the year. The State is also seeking to ratify the Istanbul Convention on Domestic Violence in the near future.

The State has achieved its targets for public sector employment of persons with disabilities. In the private sector, a different approach is needed, as regards support and facilitation of private sector employers to ensure they can employ persons with disabilities. Ireland will not ratify the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities until the State is sure that it can comply with its obligations. This issue is not a resource issue. The real issue is legislative issues, currently being addressed as regards mental health legislation and disability rights legislation, getting rid of outmoded language from our electoral laws. The objective is to bring a road map to government with time-scales to completing ratification of UNCRPD.

In terms of asylum seekers right to work and cultural life. “I have no doubt” the right to work will be dealt with in the forthcoming report on the direct provision. Sporting and other organisations have been involved in ensuring access of minorities to cultural life.

In terms of Traveller ethnicity, this issue is being addressed and explored by the Minister for State for Equality. Travellers self identify as Irish, but a distinct culture and identity and hugely important that in terms of self-esteem for Travellers. Ireland needs to engage in process of examination to see what issues remain to possible recognition.

Antoinette Connolly (Department of Finance?)

Economy is recovering and revenue is increasing. The Irish economy is still not back to where we were. Our fiscal policies are still aimed at reducing our deficit. In Budget 2015, the Irish government began to increase expenditure. There has been some modest increase in budgets. There were also a number of “tax measures” to provide “tax reliefs” valued at €500 million. There could be up to €1.5 billion in “fiscal space” to provide increase in government expenditure and also tax adjustments. Ireland still needs to reduce our deficit, but in the period to 2020, there will be scope for fiscal adjustments and expenditure increases. As of now, it’s too early to determine what these expenditure adjustments will be.

Departmental Representative (apologies didn’t catch a name) (Housing)

In terms of social housing, Ireland “responded to social housing need in the crisis”. There is a recent social housing strategy presents a fundamental effort to deal with the housing list. There will be 35,000 new housing units to be delivered. Other reforms in areas of social housing, with €1.5 billion of housing targets. “State is responding to housing need in Ireland”.

The Private Residential Tenancies Act 2004 provides for secured tenure for four years-Part 4 tenancy rights (once initial 6 month period finished). The Private Residential Tenancies Board “have initiated”  an “extensive” advertising campaign informing landlord and tenants of their rights and obligations. While rents have been rising in Ireland, the core response of Government is to enhance supply. Issues of rent certainty is under consideration. The core focus of the government is to ensure that the rent benefits of landlords, tenants and all others in society.

Jim Wells (Social Protection)

In terms of the lessons for Ireland:

How have we dealt with austerity and the economic crisis?

The crisis was one of unemployment. The social welfare system acted as an “automatic stabiliser” in preventing poverty and growing economic inequality. Ireland had invested heavily in social protection prior to the crisis, with an emphasis on providing an adequate standard of living. The spending on social protection doubled between 2000 and 2007. This created a “robust, comprehensive” welfare system. Between 2007 and 2015, social protection system increased by 1/3, “that’s the bottom line, we spent more money”. The number of recipients increased and the system responded to this. A quarter of the Irish population was lifted out of poverty due to social protection, social transfers. Ireland was 2.5 times more effective in preventing poverty than Portugal, Italy and Greece. This data highlights the crucial role of social protection in preventing poverty. The Irish social protection system is one of the best in Europe and this is a key lesson from the recession.

Ireland had to make trimmings to a number of expenditures due to the “discretionary measures that Ireland were forced to take…” Social Impact Assessments are utilised throughout budgetary decision making processes. The 2014 Social Impact Assessment of Budget 2014: there was a 0.8% reduction in living standards. Only 1/4 of the loses were from welfare cuts. The remainder of the reduction was due to property tax, which had “regressive effects on lower income households”. However, in 2015, the negative impact of 2014, was almost wiped out with a 0.7% increase in living standards. This was in the year of water charges. “Water charges, by their nature are a regressive measure”. It is expected that Budget 2016 will have a similar increase in living standards. The Government spoke to the Community and Voluntary Sector about these issues.

At the end of the crisis, there has been slight increases between 2009 and 2015 of core social welfare payments. Measures were adopted “protected the most vulnerable”.

