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05 July 2022
The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Ireland on how it implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with Committee Experts praising legislation combatting hate crimes, and raising issues concerning rights abuses at “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions.
A Committee Expert welcomed the publication of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crimes) Bill 2021, which made discrimination and prejudice based on gender, race, disability and other factors an aggravating circumstance in criminal offenses. Would that bill be adopted in the near future?
Addressing rights abuses at “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions, a Committee Expert said that a satisfactory mechanism had not been introduced to fight impunity and promote the right to the truth for thousands of victims. Had there been criminal consequences for members of the Catholic Church who had committed rape or other sexual violence? Were criminal investigations ongoing?
Roderic O'Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and head of the delegation, introducing the report, said that the draft Hate Crimes Bill created new, aggravated forms of criminal offences, where those offences were motivated by gender, race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation or disability. The legislation would provide the necessary means to prosecute perpetrators who committed hate crimes based on a protected characteristic.
On institutional abuse, Mr. O’Gorman said that the Government had made wide-ranging commitments to addressing the priority needs and concerns of those who had spent time in “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions. Those included the Birth Information and Tracing Act of 2022, draft legislation to establish a redress payment scheme, and another draft bill allowing for exhumation, identification and dignified reburial of the remains of infants at the Tuam burial site. The Government had also recently approved a national memorial to honour those who had endured institutional trauma.
In concluding remarks, Mr. O’Gorman said that the review had been a valuable opportunity to outline the many areas in which the State had made progress in promoting and protecting human rights, and to identify areas in which further effort was needed. The Government would work to further promote human rights, and appreciated the contribution of civil society to this work.
Photini Pazartzis, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, acknowledged the continued work of Ireland toward improving human rights. She welcomed legislative efforts to combat corruption, address violence against women and gender violence, and enhance gender equality. Those efforts now needed to be operationalised. She expressed hope that human rights in Ireland would be further promoted through the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations.
The delegation of Ireland was made up of representatives of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; Department of Foreign Affairs; Department of Justice; Department of Social Protection; Office of the Attorney General; Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; Department of Education; and the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Human Rights Committee’s one hundred and thirty-fifth session is being held from 27 June to 27 July. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee is next scheduled to meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 5 July, to consider the fifth periodic report of Georgia (CCPR/C/GEO/5).
The Committee has before it the sixth periodic report of Ireland (CCPR/C/URY/6).
Presentation of the Report
RODERIC O'GORMAN, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and head of the delegation, said that the State had repeatedly failed to protect vulnerable citizens who were institutionalised in “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions. Elements of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report did not live up to survivors’ expectations, and Mr. O’Gorman recognised the hurt that this had caused. The Government had made wide-ranging commitments to addressing the priority needs and concerns of those who had spent time in those institutions. Those commitments had been consolidated in the “Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions.”
The commitments included the enactment of the Birth Information and Tracing Act of 2022, which provided right of access to birth certificates, birth and early life information for all persons who were adopted, boarded out, the subject of an illegal birth registration, or who otherwise had questions in relation to their origins. The State was also drafting legislation to establish a “Mother and Baby Institutions” payment scheme, providing financial payments and health support to eligible persons. Another Bill, due to be passed through parliament later this week, would allow for exhumation, identification and dignified reburial of the remains of the infants at the Tuam burial site. The Government had also recently approved a national memorial to honour those who had endured institutional trauma.
On the issue of termination of pregnancy, a law governing access to termination of pregnancy in Ireland, had been enacted in 2018, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act. It embedded the termination of pregnancy service as a normal part of the Irish healthcare system. Further, the State was developing a law that would establish safe access zones to protect the rights of patients using health services and their family members. The law would also seek to protect health services staff from intimidation or harassment.
In January, the Minister for Justice opened a scheme to regularise thousands of undocumented migrants and their families who were living in Ireland. The six-month scheme was designed to give long-term undocumented people living in the State the chance to regularise their status, access the labour market and begin their path to citizenship. As of 30th June 2022, 38,789 people had arrived in Ireland after fleeing the war in Ukraine. Those granted Temporary Protection had immediate access to the labour market, social welfare, accommodation and other State supports as needed. Ireland would continue to develop measures to assist those fleeing Ukraine.
The State had made a commitment to replace the system of accommodation for applicants for international protection with a new system based on a non-profit, human rights-based approach. Under the new system, an applicant would initially be accommodated in one of six new integration and reception centres. Residents would remain in the centres for a maximum of four months, after which time persons still being processed would transition to a house, apartment or own room in the community.
