Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Annual Report 2020 Published

  • Disability discrimination the highest area of public contact representing 54% of all equality related concerns
  • COVID-focused work on emergency legislation; policing of pandemic-related powers and issues faced by people with disabilities and others.
  • New role as Ireland’s National Rapporteur on the Trafficking of Human Beings
  • Work in the courts on family reunification, the rights of children and the procedure to revoke Irish citizenship; also significant legal work on equality reviews focused on Traveller-Specific Accommodation
  • Racism challenged through new research and a national public awareness campaign
  • €500,000 in grants support projects nationwide promoting access to rights and justice

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has today published its 2020 Annual Report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The report highlights significant Covid-19 focused activity for the Commission during its sixth full year of work as Ireland’s national human rights and equality body.

Chief Commissioner, Sinéad Gibney introducing the report addressed the Covid-19 crisis, the unprecedented challenge to the State, and its obligation to protect the rights to life and health:

“From the outset of the pandemic, the Commission stressed the need for the State to have regard to the human rights and equality impacts of its emergency decision making. During the year the Commission addressed the human rights and equality implications of the Covid-19 crisis and its disproportionate impact on some people in our communities.

“Women have fared worse, taking on a larger share of home commitments brought about by home-working and home-schooling, experiencing increased levels of domestic violence and a greater impact of the loss of work, representing a majority of those employed in precarious and part-time labour.

“Poor living conditions have made it harder for people in or at risk of poverty to adhere to public health measures. Many are also on the wrong side of the digital divide, making the switch to online services, which eased the experience for so many of us, limited or sometimes impossible.

“People living in Direct Provision similarly found that living conditions created greater exposure to the virus. Our prison population fared well in terms of infection but bore the flipside of those increased restrictions and the distress that this caused.

“People with disabilities saw a rollback of services that has been devastating, causing stagnation or indeed regression for some, and extreme isolation for many others.

“By far, the group who experienced the greatest loss of life were the older people in our community. The experience of people in nursing homes and other congregated settings has proven once again that this is not a viable solution for our times.”


Legal Activity

As amicus curiae (friend of the court) the Commission in 2020 sought liberty to intervene in 3 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:

  • Refugee family reunification– In June 2020, the Supreme Court recognised the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence on the rights of refugees to family unity. The outcome paved the way for KN and MAM to seek family reunification through the formal process, and the Court also acknowledged that this judgment may also work to the benefit of 50 others in similar circumstances (MAM v Minister for Justice and Equality and KN v Minister for Justice and Equality).
  • On the procedure for the revocation of Irish citizenship. – In its October 2020 judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that the procedure to revoke Irish citizenship is unconstitutional. It held that the loss of citizenship is a matter of “grave significance” and ruled that the process for revocation must be robust (Ali Charaf Damache v Minister for Justice and Equality).
  • On rights of the child and minor wards of court – the Commission acted as amicus in a Supreme Court case concerning the medical treatment of an eleven-year-old boy who suffered life changing neurological injuries in an accident (In the matter of JJ).
  • Equality ReviewsTogether with its annual report, the Commission has also today published accounts of equality reviews for Ireland’s local authorities, focused on their provision of Traveller-specific accommodation to Members of the Traveller Community
  • Codes of Practice The Commission has prepared three codes of practice, awaiting Ministerial approval, on Practice on Equal Pay; revised Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work and Code of Practice on the Rights of Families at Inquests

Successful outcomes in cases where we provided direct legal representation during 2020 included:

A Captain in the Air Corps discriminated against on the gender ground. Following the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication in her favour, the woman commented: “I hope that what has been achieved in this outcome and determination will shine some light on the areas of darkness that needed to be revealed within the Irish Defence Forces.  I hope that this small victory will somewhat; smooth the path, pave the way forward, and inspire those left behind, to have their difficulties, hurts, issues and problems of; discrimination, victimisation, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment heard and subsequently addressed in a more expedient fashion than my seven year struggle.”

A man successfully challenging age discrimination in An Garda Síochána. Commenting on his experience of discrimination after his case was referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, paving the way for his WRC case to proceed the man said: I’m glad that finally after nearly 14 years, in my case, a decision has been reached which I hope will have a positive influence on the recruitment age for an Garda Síochána, and indeed will reflect positively with regard to how potential applicants across all sectors are perceived irrespective of age.” 

Direct Public Queries to our Your Rights service

In 2020 we saw 1,732 public queries on human rights and equality issues handled by the Commission’s Your Rights service.

Of these queries:

  • The top three public concerns related to the Equal Status Acts, focused on discrimination on the grounds of disability (34%) housing assistance (19%) and race (15%).
  • The top three public concerns under the Employment Equality Acts focused on discrimination in employment and job seeking on the grounds of disability (35%), gender (20%) and the race ground (17%).
  • The top three public concerns in relation to human rights focused on decent work (16%), covid-19 related (15%), and issues related to homelessness and social housing (12%).

Research Building Evidence for Policy Progress

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:

  • Hidden Versus Revealed Attitudes: A List Experiment on Support for Minorities in Ireland (Published with the ESRI)
  • Legal analysis of incorporating into UK law the birthright commitment under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998
  • Continuing EU Citizenship Rights Opportunities and Benefit in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Challenging Racism in Ireland

The Commission launched a national public awareness campaign to raise awareness of the impact of racism under the banner “Because We’re all Human. Means We’re all Equal”.

Influencing Policy and Practice

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

·       policing of pandemic related powers

·       observations on national guidance on prioritisation in access to critical care in a pandemic

·       the Impact of Covid-19 on people on direct provision

·       the temporary wage subsidy scheme and women on maternity leave

·       the Impact of Covid-19 on people with disabilities

·       On the legislative framework underpining the State’s Covid-19 response

Implementing the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty

A webinar for all Government Departments on implementing the statutory Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty took place in 2020 July. Two guidance documents for public bodies were published focused on Covid-19 and the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty and a tool for a consultative approach to implementing the Duty.

Monitoring Ireland’s Compliance with International Obligations

The Commission made recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council and to the Council of Europe on Ireland’s international obligations in relation to the:

  • UN Convention Against Torture
  • UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • European Social Charter

New Role as Ireland’s National Rapporteur on the Trafficking of Human Beings

In October 2020 the Commission was designated Ireland’s Independent National Rapporteur on the Trafficking of Human Beings. As National Rapporteur, the Commission monitors Ireland’s performance against the State’s international obligations.


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager

01 8589601 / 087 0697095

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Notes to editor:

The full Annual Report 2020 is available to download here.

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.