Posted on January 22, 2015
A life of dignity: Why the UN has 28 questions for the Irish government
The issues of water privatisation and how to prevent abuse of disabled people in residential care are on the national news agenda this week. However these issues are also on the international agenda as they feature among 28 questions put by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to the Irish Government this week.
The Committee is examining Ireland’s record on meeting its legal obligations under international human rights law. The law in question is the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ratified by Ireland in 1989. Such rights might well be termed “everyday” rights as they cover issues like an adequate standard of living (including housing, food and water), to just and favourable conditions of work, to social welfare, to physical and mental health, to education, to a family life and to a cultural life. The State must ensure all people are not discriminated against in the enjoyment of any of these rights.
The formal examination of the Government will take place in Geneva in June 2015 but as a first stage, the Committee has put a series of twenty-eight human rights questions – known as the List of Issues - to the Government. In setting these questions, the Committee has been informed by the Government’s own report on the years from 2002 to 2010. However it has also received more up to date information from Irish civil society, including a report coordinated by FLAC with evidence supplied by more than fifty organisations and individuals around Ireland. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has also provided data.
The Government now has an opportunity to update the information sought by the Committee well in advance of the examination to ensure a comprehensive understanding of how economic, social and cultural rights have been protected in Ireland over the twelve years since the last examination. The overarching theme of the UN Committee’s questions is how the Government’s policy direction since its last examination impacted on the right of people in Ireland to a life of dignity. It queries how the state prioritised the well-being of disadvantaged and marginalised in our society during what were undeniably tough economic times in its decision-making.
Themes emerge in the Committee’s questions for Government, such as how disabled persons can access training, health care, community care and be safe from abuse; whether children are protected from poverty; the impact of cuts on hospital waiting lists, bed shortages and community care facilities, especially in rural and disadvantaged areas; whether fair wages can be guaranteed to people on zero-hour contracts; whether rights of minorities are protected in accessing public services; whether privatisation impacts on the human right of access to clean and affordable water; whether the state plans to provide social security for self-employed people beyond what is already available and to review its laws on abortion, and many others.
Overall, the Committee frames useful questions around the adequacy, accessibility and affordability of key public services in Ireland over a time period spanning boom and bust. They will not only help the Committee in assessing the Government’s record on these rights; they will help us as a country to assess where we are and how much further we have to go to make Ireland a place of respect for every person’s basic dignity. The civil society report, Our Voice, Our Rights, is a kind of ‘People’s Evidence’ on how the state is meeting its duties.
The ball is now in the Government’s court. Irish civil society groups remain willing to support the dialogue between Government and the UN by ensuring an accurate, evidence-based picture of Ireland’s recent but challenging history presented by those who felt it most harshly.
- Yvonne O’Sullivan is FLAC Policy & Advocacy Officer. For more on the UN’s List of Issues and Our Voice, Our Rights, see http://bit.ly/LoI2014