Last year, a draft Hate Crime Bill was published. It created new, aggravated forms of criminal offences, where those offences were motivated by gender, race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation or disability. The legislation would provide the necessary means to prosecute perpetrators who committed hate crimes based on a protected characteristic. Ireland was also actively engaging with proposed measures to tackle illegal content online under the Digital Services Act. The State also intended to introduce two new protected grounds of discrimination within domestic equality legislation, one based on socio-economic status, and one based on gender identity.
The Irish Programme for Government contained a commitment to ban conversion therapy. The Government had commissioned research into the issue which was expected to be completed in August 2022. The research would provide an evidence base to support the development of legislation that will prohibit the practice of conversion therapy.
The Department of Social Protection and the Data Protection Commission had agreed a settlement of the Department’s appeal regarding the processing of personal data in relation to the Public Services Card. As a result of that settlement, the Department could continue to process personal data to authenticate a person’s identity and issue them with a Public Services Card that could be used for accessing public services.
A new bill would provide a statutory basis for existing police powers of search, arrest and detention; determining information to be recorded and how that information could be used. The bill was designed to provide a robust and modern statutory framework for use by An Garda Síochána of digital recording devices to support their functions. Furthermore, last year, a high level taskforce was established to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system.
In recent years, there had been progress toward increasing the numbers of multi-denominational primary schools. The State’s objective was to have at least 400 multi-denominational schools in the primary system by 2030.
The Electoral Reform Bill was undergoing reform, including provisions to establish a statutory, independent electoral commission. The new bill aimed to increase participation in the State’s electoral and democratic processes, especially among marginalised or traditionally under-represented groups.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said that Ireland had partially applied the Covenant in domestic law, but the State party report did not explain how the State intended to enforce all the rights of the Covenant. Did the State party intend to bring the status of the Covenant in line with that of the European Commission on Human Rights, and fully apply it?
The High Court had criticised the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes as being marred by many deficiencies. The Committee on the Rights of the Child and eight United Nations Special Rapporteurs had severely criticised the bills that built on that investigative report. Despite recent progress, a satisfactory mechanism had not been introduced to fight impunity and promote the right to the truth for thousands of victims. Had there been criminal consequences for members of the Catholic Church who had committed rape or other sexual violence? Were criminal investigations ongoing? Why did the State require people who accepted financial compensation to give up their right to legal action? Did the State intend to provide automatic and effective access for mothers to information concerning their children, or give adopted persons access to personal data?
Did the State intend to provide access to abortion to all women, without discrimination based on their economic situation in particular? How would the State ensure that the objections of certain doctors and activists did not impede women's right to access abortion?
Another Committee Expert commended the fact that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission had “A” status. Funds allocated to that Commission were constantly increasing. Did the Commission have the legal ability to monitor places of detention? Could it make unannounced visits? What actions did the Commission take in response to individual complaints?
Another Expert said that, according to the Global Corruption Barometer, 42 per cent of Irish people believed that the authorities ‘rarely or never’ took appropriate action against officials who engaged in corruption. What was the reason for the reported failure of the 2018 Corruption Offences Act to sufficiently address bribery? Did the Government intend to re-table the public sector standards bill, a measure taken to prevent corrupt payments to politicians? Did the State intend to amend the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022 to provide protections for whistle-blowers in workplaces? What investigations had been conducted and convictions imposed relating to corruption in State bodies?
What was the current state of reform to article 41.2 of the Constitution on the role of women in the home to render it gender-neutral? What were the major achievements of the 2017-2020 National Strategy for Women and Girls? Would a successor to that strategy be introduced?
The Expert welcomed the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012, which reduced by half the State funding provided to political parties that did not have at least 30 per cent female candidates at the 2016 general election, increasing to 40 per cent after seven years. However, in the 2019 local elections, women accounted for only 29 per cent of all local candidates and 23.9 per cent of those subsequently elected. Did the Government intend to increase gender quotas to 40 per cent and extend them to local elections, Seanad elections and European Parliament elections by the end of 2022, and introduce measures to support the political participation of underrepresented groups? How would the State party ensure that the Gender Pay Gap Information Act of June 2021 was fully implemented?
