In a critical report, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) says austerity over the past seven years hit the most vulnerable hardest and there are few signs that the economic recovery is improving their situation.
The commission has submitted the report to the UN committee on economic, social, and cultural rights which is holding two days of hearings on Ireland in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday.
Chief Commissioner Emily Logan said the Government would be asked to explain why many groups already susceptible to poverty or inequality were particularly badly affected under the troika bailout programme.
“We have heard politicians suggesting that because they have lost economic sovereignty that they somehow have lost their executive decision-making powers. We would argue that the State holds primary responsibility for human rights and equality,” she said.
Among the issues highlighted in its submission, the IHREC says unemployment among people with disabilities rose almost threefold — from 8% to 22% — between 2004 and 2010, and barriers to employment remain disproportionately high.
It also criticises Government inaction on zero hour contracts; the scarcity of women’s refuges; the direct provision system; and the continued placing of children with mental health problems in adult facilities.
Concerns are also raised about access to education for Travellers and children with special needs who are now over-represented in DEIS schools in disadvantaged areas because they are excluded by policy or practicalities from mainstream schools.
Slow progress in divesting patronage from Catholic schools to multi-denominational schools is also highlighted, and there are calls for fuller investigations into the Magdalene Laundries and symphisiotomy scandals.
Other failings in relation to childcare provision, the gender pay gap, access to free legal aid, and social housing are also raised and particular unease is expressed about the manner in which 30,000 lone parents will be switched to the lower jobseekers’ allowance next month.
The commission also says the State must provide affordable methods of contraception for people on low incomes and it calls for consideration of allowing abortion in cases where the health, as opposed to the life, of a woman is at risk; in cases of fatal foetal abnormality; and where pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
NGOs including Flac, Threshold, and Pavee Point will be in Geneva for the hearings. The State’s response is being managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and minister of state Sean Sherlock will be the main representative.
The UN’s findings following such hearings are not legally binding but Ms Logan said they were “persuasive”.