The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Ireland on how it implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with Committee Experts praising legislation combatting hate crimes, and raising issues concerning rights abuses at “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions.
A Committee Expert welcomed the publication of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crimes) Bill 2021, which made discrimination and prejudice based on gender, race, disability and other factors an aggravating circumstance in criminal offenses. Would that bill be adopted in the near future?
Addressing rights abuses at “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions, a Committee Expert said that a satisfactory mechanism had not been introduced to fight impunity and promote the right to the truth for thousands of victims. Had there been criminal consequences for members of the Catholic Church who had committed rape or other sexual violence? Were criminal investigations ongoing?
Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and head of the delegation, introducing the report, said that the draft Hate Crimes Bill created new, aggravated forms of criminal offences, where those offences were motivated by gender, race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation or disability. The legislation would provide the necessary means to prosecute perpetrators who committed hate crimes based on a protected characteristic.
On institutional abuse, Mr. O’Gorman said that the Government had made wide-ranging commitments to addressing the priority needs and concerns of those who had spent time in “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions. Those included the Birth Information and Tracing Act of 2022, draft legislation to establish a redress payment scheme, and another draft bill allowing for exhumation, identification and dignified reburial of the remains of infants at the Tuam burial site. The Government had also recently approved a national memorial to honour those who had endured institutional trauma.
In concluding remarks, Mr. O’Gorman said that the review had been a valuable opportunity to outline the many areas in which the State had made progress in promoting and protecting human rights, and to identify areas in which further effort was needed. The Government would work to further promote human rights, and appreciated the contribution of civil society to this work.
Photini Pazartzis, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, acknowledged the continued work of Ireland toward improving human rights. She welcomed legislative efforts to combat corruption, address violence against women and gender violence, and enhance gender equality. Those efforts now needed to be operationalised. She expressed hope that human rights in Ireland would be further promoted through the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations.
The delegation of Ireland was made up of representatives of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; Department of Foreign Affairs; Department of Justice; Department of Social Protection; Office of the Attorney General; Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; Department of Education; and the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Human Rights Committee’s one hundred and thirty-fifth session is being held from 27 June to 27 July. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee is next scheduled to meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 5 July, to consider the fifth periodic report of Georgia (CCPR/C/GEO/5).
The Committee has before it the sixth periodic report of Ireland (CCPR/C/URY/6).
Presentation of the Report
RODERIC O’GORMAN, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and head of the delegation, said that the State had repeatedly failed to protect vulnerable citizens who were institutionalised in “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions. Elements of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report did not live up to survivors’ expectations, and Mr. O’Gorman recognised the hurt that this had caused. The Government had made wide-ranging commitments to addressing the priority needs and concerns of those who had spent time in those institutions. Those commitments had been consolidated in the “Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions.”
The commitments included the enactment of the Birth Information and Tracing Act of 2022, which provided right of access to birth certificates, birth and early life information for all persons who were adopted, boarded out, the subject of an illegal birth registration, or who otherwise had questions in relation to their origins. The State was also drafting legislation to establish a “Mother and Baby Institutions” payment scheme, providing financial payments and health support to eligible persons. Another Bill, due to be passed through parliament later this week, would allow for exhumation, identification and dignified reburial of the remains of the infants at the Tuam burial site. The Government had also recently approved a national memorial to honour those who had endured institutional trauma.
On the issue of termination of pregnancy, a law governing access to termination of pregnancy in Ireland, had been enacted in 2018, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act. It embedded the termination of pregnancy service as a normal part of the Irish healthcare system. Further, the State was developing a law that would establish safe access zones to protect the rights of patients using health services and their family members. The law would also seek to protect health services staff from intimidation or harassment.
In January, the Minister for Justice opened a scheme to regularise thousands of undocumented migrants and their families who were living in Ireland. The six-month scheme was designed to give long-term undocumented people living in the State the chance to regularise their status, access the labour market and begin their path to citizenship. As of 30th June 2022, 38,789 people had arrived in Ireland after fleeing the war in Ukraine. Those granted Temporary Protection had immediate access to the labour market, social welfare, accommodation and other State supports as needed. Ireland would continue to develop measures to assist those fleeing Ukraine.
The State had made a commitment to replace the system of accommodation for applicants for international protection with a new system based on a non-profit, human rights-based approach. Under the new system, an applicant would initially be accommodated in one of six new integration and reception centres. Residents would remain in the centres for a maximum of four months, after which time persons still being processed would transition to a house, apartment or own room in the community.