At the heart of our economic crisis, our unemployment rate went from 4% to 15%. Since then, major progress has been made, with unemployment is below 10% “with further falls expected”. In terms of long-term unemployment, there has been a larger fall in numbers in long-term unemployment. This was due to the government’s creating signifiant employment pathways to work. The Government has created a range of active labour activation measures. The rate of in-work poverty is 5%, and has fallen during the crisis. Significant social supports have been put in place (child care, social transfers, back to work payments) to enable persons realise their right to work.

Ireland has a long history of setting and meeting poverty targets in terms of adults and children, and their are positive signs that jobs are being created. Ireland has dynamic targets on poverty prevention.

Colm Desmond (Health Questions)

Disability services are governed by the value for money report. There is now a new model of support for persons with disabilities and has been a decrease in the number of persons with disabilities in congregated settings. This is subject to ensuring a person can be properly supported in the community. The reforms in the Congregated Settings Report are currently being implemented. Services for disabilities can be inspected by HIQA since 01 November 2013. The voluntary service providers in congregated settings must have their personal dignity and privacy met under agreements with these providers. HIQA inspects on rotation, and HIQA has reported many elements of good practice. The HSE must adopt action plans for a number of centres where concerns about health and human rights of residents were in question. The Aras Attracta centre was inspected by HIQA and passed muster. However, after the Prime Time report, a HSE 6 step programme was put in place to safeguard vulnerable persons at risk of abuse. The outcome of Aras Attracta, regrettable as it was, will ensure that disability standards will be implemented in full. Due to ongoing inquiries, State does not want to say anything further.

The Disability Value for Money Report was “widely welcomed by the disability sector”

The State’s mental health services are “progressively moving” towards a community care model. The Government are also seeking to look at other important mental health issues: eating disorders etc. The Government has provided “very substantial funding” for mental health. The government’s system of mental health gets “quite a bit of support” from mental health advocates.

On the question of free and informed consent of mental health treatments, will be moving away from a paternalistic view of mental health treatment. Therefore, a stronger voice for the individual is anticipated. There will be safeguards to involuntary patients as regards those who are detained voluntary. There will be changes as regards considering status of different patients. The Assisted Decision Making Capacity legislation is also progressing to provide changes.

Drugs and medicines are made available through the medical card scheme, or through the Drugs Payment Scheme. The question (posed yesterday) was where an individual needs an expensive drug, which the State is not in a position to cover the cost. The HSE is in a position to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to make particular, if rare, treatments available. State needs to be mindful of best use of funding.

Female Genital Mutiliation is an issue that the State “does need to address”. A special clinic has been established in Dublin to deal with these issues. There is an estimate of about 3,700 persons who are victims of FGM. The State’s dealing with FGM is “as good as is possible in the circumstances”.

It is acknowledged that Travellers health outcomes are not the same as many within Irish society. The HSE has adopted strategies and plans to deal with Traveller health outcomes.

On health services reform generally, the Universal Health Insurance policy is governmental policy. The most immediate manifestation to this, is to extend free GP treatment and medical cards to all children under 5, followed by extension to all persons over 70. The Government has already increased the coverage of medical cards “very substantially” in a time of economic recession.

Education

Tulsa (Child and Family Agency) have a statutory duty to ensure proper education. The number of children who were home educated was just over 1,000 children. A register of such children is maintained.

Government is aware of patronage and pluralism in primary education and the need to provide greater diversity. In relation to new schools, between 2011 and 2016; – 20 schools established are muti- denominational. In areas of stabilised population, a process of divesting, in terms of surveying parents. There have been 8 schools divested to date.

Traveller education is now mainstreamed.

#UNIRL Update No. 6: Minister Sherlock & Irish Delegation Respond to ICESCR Committee

#UNIRL Update No. 5: The Committee Questions Minister Sherlock

UN imageThis is my attempted structuring of the core questions asked of Minister Sherlock and the Irish delegation by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The questions are coming quick and fast, and I do hope I’m fairly reflecting the complexity of the questions asked. [Ended, see responses of State delegation here]

 

 

Incorporation and Justiciability of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

  1. Why doesn’t Ireland incorporate economic, social and cultural rights in the constitution?
  2. There is a recommendation from the Constitutional Convention, as regards protecting socio-economic and cultural rights? What is the current status on progressing this issue?
  3. Will Ireland allow its citizens to bring complaints before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?
  4. Given that Ireland has incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic law (ECHR Act 2003), why can’t the Irish government incorporate ICESCR in a similar manner?
  5. Article 45 of the Irish Constitution: Does the State value ALL human rights, including socio-economic rights?

