Tuesday 27 September 2016

Government just doesn't care about the human rights of Irish citizens

Published 09/06/2015 | 02:30

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, told a UN meeting in Geneva yesterday that budgetary decisions had been made without any consideration of the State’s human rights obligations
Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, told a UN meeting in Geneva yesterday that budgetary decisions had been made without any consideration of the State’s human rights obligations

Enda Kenny has gotten a lot of grief lately for failing to take a firm stance on IBRC but yesterday he proved he's not afraid to get to grips with at least one kind of bank - his local bottle bank. Yes, our glorious leader took time out of his hectic schedule to officially open a new bottle bank in a car park in Castlebar.

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It's sad, really. In the good old days, when government ministers were glad-handing in their constituencies, they were at least able to commandeer a helicopter and swoop in to open an off-licence or a supermarket. Now, the best the Taoiseach can do is cut the ribbon for some recycling bins. A stark reminder, if we needed one, of just how far the country has fallen.

As Mr Kenny spent the morning trying to find a suitable Seamus Heaney poem to befit the majesty of the occasion in Mayo, civil society groups from Ireland were also busy. They were at a UN meeting in Geneva describing how austerity has ravaged the lives of the most vulnerable.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said budgetary decisions had been made without any consideration of the State's human rights obligations.

She said decisions had been taken which had resulted in increased poverty rates for children and adults, high youth unemployment and a growth in food poverty. Ms Logan noted that having a job was no guarantee of security, because 12pc of people in employment live below the poverty line.

While the Government constantly tells us we're all in this economic crisis together, each contributing according to our means, in reality it is those who have least who have suffered most.

According to a recent report from the Nevin Economic Research Institute, the real incomes of the bottom 10pc fell by over 20pc, compared with an average drop of 13pc, between 2008 and 2013.

The gap was even greater when housing costs were included - a fall of 27pc for the poorest segment of society compared to an average of 15pc.

The effects of this are evident in a report released by the Ombudsman for Children last month, which said the Government is tolerating "unacceptable" levels of child poverty, with nearly 140,000 children living in consistent poverty.

Noeline Blackwell, of the Free Legal Advice Centre, told the UN yesterday she believes these inequalities arise because the Government is under no obligation to consider socioeconomic rights when it devises its policies.

You see, the Irish State enjoys the warm glow it gets from signing international treaties, but can't quite bring itself to incorporate these treaties into Irish law so that they're actually effective.

So, while Irish NGOs will discuss Ireland's failure to adhere to its commitments under the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) this week, most know the discussion is pretty futile because the treaty has no teeth.

There is no enforcement mechanism to compel the Government to change its policies. There is no individual complaints procedure that Irish citizens can use to appeal to the UN and the treaty can't be relied upon in Irish courts.

In short, it's pretty useless - because of the way the Government has signed up to it.

Going to Geneva and lambasting the Coalition is a useful way to secure some domestic headlines about human rights abuses, and may even embarrass the Government for a few days, but it achieves little else.

A case in point is Ireland's draconian abortion regime, which has previously been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee and was yesterday the subject of more criticism.

Separately, today, Amnesty International will launch a report documenting the horrific experiences of women who continue to suffer under these archaic laws - women whose health and life is routinely put in danger by laws that medical experts have repeatedly told us are not fit for purpose.

There have been other reports, all saying the same thing.

There have been other stories of women who have suffered, and there will be more stories of women in the future, all suffering in entirely predictable and foreseeable ways.

Yet, the Government doesn't care. It doesn't matter how many international agencies condemn its treatment of women, it won't act because it doesn't have to.

Personally, I'm fed up of reading reports. I'm sick of seeing the same depressing, disgusting information every year, knowing that nothing is going to change because the political establishment doesn't care enough about women.

Deep down, there is something really disturbing about a country that is so disdainful of the rights of 50pc of its population; that ignores the exodus of 4,000 citizens every year for treatment abroad, and that is so perversely pro-life that it would go to court to force a dead woman to give birth.

There is something profoundly unsettling about the mentality of the middle-aged men who have filled the Dáil for decades and conspired to force women to remain pregnant against their wills.

This kind of innate misogyny, this naked contempt for women's autonomy, was anachronistic 30 years ago. Its persistence since then is, frankly, alarming, bizarre and bewildering.

It's about time we faced up to the fact that international human rights treaties will not change this grotesquerie. Once every five or 10 years, the UN may issue a report that will put the Government under some fleeting pressure, but it won't last and we shouldn't count on it.

We don't need the UN to confirm what scores of reports have already told us about poverty, discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion.

What we need is action. The marriage equality referendum is proof that a grass-roots campaign with enough momentum can result in profound political change. What we're missing, when it comes to campaigns to repeal the 8th amendment or include socioeconomic rights in the Constitution, is the momentum.

As Mr Kenny's much-derided trip to his local bottle bank yesterday showed, Irish politicians are far more responsive to the parish-pump than UN committees. It's time to utilise the former instead of solely relying on the latter.

Irish Independent

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