Budget must respect human rights, even in recession

16 September 2011

Publication cover - Pre-budget 2012 submission
Cover image for Pre-budget 2012 submission

At a pre-budget forum with Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton today, legal rights group FLAC laid out what it said were strict legal duties to maintain human rights standards, even in a recession.

"Human rights begin at home," said FLAC Director General Noeline Blackwell,"and we cannot pretend they do not exist just because times are hard. Ireland still has a binding duty to respect, protect and promote the rights of every person in the State."

"Human rights are fundamentally about respect for human dignity. Do we really want to drop our standards, especially around vulnerable groups? We should think smarter, not cut harder, if we want to budget, and today FLAC has presented some ideas on how to achieve this in the area of social welfare."

FLAC's presentation to the Minster calls for an impact assessment of cuts on the human rights of groups affected as well as appropriate training for all officials dealing with the public around human rights duties and guidelines. The organisation, represented at the forum by Ms Blackwell and Campaigns & Policy Officer Saoirse Brady, also recommends a poverty impact assessment of how the Habitual Residence Condition impacts on vulnerable groups, in particular children.

In relation to the personal debt crisis, FLAC says the recommendations made last autumn by the Expert Group on Mortgage Arrears and Personal Debt around the payment of Mortgage Interest Supplement should be carried out urgently to assist borrowers in temporary difficulty with their mortgages.
Further, people in difficult circumstances, such as domestic violence or relationship breakdown must not be left homeless and destitute or without viable housing options. FLAC says this means officials must be given any guidance or supports necessary to reach a speedy and accurate decision in such cases.
"It is worth noting that Commissioner Hammarberg of the Council Europe has focused on the rights of vulnerable groups in his latest report on Ireland," said Ms Blackwell. "He warns that budget cuts can put human rights at risk and says that we need a strong and independent human rights infrastructure in these challenging times. This is especially the case where there is no National Action Plan on human rights in place."

"We need to ask ourselves as a society if we really want to throw the baby out with the bathwater in cutting our spending. There are ways we can budget more effectively without breaching our human rights duties," concluded Ms Blackwell.



Editors' notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights organisation dedicated to the realisation of equal access to justice for all. It campaigns through advocacy, strategic litigation and authoritative analysis to contribute to the eradication of social and economic exclusion.
  2. The Department of Social Protection organised a Pre-Budget Forum for NGOs from 10am on Friday 16 September in St Andrew's Resource Centre, Pearse Street, Dublin 2.
  3. FLAC's pre-budget submission was presented at the NGO Forum. You can also read our FLACsheet on 'Realising Rights in Recession'.
  4. The report on Ireland by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, " Human rights of vulnerable groups in times of austerity budgets", issued on 15 September 2011, is available to download at