Amnesty International Report 2017/18 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Ireland

Historical abuses against women and girls were not adequately addressed. Access to and information about abortion remained severely restricted and criminalized. Concerns remained about “direct provision” accommodation provided to asylum-seekers.

Women’s rights

In March, the CEDAW Committee published its concluding observations on Ireland’s sixth and seventh reports. It expressed concern at Ireland’s abortion laws, measures to combat violence against women, including funding cuts to non-governmental support services, and the impact of austerity measures on the funding for women’s NGOs.

The Committee criticized the state’s failure to establish an independent, thorough and effective investigation into all alleged human rights abuses against women and girls in the “Magdalene Laundries”, children’s institutions and mother and baby homes which operated with state funding and oversight between the 1930s and 1996. This concern was echoed by the UN Committee against Torture in its concluding observations on Ireland’s second periodic report, published in August. In November, the Ombudsman published a report criticizing the exclusion of some women from the Magdalene Laundries redress scheme.

The CEDAW Committee also noted numerous recommendations by other UN human rights mechanisms on the unresolved issue of historical abuses of women and girls, including in respect of symphysiotomies performed on women without their consent.

Sexual and reproductive rights

In June, the UN Human Rights Committee found in Whelan v. Ireland that Ireland’s abortion law violated the applicant’s rights to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as her rights to privacy and non-discrimination in forcing her to travel abroad for an abortion. In its August concluding observations, the UN Committee against Torture stated that Ireland’s abortion law causes women and girls “severe physical and mental anguish and distress”.

In June, the Citizens’ Assembly, established by the government to make recommendations on possible constitutional reform, recommended the removal of the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution, which placed the right to life of the foetus on a par with that of the pregnant woman. It recommended that access to abortion be provided without restriction in early pregnancy, and in a broad range of circumstances thereafter. Its recommendations were considered and supported by a specially convened parliamentary committee, which also recommended decriminalizing women and medical professionals accessing or providing abortion services. The government committed to holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in early 2018.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Concerns remained about poor living conditions in “direct provision” accommodation centres for asylum-seekers, in particular limited living space and privacy, lack of recreational facilities especially for children, and little personal spending money. In May, the Supreme Court ruled that the state’s prohibition on employment during the asylum procedure, irrespective of its duration, was unconstitutional; it gave the legislature six months to address its decision. The Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children were given statutory powers to consider complaints from “direct provision” residents.

In September, the government announced its commitment to developing a community sponsorship programme for resettling refugees.

Right to housing

A growing number of people were experiencing homelessness, many as a result of reduced availability of affordable rental properties. The number of homeless families increased by 31% between October 2016 and October 2017, with many children living in unsuitable hostel-type accommodation. In October, the European Committee of Social Rights published a decision finding Ireland in violation of the Revised European Social Charter. The decision related to conditions in some local authority housing.

Sex workers

In February, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was enacted which, among other provisions, criminalized the purchase of sex. While the Act removed criminal penalties from sex workers for soliciting and loitering, several aspects of sex work remained criminalized, despite international evidence that this can place sex workers at high risk of stigmatization, isolation, violence and other human rights abuses.

The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings noted reports of possible negative impacts of the criminalization of the purchase of sex on victims of trafficking. It urged Ireland to analyse such impacts on the identification, protection and assistance of trafficking victims, and the prosecution of traffickers.

Discrimination – Travellers

In March, the government granted formal recognition to the Traveller community as a distinct ethnic group within Ireland, following years of campaigning by Traveller groups. This was seen as a symbolic but significant step towards recognizing and countering the long-standing discrimination experienced by Travellers in Ireland.

Freedom of expression

Concerns emerged about the growing impact on civil society groups of the Electoral Act 1997, a law which regulates political funding. The Act, as amended in 2001, prohibits overseas donations, or domestic donations over EUR2,500, to “third party” organizations for vaguely defined “political purposes”.