Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

The Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary democracy with a
long tradition of orderly transfer of power. Individual
liberties and civil rights are guaranteed by the 1937 Irish
Successive Irish Governments have had to deal with the
spillover into the Republic of recurring outbreaks of violence
in Northern Ireland. In recent years, the spillover of
violence has included the assassinations of the British
Ambassador (1976) and Lord Mountbatten (1979), as well as the
deaths of individual police officers, soldiers, and others due
to the actions of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA)
and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) elements. This
violence has led successive Irish Governments to adopt special
legislation to deal with acts of terrorism. During 1985 the
Government has sought to apply such special legislation with
fairness and balance.
Ireland attaches great importance to the observance and
maintenance of human rights both in theory and practice. It
places strong emphasis on human rights in formulating foreign
policy and plays an active role in human rights questions in
the United Nations.
On November 15, 1985, the Irish and British Governments
concluded an agreement which gives the Irish Government a
consultative role in certain Northern Ireland affairs. Both
the Irish and British Parliaments subseqiaent ly approved the
agreement .
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
Politically motivated killings occasionally occur in Ireland
as a spillover from the violence in Northern Ireland. In
these cases, such groups as PIRA or INLA usually claim
responsibility. There were at least three slayings generally
attributed to these two groups in the Republic in 1985; in one
of these PIRA claimed responsibility. Both the Government and
the population as a whole strongly deplore these actions. The
Government uses the full force of the law to pursue and
prosecute such cases.
b. Disappearance
People are not abducted, secretly arrested, or held in
clandestine detention by the Irish authorities, nor does the
Irish Government condone such practices by any element of
society. Various terrorist groups have sometimes resorted to
kidnapping for political purposes, most recently in 1983. In
all such cases of political kidnapping, the Irish Government
uses full police power either to prevent or solve the crime.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading
punishment is respected in practice by the Government. From
time to time, including in Amnesty International's 1985
Report, allegations are made that individual officers have
used physical abuse during interrogations or have mistreated
prisoners. Such allegations are investigated by the
Government, and, where warranted, charges have been brought or
convictions overturned. Some civil rights groups, however,
are not fully satisfied with existing investigative
procedures, and the Government plans to introduce legislation
establishing an independent Police Complaint Review Board.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution contains provisions implementing its
guarantee that "no citizen shall be deprived of his personal
liberty save in accordance with law." For example, it
requires that full charges, in writing, be made available to
any individual placed under arrest. Neither in law nor in
practice is anyone subject to arrest for the expression of
political or religious views. Arrest is carried out openly by
warrant, and the right to a fair and speedy trial with full
right of legal counsel exists in law and practice. Detention
without charge is restricted. It is, however, permitted for a
maximum of 48 hours in cases tried in "special courts" for
offenses against national security. After this period the
individual must be brought before a magistrate, presented with
written charges, and given legal representation.
An omnibus Criminal Justice Act, passed by Parliament in
November 1984 in response to growing urban crime and drug
problems, gives some increased powers to the police in the
area of detention for interrogation. Critics have argued that
these provisions could diminish human rights. However, key
provisions of the Act dealing with detention, among other
things, cannot be put into effect under the terms of the Act
itself until the Police Complaint Review Board has been
established. Moreover, supporters of the bill point out that
under the proposed law, the Irish police would have less power
to detain and interrogate suspects than the police forces of
other European Community states. There is no forced labor in
e. Denial of Fair Pviblic Trial
Fair public trial is guaranteed by the Constitution and
respected in practice. The courts are independent, and jury
trial is the norm. The Constitution provides for the creation
of "special courts" to deal with cases where the "ordinary
courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration
of justice, and the preservation of public peace and order."
The "Offenses Against the State Act" of 1939 formally
established such courts and provided that they may try persons
for offenses against national security. These courts are used
in response to the spillover of violence from Northern
Ireland. Rather than having juries, these courts have panels
of judges, each consisting of an uneven number of judges but
never less than three. Their verdicts are by majority vote.
Rules of evidence are similar to those of regular courts,
except that the statement of a police chief superintendent
that the accused is a member- of an illegal organization is
considered evidence of such membership. Court sessions are
usually public but may exclude certain persons, other than
genuine press representatives. There is provision for free
legal aid and "appeal against conviction or sentence.
There is no provision under Irish law for use of political
offense arguments to evade prosecution or otherwise receive
special consideration in law enforcement and judicial
processes. Such arguments are often made by members of PIRA
and other illegal organizations convicted of terrorist
offenses .
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution protects the basic human right of
noninterference with personal privacy, family, home, or
correspondence which is generally observed. The Constitution,
also provides that the State shall enact no law "providing for
the grant of the dissolution of marriage." Arguing that
divorce is a basic human and family right, an Irish couple, in
late 1983, persuaded the European Court of Human Rights to
review denial of their right to a divorce as a case of denial
of human rights. The case is pending. In addition, the
question is under active review in the Irish Parliament.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Rights, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
These freedoms are guaranteed by the Constitution and
generally respected in practice. The State endeavors to
insure that organs of public opinion, while preserving liberty
of expression (including criticism of government policy) shall
not be used to undermine public order, morality, or the
authority of the State. Furthermore, "publication or
uttercince of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter" is an
offense punishable by law.
