GENEVA NEWSFLASH: Ireland facing hard questions on human rights record

14 July 2008

A strong show of Irish NGOs are present to observe dialogue underway in Geneva, where a top UN committee is examining Ireland's record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This afternoon saw the opening of Ireland's formal examination by the UN's Human Rights Committee (HRC). Attorney General Paul Gallagher, representing the State, took up most of the afternoon in a thorough elaboration of information already given to the HRC in written format. This meant most HRC questions must wait until tomorrow (15 July) to be answered. However FLAC was pleased to note that one of the HRC's first queries related to the rights of transgendered persons.

The HRC has expressed its appreciation of the level of expert information from Irish NGOs and how well they worked together in raising concerns around Ireland's civil and political rights obligations. The HRC has drawn up a list of points it wants Ireland to address over the two-day session, but as the Attorney General cannot attend tomorrow's session, he was allowed to field the HRC's entire list of issues today. Predictably, Mr Gallagher attempted an upbeat spin on Ireland's performance under the ICCPR. However, a concretely positive outcome is that as the Irish State's representative, he committed the State to uphold not just the letter, but also the spirit of the law. FLAC welcomes this commitment and will work to hold the Government to this in the coming years.

We also salute the State's promise to remove the reservation to Article 14 relating to fair trial for members of the defence forces. The Attorney General indicated that he was expecting a government decision to this effect either tomorrow or next week.

Given the time constraints, HRC members will have to continue their questioning of Ireland tomorrow, when Ireland will also answer questions posed today.

Swedish representative Elisabeth Palm queried the State's appeal of the Foy case on transgender rights, given that clearly Irish domestic law is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the ICCPR. She also questioned the achievements of Cosc (Ireland's National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence) and called for the urgent amendment of Article 41.2 of the Constitution as enshrining an outdated model of family life.

While UK member Sir Nigel Rodley praised the creation of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, he asked for clarification regarding funding and outcomes after investigations. He asked whether pre-trial detention for terrorism or drug-trafficking offences continues to take place in police premises and what is the nature of police access in those extended periods. He noted that the Attorney General did not provide a time-frame for the "utopia" to be engendered through the prisons building programme and asked what policies exist to encourage the judiciary to take full advantage of alternatives to imprisonment that were referred to by Mr Gallagher.

Ireland's examination by the HRC continues tomorrow morning. Updates will be available on and on the FLAC website.