The Expert welcomed Ireland’s 2019 ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 2018. The Expert also welcomed the adoption of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016 – 2021. What campaigns and prevention programmes had been carried out by the Government regarding domestic and gender-based violence? What measures did the State party intend to adopt to improve statistics on such violence, including through ethnic identifiers? How did the State intend to facilitate complaints by victims and ensure better assistance and protection to victims throughout the investigation and prosecution process? There was limited availability, particularly in rural locations, of reliable support services for victims, and domestic violence refuge accommodation. How would the State ensure the provision of legal aid, specialised and accessible services and refuge spaces across the country?
Another Expert asked for more information on the regulations introduced by the State in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that restricted individual rights guaranteed under the Covenant. Had the State party ensured that such restrictive measures met the strict requirements of the Covenant? Had the State party notified the Secretary-General of those restrictions?
The Expert said that the formal recognition of the Traveller community as a distinct ethnic group in March 2019 was a welcome development, as was the launch of the National Travellers and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021. However, the community reportedly had a high unemployment rate, and negative stereotypes about the community persisted. What measures did the State party intend to take to tackle the discrimination that this community faced?
People of African descent were also reportedly discriminated against in every aspect of life, and a high level of racist hate crimes had been reported. What measures did the State party intend to take to combat racism and promote intercultural awareness?
Undocumented migrants were prevented from accessing social benefits such as health care and other essential social services because of their ‘irregular’ situation. Did the State party plan to guarantee basic goods, services, and healthcare for irregular migrants on an equal footing with third country nationals?
Another Committee Expert said that hate speech and hate crimes had increased significantly during the pandemic, in particular against people of Asian origin, and the police, prosecutors and the judiciary were reportedly not sufficiently trained on hate speech or hate crimes. What concrete measures had been taken to improve the fight against those crimes? The Expert welcomed the publication of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crimes) Bill 2021, which made discrimination and prejudice based on gender, race, disability and other factors an aggravating circumstance in criminal offenses. Would that bill be adopted in the near future?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation, noting that Ireland had a dualist system, said it had not incorporated the Covenant directly in domestic legislation, yet it had the same weight in courts as domestic legislation. There were also several domestic laws that reflected elements of the Covenant and other international treaties. Since 2003, the European Convention on Human Rights had been incorporated in domestic law on a sub-Constitutional level. Ireland was bound by the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Irish legal system provided appropriate protections based on the provisions of the Covenant.
The police force investigated all complaints it received. Regarding the report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, the police had concluded that it did not contain conclusive evidence of abuse. To date, 86 complaints related to Mother and Baby Homes had been submitted and duly investigated. Judicial cases had found that the Commission should have consulted with survivors before publication of the report, and acknowledged survivors’ grievances with certain elements of the report. The national memorial centre would provide for a better articulation of the experiences of survivors. With the introduction of new legislation, former residents of Mother and Baby Homes were now able to fully access information about themselves carried by those institutions. An advisory board on which included survivors had also been created.
There had been significant developments related to the issue of voluntary termination of pregnancy. In 2017, a joint committee on the issue submitted its report, and a referendum on the topic was held in 2018. Following that, a law on termination of pregnancy was introduced in 2018 that allowed for terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. There were currently around 400 practices offering terminations. The Government was working on building capacity to increase the number of practices capable of providing the service. Medical practitioners could object to performing terminations, but institutions could not. Women were never criminalised in respect to their own pregnancy. Medical practitioners were also not criminalised for performing the practice up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. A review of the 2018 legislation would be carried out in 2022. A study had been conducted surveying women who had accessed abortion services and service providers to determine barriers to safe access, and revisions to legislation would be developed based on its findings.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission was not permitted to conduct visits to detention centres. However, inspections were carried out by a range of inspection bodies. Further, under new legislation, the Commission would have a role in overseeing the activities of those inspection bodies.
Foreign bribery offenses could be prosecuted if they affected Ireland and would be crimes if committed in Ireland. The State was reviewing current corruption legislation. Actions taken to counter corruption had progressed, including the introduction of training against corruption for public officials and the development of tools to identify corruption. A council on preventing corporate corruption would be established in 2022. More resources had been provided to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution to identify and prevent corruption.
Ireland had established a Citizen’s Assembly on Gender Equality, and this had recommended several measures to promote gender equality, including a revision to the Constitution on the role of women in the household. The Government planned to hold a referendum on this at a later date. There were no clear provisions on maternity leave for Members of Parliament, and the Government planned to introduce such provisions. Corporations were required to report on gender pay gaps, explain the reasons for them, and work to address them. Paid paternity leave had been extended to seven weeks. All three national equality strategies were being reviewed together, and this review would inform the successor strategies that the Government planned to implement next year.
