State COVID Planning Must Not Discriminate Against People with Disabilities

Proactive engagement needed to address human rights and equality concerns before they become problems

People with disabilities are still being left behind, and excluded from decision-making, when it comes to COVID-19 planning by the State, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has today warned.

The recent issue of school closures and disabled students’ specific educational needs is the latest example of where human rights and equality issues highlighted during previous lockdowns are not being proactively factored into planning for service delivery.

The recent decision to close schools when we know there are young people who cannot learn digitally is a significant example. These young people have a right to education and for that education to be an “appropriate education” which meets their needs.

The Commission today renews its consistent calls for an explicit human rights and equality-based approach to be taken to the provision of public services which is fully inclusive of people with disabilities in line with the statutory Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty.

COVID 19 has already impacted, and will continue to impact, different people more acutely than others, including older people, people with disabilities, residents in Direct Provision, Travellers and Roma, homeless people, people experiencing domestic violence, and people in precarious employment. In education, children and young people who are already economically disadvantaged lose out more if they do not have equipment to access remote learning. Our collective response to the acute challenge of COVID 19 must take account of the particular needs of these and other groups.

Actions to protect individual lives and public health during this emergency should be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory, and should be informed by human rights and equality principles. This should apply to the provision of any further education, policing, housing, international protection and social welfare measures, access to healthcare and immunisations, and how our return to work and normal life will be delivered.

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“We have heard the distress of parents and carers of children with disabilities who have suffered because of the decision to shut educational services. For some families, access to education is a more prominent factor in a child’s developmental needs. Suspension of such services can lead to stagnation and regression, and that ground can be difficult or sometimes impossible to recover.

“We understand that these are exceptional times, and truly challenging for those tasked with delivering public services safely. However, when it comes to the balancing of rights in a crisis, it is critical that people with disabilities are not discriminated against. One size does not fit all

“In the immediate term, it is essential that the practical measures required to give effect to the rights of people with disabilities and to guard against discrimination, indirect or otherwise, are factored into service planning and contingency planning for this acute phase of the COVID 19 crisis.

“In the medium to longer term, the policy measures which can mitigate the kind of disproportionate impact of an event like the COVID-19 pandemic on marginalised groups can be identified and dealt with before they arise, if there is a real commitment to human rights and equality.”


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / (087) 0697095

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

The Commission’s June 2020 submission to the Oireachtas COVID-19 Committee on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities is available below:

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 for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.