Universal Periodic Review 39th Session

Review of Ireland - Third Cycle

10 November 2021

By: Payton Focht /GICJ

Executive Summary

On Wednesday, November 10, 2021, Ireland participated in the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The focus was improvements made since the last UPR in May 2016. The report submitted by the delegation of Ireland reflected improvements that have been made in the last few years as well as projects that are in progress. The delegation discussed developments, achievements and challenges since the second cycle, right to housing, rights of the child, rights of persons with disabilities, right to education, right to health, right to family, gender equality, migrants and asylum-seekers, climate, and Covid-19. Some state delegations applauded Ireland for its progress in the last few years. However, many delegations were concerned about abortion rights still being too restrictive, human trafficking, and hate speech. The Irish delegation addressed these concerns as well as others in the review.  The delegation ended by noting Ireland's commitment to maintain and enhance human rights. Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) is concerned over the current prison system of Ireland, women’s rights, and torture and enforced disappearances in the country. We urge Ireland to implement a prison reform system for both men and women’s prisons, to ensure that women’s right to health is unrestricted, and that torture and enforced disappearances are eradicated. 

Background

In preparing this report, the Irish Government consulted various civil society organizations. The consultation process was based on an online public consultation held on 5 May 2021 which was hosted by the Irish Government, there were 17 written submissions. In addition, there was a series of consultations with children and young people. In this regard, 1,100 children aged between 4 and 13 years were recruited through primary schools, and 46 young people aged 13 to 18 years were recruited from selected Comhairle nÓg (youth councils). The children and young people that participated represented both rural and urban locations, and were from a variety of backgrounds. Ireland has created a Commission that has “A” status as a National Human Rights Institution with the International Coordinating Committee. The Commission has its own budget vote and reports directly to the Parliament. The Commission’s Director is the Accounting Officer and is directly accountable to the Public Accounts Committee, which is the Parliamentary Committee responsible for overseeing the spending of public funds. In 2014, the Commission’s funding increased by 45% to €6.299 million per annum. In 2021 this increased further to €6.933 million per annum.

Country Report

The report that Ireland submitted highlights the developments, achievements and challenges since the second cycle. Regarding the fight against domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, Ireland has ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2019. The government plans to partner with civil society organizations to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. In addition, The Domestic Violence Act 2018 introduced: the creation of the offence of coercive control; an improved access for victims to barring orders; greater support for victims in the court process; the provision for aggravating factors for sentencing and contained new provisions pertinent to children when deciding a domestic violence barring order. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was enacted and in 2019, it was amended and created even stricter penalties for repeat sexual offenders. The government is developing a plan to better protect victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual crime cases. Trafficking in persons is addressed with the Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking in Ireland, published in October 2016,14 identified 65 actions to combat trafficking and assist victims. There is also a new action plan being developed. Ireland follows the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 transposes the EU Directive (2012/29/EU) establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime in national law. 

Regarding women's health and rights, Ireland created the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters in February 2015 to provide a full account of what happened to vulnerable women and children in these homes from 1922 to 1998. The Commission’s report was published on 12 January 2021. In response to these findings, immediate counselling support, including an out-of-hours service, was made available to support survivors and remains in place. There was also an action plan approved. 

Homelessness in Ireland has a €218 million budget and has fallen by 13%. Ireland's plan includes specific measures to address these needs, such as the transition of rough sleepers into sustainable accommodation, a focus on building and acquiring one-bed homes and ensuring dedicated funding to deliver health and mental health supports to homeless people with complex needs. For the Travelers and Roma communities, Ireland has established a number of plans to prevent discrimination and proves a range of traveler accommodations. 

For rights of the child, since 2015, children in Ireland have the full protection of the law on assault, regardless of who assaults them or in what setting. The Youth Justice Strategy 2021-202743 includes consideration of the full range of issues connected to children and young people at risk of encountering the criminal justice system.

