Critical changes needed to reduce poverty, to ensure greater access to housing, healthcare, education and social protection, Commission tells UN in Geneva

IHREC raises significant barriers to economic, social and cultural rights with UN

In a private meeting with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission expressed our concerns about the overall trajectory of ESC rights in Ireland, in the decade since Ireland was last examined, under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

The oral dialogue between the Committee and State representatives is taking place today and tomorrow in Geneva, in which the Committee is assessing Ireland’s protection of economic, social and cultural rights.

While we have seen the capacity of the State to make positive advances, for example by introducing abortion services and expanding social welfare supports during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Commission raised grave concerns about the impact of poverty, especially on structurally vulnerable groups. Reducing poverty would in turn ensure greater access to housing, healthcare, education and social protection.

The Commission told the Committee that systems such as housing, healthcare, education and social protection lie on shaky foundations, and lack the resilience to withstand instability caused by external shocks like rising cost of living and war. As these crises increasingly occur, the State responds with the introduction of once-off relief measures, rather than addressing the root causes through sustainable planning and financing. This constant emergency, reactive approach has resulted in ineffective policies and inadequate preparation for future crises – such as the evolving impacts of global warming and artificial intelligence.

The Commission called for critical changes, including policy frameworks with human rights at their core. These frameworks must challenge perspectives which frame basic entitlements as charity, should be informed by rigorous and disaggregated data, and they must be fully and effectively implemented.

We encouraged the Committee to ask the State to provide account of evidenced impact of policy and provision.

Ultimately our Parallel Report highlighted that in order to drive real progress on ESC rights, the State must take a more strategic approach to reform, one that prioritises sustainable, transformative investment in public services, funded through equitable, progressive and fair tax policies. This includes growing the tax base, generating greater revenues and considering the introduction of a wealth tax.

At this morning’s session, which addressed the first cluster, Articles 1-5, Seree Nonthasoot (Thailand), Country Rapporteur, noted the ‘gravity and severity’ of tax avoidance schemes in Ireland and said the Committee considers this a violation of ESC rights. He noted that it was expensive and debilitating to have a disability in Ireland, as well as highlighting the gaps in equality law in Ireland, the lack of protections for socio-economic status and intersectional discrimination; the lack of adequate equality budgeting; and also criticised the fact that there has been no update on the Equality Acts review. He also criticised the fact that the State is not addressing regional inequalities, and is relying on market based solutions rather than deploying its maximum available resources.

The State will answer these issues, and further questions over the rest of today and tomorrow.

Noeline Blackwell, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commissioner said,

“Division and mistrust is rising in Ireland, fuelled in part by the perception that scarce resources are not being shared fairly. Urgent action is needed to invest in communities and tackle this worrying trend. If we are to become a just and more equal Ireland, we need the State to commit to progress, through sustained investment, strategic and structural reform, and rigorous implementation.”


Notes for Editors:

You can read our full Submission to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Ireland’s fourth periodic review by clicking on the link below:

An Executive Summary is here:

Additional Recommendations include:

On Health

The Irish healthcare system has severe capacity issues at every level, resulting in shortages in primary, community and hospital care, in- and outpatient appointments, scheduled procedures and emergency services.

The State is failing to allocate resources in a way that ensures the availability of services as of right, rather than contingent on ability to pay. The result is a system in crisis, with concerning health inequalities for lower income households and structurally vulnerable groups.

The Commission recommends that

  • The State renews its commitment to the timely implementation of Sláintecare, including through significantly increasing public spending to meet the required levels for long-term reconfiguration of the healthcare system and to end disproportionate reliance on private healthcare services.
  • The whole-of-government and social determinants approach envisaged by the National Traveller Health Action Plan is adequately implemented through assignment of actions across relevant departments and includes regular progress reports.
  • The State provides a precise timeline on implementation of both operational and legislative recommendations of the Review Group of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.
  • The proportion of the overall health budget spent on mental health funding is significantly increased to match need, ring-fenced to protect resourcing in successive budgets and re-oriented towards human rights based provision.
  • The State addresses the mental health needs of structurally vulnerable groups, including through identifying and responding to root causes, streamlining access to services and providing cultural competence training to all staff.

On Civil Society Participation and Community Development

Reflecting the failure of the State to provide many essential public services, civil society organisations play an expansive role in ensuring access to ESC rights in Ireland.

Community development work is also a vital tool in the protection of ESC rights, involving the application of principles of participation, capacity building and collective decision-making to achieve long-term, sustainable social change and inclusion. However, we are concerned that the increasing responsibility of community and voluntary sector organisations for the provision of basic services such as food banks, hospice care, early childhood care and education and disability support is eroding the essential function of this work.

The Commission recommends that

  • Core, multi-annual, ring-fenced and autonomous funding is made available to civil society organisations, which ensures decent work and adequate wages for staff and builds capacity to meet increasing need for advocacy and services.
  • The State supports the establishment and work of local and national Disabled Persons’ Organisations, including through increasing and reorienting funding to allow for the genuine inclusion of disabled people.
  • The State ceases its reliance on the community and voluntary sector to provide for basic needs and alleviate the key failings of public service provision. Such organisations should be adequately supported to carry out the advocacy, participation and social inclusion functions which are central to their mandate.

On emerging and critical human rights issues

The Commission recommends that

  • The State implements robust oversight mechanisms to ensure that AI technologies are developed and used in a way that is human rights compliant, protects democracy, and avoids discrimination, bias, and harmful consequences for structurally vulnerable groups and wider society.
  • The State mobilises the maximum available resources through domestic and EU financing mechanisms, green budget tagging, and fair taxation, to protect against all current and foreseeable climate related harms and provide effective remedies for environmental injustices.
  • Robust and mandatory human rights due diligence legislation is introduced, which includes the full value chain of all companies and environmental protections within its scope, prioritises transparency in reporting, and ensures effective sanctions and enforcement.
  • The State progresses the recommendations of the Commission on Taxation and Welfare to grow the tax base and generate greater revenues to ensure the long-term sustainability of public finances.
  • The State considers introducing a tax on wealth and carries out an equality-based review of tax expenditures with a view to significantly limiting their scope and number.

For further information, please contact:

Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8592641 / 087 4687760

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.