Ordinarily, such censorship as exists in Ireland is directed
largely toward materials considered pornographic in nature.
However, the state-owned radio and television networks, on the
basis of the constitutional provisions dealing with public
order and the authority of the State, have a longstanding
practice of denying air time to representatives of Provisional
Sinn Fein, the political wing of the illegal PIRA. In late
1982, this prohibition was challenged before the Irish Supreme
Court cind upheld on constitutional grounds. All other legal
political parties are given full and regular access to both
public-owned radio and television facilities and major
independent daily newspapers. Criticism of the Government in
such media is not only allowed but flourishes.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
These freedoms are guaranteed by the Constitution and
respected in practice. Terrorist organizations such as PIRA
are illegal, and membership in them is an offense against
national security. The INLA was added to the list of banned
organizations in early 1983. Political parties or groups
associated with such organizations, such as Provisional Sinn
Fein, are not proscribed.
Labor unions have full freedom to organize independently from
the Government and engage in free collective bargaining. The
Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which represents unions in
both the Republic and Northern Ireland, has 89 member unions
with over 650,000 members. The Irish Labor Party has not had
formal links to the trade union movement since the 1930 's, but
many union officials and members play an active role in
politics through the parties of their choice. Labor unions
are permitted to conduct protests, including secondary and
wildcat strikes. There are no compulsory settlement
procedures .
c. Freedom of Religion
Ireland is 94 percent Roman Catholic. The Constitution
guarantees freedom to all religious groups. There are no
restrictions on freedom of worship or association.
Discrimination in employment, education, and other fields
based on religious grounds has not been alleged. Some Irish
laws, such as the prohibition against divorce, reflect the
point of view of the majority community. The area of family
law is the subject of much current debate in which minority
religious communities have felt fully at liberty to take a
vocal and active role.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There is complete freedom of movement within the country as
well as freedom to engage in foreign travel, emigration, and
voluntary repatriation. Ireland has accepted displaced
persons on a limited basis.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Ireland has had a consistent history of orderly transfer of
power by elections since the end of the Irish Civil War in
1923. Ireland has two major parties, three smaller parties,
and provision for independents to stand for election to either
house of the Irish Parliament. The constitutional requirement
that elections be held at least every 5 years has always been
met. Ireland uses a proportional voting system, and the
secrecy of the ballot is fully safeguarded. The Government
elected in November 1982 is a two-party coalition in which the
party leader of the larger party serves as Prime Minister.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Irish Government generally cooperates with independent
outside investigations of alleged human rights abuses.
Amnesty International is active, as is the Irish Council for
Civil Liberties. Both operate freely and without hindrance in
Ireland as the principal independent organizations interested
in domestic human rights issues. Amnesty International's 1985
Report noted the release of Eamonn (Nicky) Kelly in 1984 (see
last year's report) and was concerned about allegations of
physical ill-treatment of prisoners. Freedom House rated
Ireland "free."
The population of the Irish Republic in 1985 totaled about
3,588,000 and is growing at 1 percent a year. Estimated per
capita gross national product in 1983 was $5,000. Successive
Irish governments have successfully promoted industrialization
and diversification, raising living standards considerably.
During the last 3 years Ireland has been hurt by rising
unemployment (17 percent in July 1985). Nonetheless, the
people enjoy adec[uate shelter, nutrition, health care, and
education. These services are available without regard to
race, religion, sex, ethnic background, or political opinion.
Life expectancy at birth is 73.49 years, and the infant
mortality rate is 9.5 per 1,000 live births. People whose
means are inadequate and who are not entitled to other
benefits may receive pensions or other payments from public
funds .
The minimum legal age for employment in Ireland is 15 years,
and hours of employment for 15-year-olds are limited to 8
hours per day and 40 hours per week. Persons 16 and 17 years
of age may work up to 9 hours per day and 40 hours per week.
No maximum number of hours per day or week applies to those
over 18 years of age. Although there is no comprehensive law
governing trade union activities, most terms and conditions of
employment are determined through collective bargaining.
Despite right-to-work laws, most businesses (covering over 56
percent of the labor force) are unionized.
There is no general minimum wage legislation in Ireland.
However, some 50,000 workers are covered by minimum wage laws
applicable to specific industrial sectors, mainly those which
tend to pay lower than average wages. Four basic laws dealing
with occupational safety provide adequate coverage. An
extensive system of public health insurance offers health
In recent years women have been playing a more significant
role in the Irish work force. Although the Constitution
recognizes the woman's role in terms of "her life within the
home," women have been entering the office and marketplace
relatively smoothly but slowly. Several studies have
highlighted the difference in pay scales between men and women
and have drawn particular attention to the fact that in recent
pay increases female workers have lagged considerably behind
males, thus further widening the gap. Equal pay for ecpaal
work is now very much on the agenda of Ireland's small but
growing women's movement.