IHREC publishes Annual Report 2015

  • First annual report of the Commission laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas
  • Report records 2,173 public queries, 45 ongoing legal assistance cases and five amicus curiae cases in Superior Courts, 14 UN and international committee engagements

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has laid its Annual Report 2015 before the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is the first annual report to be submitted on the work of the Commission since it was established as an independent public body in November 2014.

The Commission’s purpose as an independent statutory authority, as set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission 2014 Act, is to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and to build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding across society.

Speaking at the report launch, Chief Commissioner Emily Logan stressed the significance of the collaboration of the two human rights bodies on the island, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, under the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

The two human rights bodies, North and South, appeared for the first time before a Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement last year where we noted the importance of the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

Ms Logan stated: “In any proposed arrangements post-Brexit, it is important to ensure coherence of protections of human rights and equality North and South of the border.

“The Commission believes that the outcome of the referendum in Britain should not have negative consequences for the uniformity of human rights standards across the island of Ireland. Any future legislative proposals should not undermine the commitments contained in the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.”

Amongst current priorities, Ms Logan underlined the Commission’s ongoing concerns about the right of asylum seekers to protections under international human rights law, and reforms to the system of Direct Provision.

The Commission visited direct provision centres in 2015 and was invited by Mr Justice McMahon, in February 2015 to present to the plenary session of the Working Group. This followed the IHREC’s Policy Statement on the System of Direct Provision in Ireland which outlined ten key recommendations for improvements to the system.

“We recommend the Government now move to ensure the remaining measures in the Working Group report are implemented to give effect to the recommendations so that people seeking asylum in Ireland can live with a greater degree of respect and dignity. We propose that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality examine the mechanism of accountability for the implementation of the Working Group report.”

Ms Logan noted that 2015 represented a landmark year for the advancement of rights of LGBT people in this country. The Commission’s own national survey of attitudes conducted before and after the Marriage Equality referendum indicated how the public debate shaped perceptions of human rights and equality in a positive way, particularly among younger people.

“The Marriage Equality referendum in 2015 represented a ground-breaking moment for human rights and equality in this country. Our own national survey of attitudes conducted before and after the referendum found that more people viewed Ireland as a leader in Europe on human rights and equality after the passage of the Marriage Equality referendum.”

The Commission had recommended amending Section 37 of the Employment Equality Acts to prevent discrimination against teachers on the basis of their civil status, family status or sexual orientation. The Government last year amended the Section 37 provision representing a further positive development in 2015.

The impact of a seven-year austerity drive on many groups already susceptible to poverty and exclusion was highlighted by the Commission’s report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in Geneva, in May 2015.

The Commission in its submission stated that the burden of the adjustments had disproportionately fallen on those who were least able to bear its impacts, particularly in housing, social security, health care and education.

“Our 2015 report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights strongly urged the Government to establish a mechanism to assess future budgets for their social impacts. We welcome a new role for the Commission in the Programme for a Partnership Government to advise the planned new Budgetary Scrutiny Committee on establishing a mechanism to examine future budgets on equality and gender grounds,” Ms Logan stated.

In the same 2015 report to the UN, the Commission strongly recommended that the Government signify its commitment to people with a disability by accelerating the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“The Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Finian McGrath has now committed to ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the end of 2016. The State’s implementation of the Convention will be monitored by the Commission in conjunction with people with lived experience of disability. The Convention represents a step change away from charitable and medical models to an emancipatory approach based on independence, dignity and self-advocacy,” Ms Logan said.