Non-Discrimination

  1. Is the government going to renew the national action plan on racism? What measures has the Government taken that IHREC is adequately resourced?
  2. What measures is the government taken to ensure that the principles of non-retrogression, minimum core obligations, non-discrimination etc. are considered and respected by State, in particular as regards asylum seekers, Roma, Travellers, women, persons living in poverty?
  3. Asylum seekers and direct provision are waiting in accommodation for 5-7 years. There is a negative impact on family life. “We are concerned that direct provision violates family life, the right to work, the right to social assistance”
  4. The National Women’s Strategy is about to end, what needs to be improved further as regards women’s rights?
  5. Does Ireland have any plans to prohibit discrimination on further grounds (i.e. socio-economic status)?
  6. Does Ireland protect non-citizens rights to their economic, social and cultural rights?
  7. Ireland seems unique as regards the lack of separation of church & state in a developed State?

 Gender

  1. In terms of gender, how are the socio-economic rights  of women fully respected and protected in Ireland.
  2. What issues/problems emerge as regards the scheme for Magdalene Laundries redress and are socio-economic rights now being respected?
  3. How does the State ensure child care is offered?
  4. What issues with domestic violence arise and what supports are in place as regards victims of domestic violence?
  5. How can you reconcile the contradiction between Ireland’s preferred status to the unborn (in the Constitution), compared to the rights of women, when a woman’s health is under threat?
  6. How is Ireland’s abortion regime compatible with the right to sexual and reproductive health? In particular as regards victims of rape, and where a foetus is non-viable outside the womb?
  7. Why doesn’t the Government hold a referendum on an issue of abortion?
  8. What steps have been taken by Government to ensure that the 2014 Information Document, ensure that women can access their right to life-saving abortion?
  9. Thousands of women have to access abortion services and this has a disproportionate impact on poor women, female asylum seekers, and other women who do not have the resources or ability to travel abroad for reproductive services. What is the State’s response to this?
  10. In terms of domestic violence in Ireland’s obligation-there are gaps. Ireland has made a commitment to review this legislation and to introduce the Domestic Violence Bill 2015. Any update on this?
  11. There has been significant cuts as regards domestic violence support services. Why is this the case?

Structural Issues

  1. In terms of Budgeting: Are there gender sensitive budgeting analysis and exploration on the impact of women, in particular marginalised women?
  2. What training has been provided to the judiciary as regards economic, social and cultural rights?
  3. Will Ireland collect disaggregate data to assess the socio-economic rights of Travellers and Roma in Ireland
  4. Does Ireland have effective mechanisms to ensure equal enjoyment of rights for Travellers and Roma?
  5. What State mechanisms are in place to ensure implementation of UN human rights treaty bodies recommendations and address concerns as regards meeting UN human rights treaty obligations.

Austerity, Equality and Human Rights

  1. Are Ireland’s austerity measures temporary?
  2. What lessons can Ireland (and all of us) learn from its approach to austerity?
  3. Is it the view of Ireland that Memorandum of Understanding were “imposed” on Ireland, and this was essentially coercion?
  4. As regards the burden of the sovereign debt crisis: in public statements from Cabinet ministers, corporate tax rate is “settled policy”. Would Ireland agree that failure to moving towards a common EU corporate tax rate, is impacting on the enjoyment of socio-economic rights.
  5. 2/3 of budget adjustments arose from cuts in spending. In retrospect, is it the view of Ireland that this was appropriate in light of Ireland’s obligations under ICESCR?
  6. Many countries are going through austerity. But there are certain areas that must be untouchable-education and health-these areas need to be protected. How has the State protected these areas from austerity?

Legal Aid and Access to Justice 

  1. Will the legal aid scheme be strengthened, as regards employment, social welfare appeals, housing and eviction?
  2. Why are certain areas excluded from legal aid i.e. if persons are evicted and how the legal aid system deals with this issue.

