Launch of Irish Human Rights Law Review

20 May 2010


L-R: Michael Farrell, Emily O'Reilly, Donncha O'Connell. Photo: Derek Speirs.

At an event in Dublin on Thursday 20 May 2010, hosted by the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), a project of FLAC, the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, launched a new scholarly review, Irish Human Rights Law Review (IHRLR), to be published on an annual basis by Clarus Press. The IHRLR is edited by Donncha O'Connell of the School of Law, NUI Galway who is currently a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE.

The inaugural edition of the Review contains articles and case notes by, among others: Hon. Justice Michael Kirby of the Australian High Court, Professor Rick Lawson of the University of Leiden, Colm O Cinneide of University College London, Siobhan Cummiskey, Solicitor, Senator Alex White, BL and Dr. Alpha Connelly, former CEO of the Irish Human Rights Commission. There are also contributions from NUI Galway academics: Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair in Child & Family Support and Civic Engagement as well as Marie McGonagle, Ciara Smyth and Dr. Padraic Kenna.

The Review, which should be of interest to academics, students, practitioners and activists working in the field of human rights, will focus will be on the domestic application of international human rights law and the critical analysis of human rights standards and processes.

Opening the event, Michael Farrell, Solicitor for FLAC and member of the Irish Human Rights Commission, said:

"At a time when the human rights of many vulnerable people are under attack as a result of the economic crisis, and the state's human rights and equality infrastructure has been undermined by disproportionate budget cuts, the launch of the Irish Human Rights Law Review is particularly timely.

A different and more inclusive Ireland is also struggling to be born in the midst of this crisis, an Ireland that is more culturally and ethnically diverse, that accommodates different sexual identities and different forms of belief and unbelief. All these issues are affected by the law, so it is important to have a forum where the role of the law in protecting rights and facilitating change can be discussed by academics, practising lawyers and the people who are directly affected by it all.

Donncha O'Connell and Clarus Press are doing Irish society a great service by launching this new review at such a crucial moment".

In her speech the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, said:

"I see this launch today as an opportunity - an opportunity for all of us who are involved in what I like to call the "Access to Justice" sector - the judiciary, members of the legal profession, academics, human rights institutions, advocates and think-tanks, ombudsmen and other complaint handling bodies, the Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) and last but not least, our hosts today, the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA).

The opportunity presented to us today is to begin the process of demystifying human rights and not just for the public, but for the political class, those charged with our public administration and even those charged with engaging with human rights issues in the courts. Reading through the contributions, I note that human rights activists, academics and lawyers are at times sensitive - rightly or wrongly - to a certain allergic reaction at the mention of human rights among some of the above and this needs to be addressed by all sides in the human rights debate so that too many heels are not dug in to the detriment of the citizen.

I see the annual publication of the Irish Human Rights Law Review as an important step in that process. More particularly, in the aftermath of Colm McCarthy's report and his recommendations to turn back the tide on the proliferation of single-function state agencies, I also think we all need to look at the intersections rather than the divergences in the work that we do.

Human rights are principally about changing mindsets rather than the legalistic application of a set of rules. Perhaps if we thought about it also as the shared public values that enhance the life of every citizen, we can improve the chances of the realisation of those shared values in visibly tangible ways.

Changing mindsets involves cultural change and through the investigation of complaints, a public sector ombudsman is uniquely placed to facilitate good public administration which is based on human rights principles."

Responding to the Ombudsman, the Editor of the Irish Human Rights Law Review, Donncha O'Connell, said:

"It must surely now be time to consider further the question of 'constitutionalising' the office of Ombudsman, a matter that was raised by the Constitution Review Group in 1996. As we approach the seventy-fifth anniversary of the 1937 Constitution in 2012, and as the Labour Party embarks on its innovative constitutional convention in the run-up to the 1916 Centenary, it is time to look more radically at how the Irish Constitution distributes power in the state.

I would suggest that the following issues of potential constitutional reform are in need of serious analysis:

- The reorganisation of various statutory bodies for the protection and promotion of human rights and equality under a 'constitutionalised' office of Ombudsman with a clear and strong nexus to Parliament (akin to that of the Comptroller & Auditor General);
- The consequential reform of the office of Attorney General to remove the potential for conflict in the role of that office as notional guardian of the public interest and legal adviser to the Government.

This would have the benefit of protecting the essential infrastructure for human rights and equality in the state from political interference; and appropriate provision could be made, by means of the Constitution, for guaranteeing the independence and effectiveness of such a reconfigured framework institution."

He went on to say that he hoped that subsequent issues of the Irish Human Rights Law Review would provide a platform for the rigorous discussion of this and other matters connected to human rights.



On 11 June 2009, Emily O'Reilly was appointed to a second six-year term as Ombudsman and Information Commissioner by the President, Mrs Mary McAleese, at a ceremony in Áras an Úachtaráin. As Ombudsman, Ms O'Reilly is also an ex-officio member of the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Referendum Commission, the Constituency Commission and the Commission for Public Service Appointments. In May 2007, following the introduction of the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations which transposed Directive 2003/4/EC into Irish law, Ms O'Reilly was assigned the additional role of Commissioner for Environmental Information.

Prior to her initial appointment as Ombudsman and Information Commissioner in June 2003, Ms O'Reilly was an accomplished journalist and author whose roles included many years as a political correspondent with prominent print and broadcasting media. She is a native of Tullamore, Co Offaly and is married with five children. Ms O'Reilly is a graduate of University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. She was also the recipient of a Niemann Fellowship in Journalism at Harvard University, Cambridge, U.S.A. In December 2008 Ms O'Reilly was awarded a Doctor of Laws by the National University of Ireland in recognition of her contribution to public service and to human rights.

Donncha O'Connell is the Editor of the Irish Human Rights Law Review. He is currently a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE while on sabbatical from his post at the School of Law, NUI Galway. Donncha is the senior Irish member of FRALEX, the legal expert group that advises the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights based in Vienna and is a member of the Board of Directors of the London-based NGO, INTERIGHTS. He was the first full-time Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties from 1999-2002 and was Dean of Law at NUI Galway from 2005-2008.

Michael Farrell is senior solicitor with Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC). He was vice chair and co-chair of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties during the 1990s and has been a member of the Irish Human Rights Commission since 2001. He has been a member of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society since it was established. He was involved in campaigning for the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into Irish law and has taken cases to the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Committee of Social Rights.