IRELAND’S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD: ESC rights not incorporated into domestic law

Believe Omoregie, Dara Coker and Gaberial Ukaina protest at the Ashbourne House Direct Provision Centre, Glounthaune, Co Cork, last September.

The UN has repeatedly criticised Ireland’s human rights record on a range of fronts. Some of those failures and what the State is doing to address them are listed here.


International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)


The UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights last reviewed a national report on Ireland’s implementation of ESC rights in 2002, where it made several recommendations to Ireland on how ESC rights could be strengthened including that ESC rights should be incorporated into domestic law.

On February 23, 2014, the Government-established Constitutional Convention voted by an 85% majority that ESC rights, as protected in the ICESCR, should be given greater protection in the Constitution.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights conducted a mission to Ireland in January 2011. She expressed her concern about the impact of the economic crisis and resultant budgetary cuts on ESC rights such as health, social protection and education. In particular, she highlighted the situation of vulnerable groups including children, older persons, persons with disabilities, single parents, Travellers, migrants, the homeless and those in substandard housing, and asylum seekers and refugees.

Several recommendations were made to maintain and strengthen ESC rights such as education and health, despite budget cuts and to ensure non-discrimination and equality in the right to health. It was also recommended Ireland sign and ratify the OP ICESCR (to allow for complaints to be made to the UN).

Current status:

ESC rights have not been incorporated into domestic law and therefore remain largely unenforceable in Ireland.

The State was asked to submit its third report in 2007 but failed to do so until 2012. The information in that report dated only as far as 2010, thus failing to capture many of the significant changes that have occurred in the past years, in particular the impact of the economic crisis on ESC rights.

The UN committee will review the report in June and make recommendations to the Government.

The Government was to respond to the recommendation by July 2014. To date, there has been no response.

Following her mission, the special rapporteur sent a detailed questionnaire to the State requesting information on progress made and challenges encountered in implementing her recommendation. The Government submitted a late response and the information could therefore not be reflected in the special rapporteur’s report.

Ireland accepted a number of recommendations on ESC rights but only partially accepted others. This included the recommendation to sign and ratify the OP ICESCR. Ireland accepted that it would sign the OP ICESCR but not that it would ratify. (Ireland signed the OP ICESCR in 2012 but has not ratified it — see above).

Ireland’s human rights record will again be examined under the universal periodic review next year.

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Ireland only EU country to legally forbid gender change

IRELAND’S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD: ESC rights not incorporated into domestic law

Lydia Foy: Failure to recognise her in her chosen female gender was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.


International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)


In 2007, the High Court found that the failure of the State to recognise Lydia Foy in her female gender was incompatible with the State’s obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that Ireland should recognise the right of transgender persons such as Dr Foy to a change of gender by permitting the issuance of new birth certificates.

Current status:

Ireland is the only country in the European Union that does not permit a person to legally change their gender.

Legislation to allow for a legal recognition of a change of gender was published in December 2014 and is working its way through the Seanad before it begins its passage through the Dáil towards enactment, expected in 2015.

Aspects of the legislation have been criticised by transgender representative groups, including the requirement for married transgender persons to divorce before they can apply for legal recognition of their gender.

However, it is expected that passage of the forthcoming referendum on Marriage Equality may go some way to abrogating this provision.

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Travellers moving to ethnic status

IRELAND’S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD: ESC rights not incorporated into domestic law

Minister of state Aodhán Ó Riordáin has said Traveller ethnicity will be recognised by May.


International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


In July 2014, the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reiterated its recommendation made during Ireland’s previous examination under the covenant in 2008 that the state takes steps to recognise Travellers as an ethnic group.

In 2014, the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality recommended that the State should recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority.

Current status:

To date, Travellers have not been recognised as an ethnic group despite having recognition as a distinct ethnic group in the UK and the North. Last November, minister of state for equality, new communities, and culture Aodhán Ó Riordáin is reported to have said that Traveller ethnicity will be a reality in six months (by May 2015) and that the Department of Justice was almost at a position where it could make a statement that there were no adverse implications to granting ethnic status to the community.

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Concern at lack of progress regarding prison reforms

IRELAND’S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD: ESC rights not incorporated into domestic law

Ireland has been criticised for conditions in women’s prisons.



UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).


Last year, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern at the lack of progress by Ireland in eliminating a number of adverse and continuing conditions in some prisons such as:

  • Overcrowding;
  • Lack of in-cell sanitation facilities (requiring inmates to ‘slop out’ each morning);
  • Lack of segregation of remand and convicted prisoners, and between detained immigrants and sentenced prisoners;
  • The high level of inter-prisoner violence.

The concerns mirror those raised in 2011 by the UN Committee against Torture in its report on Ireland.

OPCAT establishes an international inspection system for places of detention. It has been in force since 2006. It also requires states to create independent national monitoring mechanisms for places of detention.

Current status:

The Irish Penal Reform Trust reported that as, of July 2014, 330 prisoners in Cork, Limerick, and Portlaoise prison were without in-cell sanitation.

Noting the slow progress in reforming prison conditions despite previous recommendations, the Human Rights Committee requested that Ireland supply follow up information by July 2015 on progress to implement recommendations.

Ireland signed OPCAT in 2007 but has not yet ratified it.

This means that OPCAT is not yet legally binding on the State.

Also, no steps have been taken to create an independent national monitoring mechanism for all places of detention.

Find more on this section in our news and analysis section.



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