UN treaty will give people with intellectual disabilities the right to sexual relationships

Minister of state for disability Finian McGrath

The dry text of a United Nations treaty rarely sounds romantic but one could contain the language of love for a large number of Irish people.

The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities will give people with intellectual disabilities the right to sexual relationships which is denied them here because of laws designed to protect them from abuse but which over-stepped the mark into prohibition.

Adrian Noonan of Inclusion Ireland's self advocacy committee says the convention, when ratified, will give people like himself a major boost as they strive for independent decision-making and living.

"Self advocacy means, for example, if you are going to the doctor, the doctor speaks to you, not your mother, not your support worker.

"It should be between you and your doctor. You should have support only if you want it. These are rights to make your own choices and to privacy" he said.

"It means people with a disability can have a sexual relationship with each other or with a person without a disability. People are afraid to have a relationship because of the Sexual Offences Act 1993."

Reforming the law on sexual offences is one of several legislative changes required before Ireland can ratify the convention, a document the Government signed in 2007.

UN special rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar was in Ireland yesterday to issue a reminder that ratification is long overdue.

"It seems Ireland will be the only EU country not to have ratified the convention. The process in Finland, the only other country, is far advanced now," she said.

Last October, the Government set out a roadmap to ratification and said it would be completed by the end of this year.

Minister of State for Disability, Finian McGrath gave assurances yesterday that the target would be met.

"I have managed to get it on to the programme for government but, not only that, I have managed to get a commitment from the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald that it will be ratified within six months," he said.

For Eddie Redmond, chief executive of the Irish Deaf Society, ratification can't come soon enough. One of the convention's features is the prominence it gives to sign language, and the responsibility it imposes on countries to recognise it as an official language and include it in the everyday working of state and society.

"We have campaigned passionately for over 30 years for Irish sign language to be given an equal place in education, employment, health and so on," said Mr Redmond.

The convention contains a requirement that a national monitoring mechanism be put in place to ensure law, policy and service provision complies with it.

A report by the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway has recommended a new national advisory committee comprised of people with disabilities should partner with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) as a watchdog.

Emily Logan, chief commissioner with the IHREC, said whatever monitoring mechanism was chosen, it was essential people with disabilities were at the centre of it.

"For a long time in Ireland the disability model has been very stubbornly grounded in the charitable model where people were seen either as a medical problem or people who need pity. The convention challenges ourselves as a society about our own culture and our own attitudes," she said.


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