#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 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 goes before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

UN imageOn Monday, June 8th and Tuesday, June 9th 2015, Ireland will have its third periodic report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), assessed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. You can follow this examination on Twitter, using the hashtag #UNIRL

What are economic, social and cultural rights?

The right to work, just conditions of employment, the right to social security and social assistance, the right to health, housing, food and water, encompass core aspects of socio-economic rights. Cultural rights include the right to participate in the culture of one’s communities and to enjoy the benefits of scientific and technological endeavour. These rights (and others) are protected in ICESCR.

Ireland before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

To date, Ireland has had two periodic reports (1999 and 2002) considered by the UN Committee. On both occasions, the Committee have expressed concern that Ireland has not incorporated ICESCR into domestic law, and the lack of reference and utilisation of ICESCR by the superior courts. Ireland has failed to adopt rights based frameworks in areas of anti-poverty, disability provision of health-care, rights of members of the Traveller community, housing and the low rate of social assistance payments. CESCR identified some core issues with Ireland’s compliance with its obligations under ICESCR in December 2014, and the list of issues to be discussed bear striking similarities to concerns previously expressed by CESCR in their 1999 and 2002 Concluding Observations. (See, Ireland’s response to these issues here). Continue reading “Ireland goes before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”

Ireland goes before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Our Voices, Our Rights: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Ireland

FLACHuman Rights in Ireland welcomes this guest post from Geraldine Murphy, Legal & Social Welfare Intern at the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC). The parallel report on Ireland’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Our Voices, Our Rights is available to download here.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Ireland’s ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Under this covenant a UN committee sitting in Geneva examines each signatory country roughly every five years on the progression of their obligations under the covenant. Since its ratification in 1989, Ireland has been examined under the Covenant twice, in 1999 and in 2002. The next examination under the covenant will take place in June 2015.

The covenant covers rights including the right to work, fair wages, social security, the right to the highest standard of mental and physical health, the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life. As such it covers areas that span right across the lives of people in Ireland and the organisations in the NGO sector that support them.

In the examination process, each state must submit a report to the committee. Civil society organisations may then submit a “shadow” or “parallel” report which offers an independent view on how the state has or has not realised or progressed its obligations under the Covenant. Ireland submitted its most recent report in 2013, covering the period of 2002 to 2010. As Ireland is being examined by the committee in 2015, the government’s report will thus be five years out of date by the time it is examined – a significant length of time to be left unreported.

Further, State reports naturally tend to focus on positive progress and actions by Government. This is where a shadow report by civil society is vitally important to provide valuable independent information, not just to supplement the government’s report, but to highlight any inaccuracies and, in this case, to account for the glaring gap of five years in the State report, such that the committee can hold the Irish Government to account on the most relevant issues.

Parallel reporting – a tool for rights-based change

A civil society report generally aims to influence the List of Issues on which the committee will question the government party. This may prompt the Committee to request more information from the State in question, and ultimately the government will be publically questioned on the issues involved.

Civil society is growing its knowledge on how to use mechanisms such as ICESCR to promote basic rights. The public questioning of the government by a UN committee provides civil society with a platform to hold the government to account for its progress on protecting, promoting and fulfilling rights and to explain its actions in an international setting amongst peer nations.

Following this examination the Committee publishes a report (“concluding observations”) with recommendations for the government to act upon. This report provides civil society with a strong basis for which they can hold the government to account when campaigning in their particular area.

Our Voice, Our Rights: A parallel report

In early December 2014, the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights will decide the ‘List of Issues’ on which it will question the Irish Government on its performance under ICESCR. With this important event in mind FLAC coordinated a parallel report on how the Irish State is meeting its obligations under the Covenant, based on evidence from a wide variety of diverse organisations throughout Ireland which promote rights covered under ICESCR.

In compiling this report, FLAC consulted with more than 50 civil society organisations and individuals around Ireland. The report represents a range of issues which FLAC believes have not been adequately covered by the Irish State Report. It covers the period from 2002 to mid-September 2014 and examines issues arising under each of the different Covenant Articles where relevant.

