IHRC launches its 2008 Annual Report

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC), today, launched its 2008 Annual Report. In launching the Report, Dr Maurice Manning, President of the IHRC addressed the goals and achievements of the IHRC in 2008 and the challenges it faces following a substantial cut in its 2009 budget.

Dr Maurice Manning said "the fallout from this economic recession is having the greatest impact on people in vulnerable situations who often need the most protection. It is more important than ever to have a strong, effective and independent Human Rights Commission. However the IHRC has found it difficult to cope with what amounted to a 32% cut in its budget this year. As a consequence, there is a serious risk that the IHRC will be unable to perform its statutory functions."

Dr Manning continued "In these difficult times, it was heartening to have the work of the IHRC so highly endorsed by both the UN and the Council of Europe. The UN Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations to the Government called for the Commission’s independence and capacity to be further enhanced by, as the Committee stated, "endowing it with adequate and sufficient resources and linking it to the Oireachtas""

Promoting human rights of vulnerable people and groups in legislation, in policy and in the justice system was a core feature of the IHRC’s work in 2008:

– Scrutinising Legislation

The IHRC reviewed 8 Bills that related to charities, immigration residence and protection, employment law compliance, health information, mental capacity, the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, and public order offences linked to begging, for their compliance with human rights standards. A welcome trend was an increase in referrals of legislation at scheme stage which allowed the IHRC to make its comments in a timely and more effective way. While the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform continued to make legislative referrals, there were increased referrals from other departments such as the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Dr Manning said "human rights are absolutely relevant to the work of many Government Departments, and I welcome the fact that we are receiving draft legislation at an earlier stage and from a wider range of Government Departments. We hope this trend continues because it is essential that human rights standards are considered at the earliest stage of drafting."

Dr Manning continued "it is equally important that adequate time be provided for debate by the Houses of Oireachtas on such Bills at the various stages of the enactment process. Insufficient time for such debate and analysis can lead to the enactment of legislation that is not fully human rights compliant, leading to challenges in the Courts down the line. This should be avoided at all costs. In this context, I would call on the Government not to guillotine the debate on the Criminal Justice (Amendment) 2009. Many serious flaws have been identified in the Bill. More debate, not haste is needed. "

– Protecting human rights standards before the Courts

The IHRC appeared as amicus curiae or ‘friend of the court’ in 5 cases in the High Court and Supreme Court and in 1 case before the European Court of Human Rights. In each case, the IHRC made submissions on the human rights standards at issue in the proceedings. The cases included:

  • Traveller accommodation and the criminal trespass legislation;
  • Similar levels of legal representation for both the accused and the prosecution in criminal cases;
  • The ability of Local Authorities to summarily evict tenants;
  • The retention of telecommunications data by service providers for access and use by State authorities;
  • Whether the State’s refugee determination bodies are required to consider available evidence in their possession rather than relying solely on an asylum seeker’s Notice of Appeal;
  • The rights of persons with Intellectual Disabilities. The IHRC representing the European Group of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) intervened before the European Court of Human Rights in the first intervention of its kind by a regional grouping of NHRIs.

Mr Éamonn Mac Aodha, Chief Executive of the IHRC said "the intervention to the European Court of Human Rights on the rights of persons with intellectual disabilities built on the IHRC’s experience in acting as amicus curiae before the Irish Courts. This case involves the issue of the right to respect for private life for persons with an intellectual disability and the European Group in its submissions drew the Court’s attention to the provisions of the recently adopted UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and developments at Council of Europe level."

In 2008, the IHRC was formally notified in 60 cases where the compatibility of legislation or a rule of law with the human rights standards in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was at issue. In three cases, the Courts declared two pieces of legislation incompatible with ECHR standards. The incompatible legislation concerned the rights of transgender people, and the rights of local authority tenants to a fair hearing in eviction proceedings.

While noting that the Court’s declaration on the rights of transgender people was under appeal to the Supreme Court, the IHRC subsequently, in its legislative advisory capacity, made a submission to the Government after reviewing both the European and International standards in relation to the rights of transgender people.

Mr Mac Aodha said "It is important that the issue of the rights of trangender people receives early attention by the Government and I would like to reiterate the call the IHRC made in its submission for the establishment of a Working Group on the rights of Transgender People to consider law reform, similar to the precedent previously employed in the United Kingdom."

– Promoting human rights in education and training

In 2008, the Commission commenced work on a study of human rights education in Ireland, mapping its extent within formal education, non-formal education and in the continuing professional training of teachers, the legal profession, the judiciary, and civil and public servants.

Dr Manning stated "Human rights education and training are essential to building a culture of respect for the human rights and human dignity of every person in Ireland. I am glad to say that the study, though not yet complete, has opened up opportunities for the IHRC to engage in a worthwhile way with the training bodies of civil and public servants among others. More education and training on human rights can only enhance the legislative process."

– Impact of the cuts in IHRC funding

Commenting on prospects for a strong IHRC output in 2009 IHRC Chief Executive, Éamonn Mac Aodha said "The IHRC had a third less financial resources available to it in 2009 than last year. It goes without saying that any further cuts would put our continued survival in jeopardy. In addition we need the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to assist us in discharging the burden of our lease costs if we are to come through this year. The grant-in-aid provision for 2009 has left us under severe pressure in this regard and will not allow us to both discharge staff costs and to pay our rent."

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