In June 2015, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights examined Ireland’s progress in protecting, respecting and fulfilling rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). For the first time in more than 13 years the Committee considered a report from the Irish State under this particular international human rights treaty which it ratified in 1989.
Chief Commissioner Emily Logan briefed a sub-group of the wider UN Committee in Geneva in December 2014 about the current situation of economic, social and cultural rights in Ireland based on an initial submission by IHREC. Following this meeting, the Committee published a list of priority questions for the Irish State on its rights record.
In May 2015, the IHREC produced a more detailed analysis of the State’s performance under the ICESCR and at the beginning of June held a media briefing . Ms Logan, accompanied by Members of the Commission Dr Mary Murphy and Frank Conaty, opened the session in Geneva on the morning of 8 June by making an oral statement to the Committee in the Commission’s capacity as Ireland’s National Human Rights Institution. In this statement, Ms Logan outlined the Irish State’s response to the financial crisis and the harsh impact of expenditure cuts on services and supports for some of the most marginalised groups in Irish society. Mr Conaty focused on the lack of progress in relation to the socio-economic rights of persons with disabilities.
Over the course of 8 and 9 June, different UN Committee members put a series of informed and challenging questions to the State delegation led by Minister of State Seán Sherlock TD. The Committee called on the State to account for its actions in relation to the introduction and continuing use of austerity measures. Ultimately, the session proved much too short to adequately address all of the rights-based issues falling with the scope of the ICESCR.
On 22 June 2015, the Committee issued its hard-hitting Concluding Observations calling on the State to phase out austerity measures and restore pre-crisis levels of expenditure for public services. The IHREC is pleased to note that the Committee’s observations clearly reflect the recommendations it made in its report. The Committee’s concerns, along with its suggestions to the State on how to better realise these important rights in the domestic context, will inform the IHREC’s work in coming months.