2012 legislation linked State political funding to political parties having at least 30 per cent female representation. A commission had been established to support the participation in politics of marginalised segments of society. A comprehensive review of legislation on public funding of political parties was planned. The commission would work to further increase the representation of women in political bodies. Ireland aimed to have 25 per cent female representation on the boards of private companies by the end of 2023. At present, 28 per cent of directors of listed companies were female.
There was an epidemic of domestic and gender-based violence in Ireland. The Government had developed a national strategy to combat that violence which focused on prevention. A new domestic violence agency was being developed to coordinate preventative actions. Ireland had also committed to doubling the number of refuge spaces it provided to victims to 280 spaces, and increasing spaces in both urban and rural areas. The State was committed to reviewing the police response to such incidents, and to compelling perpetrators rather than victims to leave their homes. The “Still Here” campaign had been conducted to make the public aware that services provided by the Government were still available during the pandemic. The State had invited non-Governmental organizations to fill gaps in services it provided. Training was being provided for members of the judiciary to improve their understanding of the position of victims of trauma. The new domestic violence agency would be tasked with improving disaggregated data collection on violence. The State was working on implementing measures to protect victims within the judicial system, such as through separating victims and perpetrators using screens.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictive health measures that were implemented were proportionate to the health threat at the time. Restrictions were implemented in accordance with the provisions of the Covenant.
The Government was working on improving draft legislation addressing hate crimes and racism. A new law was also being prepared that aimed to prohibit online racism.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked for updated information of the number of deaths in long-term care institutions after May 2021, including the percentage of deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Had the State assessed the adequacy of the existing regulatory and protection framework governing COVID-19 patients and others in institutional care settings?
A person could still be imprisoned for failure to pay fines. Under what circumstances could a person be subject to imprisonment for failure to pay fines, and how were such penalties compatible with the Covenant? How many persons had been imprisoned for failure to pay fines during the reporting period?
The Expert commended the International Protection Act of 2015, which defined the procedure for determining refugee status, granting subsidiary protections, and granting discretionary permission to remain in the State on humanitarian grounds. However, according to the State party’s report, processing times still took approximately 18 months, in contrast to the State’s own commitment to reducing median waiting times to nine months or less. What concrete steps did Ireland intend to take to deliver first instance decisions on applications for international protection within a reasonable time, and speed up the appeals process?
The Expert also noted the State’s commitment to end the direct provision system and replace it with a new international protection accommodation system based on a “human rights and equality” model. What progress had been made toward transitioning to this new system? There were reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in direct provision centres, inappropriate care for aged persons and pregnant women, and harassment experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers. How did the State intend to address those problems?
Another Committee Expert said that there were allegations that the police and private security forces had used excessive force during recently organised protests against the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures. Had the State investigated those police practices? Did private security forces contribute to maintaining order at protests? What was their share of responsibility?
How did the 2018 law aiming to improve access to non-Catholic schools ensure a fair approach to admission policies? The President, judges and members of the Council of State were required to take a religious oath upon taking office. A proposed bill abolishing that requirement had been abandoned due to the dissolution of the National Parliament, Oireachtas, in 2020. What was the state of that matter today? Was discrimination on religious grounds permissible in workplaces under the Equality Act 2015?
How was the Censorship of Publications Act of 1929 compatible with the provisions of the Covenant and the Constitution? What was the status of plans to amend that law?
Another Committee Expert welcomed the efforts of the Irish Prison Service to carry out a comprehensive review of its 2007 Prison Rules to take account of the new European Prison Rules 2020. Significant work had been completed on possible changes and those were currently under consideration by the Irish Prison Service. When would those changes be implemented? Persons deprived of their liberty had recently died due to insufficient access to physical and mental health care and monitoring.
The prison service was currently operating below capacity in all prisons except Limerick Women's Prison. Why was that prison an exception? What was the State’s progress in separating pre-trial detainees from convicted detainees? Only one prison had a violence reduction unit. Were there plans to introduce such a unit in other prisons? Why were two reports on the situation in women’s prisons not to be publicly released?
Did the State party continue to impose a registration requirement on trade unions which impeded the exercise of the right to freedom of association?
