State rejects UN findings on abortion legislation

Tue, Oct 11, 2011, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT has rejected recommendations from six European countries that it should legislate for abortion, but pledged to act on a wide range of suggestions to improve human rights in other areas.

In a report published yesterday by the UN Human Rights Council, member states made 126 recommendations for Ireland to improve its adherence to human rights norms in areas such as mental health, detention and children’s rights. The report was based on the first review of Ireland’s record under the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, a process that culminated in a hearing involving Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in Geneva last week.

Of the 126 recommendations, the Government said it accepted 62 and would “study carefully” a further 49 before the next Human Rights Council session in March 2012. The points it pledged to address included prison conditions, a children’s rights referendum, torture prevention and gender equality.

Of the 15 recommendations it rejected, six related to abortion. They included a call from the United Kingdom to introduce legislation to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the A, B and C v Ireland case and a request from Slovenia to allow abortion “at least when pregnancy poses a risk to the health of the pregnant woman”. Recommendations on abortion from Norway, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands were also rejected.

At last week’s hearing, Mr Shatter said the Government was committed to “expeditious” implementation of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the A, B and C case. An expert group would be appointed next month, and he pledged to deal with the abortion issue in an “adequate and comprehensive” way.

Speaking on behalf of a coalition of 17 advocacy groups and trade unions, the director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Mark Kelly, noted that the Government had accepted 90 per cent of the recommendations. “This is a remarkably high ‘strike rate’ and testament to the seriousness with which the Universal Periodic Review process has been taken by Government and civil society,” Mr Kelly said, adding that the most challenging phase of the process – implementing the recommendations – would now begin.

Some of the most persistent criticism levelled at Ireland last week centred on conditions in prisons, with 15 states expressing concern at poor sanitation, overcrowding and violence among detainees.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomed the Government’s “unequivocal acceptance” of all the recommendations on prisons, but said it must be followed by specific plans and timetables.

Amnesty International was heartened by the State’s support for Travellers’ rights, a children’s referendum and a recommendation to protect economic, social and cultural rights during the economic crisis. It said the Government should set a precise schedule for action on each of these issues.

Amnesty noted the Government had pledged to further consider recommendations on same-sex marriage and signing the new Council of Europe convention on violence against women.

The Pro-Life Campaign welcomed the rejection of calls to legislate for abortion, while the Iona Institute said the UN report revealed the body’s “ideological bias”. “Nothing in the UN human rights documents we have signed justifies demands that Ireland legalise abortion, change the constitutional definition of the family, or weaken the right of religious organisations to hire staff who will reflect their ethos,” said David Quinn, the institute’s director.

The Irish Family Planning Association said the State’s rejection of the abortion recommendations meant “mixed messages” on how it intends to implement the European court’s judgment. It called on the Government to set out the terms of reference and timetable for the expert group.