UN says Ireland should hold a referendum on 'restrictive' abortion law
The United Nations has called on Ireland to hold a referendum on abortion and address the country's "highly restrictive" laws on sexual and reproductive health.
In a wide-ranging report, the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights said it was particularly concerned at the criminalisation of abortion, including in cases of rape, incest and where there is a risk to the health of pregnant women.
The committee also called for the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act to be amended to clarify what constitutes a real and substantive risk to the life of a pregnant woman.
Earlier this month, the 17-member committee heard from a Government delegation as well as a range of NGOs at hearings in Geneva.
The Government delegation was led by Sean Sherlock TD, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The report urged the Government to take "all necessary steps" including a referendum on abortion and to revise its legislation - including the Constitution and the 2013 Act - in line with international human rights standards.
Niall Behan, CEO of the Irish Family Planning Association, said that the strength and clarity of the UN Committee's report leaves "absolutely no doubt that a realistic response is needed" on abortion access in Ireland.
The Committee described Ireland's Magdalene laundries as examples of "institutionalised labour" and called on the Government to conduct a prompt investigation into alleged abuses, adding that victims should be provided with effective remedies.
It also called for school admissions policies to be revised to remove all discriminatory criteria for enrolment.
Austerity measures introduced since the onset of the financial crisis were also criticised by the committee, whose members said that cuts had been disproportionately focused on public expenditure in the areas of housing, social security, healthcare and education, when the tax system had not been altered.
"Policies must be temporary, covering only the period of the [financial] crisis, and they must be necessary and proportionate," said the committee. "They must not result in discrimination and increased inequalities."
The report marks the third time that Ireland has fallen for review on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) welcomed the committee's recommendations on the impact on already vulnerable groups by austerity measures.
"The Committee makes strong recommendations for State action on adequate housing to protect people's right to a secure home, right from an adequate supply of social housing through to rent controls to better regulation of banks in relation to mortgages - all part of the continuum of basic housing rights," said Director General Noeline Blackwell.