Social Security & Adequate Standard of Living (including Housing)

  1. Recent Eurostat data, the % of social benefits that are means tested in Ireland is quite high (EU av. 11.1%). What measures are taken to ensure that people are not under included within the right to social security?
  2. Ireland has “done considerably good things” in maintaining core social welfare rates. But standard of living of children, people with disabilities, migrant workers, single parent families etc. has fallen significantly. If poverty is to be eliminated by 2016 (Government target), please estimate the implementation of this?
  3. How does habitual residence condition cause difficulty for those within the welfare system? In particular victims of domestic violence?
  4. Lone female parents suffer significantly from poverty (35.5%), what update will the State give us on figures post 2009?
  5. Why is the first instance decision making process as regards social welfare entitlements so poor? Why is there such a high level of success on appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office?
  6. What measures have been taken to assist tenants from the increase in rents to ensure that these persons are not evicted?
  7. Why has the Government kept rent allowance/supplement at 2013 levels. 450 families (including 1000 children) have entered homeless services support in the last number of months.
  8. How is Government planning to increase the level of social housing. The statistics show that the Government are not ensuring adequate supply (raised in concluding observations in 2002)?
  9. As regards the Mortgage Arrears Crisis: Why has this been amended to the benefit of the bank? Will the Government provide a commitment to provide borrowers with an independent mechanism to appeal decisions?
  10. What actions are the State taken as regards the complaint to the European Committee on Social Rights (see here) in terms of the horrific housing conditions that some local authority tenants are being subjected to?

Mental & Physical Health

  1. Some concerns as regards congregated mental/physical health settings and to move to community settings for persons with intellectual disabilities, with other physical needs.
  2. The Committee is concerned at mental health of asylum seekers due to the system of direct provision. Please comment on this issue.
  3. As regards children under 18, what measures of persons with intellectual disabilities are not cared for in adult settings?
  4. To what extent does the Irish medical card system ensure access to innovative (but expensive) treatments for life-saving medical treatment?
  5. Ireland has a two-tier health service: How do the public health facilities deal with public/private patients, in particular as regards waiting times and differences for public and private patients?

Employment

  1. What is quantity of jobseekers who have been impacted by “activation measures”?
  2. What has the State done to protect employees on low or zero hour contracts?
  3. Is the minimum wage of €8.65 possible to ensure an adequate standard of living, and what percentage of the work force are subject to the minimum wage?
  4. What steps are being taken to allow asylum seekers in direct provision to access their right to work?
  5. What is the government doing to combat the gender pay gap and higher rate of female unemployment in Ireland?

Education

  1. Why does Ireland permit discrimination on the basis of religion as regards access to educational establishments?
  2. Will the new School Admissions Bill  remove religious discrimination?
  3. Austerity measures have had a negative impact, meaning fewer teachers and support services. Could you please comment on this? Austerity measures impacted particularly on low income areas, in particular as regards Traveller children. Why is this the case?
  4. Issue of education seems to be a sensitive issue. The issue of religion and the education system. People with disabilities, Travellers, migrants, children of non-religious parents. What measures are you planning to introduce to ensure non-discrimination in access to education? Do you need a referendum on the issue of discrimination?
  5. As regards Travellers, there are a high level of early school leavers in comparison with the general population, why is this the case?
  6. Ireland is dominated by the Catholic Church, children placed in some Catholic institutions are abused.
  7. Why is the Republic reluctant to grant Traveller ethnic recognition for students?
  8. What measures have you taken as regards measures against racism, thinking particularly against minorities (Muslim students)?
  9. You appear to be considering a strategy as regards intercultural education. This is occurring following the demographic changes-what are the results from the intercultural education strategy? Will Ireland set up secular schools?

Cultural Rights

  1. To what extent does the State ensure participation of refugees and asylum seekers as regards cultural life and institutions of culture?
  2. Why has the State not recognised Travellers in Ireland as a distinct ethnic group? What are the remaining obstacles to recognition of Travellers as a minority ethnic group in Ireland?
#UNIRL Update No. 5: The Committee Questions Minister Sherlock

#UNIRL Update 4: Minister Sherlock Addresses the Committee

UN imageYou can access a very brief overview of just some of the organisations presenting before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from 10am to 11am here, here and here. These are my notes on Minister Sherlock’s engagement with CESCR and should be checked against delivery. It is not a transcript of Minister Sherlock’s speech (except for clear quotations).