Regarding the issues surrounding disability, Ireland is committed to the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. They have ratified UNCRPD and have two strategies to ensure its implementation. In addition, The Irish Sign Language (ISL) Act  2017 commenced in 2020. The Act recognizes ISL as a native language of the State and provides that the “community of persons using ISL shall have the right to use, develop and preserve ISL.” Ireland is currently in the process of researching the cost of disability. The Disability Capital Programme that began in 2016 provides an allocation of €100 million over a number of years to offer a choice to people transitioning about where and with whom they live and to ensure that the housing they are offered meets their needs.

For the right to education, Ireland is working to make the education system more parent- friendly as well as prohibit the use of religion as a selection criterion in all recognized primary school admissions. The Government’s objective is to have at least 400 multi-denominational or non- denominational schools in the primary system by 2030. Human rights issues are addressed at all levels of the education system. The Department of Education’s Wellbeing Policy seeks to promote mental health and wellbeing of all children and young people through the mitigation of risk factors and the promotion of protective factors in the school community. The Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) is used in over 20% of schools and it provides for a range of supporting activities.. The third National Access Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education (2015-2021) (NAP) sets out the current Government strategy to address underrepresentation in higher education by groups identified in the plan. In 2019 overall participation rate has increased to 12.3% and targets have equally been surpassed in respect of the three categories of disability. Gender equality in education needs to be more closely focused on as there has been a range of issues brought up that must be addressed. For asylum seekers seeking higher education, in July 2020, Ireland broadened the qualifying criteria for the scheme and removed the requirement to have spent three years in the Irish school system and to have completed the Leaving Certificate. These changes allow more people in the international protection process to access third-level institutions.

Regarding the right to health, Irelands main focus has been on the issue of abortion rights. On 25 May 2018, a referendum was held on the Thirty-Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018, which sought to delete Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and substitute it with wording confirming that the Parliament may make laws for the regulation of the termination of pregnancy. The referendum was passed, and in December 2018 the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 was signed into law. It permits termination to be carried out in cases where there is a risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health, of the pregnant woman; where there is a condition present which is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before or within 28 days of birth; and without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

The Parent’s Leave and Benefit scheme, which was established in November 2019, aligns with the EU Work–Life Balance Directive and entitles new parents to two weeks of non-transferable leave and benefit. The amount of parental leave was increased from 18 weeks to 26 weeks, to be phased in over a two-year period. This benefits both men and women when having with a new child. 

For gender equality, Ireland has ratified CEDAW and was a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women from 2017 to 2021. The gender pay gap means that women earn 14.4% less than men, on average. The National Strategy for Women and Girls (NSWG) 2017-2020 represents whole-of-government commitments to foster the advancement of women in all facets of their lives. A Women’s Health Taskforce was set up in 2019 by the Minister for Health with the aim of improving women’s health outcomes and experiences of healthcare. Reforms to electoral legislation in 2016 to increase the participation of women in politics mean that political parties will see their State funding halved if they do not meet the requirements to have at least 30% female and 30% male candidates in general elections. This quota will rise to 40% from 2023.

Regarding migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, Ireland has created the National Migrant Integration Strategy (MIS) 2017- 2020, which is a whole-of-government framework of action to support integration. The National Anti-Racism Committee (NARC) is working to  strengthen the Irish Government’s approach to combating individual and institutional racism and will build on the anti-racism actions included in the MIS and the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS). The White paper on ending direct provision is a new service that will coordinate a system of accommodation and support to ensure that people who are applying for protection are helped to integrate from day one, with health, housing, education and employment supports at the core of the new system. Concerning naturalization, by March 2020, almost 132,000 applicants from 180 different countries have received their Certificates of Naturalisation. Ireland enacted the Marriage Act 2015, which enabled same-sex couples to enjoy the same constitutional rights and protections as all families. For the Traveler and Roma communities in Ireland, in March 2017, the State recognized Travelers as a distinct ethnic group in Irish society. The National Traveler and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) 2017-2021 recognizes that there is a need for specific programs of work to address vulnerabilities facing the Traveler and Roma communities.

