Austerity dominates UN questions for Irish Government
10 December 2014
Questions raised by a United Nations committee in Geneva this week ask the Irish Government to explain how it is ensuring that the privatisation of water services will not affect the right of everyone to enjoy affordable and quality water and also query the availability and development of community-based mental health care services as well as services for older people and people with disabilities.
These queries are from a series of twenty-eight questions raised by members of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as part of their scrutiny of Ireland’s record on the protection of rights over the past decade. The Committee is also seeking more information on work rights and conditions, social security, physical and mental health, education, adequacy of housing, Traveller ethnicity and rural broadband.
According to FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) which co-ordinated information to the Committee from over 50 non-governmental organisations, while the Government had submitted a report to the Committee in 2010, much of the information is out of date. The legal rights body said that the Committee needs up-to-date information from the Government as well as receiving FLAC’s report and submissions from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, other non-governmental organisations and interested individuals. All of the information will be considered in a full UN examination of Ireland’s record on economic, social and cultural human rights in June 2015.
“Overshadowing the entire list of issues is the spectre of austerity,” commented FLAC’s Director General Noeline Blackwell. “The questions raised by the expert UN Committee point to concerns about the extent to which the fundamental human rights of people in Ireland suffered in recent years, especially if people were already vulnerable or at risk of discrimination. The information that the Committee has from the Government pre-dates the austerity programme of the Troika and therefore does not give a real picture of the battering that many people took in this recession. ‘Our Voice Our Rights’ [the FLAC-coordinated report] shows that the problems haven’t gone away – many still suffer.”
The questions, framed in a neutral way, ask the Irish State to provide evidence that Ireland is progressively meeting obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Ireland signed and ratified the Covenant twenty-five years ago, in December 1989. The Irish Government must now consider this list of questions and provide its response over the next weeks. Its report, the response and the parallel reports - from both civil society organisations and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission - will form the basis of the examination of Ireland’s record by the Committee in June 2015.
Ms Blackwell added, “There is no system within Ireland that will allow for an objective and thorough examination of how human rights have been respected or not during the last tough years of the recession which is why this UN process is so valuable. The reports filed by FLAC from voluntary organisations, unions and others, showed that people really feel that the State did not take proper account of human rights while we were under the National Recovery Plan, across the whole range of issues from rural broadband to community-based health services to Traveller ethnicity.
“FLAC and all the organisations involved in the compilation of ‘Our Voice, Our Rights’ now hope the Government will respond speedily to the Committee’s questions,” she concluded.