Dublin Government fails to meet obligations under the GFA
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
Under the Good Friday Agreement, the Dublin government gave a
commitment to ``further examine the incorporation of the European
Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to ensure that the protection
of human rights will be to the equivalent standard of protection
afforded in the six counties.''
However, while the government promised to introduce this
legislation by October, as it is, they have not even drafted this
legislation, apparently because of a dispute between Attorney,
General Michael McDowell and Minister of Justice, John
O'Donoghue, over just how to do this. It transpires that there
is unlikely to be a move this side of Christmas.
Last July a high level delegation from the Attorney General's
office and the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs, were
grilled for two days by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva.
The Departments were up for examination as to how far protection
human rights met the standards of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
AG rapped over the knuckles
The Irish delegation didn't do very well at all, and ended with
the Committee's President giving a diplomatic dressing down to
the Attorney General over the plans to incorporate the ECHR into
domestic law, without equivalent respect for the ICCPR, which
this state ratified as long ago as 1989.
Commenting on the concluding observations of the UNHRC
examination, Donncha O'Connell, director of the Irish Council for
Civil Liberties, sums up their remarks. ``The Committee were
unequivocal about the lack of independence of the Garda
Complaints Board which . . . makes us a laughing stock when it
comes to police accountability.''
Donncha O'Connell went on to say that ``The Committee, in keeping
with its earlier view expressed in 1993, called for an end to the
jurisdiction of the Special Criminal Court. It criticised
restrictions on access to abortion in Ireland and highlighted a
number of other areas, such as freedom of speech and censorship,
the position of women under the constitution, in which Irish
constitutional standards fall short of the prescribed standard
under the ICCPR.''
This disciplinary session was held, of course, before the UN
Committee had a chance to consider the recent decision in the
Supreme Court concerning asylum seekers.
``The UN Committee was unequivocal in its recommendation that the
existence of the Special Criminal Court, the continued use of the
Offences Against the State Acts, the `impenetrability' of the
DPP's decision to assign cases to the special criminal court and
the maintenance of a two-tier system of justice, were all
offensive to the ICCPR,'' O'Connell said.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties makes the point that there
are many ways to incorporate the ECHR into Irish law. ``A range
of modifications could be made to the Irish Constitution to
elevate the status of international law, not just as contained in
the ECHR but in other instruments as well.''
After the Supreme Court's decision that discrimination against
asylum seekers was not unconstitutional, there is good reason to
consider this ICCL option. The Law Society will hold a
conference on 14th October to examine this question, where John
O'Donoghue is expected to outline his plans for incorporation of
As this government, despite the commitments to equality made in
the Good Friday Agreement, continues to practice discrimination
between two classes of people, those with the right to housing,
health and employment, and those who don't share those same
rights, it will be interesting to see just how far O'Donoghue has
got on enshrining human rights in the constitution.
The prevalence of acronyms in the discussion of these issues
makes sound bytes harder. Is this a reason why there is an
absence of interest or comment amongst the political parties that
vie for power in the state. Or is it just that, aside from
rhetoric, none of these parties care two monkeys about the
protection O'Donoghue or McDowell afford to human rights?