Another Committee Expert asked about the main reasons for the relatively few human trafficking cases that had been prosecuted in Ireland. The first two convictions were only handed down in June 2021. What were the sanctions imposed on perpetrators? How many people had benefitted in the last four years from support services provided to victims of trafficking by the Reception and Integration Agency? How many support centres were available to victims? The Irish Human Rights Commission had expressed concern about the decreasing number of people being officially identified as victims of trafficking, especially child victims. What was the reason for that? How many children had been identified as victims, and which services were provided to them? Would specific measures be included in the forthcoming Human Trafficking Action Plan for the establishment of gender-specific accommodation for victims of trafficking, and would conditional assistance to victims of trafficking, linked to cooperation with investigative authorities, be removed?
The Expert also asked if the new Electoral Commission would be mandated to enforce standards in political discourse and address discriminatory rhetoric. Would the Commission be obligated to promote the participation of women, young people, migrants and people from ethnic minority backgrounds? Would the State party cooperate with civil society toward that aim?
Another Committee Expert asked why the State had not adopted a human rights-based approach to the investigation of incidents in Mother and Baby institutions?
What were the reasons for the over-representation of Travellers within the criminal justice system?
There were report that persons requiring psychiatric care were often forced into institutions, medicated without their permission, and subjected to electroshocks and forced isolation. What measures were under consideration to strengthen respect for patients’ rights to consent to treatment, and prohibit non-consensual treatment? Children continued to be admitted into adult institutions. When would the State party put an end to that practice?
The Expert called for more information on the agreement concluded between the Department of Social Protection and the Data Protection Commission. Did it concern the personal data collected for identity cards? Why was that card necessary to access State services? How was user data collected and processed? The police’s surveillance powers had reportedly been significantly increased by the 2021 Digital Recordings Bill. What additional powers did the bill grant?
Another Committee Expert welcomed the Government’s efforts in exhuming burial sites. What actions was the Government taking to mark the Decade of People of African Descent? Was the Government planning to extend the measures it had implemented to expedite the processing of refugees from Ukraine to refugees from other countries?
Another Committee Expert noted that Ireland had committed to preventing conversion therapies four years ago. When would legislation banning that be enacted? Would the State party commit to banning forced surgery of intersex persons? Would the State party implement a national plan to combat hate speech and hate crimes?
Responses by the Delegation
The Fines, Payment and Recovery Act 2014 was introduced to reduce the number of prison sentences for non-payment of fines. Committal rates for non-payment had been reduced because of that Act. The collection aspects of the Fines Act were under review.
The COVID-19 pandemic had particularly affected persons in institutions such as nursing homes. There had been 7,400 deaths due to COVID-19, of which around 2,500 cases were contracted in nursing homes. There was a regulatory framework in place that provided for independent inspection of nursery homes.
Policing of protests was a Garda (police) operational matter. Private security firms did not carry out law enforcement activities.
There had been a significant increase in applications for international protection, which had led to increased waiting times, in spite of processes being made more efficient. Interviews were not required if questionnaires revealed that the applicant was clearly in need of international protection. Questionnaires had also been shortened and published in 12 languages. The backlog of unprocessed applications had been reduced in 2022. Average processing times for asylum applications were 13 months in 2021. Processing times had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, when face-to-face interviews were not possible. The State aimed to reduce waiting times to six months by June 2023, and it had implemented video interviews toward that aim. A number of accommodation units had been purchased to increase accommodation for people seeking international protection. There was also an integration system in place, and funding for non-Governmental organizations that supported seekers of international protection. The Government aimed to end the system of direct provision. There were policies in place to protect such persons from sexual and gender-based violence, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.
The Irish Prison Service was committed to the provision of safe prison services. It had worked to ensure that COVID-19 infection control measures were implemented. After the vaccination of prisoners, such measures had been relaxed. The State was developing a support programme for persons with mental health issues in the judicial system.
The delegation said the Admissions to School Act of 2018 ensured that every school must permit the access by all children regardless of religion or cultural background. The Act allowed for parents to contribute to schools’ admissions policies. The State aimed to establish 400 multi-denominational schools by 2024. Schools were required to respect the religious freedom of students. A review of the Act had been conducted, and the Act would be revised based on proposals received.
Terms and conditions of employment were subject to collective bargaining between employers and trade unions. State legislation guaranteed employees’ right to participate in trade unions. Participation in trade unions could not be limited based on religious belief. It was unlawful to terminate an employment contract based on trade union membership.
There had been a 19 per cent increase in committals to prisons in 2022, bringing most prisons close to full capacity. There were plans to construct a wing of the Limerick Prison Facility to increase the number of female prisoners that it could house. Pre-trial detention was only used when it was suspected that persons would break bail or reoffend.