“Our Voice, Our Rights” brings together organisations from across the spectrum of rights to voice their concerns and to illustrate how the decisions and action of the government with respect to economic social and cultural right are affecting people on the ground. This report exemplifies a combined action by independent organisations, with a common focus of human rights, to hold the government to account for its responsibilities and obligations under the Covenant.

The reporting process

A fundamental feature of the process involved in a collective report such as this is to ensure maximum consultation with organisations working on the ground in relation to Covenant issues. Consultations were held in Cork, Galway and Dublin in an effort to gather information from as many bodies countrywide as was practicable. While most issues in the report would hold for communities rural and urban all over the country, in some cases such as poor broadband connectivity, the effect of transport quality in rural communities and its impact on people’s right to enjoy cultural life there are region-specific highlights.

Why is this important?

A comprehensive report with clear recommendations for the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to consider when they compile their list of issues  means the Committee will have a more balanced view of what has been happening in Ireland since 2002. ‘Our Voices, Our Rights’ provides the committee with the opportunity to see the rights and issues in context. It also provides them with a clear view of the rights that have either not been progressed since the last review, or in the case of some rights, which have been regressed.

Our Voices, Our Rights: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Ireland

Taking stock of Ireland’s international human rights reporting obligations

Ireland is often lauded for its human rights and development work abroad and has included human rights and accountability as a priority area for action in its new international development policy. When it comes to human rights at home, how is Ireland’s record tracked against its international human rights commitments and to what extent does the State engage with the monitoring system it has signed up to?

Where Ireland’s international human rights obligations come from
Over the past 70 years, the international community, through the UN, has agreed on nine core United Nations international human rights treaties and nine Optional Protocols, which are open to ratification and domestic implementation by all States. These treaties cover:

On ratifying these treaties, States commit to partaking in a review process, whereby their compliance with and implementation of the treaties is monitored on a periodic basis by UN committees, called treaty bodies.  Though nominated by his or her own State, a committee member sits on a treaty body as an independent expert. Two such committees have benefited from the expertise of Irish members: current Chief Human Rights Commissioner for Northern Ireland, Michael O’Flaherty who sat on the UN Human Rights Committee and the Head of Applied Social Studies at NUI Maynooth, Anastasia Crickley, who was recently re-elected to the UN Committee against Racial Discrimination.

The treaty bodies engage with States on their compliance with the treaties in both written format and through dialogue and make recommendations to each State (called Concluding Observations) as to how to further the full implementation of the relevant convention at national level. Each State submits a common core document which outlines the basic legal, economic, social and human rights infrastructure of the State as well as demographic and other basic information. Ireland’s common core document is currently in draft and is expected to be submitted to the OHCHR by the end of the summer.

Placing an international spotlight on national issues can be an important means of highlighting a violation of human rights. A good example of this is 2011 review of Ireland by the UN Committee against Torture which recommended that the Irish State conduct an investigation into the abuses at the Magdalene laundries. This international condemnation, together with a hard-fought campaign, helped to put the issue on the political agenda back home. NGOs have an important place within the system and have the opportunity to submit alternative reports and make representations to the treaty bodies. This allows the treaty bodies to receive an additional perspective to that of the State on the situation in a given country as well as highlighting issues that have not been addressed in a State Report. NGOs play a key role in educating the public about their human rights as well as disseminating the recommendations of the treaty bodies in their countries.

In many ways, having an international consensus on what is essentially the lowest common denominator of human rights, consolidated into international law, is nothing short of a remarkable feat. Many of the treaties entered into force decades ago and while the system is not without its problems, and represents many compromises, one cannot help but wonder whether similar attempts to find consensus on such agreements would be successful today.

