Human rights body says referendum needed to prohibit discrimination


THE IRISH Human Rights Commission has called on the Government to hold referendums to amend the Constitution to strengthen equality, women’s and children’s rights and broaden the grounds for prohibiting discrimination.

The call comes in its report to the United Nations on Ireland’s human rights record as part of the UN’s process of Universal Periodic Review, which reviews the human rights records of all 192 member states once every four years. Ireland’s review before the Human Rights Council is due in October.

Ireland will then have to answer questions raised by the UN council relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural matters.

The council examines that record and recommends steps to strengthen human rights.

In its report, which will assist the council in examining Ireland’s record, the commission makes more than 35 recommendations aimed at addressing Ireland’s human rights deficit. It makes concrete recommendations on the rights of Travellers, migrants and asylum seekers, women, children, people with disabilities, people in poverty and prisoners.

The report also deals with broad legislative and policy areas including health, education, immigration, criminal justice and social welfare.

Commission president Dr Maurice Manning said: “Key reforms at constitutional, legislative, policy and service level are required to strengthen human rights in Ireland. It is not acceptable that important human rights treaties that would increase protections for vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities, migrant workers and people held in detention, remain to be ratified.

“Drastic cuts in resources over the last three years to human rights and equality bodies have hampered their efforts to safeguard human rights and to hold the State to account. The uptake by the State of the IHRC’s recommendations would reduce the human rights deficit and strengthen protection for everyone, especially the most vulnerable in Irish society.”

Among the commission’s recommendations are the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group, with targeted measures to address health, education and accommodation needs; the processing of asylum applications speedily and in a transparent manner with greater protection for vulnerable migrant workers and an administrative scheme for the families of Irish citizen children in response to a recent judgment of the European Court of Justice.

It also urges the introduction of a comprehensive and well-resourced scheme of criminal and civil legal aid; the end of “slopping out” and overcrowding in prisons; increased availability of choice in schools, and human rights training for the civil and public service.

“Human rights and equality are not optional extras for the good times,” Dr Manning added. “They become even more important in times of crisis when more people are struggling to make ends meet.

“The policies of the State should not be a contributing factor to pushing more people into poverty. We are concerned that the cumulative effect of cuts to welfare and services targeted at vulnerable people are having that result and contradict the State’s policy goal of eradicating consistent poverty by 2016.”

He said the commission should be made directly accountable to the Oireachtas.