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 As Ireland is being examined by the committee in 2015, the government’s report will thus be five years out of date by the time it is examined – a significant length of time to be left unreported.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