Statement from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission on COVID-19 Oversight in Respect of Human Rights and Equality

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission met on Friday (24th of April) as part of its ongoing consideration of the human rights and equality implications of the COVID 19 crisis.  The Commission has previously stated that it believes that emergency actions to protect individual lives and public health during this emergency should be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory, and should be informed by human rights and equality principles.

Arising from its deliberations, the Commission intends to pursue further the following three matters:

Firstly, in considering the implementation of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 as they relate to policing, the Commission considers that more information is required to assess whether these new powers are being exercised proportionately, and whether they are being implemented in line with human rights and equality principles.

The Commission believes that more detailed data is required to consider how the implementation of this legislation is impacting people in different sectors of society, and it will be contacting the Garda Commissioner in this regard.

Secondly, the COVID 19 crisis is already impacting, and will continue to impact, different people more acutely than others, including older people, people with disabilities, residents in Direct Provision, Travellers, homeless people, people experiencing domestic violence, and people in precarious employment.  It is also important that our collective response to the acute challenge of COVID 19 takes account of the particular needs of vulnerable groups.

Therefore the Commission recommends, as a matter of urgency, the establishment of a mechanism to provide close parliamentary oversight of the implementation of emergency legislation introduced in response to COVID 19, and the equality and human rights implications of COVID 19.

The Commission believes that the most appropriate mechanism is an Oireachtas Committee on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity, which would have the requisite cross-departmental mandate to examine the legal, social and economic rights implications of COVID 19.  The establishment of a dedicated Oireachtas Committee on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity has been recommended by the Commission since 2016.

In the absence of such a committee, the human rights and equality implications of the response to COVID 19 should form part of the work of a dedicated Oireachtas committee overseeing the COVID-19 effort, or the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality.

Thirdly, in line with its mandate to keep law and practice as they relate to human rights and equality under review, the Commission will keep the exercise of emergency legislation and other State responses to the COVID 19 crisis under active review.

Following the Commission’s meeting, Acting Chief Commissioner Tony Geoghegan said:

“The COVID 19 crisis is a challenge for the whole country, but it impacts some members of our society more acutely than others.  As we move into a phase where we are going to be living with the threat of this virus for some time, it is critical that the principle of equality and the dignity afforded by human rights are central to efforts to keep people safe and healthy.”

ENDS/

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / (087) 0697095

bdawson@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

The Commission’s letter of March 25th to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. in recognition of the unprecedented public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic  is available at the following link:

https://www.ihrec.ie/app/uploads/2020/03/IHREC-Letter-to-An-Taoiseach-March-2020.pdf

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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