Fitzgerald faces questions on human rights record in Geneva

Abortion, treatment of Travellers and homelessness in Ireland to be discussed

The European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, where Frances Fitzgerald is speaking on Wednesday. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is in Geneva to face questioning before the United Nations on Ireland's human rights record.

She flew out after this morning’s Cabinet meeting for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which started at 1pm Irish time.

Abortion, the treatment of Travellers, non-Christian children’s access to education, the asylum and direct provision systems, LGBT rights, prison conditions as well as the housing and homeless crisis will be among the main issues raised with the Irish delegation.

Her arrival coincides with concern expressed by some NGOs that human rights recommendations from UN bodies are being implemented by Government in a piecemeal fashion and without oversight or timelines.


Some, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) which is leading the NGO delegation here, have called for greater “oversight and accountability” with regard to how Government treats recommendations from the UN.

Some 22 civil servants from all government departments are in Geneva to prepare answers to questions being put by other member states.

Also in Geneva are the Chief Human Rights and Equality Commissioner Emily Logan, Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon and a number of NGOs including Pavee Point, Irish Penal Reform Trust, the Transgender Equality Network, Mercy Law Centre and the ICCL.

Ireland was last examined under the review process in 2011. This differs from other UN rights examinations, such as that in January before the UN Committee on the Rights of Child, where questions are put by committees of human rights experts.

Under the Universal Periodic Review, Ireland faces questioning from peer member states in the UN. As such, the review is regarded as more political and by some as more serious for Ireland’s reputation on the global human rights stage.

Same-sex couples

Speaking in advance of the hearing, ICCL executive director Mark Kelly said:

“The Tánaiste will be able to report some big wins to the UN today, including holding a referendum on marriage for same sex couples and producing highly-progressive transgender recognition legislation.”

However, NGOs in Geneva who have been lobbying national embassies in advance of the hearing say some members states have expressed “shock” at the continued potential criminalisation of women and medical professionals provided for in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013

Others states are said to be frustrated at the lack of progress on Traveller ethnicity and the Republic’s continued failure to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture.

Stephen O’Hare, senior researcher and policy programme manager with the ICCL said Ireland’s “serious participation” in review process was “welcome”.

However it was “regrettable” that Ireland was failing to “commit, with actionable timelines” to implementing recommendations from UN treaty bodies.

“We really need to see accountability and oversight at departmental and Government level, on the recommendations that come from these hearings.”

He called for a body, "such as an Oireachtas Committee on Human Rights" which would ensure UN recommendations were taken seriously and implemented by Government.

“We see the same issues coming up over and over and over again at these bodies, the government delegation saying they take them seriously and then a lack of accountability and oversight once they get home.”

Among the issues repeatedly being raised, he said, were women’s rights, abortion, the marginalisation of Travellers in housing, education and employment, the rights of non-Christian children in education, survivors of institutional abuse and the trea tment of asylum seekers.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times