Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Annual Report 2019 Published

  • Significant legal successes against discriminatory advertising and disability discrimination in employment.
  • 31 Equality Reviews on Traveller accommodation issued to each City and County Council in the State.
  • 2,165 concerns raised by public to the Commission – disability discrimination the highest area of contact with almost a third of all equality related concerns.
  • Brexit-focused Joint Committee acted against any diminution of rights under the UK Withdrawal Agreement
  • Over 150 recommendations for State action to combat racism and discrimination presented to the UN to inform their review of Ireland.
  • €350,000 in grants to support projects nationwide focused on advancing socio-economic rights across the areas of housing and accommodation, health and decent work.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has today published its 2019 Annual Report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The report marks significantly increased activity for the Commission during its fifth full year of work as Ireland’s national human rights and equality body.

Acting Chief Commissioner Dr. Frank Conaty, in introducing the report addressed the impact of Covid-19 pointing out that it will shape Ireland for decades to come, but whether that impact is positive or negative is now in our hands:

“The response to COVID-19 across Ireland has seen a renewed social solidarity, and a focus on our shared dignity. Human Rights and equality must now be used as a clear lens through which we shape and share our national recovery.

“Recent months have shone a spotlight on the vulnerability of people in congregated institutional settings and in the Direct Provision system; challenged the value we place as a society on care and carers; threatened the hard-won independence of people with disabilities, forced us to examine our attitudes to others; and tested our understanding of what is classed as ‘essential’ work and the conditions endured by many in these roles.

“As communities and businesses across Ireland reopen, access to housing for the thousands of individuals and households who are currently homeless will remain an acute human rights issue, as will access to healthcare and the persistent discrimination for some members of our society in access to employment and services.

“While COVID-19 has highlighted the manner in which existing inequalities expose those impacted to increased risks of discrimination and the undermining of human rights, we must not lose sight of the challenges posed by other fractures in society, not least that posed by persistent racism.”

“In taking on these challenges we must be resilient and determined, and use our shared strength to build a better Ireland where we break down barriers to participation and build up the levels of equality for all.”


Legal Activity

As amicus curiae (friend of the court) the Commission in 2019 sought liberty to intervene in 6 new sets of proceedings across a range of important human rights and equality questions and was granted in all of them.

Significant legal interventions included:

  • Tackling discriminatory advertising – In August 2019 following an own-name case taken by the Commission, the Workplace Relations Commission found that Daft Media Ltd. was vicariously liable under the Equal Status Acts for discriminatory advertisements placed on its website by third parties.
  • On Reasonable Accommodation for people with disabilities – The Commission acted as amicus in a successful Supreme Court case (Marie Daly v. Nano Nagle), where the landmark judgement provided important clarifications about the right to reasonable accommodation in the workplace.
  • On the right to a fair trial – the Supreme Court held that the independence of the judiciary forms part of the essence of the fundamental right to a fair trial. (Celmer v Minister for Justice and Equality).
  • On procedures under which someone can be confined to a hospital or nursing home, and made a ward of court – The Supreme Court ruled that the voice of a Ward of Court person should be heard in proceedings that directly impact upon them and that guardians might have to be appointed to ensure representation (A.C. v Cork University and Others).
  • Equality Reviews In line with the Commission’s statutory powers under Section 32 of its founding legislation, the Commission invited 33 bodies to undertake equality reviews on specific aspects of their services. 31 of these related to consistent underspend of funds for Traveller accommodation by Local Authorities and these reviews are still ongoing.

Successful outcomes in cases where we provided direct legal representation during 2019 included:

A Syrian refugee refused a bank account on the ground of his nationality. Following the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication in his favour, the Syrian man commented: “The experience of humiliation, and being rejected, and having the door slammed in your the face because of something you were born with – such as race – or something forced on you, such as being a refugee; I do not want this experience to happen to others.”

A woman refused dental service upon disclosing HIV status. Commenting on her experience of discrimination after her successful ruling in the WRC, the woman said: “ I went in confident thinking they knew my status and it was ok for them to help me, but after what happened it has had a huge impact on my self-esteem. It took me back to the time when I first found out about my HIV status.” 

Direct Public Queries to our Your Rights service

In 2019 we saw 2,165 public queries on human rights and equality issues handled by the Commission’s Your Rights service. This represented a 27% increase from 2018.  (See infographic in editor’s note)

Of these queries:

  • The top three public concerns related to the Equal Status Acts, focused on discrimination on the grounds of disability (29%) housing assistance (17%) and race (12%).
  • The top three public concerns under the Employment Equality Acts focused on discrimination in employment and job seeking on the grounds of disability (36%), gender (24%) and the race ground (12%).
  • The top three public concerns in relation to human rights focused on access to justice (14%), homelessness and access to social housing (11%), and issues of decent work (11%).

New Research

The Commission brought forward new research to build evidence for equality and human rights monitoring policy and practice under its Research Programme on Human Rights and Equality on:

  • Caring and Unpaid Work in Ireland (published with the ESRI)
  • European Survey Data on Attitudes towards Human Rights and Equality (published with the ESRI)
  • A joint funding call with the Irish Research Council on Combatting Racism and Promoting Intercultural Understanding was launched

Influencing Policy and Practice

The Commission made specific recommendations to Government and policy makers on the need to:

  • review the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989
  • amend the Electoral Acts to safeguard the Civil Society Space in Ireland
  • establish an Electoral Commission for Ireland
  • prevent and combat violence against women as Ireland ratified the Istanbul Convention

Implementing the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty

Detailed guidance was published for public bodies on implementing the statutory Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty. Copies of the guidance were sent to all public bodies and organisations across the State.

Human Rights and Equality Treaty Monitoring:

A key focus of the Commission’s work in 2019 was Ireland’s examination before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Commission made a comprehensive report assessing Ireland’s performance since 2011 on combatting racial discrimination, and making over 150 recommendations for State action.

Other international reporting was provided to the UN Human Rights Council and to the Council of Europe on Ireland’s international obligations.

BREXIT – Work of the Joint Committee

As negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and EU continued, the Joint Committee, established under the Good Friday Agreement, with the Northern Human Rights Commission, continued work on mitigating the human rights and equality impacts of Brexit.

The Joint Committee:

  • appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality on the human rights and equality implications of Brexit
  • published new research identifying the potential human rights and equality gaps arising in justice arrangements between the UK and the EU.
  • held consultation meetings in Armagh in March with cross-border community groups and welcomed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to our Dublin offices for a meeting focused on Brexit impacts.


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Notes to editor:

The full report in English is available to download here.

Tá an leagan Gaeilge den tuarascáil bhliantúil ar fail anseo.


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 as required under EU equality law.

Article 28 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014 provides for the Commission to prepare an annual report to include information on the performance of the functions of the Commission during the period to which the report relates, and to lay it before the Houses of the Oireachtas.