Government rejects enshrining rights of ethnic minorities in the Constitution

The Government has rejected enshrining rights in the Constitution for ethnic minorities — including Travellers — to practise their cultures, despite an independent body recommending the move.

The decision was agreed yesterday at one of the last cabinet meetings before the election. It remains unclear whether abortion will be discussed by the same independent group during the lifetime of the next Dáil.

Over the past year, ministers have considered a number of reports and recommendations made by the 100-member Constitutional Convention, including a recommendation last year that economic, social, and cultural rights should be protected in the Constitution.

The move was strongly backed by Amnesty International, Traveller support groups, women’s rights campaigners, and advocates of the elderly, who called on the Coalition to set up a forum which would establish the wording for a referendum asking voters whether those set of rights should be in the Constitution.

In particular, the convention had said the changes could improve the rights of the Traveller community, allowing them practice a nomadic lifestyle.

However, at a briefing last night, a government spokesperson said a report on the three sets of rights had not been accepted at Cabinet.

Cabinet agreed however, to allow a convention be set up for every new Dáil, a move that would allow further reforms and constitutional matters be debated.

However, a government spokesperson would not say if it was intended such a forum would be used by the next government to examine terms for a referendum on abortion, despite the Coalition already committing to having a referendum on liberalising abortion laws as part of pre-election vows.

Separately, the Cabinet has agreed to give the energy regulator new powers to fine companies which have been accused of taking advantage of customers.

Under the current system, the Commission on Energy Regulation can revoke the licence of a firm if it is considered to have broken consumer rules.

However, under plans put forward by Energy Minister Alex White, the body will also be able to fine firms for the breaches, giving it an additional option if the offence does not warrant expulsion from the market.

The Cabinet also agreed a new national strategy on domestic violence which is intended to place an increased focus on repeat offenders and to create a “risk assessment” for people who are concerned they will be attacked in their homes.

New plans for tobacco packaging to include information in addition to health concerns in the future were also agreed.

The Government has also sought clarity from the Department of Foreign Affairs on where Ireland’s maritime borders begin and end.


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