Ireland to appear before UN Committee on Racial Discrimination for first time

Ireland will be appearing for the first time before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva on the 2nd and 3rd March 2005. Ireland ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2000 and its first National Report under CERD was submitted in early 2004 and will be examined by the UN Committee of experts over two days next week after which the Committee will issue its observations.

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) will be sending a delegation to attend the examination of Ireland’s first National Report. The delegation will draw the Committee’s attention to a number of areas where the IHRC believes the Government’s response to racism in Ireland has been inadequate or lacking in decisive leadership.

The Irish Human Rights Commission has also forwarded to the UN Committee its own submission in which it draws the attention of the Committee to various concerns it has in relation to Ireland’s compliance with its obligations under CERD.

"We look forward to the dialogue that will take place between the Government and the CERD Committee and to the publication of the Committee’s Observations, which we hope will spur the Government to take on a stronger and more proactive role in the struggle against racism. We also welcome the opportunity it provides the Irish Human Rights Commission to inform the CERD Committee of some of the concerns we have about significant problems facing Ireland in combating racism and intolerance." stated the President of the Commission, Dr. Maurice Manning.

The key areas highlighted by the Commission in its Submission are as follows:

The National Report does not appear to acknowledge the nature and scale of the problem of racism in Irish society. The Irish Government’s report is generally descriptive of measures being taken to combat racism, rather than presenting an accurate picture of the reality of racism in Ireland. The report demonstrates the inadequate nature of the available data in relation to the problems of racism and intolerance which makes impossible any comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness and appropriateness of those measures.

The Irish Government’s general position against directly incorporating CERD and other international human rights treaties in Irish law does not stand up to scrutiny, particularly given that Ireland has substantially incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and certain other treaties. The IHRC is also concerned that CERD is not being argued before the Irish courts and that awareness of CERD and its complaints mechanism is limited amongst lawyers, judges and the wider community.

The need for urgent action and leadership in raising awareness of the Convention including a major campaign of anti-racism training in schools and throughout the public service, especially for those whose interaction with members of ethnic minorities can be most sensitive and stressful, such as the Gardaí, immigration officers and social welfare officials.

Certain groups are identified as being particular vulnerable to racism and discrimination in Ireland:

Action needs to be taken to remedy the well-documented inequalities already suffered by Travellers. While welcoming the application by the Government of the provisions of CERD to Travellers the IHRC is concerned at the Government statement that it does not accept that Travellers constitute an ethnic minority. The IHRC is concerned that the refusal to recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority may have a detrimental effect on the Traveller community.

Asylum seekers as a group have been the target for a high proportion of racist assaults in Ireland in recent years. Official Irish attitudes to asylum-seekers have up to now been grudging and ungenerous and Government policy of direct provision of accommodation and maintenance and the prohibition on working exposes asylum-seekers to the risk of further isolation and ghettoisation of already marginalised people.

The IHRC has prioritised within its work the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrant workers and their families. Immigration policy has been haphazard and unplanned. The IHRC welcomes the stated intention of Government to overhaul the existing system and encourages them to do so as a matter of urgency. There is also a pressing need for special measures to be taken in relation to migrant workers in vulnerable sectors of the economy and migrant workers and their families with special needs, such as language support needs.

The particular vulnerability of women from ethnic minority communities, including Traveller women, requires special attention. There is a pressing need for improved monitoring and data collection on the problem of trafficking of women and girls into Ireland, particularly given the scale of the problem in the European region. There is no adequate policy in place at present to address this problem from either the perspective of protection of the women involved or of prevention of such trafficking.

A member of the IHRC’s four person delegation to Geneva, Commissioner Michael Farrell, stated: "Our submission to the Committee highlights some of the issues that need to be addressed urgently and seriously if we are to build a truly equal and intercultural society in Ireland. We acknowledge there have also been good initiatives and particularly welcome the Government’s fulfilling of its commitment to draw up a National Plan of Action Against Racism (NPAR), We would stress, however, that the NPAR can only work if the Government allocates significant resources to it and we would welcome support from the CERD Committee for the argument that such an undertaking requires the commitment of substantial additional funding.

Dr. Alpha Connelly, Chief Executive of the IHRC, and a member of the delegation, said, "We look forward to the Committee members discussing with the State’s representatives the concerns we have highlighted and those raised by other interested bodies who have also made submissions. We hope that our contribution will help to inform that discussion and make its outcome more fruitful for the members of ethnic minorities in Ireland and for the development of a vibrant intercultural society here."

A spokesperson from the Human Rights Commission is available for interview.

Please contact: Mary Ruddy, Senior Human Rights Awareness Officer
Tel. 01-8589601 e-mail: info@ihrc.ie

IHRC, Jervis House, Jervis Street, Dublin 1. www.ihrc.ie

Notes for Editor

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) is an independent statutory body established in 2001 to advise on the protection of human rights in Ireland. It has its origin partly in the Good Friday peace agreement which provided for the establishment of Human Rights Commissions in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and mandated them to work closely together. From the beginning the IHRC decided that combating racism would be one of its key priorities and have worked closely with the Equality Authority and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) in this area. The IHRC have also established a joint sub-committee on Racism with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to deal with the issue throughout the island of Ireland.

The four member delegation from the IHRC will comprise of the following:

Commissioner Michael Farrell who is convenor of the Commission’s Racism Committee

Commissioner Nuala Kelly, a member of the Racism Committee

Dr. Alpha Connelly, Chief Executive of the IHRC

Mr. Liam Herrick, Senior Legislation and Policy Review Officer.

A copy of the IHRC’s Submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is available.

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