United Nations Committee urges Ireland to ratify Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNESCR) has urged the State to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

In the Concluding Observations to its review of Ireland’s protection of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, the UNESCR has also recommended enhancing access to services for people with disabilities.

The Committee expressed concern at the growing levels of people with disabilities living in consistent poverty or at risk of poverty, and suggested that the accessibility of people with disabilities has been “significantly restricted” due to social welfare cuts.  In this light,  it advocates a reversal of the cuts to social benefits programmes for people with disabilities taken over the last number of years.

It also pointed, in particular, to the continued institutionalisation of people with disabilities, as well as to the poor living conditions within and the lack of regular inspections of residential centres.  It recommends that the State “take all necessary steps to make available alternatives to institutionalisation, including community-based care programmes”.

Impact of austerity

The UNESCR review of Ireland’s protection of ESC rights took place in Geneva a fortnight ago, representing the State’s first appearance in front of the Committee since 2002.  A group of 12 non-government organisations (NGOs) and members of civil society, led by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), also participated in the review.

The key themes emerging in the UNESCR’s report, released yesterday, reflect on the impact of austerity, suggesting that the cuts enacted during the financial crisis have disproportionately hit marginalised groups in society, including people with disabilities.  It encourages the State to step up its efforts in alleviating this impact and reducing poverty, and to adopt a human rights approach in doing so.

Noting, for example, the barriers to equal education for people with disabilities, the Committee endorses the introduction of measures to promote inclusive education, such as ensuring all legislation is in line with international human rights standards and reviewing admission policies of all schools to eliminate discrimination.  Similiarly, regarding the high rates of unemployment among people with disabilities, it advises improving the employment situation through implementing a quota system, professional training and employment support services.  

The UNESCR also identifies a weakness in the State’s “lack of meaningful consultation” with civil society and stakeholders in developing and enacting policy and legislation, including that relating to the disability community, leading to greater inefficiencies of such measures.  It recommends that Ireland regularly consult with these groups, establishing an effective consultation mechansism, to create more relevant and effective policy.

Welcome development

Áiseanna Tacaíochta (ÁT) welcomes these recommendations from the UNESCR, recognising the significance that they bear in the lives of people with disabilities in Ireland.  For too long, people with disabilities have been denied the rights and opportunities that they, like everyone else, are entitled to, and it is crucial that action is taken to ensure that this is no longer the case.

The development, in particular, of community-based programmes of support empowers people with disabilities to live with independence, choice and freedom, and represents the next critical step of progress necessary to achieve equal rights for the disability community.

People with disabilities can no longer be seen – or treated – as an isolated, vulnerable group in society; we must focus on the potential that every person has for the future and the impact that they can make, and protect their human rights at every stage so that this potential is continually and completely met.

To read the Concluding Observations of the UNESCR, please click here.


Image by Vlado used with courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net