Ireland must be mindful of human rights obligations

The UN Independent Expert for Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, has advised that Ireland immediately undertakes a human rights review of all budgetary and recovery policies and ensures that it complies with fundamental human rights principles.

The recommendation is contained in a report issued on Friday 20 May following a visit by Dr Carmona to Ireland in January. Reviewing the situation here, Dr Carmona describes many of the recovery measures proposed and pursued in successive budgets and recovery plans as “concerning” from a human rights perspective.

According to the report:

Human rights are not a policy option, dispensable during times of economic hardship. It is vital, therefore, that Ireland immediately undertakes a human rights review of all budgetary and recovery policies and ensures that it complies with fundamental human rights principles.

The report also highlights Ireland’s relative affluence, and expresses concern at its low level of taxation; a level which it points out is lower than most other European countries, saying:

Low levels of domestic taxation revenue can be a major obstacle to a State’s ability to meet obligations to realize economic, social and cultural rights. The Government must ensure that the recovery policies, which to date have mainly focused on instituting cuts to public expenditure without significantly altering the taxation rate, are the most effective means of protecting the economic, social and cultural rights of the population, particularly the most disadvantaged groups in society.

It is critically important that Ireland adopt taxation policies that adequately reflect the need to harness all available resources towards the fulfilment of its economic, social and cultural rights obligations, while avoiding measures that might further endanger the enjoyment of human rights by those most at risk. By increasing its tax take, Ireland would decrease the need for cuts to public services and social protection, and thereby help to protect the most vulnerable from further damage.

Carmona is unequivocal with regard to Ireland’s obligation to ensure non discrimination and equality regardless of economic crisis:

Ireland must ensure enjoyment of human rights equally and without discrimination of any kind. This is a fundamental pillar of the human rights framework. The scarcity of resources in times of economic hardship is not an acceptable justification for failing to implement the duty of non-discrimination, which must take precedence, both formally and substantively, in all recovery measures.

She goes on:

A number of recent measures are concerning in this respect, especially reductions in child benefits and benefits for job seekers, carers, single parent families, persons with disabilities and blind persons. The impact of these measures will be exacerbated by funding reductions for a number of social services which are essential for the same vulnerable people, including disability, community and voluntary services, Travellers supports, drug outreach initiatives, rural development schemes, the Revitalising Areas by Planning, Investment and Development (RAPID) programme and Youthreach.

By adopting these measures, Ireland runs a high risk of excluding those most in need of support and ignoring the needs of the most vulnerable. In particular, due to multiple forms of entrenched discrimination, women are especially vulnerable to the detrimental effects of reductions in social services and benefits.

The report is critical of the State’s failure to “undertake any meaningful efforts to ensure a broad national dialogue” when formulating its budgetary responses to the crisis, and when taking the decision to enter the EU/IMF loan, saying:

Failure to ensure participation and transparency in the design of national policies seriously jeopardizes the State’s ability to respond to its human rights obligations, undermines the effectiveness of budgetary adjustment policies, and prevents the needs of the poorest and most excluded from being taken into account.

Welcoming the efforts of the new Government to seek a reduction of the interest rate of the EU/IMF loan, Dr Carmona "reminds member States of the European Union that, according to their obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, they must do everything possible to ensure that their lending policies do not have a detrimental impact on the enjoyment of the Covenant’s rights by those living in poverty in the concerned country" and "calls on members of the European Union to seriously consider acceding to Ireland’s request for a reduction in the interest rate."

The full report is available here.