The report is available to download here

Tá an leagan Gaeilge den tuarascáil bhliantúil ar fáil anseo

Ends

For further information please contact Niamh Connolly on IHREC 01 8589601/ 087 4399022. Twitter: follow us @_ihrec

Note to Editors:

Annual report 2015 Summary Highlights

Legislation (Page 15)

In the reporting period, the Commission published its recommendations on the following Bills to inform the Houses of the Oireachtas:

Observations on the Garda Síochána (Amendment No 3) Bill 2014, (November 2014); Recommendations on the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 (March 2015) Recommendations on the General Scheme of the International Protection Bill 2015(June 2015)

Observations on the Education (Admissions to School) Bill 2015(October 2015)

Legal Work (Page 25)

The legal team had 45 cases ongoing where legal assistance was granted to members of the public under section 40 of the 2014 Act. Eight outcomes are outlined in the report. The Commission acted as amicus curiae in five cases that reached outcomes since its establishment, also listed in the report.

Of a total 45 live cases under Section 40, 26 were under the Equal Status Acts, 15 under the Employment Equality Acts, and 4 under general human rights protections.

In respect of 29 cases invoked under the Equal Status Acts, 16 related to Religion, 7 to Disability, 2 to Family Status, 2 to Race, and 1 to Gender, and 1 to Civil Status.

In respect of the 17 grounds invoked in cases under the Employment Equality Acts, 8 related to Age, 4 to Gender, 1 to Sexual Orientation, 1 to Family Status, 1 to Religion, 1 to Disability and 1 to Race.

United Nations and International Engagement (Page 63)

The Commission reported on the State’s obligations under a number of international treaties in Geneva: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (May 2015); UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (September 2015); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (September 2015 follow-up); Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (November 2015); UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (December 2015).

Public Information (Page 67)

The Commission processed 2,173 public queries. Of this total, 491 were under the Equal Status Acts; 459 under the Employment Equality Acts; 398 under other human rights protections; 12 under the Intoxicating Liquor Act; 25 under Discriminatory Advertising and 788 were referred to other information or recourse service.

In respect of Equality issues, 140 related to Age; 25 to Civil Status; 264 to Disability; 82 to Family Status; 112 to Gender; 266 unstated; 140 to Race; 40 to Religion; 31 to Sexual Orientation; 26 to Traveller Community; 4 to Victimisation.

Nationwide Public Consultation on Human Rights and Equality (Page 33)

A nationwide public consultation was held in autumn 2015 across eight regional centres: Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Longford, Sligo, Letterkenny, as well the National Ploughing Championships in Laois. This national consultation helped inform the Commission’s Strategic Statement 2016-2018 published in January 2016. The Commission received 61 written submissions and 58 online surveys.

Key Policy Themes of 2015

Austerity Impacts: The Chief Commissioner’s message to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in June 2015 expressed concern over the disproportionate impact of the fiscal adjustment on marginal groups.

School Admissions: The Commission submitted observations on the Education (Schools Admissions) Bill 2015 on the importance of diversity, social inclusion and interculturalism in education. The Commission will continue to monitor developments in this area.

Travellers Rights: The rights of the Traveller community to safe, suitable and culturally appropriate accommodation was raised by the Commission. The Chief Commissioner engaged with all local authorities, and directly with Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council to draw attention to the new public sector duty contained in section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014.

Marriage Equality Referendum: The Commission’s national survey of attitudes to human rights and equality conducted before and after the Marriage Equality Referendum, showed a change of public attitudes following the referendum’s success, with more positive perceptions of Ireland as a leader in human rights.

Refugee rights and Amicus Curiae: The Commission’s role as amicus curiae (friendof the Court) was raised in ahigh-profile case concerning an alleged victimof human trafficking. The High Court foundthat the State’s administrative scheme for the protection of victims of human trafficking was inadequate under the EU law aimed at combating trafficking in human beings.

Direct Provision and international protection: The Commission raised concerns that Ireland should safeguard the rights of refugees, prevent loss of life and improve support for people during the process of seeking asylum. The Commission stated that the Government’s resettlement and relocation programme for 4,000 people offered an opportunity to fast-track those already in direct provision for over 5 years, as recommended in the Working Group Report on Direct Provision.

The IHREC’s observations on the International Protection Bill 2015 and its recommended changes to the system of direct provision, drew on the Commission’s policy paper on direct provision published in late 2014.

 

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