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Ireland / Crisis: “Put people at the centre of policy measures,” says UN expert on extreme poverty

GENEVA (21 January 2011) – The economic and financial crisis in Ireland poses a disproportionate threat to vulnerable segments in the country who benefitted little from its economic boom in the first place, the UN Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda has warned.

At the end of her fact-finding mission to Ireland, Ms. Sepúlveda welcomed measures adopted during the last decade to considerably reduce the risk of poverty, but considered that “the milestones achieved in social protection face a serious threat.” The expert visited the country to study the Government’s efforts and challenges in alleviating poverty and social exclusion, domestically and internationally.

“Ireland’s problems in the long term will not be solved if inequality increases or if the most vulnerable do not have a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society in general,” she said, calling on the authorities to incorporate into their recovery plan a comprehensive and consistent policy to protect the most vulnerable members of society in full compliance with human rights standards.

“Human rights must be particularly protected in times of economic uncertainty. When designing and implementing policy measures aimed at recovery, the authorities must assess their impact on the most vulnerable groups; consider their appropriateness; and examine alternatives aimed at protecting such groups as a matter of priority.”

Ms. Sepúlveda was particularly concerned at the impact of cuts in expenditure on social protection and public services. “The reductions will mean a decline in services and an increase in costs to access them, leading to further poverty and social exclusion,” she warned. “Retrogressive measures in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights need to be fully justified in the context of maximum available resources.”

The communities most disproportionately affected by the crisis include children, single parents, persons with disabilities, migrants, Travellers, homeless people, the working poor, people living in rural areas, refugees and asylum seekers.

The human rights expert expressed particular concern about children, especially in single-parent households. “The substantial cuts in child payments and services in recent budgets can exacerbate their situation, leading to an increase in the worryingly high child poverty rates. This would represent a major step backward for Ireland.”

Ms. Sepulveda was impressed by the commitment and innovative services provided by communities and civil society organizations. “The active and meaningful participation of civil society must be ensured in the design, implementation and evaluation of all public services, at all levels of decision-making,” she emphasized. “Nonetheless, they should not be considered as replacing Government responsibility towards the delivery of quality social services.”

The Independent Expert welcomed the Government’s commitment to reach the target of 0.7% of GNP on Official Development Assistance (ODA) by 2015. “This reflects the great value Irish society assigns to international assistance for developing countries. I’m sure that despite the domestic crisis, Ireland will continue to play a key role as international donor.”

During her stay, the Independent Expert held meetings with the Minister for Equality, Human Rights and Integration, Ms Mary White TD, senior Government officials from departments working on poverty alleviation and social policies, as well as members of the Oireachtas and representatives of the Office of the Taoiseach. She also met with representatives of the Irish Human Rights Commission, civil society organizations and representatives of communities affected by poverty. The delegation visited a number of community projects in Dublin, Limerick, Galway and the Midlands, where people living in poverty and social exclusion shared their personal experiences.

The Independent Expert’s findings and recommendations to the Government of Ireland and other stakeholders will be included in a report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011.

Ms. Sepúlveda has just made public her preliminary observations after her fact-finding mission to Ireland was interrupted last week due to illness. The UN Independent Expert’s end-of-mission full statement is available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10658&LangID=E

Learn more about the Independent Expert mandate and work: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/PovertyExpertIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Ireland: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/IEIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Allegra Franchetti (Tel.: + 41-22 917 9340 / email: ieextremepoverty@ohchr.org).