 

Mr Sean Sherlock TD Minister of State at Department of Foreign Affairs welcomed the active engagement of IHREC and civil society organisations in Ireland’s ICESCR examination. Minister Sherlock outlined how committed Ireland is to equality, referencing the marriage equality referendum and advances in LGBT rights. Minister Sherlock noting the advances made to Trans* rights and the recognition of diverse families under Child and Family Relationships Bill. Minister Sherlock stated that “fiscal adjustment” was needed due to severe economic recession since 2008, with a severe fall in employment. The employment figure was at one rate over 15%, but for Q1 for 2015, now an unemployment rate of (just) less than 10%. The Government reemphasises its aim for full employment by 2018. The financial crisis posed challenged Ireland’s ability as regards expending its “maximum available resources” on social, economic and cultural rights. Ireland:

  • Maintained core welfare payments;
  • Burden of economic adjustment shared across society, as confirmed by ESRI;
  • Economy being built of competitiveness and innovation, rather than on construction centre.

A “growing economy is not an end in and of itself” but to ensure meeting core social, economic and cultural rights. There will be a “national economic dialogue” to facilitate an open and inclusive approach to the budget, and the realistic options open to Government. Representatives of community, voluntary, research institutes, the diaspora and academia etc. A Social Impact Analysis will now take place as regards taxation and social welfare/assistance in Budget 2016. Government spending on social protection has increased by 1/3 since 2007. There has been a sustained investment in social transfers, and the at risk of poverty rate has been reduced. The Irish income tax system is “highly progressive”, and has been very effective in reducing poverty through such social transfers.

The Irish government is currently reviewing approaches to fair pay, low pay and other issues surrounding work.

On disability policy and co-ordination, the government will be issuing an employment disability strategy. This employment strategy will have significant targets of improving pathways for work.

On the area of business and human rights, Ireland is finalising a plan to ensure that Irish business respects human rights when engaging in commerce.

On the right to housing, Minister Sherlock stated “We have not been as successful as we should have been in helping people find homes for themselves” A number of strategies and financing has been agreed.

The government are committed to universal health care.

The Irish education system aims to provide opportunities for learners to engage with “society and the economy”. There are significant plans for curriculum reform.

On children’s rights, Ireland amended the constitution to strengthen children’s rights, including distinct recognition of children, with best interests of the child as the core test “in a number of areas of law”.

The Government acknowledge that only 16% of seats in the Dáil are women. In Ireland’s next general election, will be first time that gender quotas will be utilised.

Ireland endeavours to be a respectful place for minorities. The Department of Justice are currently “engaged” with Travellers in relation to their recognition as an ethnic group.

[My notes: No mention of direct provision, habitual residence condition by Minister Sherlock]

 Judge Pillay is now leading ICESCR’s exploration of Ireland’s report and Minister Sherlock’s input to the Committee. The next blog post will be within 45-60 minutes.

#UNIRL Update 4: Minister Sherlock Addresses the Committee

#UNIRL Update 3: Views from Civil Society- Ireland & ICESCR

UN imageApologies to any organisations that I have not been able to summarise their arguments. 

Jane O’Sullivan, Community Law and Mediation noted the obligations upon Ireland under Article 9 ICESCR and right to social security violated in many respects. The quality of decision-making is a significant concern in terms of the respect and protection for social and economic rights in the field of social security. Jane emphasised throughout the legal obligations of Ireland under the General Comment on Social Security.

 Maeve O’Rourke and Katharine O’Donnell, representing Justice for the Magdalenes spoke about the continued violations of economic, social and cultural rights of survivors. O’Donnell notes the Government’s position of Magdelene women that women were not “imprisoned or tortured”. O’Donnell noted that the State continues to fail to investigate the abuse suffered by Magdelene women. Burial places have

Barra Lysagh (Legal Officer, Threshold): Right to adequate housing. Legal security of right to tenure has been undermined. Tens of thousands of households are at risk of losing homes. Increasing house prices and unregulated increases in rents, mean families cannot meet their needs. Barry noted that Travellers, asylum seekers and those with special needs face significant discrimination in accessing their right to housing.

Maeve Taylor (Irish Family Planning Association on behalf of the Abortion Rights Campaign) noted the significant delays facing a woman who has otherwise a legal right to abortion. Maeve has noted that the Irish people had never been offered a chance to vote on a more liberal abortion regime. Maeve noted that migrant women, poor women, and asylum seeking women have significant issues with accessing the right to travel to the United Kingdom or elsewhere in accessing termination services.