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act was introduced in 2015 and amended in 2021. The Government recognizes that climate change is likely to disproportionately impact the lowest socio- economic groups in society, who are also poorly positioned to adapt to the changing climate. In 2019, 12 Sectoral Adaptation Plans were developed which stress the importance of ensuring that climate adaptation protects marginalized and vulnerable groups by mainstreaming climate adaptation actions into policies and programs.

In response to Covid-19, in March 2020, Ireland’s Department of Health published the Ethical Framework for Decision-making in a Pandemic, setting out these principles and values. The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) for COVID-19 provides national direction, guidance, support and expert public health advice on the development and implementation of a strategy to contain COVID-19 in Ireland. Budgetary support of almost €38 billion has been allocated to tackle the economic impact of the pandemic. Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), a time-limited, emergency income support measure. The Government also introduced the Temporary Wage Support and Subsidy Schemes to encourage employment and help maintain the link between employers and employees. Other schemes and measures include the enhanced Illness Benefit, the Enterprise Support Grant, extension of fuel allowance and extensive investments in training and skills.  Ireland’s response has recognised the disproportionate effect the pandemic has on groups of people. In line with international experience, incidents of domestic violence reported to the police have increased by over 20% since the onset of the pandemic. In April 2020 the Government initiated a cross-sector public awareness campaign to make victims and those at risk aware that domestic and sexual violence services from the courts, State agencies and the voluntary sector have been adapted and increased to ensure that they remain available through all levels of public health restrictions.

Discussion with Experts 

Mr. Michael Gaffey, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative of Ireland to UNOG spoke  first representing Ireland. He stated that Ireland is proud of what they have done and what they will continue to do in the field of human rights while also recognizing that there is room for improvement and learning. 

The second speaker on behalf of Ireland was Mr. Roderic O'Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration & Youth. He stated that Ireland has taken a proactive approach to human rights and works with civil society. He addressed key developments since 2016 (the last review) and addressed pre-submitted questions by states. 

Disability Rights

The Delegation of Ireland noted the fact that Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Peoples with Disabilities (UNCRPD) since the last session. 

Women's rights

The Delegation of Ireland noted the recent change in the constitution that allowed for abortion rights.  The Delegation of Canada welcomes the changes made for women's sexual and reproductive rights as well as people with disabilities. They recommend that Ireland work to eliminate barriers to reproductive rights. The Delegation of Denmark did not approve of the limitations on reproduction rights that Ireland still has in place, which impacts the individual rights of people. Ireland should ensure that they work towards expanding access to abortion in law and in practice. 

Ireland also ratified the Istanbul Convention since the last review. They noted that there are current developments on strategies to combat gender-based violence that are co-designed with civil society. It will be ambitious and will help to create radical change. There is legislation being reviewed to ensure that women are equal to men and disallow the gender pay gap among other gender-based discrimination. Ireland is looking into a domestic violence leave for victims and has a target of 40% of women on state boards.  

The United States Delegation recommended that Ireland disallow discrimination based on gender and the Delegation of Mexico encourages Ireland to criminalize domestic and intimate partner violence and create public policy to address this.

Discrimination

In light of past discrimination against traveler and Roma communities, the Irish Parliament formally recognized traveler ethnicity and contribution to Ireland and are working on strategies to help the traveler community to advance key rights. For equality for the traveler community, Ireland is launching a work experience internship program for people in the traveler community to promote the inclusion of the Roma and traveler communities. Ireland is committed to anti-Semitism.  The Ireland delegation wants to work towards eliminating homelessness, providing housing for travelers and asylum seekers by increasing the housing budget and delivering houses for a range of housing needs. 

The delegation noted that LGBTQI+ strategies to ensure equality and developments are on their way for the further protection of trans rights as well as protection against hate speech and hate crimes. 

