Ireland must ratify UN Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities
‘Government has had more than a decade to get its ducks in a row’
Waiting game: “There is no impediment to the State ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – the Government’s failure to ratify it is on policy grounds alone. Despite this, people with disabilities in this country are still being told ‘to wait while we make things better’.” Photograph: Getty Images
Eight years ago on March 30th, 2007, Ireland signed but did not ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). Since then, the CRPD has been ratified by 156 countries.
However, Ireland’s ratification remains outstanding despite many promises. Indeed, such a commitment was given to the UN General Assembly by Ireland’s Permanent Representative by way of letter dated April 13th, 2012, as part of Ireland’s successful campaign for election to the Human Rights Council.
The Irish Government continues to say that it cannot ratify the CRPD until it is in compliance with it. Specifically, it cites article 12 of the convention (equal recognition before the law), contending that it must pass new capacity legislation first.
That this State’s principal legislation in this area is the Lunacy (Regulation) Act, 1871 is shameful, but to contend that due to its archaic legislation Ireland is prevented from ratifying the most important human rights treaty of the 21st century is an affront to people with disabilities.
Government has had more than a decade to get its ducks in a row. It knew what was coming down the line several years before it signed the CRPD and it is now eight years since the convention went live. To be absolutely clear, from a legal perspective, there is no impediment to the State ratifying the CRPD; Government’s failure to ratify is on policy grounds alone.
Despite this, people with disabilities in this country are still being told “to wait while we make things better”.
So are things getting better? Has the situation of people with disabilities in Ireland improved since March 2007? No. The past eight years have seen unprecedented cuts to supports that enable people to live independently: mobility allowance, motorised transport grant, benefit allowance, medical cards, home help, and so on. In 2012 the Government even tried to effectively scrap personal assistance services, only reversing the decision when people with disabilities took to the streets.
Had the State ratified the CRPD there can be no doubt that its eroding of supports would mean that it would have breached its international obligations, and in particular article 19 of the convention which provides for independent living. However, it may also be that Ireland has obligations under article 19, even as things stand.
By signing the CRPD the State has signified its intention to ratify it. According to article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, this means the State is “obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty”.
Article 1 of the CRPD states: “The purpose of the present convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
“Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
It follows then that any cuts to existing services without providing for similar or better alternatives constitutes a breach of Ireland’s obligations under the CRPD, despite a lack of ratification.
In 2012 the High Court in M.X. v HSE considered Ireland’s obligations under the CRPD, particularly in the context of the EU having ratified it and it looked at possible obligations that flow as a result. Even though Ireland has not ratified the CRPD, it has obligations under it because of EU ratification.
The cuts to existing services that impact upon article 19 obligations effectively mean that Ireland has breached its EU obligations, as well as those directly under the CRPD which stem from the Vienna convention.
Gary Lee is a solicitor and chief executive of the Centre for Independent Living. Meredith Raley is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway