Commission Argues that Statutory Equality and Human Rights Duty Ignored by Clare Council in Traveller Eviction Case

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has argued before the Supreme Court as amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) that Clare County Council failed in its statutory obligations to properly and proportionately assess the rights of a Traveller family before moving to evict them from a site in the county, in the case of Bernard McDonagh and Helen McDonagh v Clare County Council.

The McDonagh family are seeking Traveller-specific accommodation as a recognised ethnic minority. They resided for several years as tenants of the Council in a small Traveller-specific housing development. After the destruction of their home by fire they then lived in private housing for several years, but had to leave rented accommodation when the landlord required possession for the purpose of refurbishment. They subsequently moved to the site that is the subject of this case. Clare County Council argued that their occupation of the land constituted unauthorised development under planning law. The High Court granted the orders evicting the appellants from the land and this was upheld by the Court of Appeal, however the Supreme Court has granted a stay on these orders while this case is heard.

In its legal submissions the Commission has told the Supreme Court that “An important statutory obligation on housing authorities was not considered by the courts below: section 42 of the IHREC Act 2014 [the Public Sector Duty]. It imposes a mandatory obligation on housing authorities to have regard to the fundamental rights of persons to whom it provides services.”

The Commission has set out the Council’s statutory obligation under the Public Sector Duty and relevant Strasbourg case law, which helps informs the baseline of rights afforded under the Constitution.

The Commission argued that the Council ignored its obligations under the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty (Public Sector Duty) which requires a housing authority to have regard to factors which are relevant to proportionality prior to seeking to evict a person from their home, or to remove that home.

Over the past number of years, the Commission has been actively engaged on the rights of Travellers to culturally appropriate accommodation. It has used its legal powers to carry out Equality Reviews with every local authority in the State on the provision of Traveller-specific accommodation, and is currently involved in another similar case which is currently before the European Court of Human Rights (Faulkner v. Ireland).

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

“Central to this case is the ongoing failure of the Council to provide a family, who come from a recognised ethnic minority, with culturally appropriate accommodation.

We have set out to the Supreme Court that the provision of Traveller-specific accommodation is a need, not just a desire, for many Traveller families. Existing legal obligations on housing authorities such as Clare County Council to make this provision cannot be simply set aside as being too difficult to implement or someone else’s problem.”

“It’s five years since ethnic recognition of Travellers was granted by the State. Yet it has translated to little change in the lives of Travellers, who continue to experience major barriers in accessing public services. This is an important case in potentially bringing about an acceleration of this long overdue change.”

ENDS/

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

087 0697095

bdawson@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

 

Editor’s Note

The legal submissions made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in this case are now available at the following link:

https://www.ihrec.ie/documents/bernard-mcdonagh-and-helen-mcdonagh-v-clare-county-council/

The amicus curiae function of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The Commission’s functions under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 include that of applying for liberty to appear as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) before the superior courts in proceedings that involve, or are concerned with, the human rights or equality rights of any person.

Section 10 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act sets out the functions of the Commission and Section 10(2)(e) provides that the IHREC shall have a function:

“to apply to the High Court or the Supreme Court for liberty to appear before the High Court or the Supreme Court, as the case may be, as amicus curiae in proceedings before that Court that involve or are concerned with the human rights or equality rights of any person and to appear as such an amicus curiae on foot of such liberty being granted (which liberty each of the said courts is hereby empowered to grant in its absolute discretion).”

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.

 

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