The United States Delegation recommended that Ireland disallow discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation or discrimination against refugees, migrants, or travelers. In addition, Ireland needs to improve equal access to healthcare, especially for travelers. The US Delegation applauds the lack of discrimination against persons with disabilities. 

The People's Independent Republic of Korea recommended Ireland implement new strategies to combat racial, sexual, and religious identity.

The Malaysian Delegation recommends continued efforts to ensure that allegations of violence against women and fully and swiftly addressed and investigated and perpetrators are prosecuted and victims are adequately compensated.

Hate speech

In light of racism, a committee was established last year and hate crime legislation is in review. The incitement to violence legislation is outdated and will be addressed. There is also current legislation that looks to combat harassment speech both on and offline. Ireland is working to meet its international obligations to refugees and protection to them. An action plan to combat racism which will be launched early 2022 including police reform. The Irish Delegations assure that, regarding hate crime, online abuse will also be addressed. 

The People's Independent Republic of Korea was worried about hate speech and recommended that hate crimes be fully investigated and prosecuted. The delegation of Mexico encourages Ireland to adopt measures to prevent and prosecute hate speech and hate crimes with a focus on online and social media presence. 

Climate Change

Ireland stated that they are committed to take an active role in countering climate change.  The delegation also discussed the right to clean a healthy and sustainable environment and new domestic violence legislations that include coercive control. 

Asylum seekers

The Irish delegation then discussed working to create and implement a new system with human rights at its core.  They discussed a set of reforms to the current system. In regards to asylum seekers in the workforce, Ireland plans on giving them the right to work and enabling civil society to assist. They are also working on a vulnerability assessment process to assess potentially vulnerability of asylum seekers and what they may need. To reduce processing time for people seeking asylum, Ireland is working towards streamlining the process, reducing unnecessary steps, and training more staff.

Torture, Trafficking, and Enforced Disappearances

Despite Ireland noting the Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking in Ireland which identified 65 actions to combat trafficking and assist victims, delegations were still concerned. The delegation of Mexico requested that Ireland investigate into allegations of torture in private and public sectors that provide housing to vulnerable persons. The United States of America Delegation recommended that Ireland do more to combat human trafficking and provide specialized accommodations for victims. The People's Independent Republic of Korea was worried about trafficking in Ireland and the Malaysian delegation encouraged Ireland to address the issues of trafficking.  The delegation of Ireland gave closing statements. In these he stated that Ireland intends to ratify the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, but a number of policy measures are already in place.

Prisons and the Justice System

The delegation of Denmark was worried about overcrowding and lack of sanitation in prisons and recommended improving prison conditions.  In response, Ireland noted that the prisons are only at 80% capacity.  In regards to prisons, women in prison are vulnerable, so women’s prisons are designed differently and focus on rehabilitation and normalization.  Ireland will continue to receive asylum seekers. The delegation also noted the importance of judicial independence, and it is a self-regulated field. 

Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) recognizes Ireland's improvements since the last UPR and applauds the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, The Domestic Violence Act , and The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act. However, there are further improvements that Ireland needs to make. The Irish delegation discussed the reforms of the women’s systems, these types of reforms should be implemented in all prisons to ensure that men are not receiving ill treatment and mental harm in prison. In addition, we urge Ireland to take grater steps to ensure that torture and enforced disappearances are eradicated in the country. Ireland has made many strides forward to improving the human rights situation for asylum seekers, travelers, and vulnerable groups. However, Ireland needs to continue to improve on women's reproductive rights and LQBTQI+ rights. The strides made for the Traveler and Roma communities are admirable but need to continue to be improved on by Ireland, both legally and socially. We are concerned with Ireland's stance on enforced disappearances; it was not mentioned in the report and was brushed over during the meeting. With Ireland's complex and recent history, we feel that it is imperative that the Irish government commits to searching for disappeared persons and makes preemptive measures to ensure that this does not continue. 

Justice, Human rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre For Justice

GICJ Newsletter

Register a violation with GICJ