We need human rights standards to rebalance society in austerity

13 December 2012

Thomas Hammarberg

One of Europe's most respected human rights champions has today spoken out against the relentless drive to austerity, saying that Ireland needs to rebalance itself by listening to all voices in society, if it wants to survive and learn from the recession.

Former Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg is in Dublin to give the annual Dave Ellis Memorial Lecture organised by FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres). He will focus on access to justice in austerity, emphasising the rule of law and need to adhere to basic human rights principles in the midst of our constant focus on economic contingencies.

Speaking ahead of the lecture this evening, Mr Hammarberg said: "I am concerned about the erosion of human rights standards as a consequence of the austerity approach and recent budget cuts."

FLAC Director General Noeline Blackwell said FLAC was honoured to have someone of Mr Hammarberg's reputation and calibre deliver the annual lecture, and echoed his comments on the need for basic human rights standards in all areas of policy. "The government has said the budget is a fair one. With respect, how can we know that? Where is the evidence that they have assessed the budget's measures for impact?"

"We have a sizeable body of clear and binding human rights law that can guide us in making the right choices when it comes to our national policies and budgets. FLAC strongly feels the government should heed Mr Hammarberg's advice and ensure it pays more attention to these human rights commitments alongside our more widely publicised commitments to Troika and banking quarters," said Ms Blackwell.

Ms Blackwell also paid tribute to the voluntary work done by lawyers for FLAC. She said "This is our opportunity too to recognise how crucial the volunteer's role is. The advice that our volunteer lawyers give allows people to better understand the law and by doing that, they can better manage their affairs. This in turn eases their worry and uncertainty in these very anxious times."



Editors' notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. FLAC is an NGO that relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work. FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line and free legal advice through its network of more than 80 volunteer evening advice centres. It also campaigns on a range of issues including personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
  2. Dave Ellis was a community activist who dedicated his career to working with community groups in areas including welfare rights, legal aid, legal education and legal entitlements generally. Dave was Community Law Officer at Coolock Community Law Centre (now Northside CLC) for more than 20 years. He subsequently established Community Legal Resource to provide information, training and support for the not-for-profit and community sector.
  3. The 2012 Dave Ellis lecture takes place at Chartered Accountants House, 47 - 49 Pearse Street, Dublin 2 on December 13 at 6pm (with registration from 5.30pm). For more information, please check the events page of FLAC's website. The lecture will also be streamed live online from 6pm.
  4. Current Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks published several letters he wrote to Ministers Shatter, Burton and Lynch in November following his visit to Ireland in October, as well as the Ministers' replies. To read more, see FLAC's press release.Commissioner Muiznieks also met transgender champion Lydia Foy at the recent ILGA-Europe 16th Annual Conference in Dublin, more details on his visit in FLAC's press release. A Lydia Foy case update is also available.
  5. At the FLAC lecture, some 90 FLAC volunteers were particularly recognised because of their long-service to FLAC. This year, the award was confined to FLAC centres directly managed by FLAC. It is hoped to roll out the awards to FLAC services country wide in coming years. The majority of FLAC centres operate in and with the co-operation of Citizens Information Centres Country wide and provide basic, one-on-one information and advice from a volunteer lawyer. A full list of FLAC around Ireland can be accessed online.