Me (UCD Human Rights Network, personal capacity!): I outlined to the Committee some key concerns for the respect, protection and fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights for asylum seekers in direct provision. I noted that the right to work, right to access social assistance, right to adequate food and right to adequate housing and shelter for asylum seekers were violated. I also spoke (very briefly) about the habitual residence condition. In terms of the socio-economic rights of Travellers and Roma, I noted that Travellers were not recognised as an ethnic group, issues with the right to work, lack of culturally appropriate accommodation and rights to education.

After the NGO engagement, we then heard from Chile and Uganda. There was no time for follow up questions. So will be a little while before the next update (post 2pm)! I will attempt to provide 30 minute updates during the Committee’s examination of the Ireland’s report (battery dependent!)

#UNIRL Update 3: Views from Civil Society- Ireland & ICESCR

#UNIRL Update 2: Views from Civil Society-Ireland and ICESCR

UN imageNoeline Blackwell, Director of the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) has informed the Committee of the strength of civil society engagement with the Our Voices, Our Rights report. Our Voices, Our Rights has set down the key areas where civil society organisations have raised concerns on on Ireland’s non-compliance with the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Speaking to the UN Committee, Blackwell stated:

 “ The poorest 10% of our population suffered most due to choices made by Government during the economic recession. The State focused on the protection of the Banks. People were told they had no choices. ”

Blackwell then outlined some core issues with Ireland’s compliance as regards socio-economic and cultural rights.

  • No domestic mechanisms to hold State accountable for violations of economic, social and cultural rights;
  • Need an audit of Irish protection of socio-economic rights;
  • Lack of data makes it impossible for State to measure current state of rights, and impossible for civil society to monitor it.
  • The negative effect of the recession on the marginalised with the increase of consistent poverty.

Noeline outlined a range of key economic, social and cultural rights concerns as regards workers rights, social welfare, housing, health, education and cultural rights.

Next up summary of contributions from other NGO/civil society organisations.

#UNIRL Update 2: Views from Civil Society-Ireland and ICESCR

#UNIRL Update 1: Ireland & ICESCR

UN imageThroughout the day, I will blog as much as I can on the engagement of NGOs and examination of State report before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Today, 08 June 2015, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Emily Logan has informed the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that

“Since 2008, Ireland have witnessed the undermining of socio-economic rights with the onset of austerity….In the case of Ireland, conditionality ”

Logan noted the significant gaps in accountability due to the IMF/Trokia. There are increased poverty rates, food poverty and increases in youth unemployment in Ireland.  The maximum available resources needed to satisfy . Ireland not the only country suffering due to Trokia.

Some key points raised by IHREC:

  • The need for an Oireachtas human rights committee and an action plan on human rights;
  • Accountability for socio-economic rights due to sub-contracting and privatisation. Emily mentions direct provision for asylum seekers, care services for children.
  • Fair conditions for work: In work poverty, with 12% of workers falling below poverty line.
  • Need for gender equality, past violations of socio-economic rights, with low participation rates in employment and lower rates of pay for women. Female victims of domestic violence all face challenges in realisation of

Emily Logan speaking about direct provision stated that it was a “significant violation of human rights”. Right to housing in Ireland is weak and this is due to government choices in this regard, not prioritising the human right to housing. IHREC speaks of governmental choices that ensures this right cannot be realised.

IHREC Commissioner, Frank, Ireland has not yet ratified Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Frank noted that persons with disabilities continue to be denied the right to adequate social security; right to proper care. Frank refers to the “fundamental breaches…of human rights for individuals” with disabilities.

Next up…Noeline Blackwell (FLAC)

#UNIRL Update 1: Ireland & ICESCR

Ireland’s Record on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights – Disability and Mental Health Perspectives

unpoNext week Ireland will be examined by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) – and the impact of austerity measures on the Irish public over the last several years will be scrutinised. In this post, I highlight some key issues from a disability and mental health perspective which might be addressed by the Committee, based on the concerns outlined by various civil society groups. Continue reading “Ireland’s Record on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights – Disability and Mental Health Perspectives”

Ireland’s Record on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights – Disability and Mental Health Perspectives