Irish governments have prioritised fiscal consolidation in their budgetary policies since 2008 and disregarded the human rights implications of these choices, the chief commissioner for human rights in Ireland told a UN committee in Geneva on Monday.
Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, told the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the regressive choices made by governments since 2008 had resulted in increased poverty for adults and children, high youth unemployment and a significant increase in food poverty.
Ms Logan made the opening address for an Irish delegation of 12 NGOs as the Geneva-based committee begins examining Ireland’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.
It s the first time in 13 years a Government delegation has appeared before the committee to defend the State’s record on protecting rights under such headings as housing, social welfare, education and access to healthcare.
This afternoon the Committee will be addressed by a Government delegation, led by Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Seán Sherlock.
He will be accompanied by staff from the Departments of Education, Health, Environment and Social Protection.
Ms Logan called for the establishment of an Oireachtas Committee for Human Rights and Equality, cutting across all departments, to ensure parliamentary oversight of the human rights implications of budgetary choices and policies.
Noeline Blackwell, on behalf of Free Legal Advice Centres, pointed out the absence of a human rights-proofing framework within government policy-making and legislative systems.
She highlighted women’s unequal place in the labour force, particularly for lone parents.
“We are also concerned at the rising numbers of young people not in employment, education or training,” said Ms Blackwell.
Barra Lysaght, legal officer with the housing charity Threshold, told the Committee about the housing crisis.
“The State party [IRELAND]has not taken appropriate measures, subject to the maximum of its available resources, to realise the right to housing. The acute shortage of social and affordable housing had had a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged social groups.”
He said the mortgage arrears crisis had put tens of thousands of people at risk of homelessness, impacting on home-owners and tenants in buy-to-lets.
He also outlined the “failure of local authorities” to monitor and enforce minimum housing standards, as well as the obstacles faced by Travellers accessing culturally-appropriate housing.
The manner in which Ireland "repeatedly ignores...the rights of atheists and non-Christian" children in the education system were presented by Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland.
“Ireland still has no non-denominational schools, at primary or secondary level. Primary schools are still publicly-funded private bodies, almost all Christian, with a near monopoly on a vital public service, and no effective remedy to vindicate Covenant rights,” said Ms Donnelly.
The ongoing demand by survivors of the Magdalene laundries, for healthcare services, housing and counselling was presented by the Justice for Magdalenes group.
Dr Katherine Donnelly asked the Committee to call on the Irish State to establish a "thorough investigation into the Magdalene laundries abuse".
Maeve Taylor, senior policy and advocacy officer with the Irish Family Planning Association, presented on behalf of 11 groups advocating for abortion rights.
She said despite the enactment of the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which provides for abortion where there is a threat to the life of a pregnant woman, Ireland was not in compliance with the Covenant.
Abortion remained criminalised, she said, and the Act gave no protection to a woman’s mental or physical health. Nor was abortion allowed in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.
Patrick Carr of Family and Life argued abortion did not come within the remit of the Covenant.
“In bringing pressure to bear on State Parties in relation to their laws on abortion, the Committee should be aware that this distracts attention from the many important matters that properly fall within the terms of the Covenant.
Furthermore, the inclusion of such extraneous issues at the behest of powerful and well-funded NGOs risks bringing the treaty monitoring process, and indeed the entire UN system, into disrepute,” said Mr Carr.
There were further submissions from Dr Liam Thornton on the issue of direct provision and alleged discrimination against members of the Traveller and Roma communities, as well as from Fiona Walsh of Tallaght Trialogue on alleged abuses in the psychiatric and mental health facilities.