The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has laid its Annual Report 2015 before the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is the first annual report to be submitted on the work of the Commission since it was established as an independent public body in November 2014.
The Commission’s purpose as an independent statutory authority, as set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission 2014 Act, is to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and to build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding across society.
Speaking at the report launch, Chief Commissioner Emily Logan stressed the significance of the collaboration of the two human rights bodies on the island, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, under the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.
The two human rights bodies, North and South, appeared for the first time before a Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement last year where we noted the importance of the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
Ms Logan stated: “In any proposed arrangements post-Brexit, it is important to ensure coherence of protections of human rights and equality North and South of the border.
“The Commission believes that the outcome of the referendum in Britain should not have negative consequences for the uniformity of human rights standards across the island of Ireland. Any future legislative proposals should not undermine the commitments contained in the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.”
Amongst current priorities, Ms Logan underlined the Commission’s ongoing concerns about the right of asylum seekers to protections under international human rights law, and reforms to the system of Direct Provision.
The Commission visited direct provision centres in 2015 and was invited by Mr Justice McMahon, in February 2015 to present to the plenary session of the Working Group. This followed the IHREC’s Policy Statement on the System of Direct Provision in Ireland which outlined ten key recommendations for improvements to the system.
“We recommend the Government now move to ensure the remaining measures in the Working Group report are implemented to give effect to the recommendations so that people seeking asylum in Ireland can live with a greater degree of respect and dignity. We propose that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality examine the mechanism of accountability for the implementation of the Working Group report.”
Ms Logan noted that 2015 represented a landmark year for the advancement of rights of LGBT people in this country. The Commission’s own national survey of attitudes conducted before and after the Marriage Equality referendum indicated how the public debate shaped perceptions of human rights and equality in a positive way, particularly among younger people.
“The Marriage Equality referendum in 2015 represented a ground-breaking moment for human rights and equality in this country. Our own national survey of attitudes conducted before and after the referendum found that more people viewed Ireland as a leader in Europe on human rights and equality after the passage of the Marriage Equality referendum.”
The Commission had recommended amending Section 37 of the Employment Equality Acts to prevent discrimination against teachers on the basis of their civil status, family status or sexual orientation. The Government last year amended the Section 37 provision representing a further positive development in 2015.
The impact of a seven-year austerity drive on many groups already susceptible to poverty and exclusion was highlighted by the Commission’s report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in Geneva, in May 2015.
The Commission in its submission stated that the burden of the adjustments had disproportionately fallen on those who were least able to bear its impacts, particularly in housing, social security, health care and education.
“Our 2015 report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights strongly urged the Government to establish a mechanism to assess future budgets for their social impacts. We welcome a new role for the Commission in the Programme for a Partnership Government to advise the planned new Budgetary Scrutiny Committee on establishing a mechanism to examine future budgets on equality and gender grounds,” Ms Logan stated.
In the same 2015 report to the UN, the Commission strongly recommended that the Government signify its commitment to people with a disability by accelerating the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“The Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Finian McGrath has now committed to ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the end of 2016. The State’s implementation of the Convention will be monitored by the Commission in conjunction with people with lived experience of disability. The Convention represents a step change away from charitable and medical models to an emancipatory approach based on independence, dignity and self-advocacy,” Ms Logan said.