Republican News · Thursday 5 October 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Dublin Government fails to meet obligations under the GFA


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.

Constitutional change

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 ECHR.

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?

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