Shatter: Children’s rights referendum set for New Year

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter yesterday said a referendum on children’s rights would be held “early in the New Year” as he defended Ireland’s human rights record before the United Nations.

Addressing other UN member states in Geneva as part of Ireland’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Mr Shatter also outlined legislative proposals aimed at improving human rights, while accepting that there had been “failings in the state protection system”, particularly regarding child clerical sex abuse.

In addition to delivering a speech, Mr Shatter fielded questions from representatives of other member states as part of the three-hour UPR.

He later announced the appointment of a working group to advise him on the establishment of a new Human Rights and Equality Commission, adding that he intends to have a new commission in place by the end of February.

The 11-strong working group will be chaired by Michael Whelan, a former member of the Prisons Authority Interim Board, and includes members of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority.

In his speech in Geneva, Mr Shatter said the Government had taken a number of steps towards bolstering Ireland’s human rights laws and adherence to them, but that the country did not want to ratify international conventions until it was satisfied that domestic legislation was in place.

He said Ireland would shortly be in a position to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, while the Government was working on the necessary Mental Capacity Bill to allow ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Mr Shatter said a referendum dealing with the rights of children will be held early in the New Year — a commitment welcomed by the Children’s Rights Alliance as “now a matter of international record”, while the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said a more definitive date was needed.

He also said that serious consideration was being given to classifying Travellers as an ethnic minority.

On the issue of prison safety, 17 member states recommended the Government address prison conditions, particularly overcrowding and lack of in-cell sanitation.

The Mr Shatter said such calls on the issue of slopping out strengthened the need for more resources in the prison system but he denied that violence in prisons was a significant issue.

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