A Programme of Human Rights Reform for Ireland’s Second Century
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) is Ireland’s leading independent human rights organisation. Since 1976, ICCL has campaigned successfully for the advancement of human rights in Ireland. ICCL stands for an Ireland that is free, fair and equal. As Ireland approaches the centenary of our independence, we are a progressive and wealthy country which has made much progress in the protection of human rights. At the same time, our republic remains incomplete – too many have been left behind, too many disempowered or marginalised. We also face great challenges nationally and regionally, which threaten to undermine the progress we have made.
At this crucial moment, ICCL calls on Irish political parties, civil society organisations, business and intellectual leaders to be ambitious in our commitment to human rights, and in our shared vision for the type of society that we can build, in line with the government’s constitutional and international obligations. ICCL believes in an Ireland that is compassionate and tolerant, where the best attributes of Irish culture – hospitality, fairness and community – can be given their full expression. As part of this larger commitment to transforming Ireland into a rights based society, we have identified 8 areas where human rights are currently being denied in Ireland, but where simple changes to our laws and policies can release new potential. All of these calls are based on legal obligations the State is required to uphold.
1. Introduce Safe Access Zones
Repeal of the 8th Amendment was the culmination of decades of campaigning for equality by Irish women and civil society. ICCL is committed to ensuring that the rights provided for under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 are respected effectively in practice. Safe Access Zones are necessary to ensure women can access all health services, including abortion services, safely, privately and with dignity.
Call: Enact legislation providing for safe zones at abortion providers which will protect the health and privacy rights of all those accessing those services.
2. Enact Hate Crime Legislation
We are witnessing a worrying rise in racism and anti-migrant sentiment in Ireland, particularly with regard to migrants including asylum seekers. In order to meet this challenge, our laws and policies must be strengthened to sanction and help prevent hate crime and to provide justice for those who are victim to it. Hate crime legislation will also help Ireland address criminal behaviour which is targeted at other groups, including women, Travellers, LGBT+ people, and disabled people. Systems of recording hate crime and appropriate policing policies should be put in place to support this legislation.
Call: Introduce hate crime legislation.
3. Halt the Public Services Card
ICCL opposes government and corporate systems that interfere with or otherwise process our sensitive information unnecessarily and without meaningful transparency, accountability, or legal bases. The rapid digitisation of government welfare and services systems is one example of how such interferences are undermining our personal data rights, and the poorest amongst us are targeted in particular. The Public Services Card project is invasive, costly, and entirely unnecessary. Key aspects of the scheme have been found illegal by the Data Protection Commissioner, yet the government continues to deploy it.
Call: Halt the illegal PSC project and support the DPC to act swiftly and effectively to defend our data and privacy rights
4. Establish a new Police Ombudsman
Police play an essential role in protecting human rights, but police officers also have exceptional powers that must be carefully overseen to ensure they are not misused. Effective accountability and oversight of those powers is the key to ensure human rights compliant policing. The Commission on the Future of Policing (CFP) accepted ICCL’s recommendations that a comprehensive restructuring of Irish policing should be based on principles of human rights. It is essential that promised legislation puts in place strong oversight and complaints mechanisms.
Call: In line with recommendations by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, establish a new Independent Office of the Police Ombudsman. Ensure that the proposed Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission (PCSOC) has full powers of unannounced access to garda stations and oversight of intelligence and surveillance.
5. Allow Inspection of All Places of Detention
Our tragic history of institutional abuse shows us that independent and effective inspection of the closed places where people are detained is essential to prevent gross human rights violations up to and including torture. At present garda stations, nursing homes, and direct provision centres are only some of the places of detention that are not subject to independent inspection in Ireland. Ratifying the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) would require the State to put in place a comprehensive inspection system everywhere people can be detained. Despite signing this treaty in 2007, Ireland remains one of the few European countries not to ratify it.
Call: Ratify OPCAT as a matter of urgency. A National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) should be put in place to ensure that all places where people are detained are subject to inspection.
6. Establish a Victims Ombudsman
Victims’ rights must be respected by all agencies in the criminal justice process – police, prosecution, support services, and non-statutory agencies, in line with the Victims’ Rights Act 2017. This requires a focal point for victims rights within the justice system.
Call: Establish an Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to ensure that victims of crime can access a quick, clear and independent complaints procedure.
7. Outlaw image-based sexual abuse
The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act needs to be amended to outlaw the creation and/or sharing of private sexual images without consent – commonly but incorrectly referred to as “revenge porn”. There are, as yet, no specific laws addressing this phenomenon in Ireland. The Act should be amended so that a pattern of harassment does not have to be shown and single instances can be prosecuted.
Call: Amend the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act to outlaw image-based sexual abuse
8. Reform the Electoral Act
The Electoral Act sets out a number of restrictions on political campaign financing. These restrictions are appropriate and necessary to protect the integrity of our elections; however, poorly drafted amendments to the Act mean that community organisations, residents’ groups and charities have faced prosecution for expressing views on matters of public interest. The EU Fundamental Rights Agency has stated that this anomaly presents a serious threat to freedom of expression and association in Ireland. A Private Members Bill has been published to fix anomalies in the Electoral Act and to ensure that necessary rules on political financing do not impede on the rights of civil society groups to organise and advocate for social change.
Call: Support the Electoral Amendment (Civil Society Freedom) Bill 2019.