UN urges Ireland to reform human rights policies


Ireland needs to reform its human rights polices in areas such as justice and education, and should also amend its abortion laws, according to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

The nine member body, composed of legal experts from a number of countries including Ireland, said the Irish Government "should take measures to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies so that they do not have to resort to illegal or unsafe abortions...."

The committee considered the third periodic report of Ireland on how the State is fulfilling its obligations under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights last week in Geneva.

The committee expressed concern "that the vast majority of Ireland's primary schools are privately-run denominational schools" with religion integrated into the curriculum, "thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education".

The committee told Ireland it should amend its constitution to drop a compulsory religious oath for judges and allow them to make a non-religious declaration instead.

It also voiced concern about “allegations that Irish airports have been used as transit points for so-called rendition flights of persons to countries where they risk being subjected to torture”.

It underlined to the Government that care needs to be taken in relying on official assurances from the US and also recommended that Ireland should “establish a regime for the control of suspicious flights and ensure that all allegations of so-called renditions are publicly investigated”.

The Committee expressed concern at the backlog of cases before the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and at the possibility of complaints involving potentially criminal conduct being referred to the Garda Commissioner.

The body, whose members are expected to be independent of their governments, was also concerned that the law does not guarantee that lawyers should be present during questioning and that provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2007 further restrict the right to silence.

It called on the Government to take “immediate measures to ensure the effective functioning of the Garda Síochana Ombudsman Commission”.

It also recommended that the State should “give full effect to the rights of criminal suspects to contact counsel before, and to have counsel present during, interrogation” and that the Government should amend the law “to ensure that inferences from the failure to answer questions by an accused person may not be drawn, at least where the accused has not had prior consultations with counsel.”

The Committee raised concern at provisions in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 allowing for summary removal of migrants without any form of due process or access to the courts. It recommended that the Government should amend the bill to outlaw summary removal.

The UN body also expressed concern about the “alleged lack of independence" of the proposed substitute for the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and over the fact that there are no provisions regarding taxation and social welfare included in the Government's legislation on Civil Partnership.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) called on the Government to acknowledge the committee's observations.

ICCL deputy director Tanya Ward, who attended the Irish examination in Geneva last week said: “this time the Human Rights Committee has been particularly critical of Ireland’s poor performance under this human rights convention."

“The committee’s concluding observations provide a crystal clear picture of Ireland’s failure to live up to its human rights obligations, and an extensive ‘to do’ list for improvement," said Ms Ward.

FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), which campaigns for equal access to the justice system, also welcomed the concluding observations of committee this evening.

“The committee’s observations are welcome as an objective and expert assessment of progress in implementing human rights in Ireland. The Committee has noted some positive developments, but they also raise a worrying number of concerns," said FLAC’s director Noeline Blackwell.

Additional reporting: Reuters