Tuesday, 4 October 2011
I acknowledge the learned and timely contributions made by my colleagues in their response to Dr. Maurice Manning’s address on human rights and Seanad reform in the House last week. I enjoyed everyone’s comments, those whose views I would share and those whose views I would not share, and learned very much from that occasion. The quality of the debate and the questions raised bodes well for our increased efforts to ensure the relevance and rightness of what we are doing in Seanad. I am deeply concerned about one aspect as I prepare to head off to Geneva to observe the UN’s review of Ireland’s human rights record. In terms of the Government’s response to this peer review, it has not yet identified a list of voluntary commitments to improve the protection and promotion of human rights in Ireland. It is a core part of the UN process. Generally, countries involved in a review of their record outline voluntarily what they will do either before its representatives go to the hearing or on the day of the hearing. The Irish Human Rights Commission and many of the civil society organisations, whose representatives were here last week, have asked the Government to put forward its list but still we have no word of it. I am also mindful of recent comments made by the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, in his address to the UN General Assembly. He said:
Ireland is deeply committed to the United Nations. We look to it to uphold and defend the universal values of peace, security, human rights and development which are set out in the UN Charter.
He also said: “A deep attachment to these values ... and ... core human rights principles underpins our candidature for election to the Human Rights Council ... to be held in 2012.” If we hold this deep commitment to the UN and are seeking to be elected the UN’s Human Rights Council, surely we should be keen to outline our voluntary commitments ahead of time, or, at the very least, on the day of the hearing. Furthermore, these commitments and pledges to be effective ought to be specific and time-bound. For example, today the Immigrant Council of Ireland released a report on racism in Ireland and most of those interviewed were migrants, many of whom are naturalised citizens. Denise Charleton, the ICI’s chief executive, said that what was striking about the report is that the people interviewed believe racism is more prevalent in Ireland than in many other countries in which they have lived. Therefore, do we have a voluntary commitment from our Government regarding racism? All we have in the Government’s report so far is that it is “firmly committed to eliminating all forms of racial discrimination” and it notes an action plan that was completed in 2008 and blandly report that the strategies will continue to be implemented.
I call on the Minister for justice to identify Ireland’s voluntary commitments to increase human rights, if not before Thursday then during the hearing, and some Members may watch the live steam of these proceedings in Buswells. It is the least we can do if we wish to be voted on to the UN Human Rights Council next year. I also ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the Seanad to discuss the outcome of the deliberations in Geneva.