13 March 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) today underlined the need to protect those most vulnerable to the coronavirus and for that to remain a priority in the Government’s response. This includes not only those who are most at-risk from the virus but also those vulnerable to the virus’s impact because of their social or economic circumstances.
Consideration should be given to residents or detainees in congregated settings such as hostels, halting sites, direct provision and emergency accommodation centres, and prisons.
ICCL’s Senior Research and Policy Officer, Doireann Ansbro, said
A rights-based approach to the pandemic will protect all of us, but particularly the most vulnerable. It can inform how we can work together as a society and as a community to addressing the great challenges we face.
Certain limitations can be made on our individual rights to protect public health in times of crisis. However a rights-based approach also requires the government to take specific action to protect those who are most vulnerable to the virus and its wider impact.
The rights we have in our Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and international human rights law still apply in emergency situations but can be limited for public health reasons. However, these limitations must comply with strict requirements.
For example, the right to freedom of assembly can be limited, but that limitation must be prescribed by law, necessary and grounded in evidence and the restriction must be the least possible in order to protect public health. In this context, ICCL believes the government is correct to advise cancellation of large gatherings rather than imposing a blanket ban. A case by case approach to events and gatherings is appropriate.
The right to freedom of expression and information is key. The government should continue to be transparent about what is going on and why they are making decisions. This means giving people enough notice to prepare for all eventualities.
This transparency also extends to the mechanisms government and employers use to track and process personal data attached to Covid-19. For example, the public and workers should be updated clearly and immediately about any steps followed. Data should only be retained and processed when it is necessary and proportionate.
Under the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Ireland ratified in 1989, medical assistance must be delivered without discrimination. That means that people who do not have private health insurance should receive the same standard of care as those who do. ICCL is also concerned that any patients in the at-risk category who are advised or required to self-isolate or take measures of social distancing must be supported by adequate economic supports, including sick pay.
Notes for editors: See statement from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights here: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25668&LangID=E
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is Ireland’s oldest independent human rights campaigning organisation. We monitor, educate and campaign to secure human rights for everyone in Ireland.
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