The treaty body system today – reform on the way?
After three years of consultations, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has proposed amendments in an effort to strengthen the treaty body system. The process of reform is politically charged – some see it as a means of necessarily improving a system built for earlier times while many see it as a useful opportunity to put manners on the treaty bodies themselves. Among the key issues faced by the system is that with 10 separate treaty bodies (including the Sub-Committee on Prevention of Torture, each has different procedures and reporting structures, leaving many States feeling overburdened by their duties to report. States that have ratified a large number of treaties, such as Ireland, feel the heavy burden of having to report to the various treaty bodies well as other fora such as the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Process and regional bodies such as the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. These have a major impact on the timeliness and quality of reports.

From the perspective of the committees, because of the large number of States involved, and the proliferation of treaties and optional protocols, they faced challenges in their capacity to deal with reviewing States in a timely manner, particularly as they generally meet just a handful of times each year. For example, all but three of the 193 UN Member States have ratified the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, who not only monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but also two Optional Protocols to the Convention relating to the sale of children and children in armed conflict. A third Optional Protocol, providing for a complaints mechanism under the Convention opened for signature February 2012 and will enter into force, also coming under that Committee’s remit, once it has been ratified by ten countries. In order to get through the high number of reports it receives, the Committee has taken the approach of dividing itself to sit in dual chamber.

There is the prospect of a resolution between States on a number of basic reform proposals put forward by the High Commissioner. These include the use of new technologies such as webcasting of public meetings and translation costs. Other suggestions have been less well-received such as the High Commissioner’s proposal to adopt a calendar to coordinate the reporting obligations of the States across the treaty bodies to ensure they are evenly spread out and adding a degree of predictability to the process. The issue of the costs of reform has also not garnered agreement. Other proposals from the High Commissioner include increased consistency in the jurisprudence of the treaty bodies in individual communications; more simplified and aligned reporting with a focused set of questions by the treaty bodies on particular areas of concern rather than the traditional practice of reviewing each article under the convention in question, and capacity building for state parties in their reporting duties. The extent to which these and other proposals for reform become a reality depends on the deals struck at the negotiating table.

Until then, the show must go on
In the meantime, the reporting process continues. Having ratified six of the treaties, Ireland has undertaken to report to the various treaty bodies on a periodic basis. The State has not ratified the convention relating to people who have disappeared (signed but not ratified), migrant workers (neither signed nor ratified) or the disabled. With regard to the latter, while the State has signed but not yet ratified the treaty, a commitment has been made to do so. The Department of Justice and Equality is leading the way on drafting the necessary legislation to give effect to its provisions.

UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
The ICCPR was ratified in December 1989 and Ireland has thrice been reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1993, 2000 and 2008. The State has been involved in a follow-up process with the Committee since 2009 on the issues of the availability of non-denominational education at primary level, conditions in prisons and counter-terrorism measures. While the Committee was satisfied with responses received in relation to the first two issues, it found the State’s response in relation to counter-terrorism measures to be incomplete and requested further information on this issue to be included in the State’s fourth Report, submitted in July 2012. Ireland will be reviewed under the ICCPR in July 2014.

Ireland has ratified the two optional protocols to the ICCPR relating to a complaints mechanism to the Committee and the abolition of the death penalty. One case has been taken against the State through this complaints mechanism, Kavanagh v Ireland in 1998 and again in 2002.

UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Ratified jointly with the ICCPR in 1989, Ireland has submitted two reports to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in 1997 and 2002. The State’s Third Periodic Report, due in 2007, was only recently submitted and somewhat arbitrarily covers the period up to the end of 2010. NGOs have been encouraging the State to submit an update in advance of the review to cover the intervening period. The Third Report is unlikely to be reviewed before 2015 due to the Committee’s backlog. Ireland has signed but not yet ratified the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure for complaints to the Committee.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
Ratified by Ireland in September 1992, the State has twice been reviewed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1998 and 2006. Now four years overdue, the State is due to submit its Consolidated Third and Fourth Reports this summer. The date of the review itself will be set once the Report is received by the Committee’s Secretariat and is expected to be in 2015-2016. The Committee also oversees the implementation of the three optional protocols to the Convention. Ireland has ratified the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict and has been reviewed under this agreement once in February 2008. The State has signed the Optional Protocol relating to the sale of children. It is currently reviewing its position relating to the latest Optional Protocol on a communications procedure to the Committee which opened for signature in February 2012 and will enter into force once it has been ratified by ten countries – six countries have ratified or acceded to date. Work is being done behind the scenes to make the necessary legislative and other arrangements to ratify both.

UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD)
The UNCERD was ratified in 2000 and Ireland has been reviewed twice by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2005 and 2011. The State’s next report to the Committee is due in January 2014. The State partook in the follow-up procedure with the Committee by May 2012 on four issues arising under the Concluding Observations:

  • Reduction of financial resources for human rights institutions
  • Recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group
  • Improving certain pieces of legislation such as that relating to immigration
  • Incorporation of the treaty into domestic law under our dualist system.

The NGO Alliance against Racism has produced a monitoring tool of indicators to help track the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations annually in the period leading up to the next review.

UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT)
The UNCAT was ratified by Ireland in April 2002 and the State submitted its first report in 2005, four years overdue. Ireland was reviewed for the first time by the Committee against Torture in March 2011 and is scheduled to submit its Second Periodic Report in June 2015. The Committee requested follow-up information from the State within a year on:

  • Reduction of financial resources for human rights institutions
  • Follow-up to the Ryan Report on child abuse including implementation of the recommendations, investigations of all reported cases of abuse and redress.
  • Investigation into the Magdelene Laundries
  • Expedition of legislation banning Female Genital Mutilation.

Ireland has signed but not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to UNCAT which establishes the Sub-Committee against Torture. Unique among the treaty bodies, the Sub-Committee has a preventative role and conducts regular visits to States to engage with authorities on torture prevention.

UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (UNCEDAW)
Ratified by Ireland in 1985, the State has been reviewed under UNCEDAW three times, having submitted reports in 1987, 1997 and 2005. The State’s next periodic Report was due back in 2007. Ireland ratified the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure for complaints to CEDAW in 2000.

While the State engages to varying degrees with the numerous treaty bodies, fundamental challenges remain for these interactions to have a meaningful impact for people on the ground struggling to exercise their rights:

  • The failure of the State to fully incorporate the provisions of human rights treaties into national law means that their provisions are not binding at national level or justiciable in Irish courts. This means that a child who is denied his or her right to access education in Ireland for example, cannot rely on the right to education under Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the courts.
  • State reports from Ireland do not provide the treaty bodies with a rights-based analysis of the situation at home. They tend to provide a compilation of activities, plans and strategies that exist rather than a comprehensive review of the impact of these activities, plans or strategies on the Convention rights of those affected by them.
  • A lack of up-do-date, disaggregated data and information presents not only the treaty bodies with difficulties in assessing the situation with regard to a particular right but also the State in its own assessment and planning.
  • Finally, without a commitment to the implementation of the various rights to which the State has committed itself, the treaty monitoring system itself is of limited value to vulnerable groups such as Travellers, asylum seekers and children, whose rights it was created to protect.
Taking stock of Ireland’s international human rights reporting obligations

Underspending on Schools: Violating the Right to Education?

As discussion around the forthcoming budget intensifies, a report on current budget allocations bodes poorly for the state’s adherence to its budget-related human rights obligations.

Yesterday, RTE reported that the Department of Education has failed to spend almost half of the budget granted to it for buildings.

With two months to go to the end of the year, the Department of Education has yet to spend almost half of the 2010 budget allocated to it to build new schools and classrooms.

According to the report, new figures show the Department has spent €381m out of a total of €712m granted to it this year for capital projects – a figure that is ‘substantially behind the Department’s own projections for this time of the year’.

RTE highlighted that while 10% of this budget can be carried over to next year, any other remaining funds will be returned to the Department of Finance. The Department of Education has attributed its under-spend to dramatically reduced building costs.

While it is commendable and that last year’s budget maintained strong levels of capital funding for education, the failure of the state to employ the resources allocated for education-related capital projects calls into question its adherence to its international human rights obligations – particularly those under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Continue reading “Underspending on Schools: Violating the Right to Education?”

Underspending on Schools: Violating the Right to Education?