Further Action on Women’s Rights Required – Historic Abuse Victims Remain Without Redress

A report to the UN, assessing Ireland’s performance on combatting discrimination against women, has set out that the State has not done enough to discharge its human rights obligations to investigate the situation of women and children who were institutionalised in Magdalene Laundries and those subjected to symphysiotomy. The report also sets out that the State has failed to widen the investigation into Mother and Baby Homes to include children currently excluded from the redress scheme.

The report provided to the UN by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“the Commission”) reviews Ireland’s progress on resolving issues raised by the UN in 2017 when Ireland was last scrutinised on its obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The Commission also reiterates its opposition to any reintroduction of the previous government’s Retention of Records Bill 2019, which proposed to seal records relating to abuse.

In its report the Commission focuses on areas where the UN had specifically requested the State to account for its record in fulfilling women’s rights and equality in Ireland.

  1. Access to justice for historical abuses of women and girls
  2. The provision of resources to the national human rights institution
  3. The impact of austerity measures on non-governmental organisations
  4. Access to abortion

The UN examination of Ireland, in February 2017, marked the first time in over a decade Ireland had been scrutinised on its compliance with UN standards on protecting women and girls from discrimination.  As Ireland’s national human rights institution, the Commission’s role in its reporting is to independently assess the Irish State’s performance against its obligations.

The Commission’s recommendations address a number areas including:

Ensuring victims of historical abuses have access to justice

  • The State should implement the recommendation of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children to address the culture of silence around issues of historical abuse in Ireland.
  • The archive of the McAleese Committee should be made public and the State should not proceed with proposals to seal and withhold from public scrutiny for a minimum of 75 years records relating to residential institutional child abuse.
  • Greater action is required to provide redress to those women who suffered abuses within Magdalene Laundries, mother and baby homes or as a result of symphysiotomy.

Protecting human rights and equality organisations from budget cuts

  • Measures should be adopted to ensure that the resources allocated for organisations working in the field of human rights and equality, including women’s rights, are protected in future situations of economic recession and budgetary cuts.

Access to abortion

  • The State’s obligations, under international law, to vindicate the human rights of women and girls in accessing healthcare that is safe, appropriate and respects their right to privacy must be met.
  • While welcoming the State’s commitment to review the operation of Ireland’s abortion legislation no later than three years after it was commenced, the Commission notes that additional legislative and other measures may be needed within a shorter timeframe to protect the rights of women and girls.

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated today:

“Inadequate responses to historical human rights abuses can inflict further trauma on victims and survivors. The Commission has repeatedly emphasised that the State’s response to historical abuse has not met the required standards of providing people with effective remedy under the international human rights framework.

“Many survivors of abuse have been seeking redress for historical abuses for their entire lives, and are advancing in age. Further obstacles for victims and survivors should not be put in their way.”


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095


Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Notes to editor:

The full text of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is available at the following link:


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.


The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international human rights treaty which is often described as a bill of rights for women. Ireland ratified CEDAW in 1985, and was last examined in 2017 and before that in 2005.

CEDAW sets out what governments must do to improve the situation of women

living in the country, including to:

  • address gender stereotyping and violence against women;
  • promote gender equality in public life; and
  • protect women’s rights to education, health and employment.

Countries that sign up to (‘ratify’) CEDAW agree to take concrete steps to end gender-based discrimination and improve the situation of all women living in that country.

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