Ireland has come in for criticism by the United Nations for its failure to ratify a UN protocol on rights for people with disabilities.
Markus Schefer, a member of the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), said it suggests Ireland is not confident or comfortable enough to open itself up to international scrutiny.
Mr Schefer was speaking at the Oireachtas committee on disability matters.
Ireland signed the CRPD in 2007 but the international law, which requires the state to work towards providing full and equal rights to people with disabilities, wasn’t ratified until 2018.
Ireland is also one of ten countries across Europe yet to sign up to an optional protocol (OP) as part of the convention, that would enable people with disabilities to make complaints to the UN about potential rights violations.
“The optional protocol and the convention together are one whole and that’s why the committee continuously urges member states to ratify the optional protocol,” Mr Schefer said.
“It is important, from an international level, that we give people who think their rights have been violated under the convention, a recourse outside of the country."
Not ratifying the protocol, Mr Schefer said, had “legal and political” impacts for those countries taking that decision: “You leave out the judiciary, and as with all areas of law, if you leave out the judiciary, something is lacking and implementation will suffer”.
“Then there’s the symbolic consequence. Not ratifying the optional protocol tells the world community that you are not comfortable enough with what you’re doing to have an external body, in a court-like procedure, examine whether your internal actions … are in conformity with the CRPD,” he said.
“You create an impression with the rest of the world that you are not confident enough about whether you are doing enough or implementing what you’re doing to the degree that suffices under the CRPD," he added.
Director of the European Disability Forum (EDF), Catherine Naughton, said 22 EU member states, as well as EU candidate countries and the UK, had ratified the optional protocol and Ireland must follow suit.
“We know that complaints can only be made against states that have ratified the optional protocol so it’s important that Ireland moves ahead with this,” Ms Naughton said.
“It’s an important measure of a state party’s willingness to be held to account, to enable citizens to seek redress."
The Programme for Government commits to ratifying the CPRD optional protocol once the government receives a response to its first report to the UN on the convention.
Fine Gael Senator Mark Conway, the only Oireachtas member with a declared physical disability, agreed that Ireland’s employment record for people with disabilities was “appalling”.
Mr Schefer said that the UN committee identified “serious deficiencies” in the education sector for people with disabilities in many countries reviewed, as well as difficulties in moving from education to the labour market.
He added that countries must put in place a ‘high level’ single entity to coordinate all CPRD actions across central and local government.
Ms Naughton also pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic had a greater impact on people with disabilities and called for some of the €850m in EU resilience and recovery funding for Ireland to be used to support those most affected over the next two years.