The UN human rights committee has asked the Government why it refuses to accept any responsibility for the years of abuse and neglect suffered by Irish women and children and why it is so reticent to investigate them fully.
It also warns that doctors are unlikely to provide even the limited abortion to be permitted to save the life of a mother under the current guidelines.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and a number of civil servants defended the Government’s stance on the issues and made it clear that little was likely to change. However, Ms Fitzgerald did describe the situation of the handful of survivors of symphysiotomy as “dreadful”, acknowledging it as a legitimate human rights issue.
The committee was very critical of the Government response to the Magdalene women’s situation, saying that while the Government had apologised, it had not recognised its responsibility.
It said the investigating committee that resulted in the McAleese report was not made up of independent members but was linked to the Government and its responsibility was not to establish the truth of the facts.
“Films relayed one level of truth but we cannot depend on films to deliver the truth of what happened over a period of 70 years. Ireland seems not to be open to reviewing this case. It might be of use to tell us why you are so reticent in examining this head on,” one committee member asked.
They raised similar issues about the treatment of the victims of symphysiotomy — where women in childbirth had their pelvis broken and subsequently prevented from healing, leaving them disabled for life.
Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly said how the Government addresses this issue is now a litmus test for the administration. “It is so clearly an abuse of human rights.”
The committee addressed the recent revelations about the huge numbers of infant deaths in mother and baby hopes, asking if the Government planned to investigate them.
One of the members said it was disappointed the State did not intend to revise the abortion legislation since being limited to saving the life of the mother did not meet the standards of the convention.
They were concerned about the number of physicians under the legislation that were required to certify a woman’s life was at risk and said that subjecting suicidal women to such checks would make their situation worse, and constitute a failure to protect women.
He also pointed out there was no clarity about how the guidelines for doctors would be applied, which was also posing a substantial risk.
The minister in her opening statement said, “The constitutional and legislative framework in Ireland reflects the nuanced and proportionate approach to the considered views of the Irish electorate on the profound moral question of the extent to which the right to life of the unborn should be protected and balanced against the rights of the mother”.
The two-day hearing in Geneva examines whether Ireland is living up to its responsibilities under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which it signed up. It continues today.
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