The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“the Commission”) has launched its Annual Report to the Houses of the Oireachtas (Parliament of Ireland). The report of the Commission’s work as the independent national human rights and equality body, directly accountable to the Oireachtas, outlines the Commission’s increased activity on its statutory functions.
In launching the report at the Commission’s offices, Chief Commissioner Emily Logan highlights “2016 as a year in which forms of hate and intolerance took centre stage globally” emphasising that Ireland needs to continue to demonstrate that “we are a country that chooses respect for human rights and equality of treatment over hate and intolerance.”
The Annual Report highlights include:
The Commission’s active role in the superior courts, as amicus curiae (friend of the court). Permission to appear in this role was granted in 5 strategic cases in 2016, building on existing amicus roles. These litigation cases offer outcomes with wide impacts and benefits to others.
The amicus cases focus on human rights and equality issues, with cases including:
- The constitutional right of people in direct provision to seek employment (NHV Case) which saw a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June this year clarifying the right of individuals to seek employment. The judgment is possibly the most important judgment of the Supreme Court on the entitlement of non-citizens to rely on the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
- The protection of children’s rights in detention, focused particularly on allegations of solitary confinement of 4 children. (Oberstown Children’s Detention Centre Case)
- Clarifying the protections provided under Irish and EU law for digital privacy rights of individuals (Digital Rights Ireland Case)
- The protection of family and private life, in 2 cases of families from Mauritius seeking permission to remain in Ireland, having built lives and relationships here. (Luximon & Balchand Cases)
30 live legal cases related to discrimination, involving the Commission at the end of 2016 – 9 related to the Equal Status Acts, 11 related to the Employment Equality Acts and 10 related to human rights.
One case taken by the Commission, heard in 2016 and ruled on by the Supreme Court in May this year was the case of Kim Cahill. The case focused on ensuring that students with disabilities are provided with reasonable accommodation to level the playing field and provide equality of opportunity. The ruling also clarified the obligations incumbent upon the Minister for Education to provide reasonable accommodation to students with disabilities in education.
1,780 public concerns raised directly to the Commission about discrimination
- The top 3 public concerns related to the Equal Status Acts, focused on discrimination on the grounds of receiving housing assistance (30%), disability (22%) and race (16%).
- The top 3 public concerns related to the Employment Equality Acts focused on discrimination in employment on the grounds of disability (25%), family status (22%) and race (17%).
2 significant research projects underway, building evidence-based policy and decision-making on key human rights and equality issues.
- The first with the Irish Research Council (IRC) entitled “Hate Track” to analyse online racist hate speech and form a greater understanding of the barriers to reporting in Ireland.
- The second with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on a two-year research programme focusing on specific knowledge gaps around human rights and equality. For example, examining how attitudes to immigration and to different ethnic groups in Ireland have changed in the past 12 years.
Direct engagement with Oireachtas Members on implications of legislative proposals for human rights and equality in education (Admissions to Schools Bill), for people with disabilities (Equality/Disability Bill) and in relation to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences Bill). This domestic impact stands alongside the Commission’s international engagement with the Council of Europe and the United Nations on Ireland’s human rights obligations.
Significant progress on new legal duty of public bodies to fulfil their obligation to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and protect human rights.
Launch of the inaugural Professional Diploma in Human Rights and Equality with the Institute of Public Administration (IPA), accredited by UCD, which has been oversubscribed in its first year.
Working as the Joint Committee with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission as part of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement on parity of esteem for human rights across the Island of Ireland.
The Commission has consistently called for the State to make rights real for persons with disabilities through final ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Ireland stands on the only EU Member State not to have ratified the Convention. The Commission has put forward research and legislative recommendations to the Oireachtas, setting out clear structures for ratification and implementation with rights holders at the forefront of the Convention in Ireland.
The Commission’s purpose as an independent statutory authority as set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, is to promote and protect human rights and equality in Ireland and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.
Speaking on the Annual Report to the Houses of the Oireachtas, Chief Commissioner Emily Logan states the need for continuing political leadership on human rights and equality issues.
“The Commission welcomes the trend of more frequent reference to human rights and equality standards, including international human rights standards in Oireachtas debates on key legislation.”
The Chief Commissioner concluded, “our role as an independent national human rights and equality body is ever more critical in these times of uncertainty. I look forward to the acceleration and deepening of the impact of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in the future.”