Last year, a draft Hate Crime Bill was published. It created new, aggravated forms of criminal offences, where those offences were motivated by gender, race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation or disability. The legislation would provide the necessary means to prosecute perpetrators who committed hate crimes based on a protected characteristic. Ireland was also actively engaging with proposed measures to tackle illegal content online under the Digital Services Act. The State also intended to introduce two new protected grounds of discrimination within domestic equality legislation, one based on socio-economic status, and one based on gender identity.
The Irish Programme for Government contained a commitment to ban conversion therapy. The Government had commissioned research into the issue which was expected to be completed in August 2022. The research would provide an evidence base to support the development of legislation that will prohibit the practice of conversion therapy.
The Department of Social Protection and the Data Protection Commission had agreed a settlement of the Department’s appeal regarding the processing of personal data in relation to the Public Services Card. As a result of that settlement, the Department could continue to process personal data to authenticate a person’s identity and issue them with a Public Services Card that could be used for accessing public services.
A new bill would provide a statutory basis for existing police powers of search, arrest and detention; determining information to be recorded and how that information could be used. The bill was designed to provide a robust and modern statutory framework for use by An Garda Síochána of digital recording devices to support their functions. Furthermore, last year, a high level taskforce was established to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system.
In recent years, there had been progress toward increasing the numbers of multi-denominational primary schools. The State’s objective was to have at least 400 multi-denominational schools in the primary system by 2030.
The Electoral Reform Bill was undergoing reform, including provisions to establish a statutory, independent electoral commission. The new bill aimed to increase participation in the State’s electoral and democratic processes, especially among marginalised or traditionally under-represented groups.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said that Ireland had partially applied the Covenant in domestic law, but the State party report did not explain how the State intended to enforce all the rights of the Covenant. Did the State party intend to bring the status of the Covenant in line with that of the European Commission on Human Rights, and fully apply it?
The High Court had criticised the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes as being marred by many deficiencies. The Committee on the Rights of the Child and eight United Nations Special Rapporteurs had severely criticised the bills that built on that investigative report. Despite recent progress, a satisfactory mechanism had not been introduced to fight impunity and promote the right to the truth for thousands of victims. Had there been criminal consequences for members of the Catholic Church who had committed rape or other sexual violence? Were criminal investigations ongoing? Why did the State require people who accepted financial compensation to give up their right to legal action? Did the State intend to provide automatic and effective access for mothers to information concerning their children, or give adopted persons access to personal data?
Did the State intend to provide access to abortion to all women, without discrimination based on their economic situation in particular? How would the State ensure that the objections of certain doctors and activists did not impede women’s right to access abortion?
Another Committee Expert commended the fact that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission had “A” status. Funds allocated to that Commission were constantly increasing. Did the Commission have the legal ability to monitor places of detention? Could it make unannounced visits? What actions did the Commission take in response to individual complaints?
Another Expert said that, according to the Global Corruption Barometer, 42 per cent of Irish people believed that the authorities ‘rarely or never’ took appropriate action against officials who engaged in corruption. What was the reason for the reported failure of the 2018 Corruption Offences Act to sufficiently address bribery? Did the Government intend to re-table the public sector standards bill, a measure taken to prevent corrupt payments to politicians? Did the State intend to amend the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022 to provide protections for whistle-blowers in workplaces? What investigations had been conducted and convictions imposed relating to corruption in State bodies?
What was the current state of reform to article 41.2 of the Constitution on the role of women in the home to render it gender-neutral? What were the major achievements of the 2017-2020 National Strategy for Women and Girls? Would a successor to that strategy be introduced?
The Expert welcomed the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012, which reduced by half the State funding provided to political parties that did not have at least 30 per cent female candidates at the 2016 general election, increasing to 40 per cent after seven years. However, in the 2019 local elections, women accounted for only 29 per cent of all local candidates and 23.9 per cent of those subsequently elected. Did the Government intend to increase gender quotas to 40 per cent and extend them to local elections, Seanad elections and European Parliament elections by the end of 2022, and introduce measures to support the political participation of underrepresented groups? How would the State party ensure that the Gender Pay Gap Information Act of June 2021 was fully implemented?
The Expert welcomed Ireland’s 2019 ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 2018. The Expert also welcomed the adoption of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016 – 2021. What campaigns and prevention programmes had been carried out by the Government regarding domestic and gender-based violence? What measures did the State party intend to adopt to improve statistics on such violence, including through ethnic identifiers? How did the State intend to facilitate complaints by victims and ensure better assistance and protection to victims throughout the investigation and prosecution process? There was limited availability, particularly in rural locations, of reliable support services for victims, and domestic violence refuge accommodation. How would the State ensure the provision of legal aid, specialised and accessible services and refuge spaces across the country?