Human rights funding cut condemned

Drastic funding cuts to human rights groups will have a long-term effect on equality for Ireland’s most vulnerable people, it was claimed today.

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) demanded that the Government should take immediate action to tackle serious gaps in human rights protection for groups such as travellers, migrants, asylum seekers, people with disabilities, and people in poverty and in prison.

Dr Maurice Manning, IHRC President, said the economic crisis is impacting on vulnerable people.

“Human rights and equality are not optional extras for the good times,” said Dr Manning.

“They become even more important in times of crisis when more people are struggling to make ends meet.

“The policies of the State should not be a contributing factor to pushing more people into poverty.

“We are concerned that the cumulative effect of cuts to welfare and services targeted at vulnerable people are having that result.”

The IHRC issued a report card on Ireland’s human rights protections ahead of a United Nations study in October.

It made more than 35 recommendations for the Government on legislative and policy areas across health, education, immigration, criminal justice, and social welfare.

Dr Manning said there have been serious gaps in the State’s efforts to date to meet its human rights obligations.

“Key reforms at constitutional, legislative, policy and service level are required to strengthen human rights in Ireland,” he added.

“It is not acceptable that important human rights treaties that would increase protections for vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, migrant workers and people held in detention remain to be ratified.

“Drastic cuts in resources over the last three years to human rights and equality bodies have hampered their efforts to safeguard human rights and to hold the State to account.”

Key recommendations include:

- Referenda to amend the Constitution to strengthen equality, women and children’s rights;

- Recognition of travellers as an ethnic minority and prioritisation of targeting health, education and accommodation;

- Ensuring asylum applications are dealt with fairly and transparently and within one year, with greater legal protection to vulnerable migrant workers;

- Ending “slopping out” in prisons, urgently dealing with overcrowding, and developing a penal policy with more focus on non-custodial sanctions;

- Increasing availability of choice of schools to reflect a diverse Ireland.

Eamonn Mac Aodha, IHRC chief executive, raised serious concerns about conditions in Irish prisons.

“The ongoing practice of ’slopping out’ is degrading and dehumanising and must be stopped immediately,” he added.

“Dangerous levels of overcrowding in prisons, which has been exacerbated by imprisonment for minor offences, must be tackled without delay.

“In the longer term, a comprehensive penal policy should be developed, with a focus on the development of alternative non-custodial sanctions.”

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