Ireland: “Budget cuts put human rights at risk”

Strasbourg, 15/09/11  – “Budget cuts planned in Ireland may be detrimental for the protection of human rights. It is crucial to avoid this risk, in particular regarding vulnerable groups of people” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, releasing today a report following his visit to Ireland carried out from 1 to 2 June 2011.

Noting administrative reforms to make government less costly, the Commissioner stresses the importance of national human rights structures and calls on the authorities to protect their independence and effectiveness, refraining from adopting budget cuts and staff reductions which would limit the capacity and effectiveness of these institutions.

The Commissioner notes the robust legal and institutional framework in place to combat discrimination, racism and xenophobia. However he remains concerned that still no legislative change has taken place to ensure that transgender persons enjoy accurate legal recognition. Welcoming the on-going discussion on the recognition of the Traveller community as an ethnic minority group, the Commissioner urges the authorities to strengthen efforts to promote their integration, in particular by ensuring quality education, political participation and representation.

In spite of the continuous efforts in the context of the National Disability Strategy, progress made in the area of mental health remains slow. “The authorities should step up their efforts as pledged and invest in community care. They should also ensure that people with disabilities are not adversely affected by the budget crisis, in particular in terms of health care and social services.”

Commissioner Hammarberg is worried by allegations of neglect and abuse of older people residing in privatised care homes. “Investigations into such allegations should be conducted also with a view to strengthening the protection of residents of care homes in the future. The more the aging population increases, the more important it becomes that social protection systems, health care, housing policies and also anti-discrimination legislation including in the labour market, are suitable for older people”. The Commissioner welcomes the establishment of an inter-departmental committee to investigate possible human rights violations committed in the church-run Magdalene Laundries institutions, in which women and girls were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 under apparently very harsh conditions. He encourages the authorities to quickly put in place restorative measures for the victims and to promote reconciliation.

The Commissioner appreciates the government’s efforts in fostering children’s rights and considers that anchoring the principle of the “best interests of the child” in the Irish Constitution, as well as a complete ban on corporal punishment will strengthen child protection in Ireland. He commends the authorities’ commitment to ending the imprisonment of 16 and 17 year old boys in the outdated prison of St. Patrick’s and recommends that the authorities begin the process soon with a pilot group.

Finally, the Commissioner urges the Irish authorities to improve and simplify the asylum and immigration system, ensuring transparent, speedy decision-making subject to judicial review, and taking into account internationally agreed principles, such as the right to respect for family life and the best interests of the child. In this context, the Commissioner welcomes the increased care for separated asylum-seeking children and reiterates his recommendation to assign a guardian to each separated child to enhance protection.

The Irish authorities’ comments are appended to the Report.

Read the report

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