Government must heed call for greater access to justice for minorities

19 February 2013

Legal rights group FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) today welcomed a report by a pan-European body against racism that clearly highlights the need to improve systems in Ireland providing access to justice for minority groups.

In its fourth report on Ireland, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has highlighted a number of areas of concern shared by FLAC, including the merger of Ireland's human rights and equality bodies, ratification of international treaties and reform of the country's legal regime for immigration and protection.

"This report comes at a time when the government is drafting a new legal structure in two key areas for people seeking access to justice," said FLAC Director General Noeline Blackwell. "Firstly, the very overdue Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. Secondly, a new law that will establish a merged human rights and equality structure. These two vital pieces of law will play a huge role in the lives of very many people. We would urge the government to pay very close heed to ECRI's recommendations, many of which speak directly to this work."

FLAC described as "very helpful" recommendations from the 47-member Commission for Ireland to ensure that there is an independent body dealing with discrimination cases, that the new Human Rights and Equality Commission will meet international standards on independence and monitoring and be adequately funded to do its work and that this new body might also take on the role of the disbanded National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism.

"We welcome the report's suggestions around the Habitual Residence Condition, calling for clear rules around its application and the publication of decisions on social welfare appeals involving the condition. FLAC has been campaigning for reform of social welfare appeals, as it is increasingly important for people, especially in this difficult environment," continued Ms Blackwell.

"It is notable also that this eminent body has called for reform of the Direct Provision system, on which FLAC reported in 2009 as not meeting key human rights standards. FLAC would fully support ECRI's call for an in-depth, systematic review of direct provision," she commented.

"And yet again, we see an international body calling in the strongest terms for Ireland to ratify Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as a number of other conventions that protect the rights of minority groups. When, indeed, can we expect to see this done, given Ireland's prominent seat on the UN Human Rights Council?"






Editors' notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
  2. We offer free, confidential basic legal information on our lo-call telephone line at 1890 350 250, and free legal advice through a network of 80 volunteer evening advice centres. FLAC also campaigns for legal reforms on a range of issues including personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
  3. European Commission against Racism and Intolerance is a human rights body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts. It monitors problems of racism, discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion and language (racial discrimination), as well as xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance, prepares reports and issues recommendations to member States. In Ireland, ECRI's expert member is Michael Farrell, FLAC Senior Solicitor. Note: Michael Farrell was not directly involved in ECRI's report on Ireland.
  4. ECRI's policy is to select the three most 'doable' recommendations in each of its report and ask the government in question to account for its implementation of these recommendations within two years of the report's publication. However, its other recommendations are no less important.
  5. The fourth report on Ireland and press release is available online.
  6. FLAC recently published a legal analysis and recommendations for reform of the Irish social welfare appeals system. Called 'Not Fair Enough', it is available to download on FLAC's website. The most recent coverage of the report's findings is also online.