The Electoral Commission would operate independently of the Government, and would advise the Government on electoral matters. It would explain the subject matter of referendums to the public, would study electoral boundaries, and encourage increased participation in elections, particularly among marginalised segments of society. The Commission would also regulate online political advertisements, and would produce reports on the administration of elections. It would examine persons with disabilities’ access to elections. The Commission would not have a role in regulating discriminatory rhetoric in political discourse. That would be addressed more generally by upcoming hate crime- and hate speech legislation.
Human trafficking was a difficult crime to investigate. Victims were often unable to psychologically accept that they were victims. Victims’ families were also often threatened. Police were obligated to rescue victims first, rather than wait and collect evidence against perpetrators. There had been a reduction in trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government had commissioned a study into the prevalence of trafficking which found that there were around 38 per cent more victims than official figures suggested. The Government intended to increase capacities to provide support to victims, and planned to allow non-Governmental organizations to provide medical and legal support to victims.
The Department of Social Protection issued a public service card for accessing services, however those services could also be accessed using other identity cards such as a passport. In 2019, the Data Protection Commission had found that the Department’s processing of personal data was unlawful for the purposes of determining identity. The Department had challenged that decision, and had reached an agreement with the Commission to continue to collect data for producing those cards, provided that public services were also accessible using other forms of identification. Changes had been made to the registration process so that copies of proof of address were not kept in Government databases. Over 3.6 million people had obtained a public services card.
The Government had proposed new legislation to protect persons from forced medical treatment and forced institutionalisation, except in exceptional circumstances. There were also provisions to protect children in adult institutions, which was necessary in rare cases where children could not go to children’s institutions. There were currently 27 children in adult institutions, and the Government aimed to further reduce that number.
Access to information was a challenge regarding investigations into “Mother and Baby” and County institutions. The State had acknowledged and apologised for its failure to protect the persons who were sent to those institutions.
The primary pathway for access to voluntary termination of pregnancy was through general practitioners. The Government was working to increase the capacity of general practices capable of providing the service. Free access to those services was provided. The Department of Health had supported remote provision of medical services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that had helped women in rural areas to obtain information about termination services.
Human rights were at the basis of policing in Ireland. The State was encouraging members of the Traveller community to apply for positions in the police force. The Traveller community made up 10 per cent of detained persons, a far higher percentage than their overall share of the population. The Government offered education programmes in prisons that were tailored to the Traveller community. Culturally appropriate programmes developing conflict awareness were being developed for Travellers, and the Government was making efforts to link released Travellers with employment opportunities.
From March 2021, former residents of “Mother and Baby” and County Home institutions were able to access their personal records. The national records and memorial centre would also have an archiving function.
All member States of the European Union were required to provide special support for persons from Ukraine seeking international protection. Ireland worked within the European Union framework regarding treatment of persons seeking international protection.
The Government was researching the practice of conversion therapy, and aimed to produce legislation on it in 2023. The Government was also engaging with civil society regarding issues concerning intersex persons. Approximately two or three intersex children were born in Ireland each year. Teams of medical experts consulted with families of such children, and only performed surgery when medically necessary.
3,500 submissions had been made regarding draft hate crime legislation, and those had been incorporated into new draft legislation. Gender identity, expression and ethnicity had been included in the definition of incitement to hate crimes. The Government had sought legal advice to ensure that the legislation effectively prevented hate crimes. Awareness-raising campaigns would be held regarding the new legislation. The judiciary would provide support to victims of hate crimes, and police training against hate crimes had been rolled out.
RODERIC O'GORMAN, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and head of the delegation, said that the review had been a valuable opportunity to outline the many areas in which the State had made progress in promoting and protecting human rights, and identify areas in which further effort was needed. The Government would work to further promote human rights, and appreciated the contribution of civil society to that work. Mr. O’Gorman thanked the Experts for their useful contributions, all members of the Secretariat who facilitated the dialogue, and the Irish delegation for its work throughout the dialogue.
PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Chairperson, acknowledged the continued work of Ireland toward improving human rights. She welcomed legislative efforts to combat corruption, addressing violence against women and gender violence, and enhancing gender equality. Those efforts now needed to be operationalised. Issues of concern remained, such as the slow progress in fully addressing institutional abuses. The Committee however acknowledged the progress that the State had made in that regard through the establishment of the national memorial centre. The Committee hoped that human rights in Ireland would be further promoted through the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations.
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