Ireland: redress still lacking for victims of abuses at “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions

Published on 20 Jul 2022, 05:00 PM

Ireland's fifth report review by the Human Rights Committee during the 135th session

The site of a former home in Tuam was excavated because hundreds of child burial records were missing, AFP/Getty Images

On 4 and 5 July, 2022, the Human Rights Committee went through the review of the fifth periodic report of Ireland. Ireland came with a significantly large delegation underlying the importance of the Committee review process. The Irish Minister for Children mentioned in their opening statement the insufficient efforts of the government to protect victims of abuses at “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” institutions, which was a recurring topic during the dialogue. The Committee questioned the Irish delegation about the barriers posed to abortion, especially for impoverished women, and the high levels of domestic violence during the pandemic. The legislative measures to combat discrimination against Traveller and Roma minorities in Ireland were also mentioned, and the Committee welcomed the 2021 bill on hate crimes, which included discrimination based on race and gender, among others, as aggravates in criminal offences.

Gross violations against women and children

Irish delegation during the Human Rights Committee 135th session

During the dialogue the most salient issue was the abuses against women and children in institutions under the authority of the State or the Catholic church, like “Mother and Baby” and “County Home” facilities, that took place in the 20th century. The Irish delegation acknowledged that the State failed to protect vulnerable citizens, and the Committee particularly challenged the problematic compensation regime in place, which excludes certain categories of children, and according to which the victims have to renounce their right to access to justice in order to obtain redress. One victim, the representative of one of the NGOs, engaged with the Committee and shared her personal experience on this issue. Ireland stated that some cases are difficult because of the age of perpetrators, the nature of the complaints, and the location of victims. Lastly, the Committee also mentioned the issue of non-consensual symphysiotomies, a gynecological operation used as an alternative to cesarean sections that causes chronic pain and emotional trauma, and whether operations were performed due to religious reasons, echoing a concern addressed few years ago in the Committee's jurisprudence

Refugees and Travellers and Roma minorities

As for refugees and asylum seekers, the Committee praised the proactive measures taken to receive Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war. Nevertheless, the members questioned why such a response could not be provided to refugees from other countries, particularly from African countries. Ireland responded that they were required to follow the European Union framework for supporting Ukrainian refugees.

Concerning the Traveller community, the Committee praised the government’s formal recognition of it as a distinct ethnic group in March 2019, though they questioned why it is not backed by any legal act. The Committee highlighted that they received a lot of information from civil society on the Traveller community, including on high rates of unemployment and imprisonment. The latter could be related to police profiling and home searches without warrants. Ireland mentioned that their measures to address such racism still had a long way to go, and that they have a program to encourage the Traveller community to apply for the police force and cultural education training for the awareness of prisons staff.

Watch again the dialogue with the Committee here.

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Concluding Observations on Ireland’s fifth periodic report were released on 27 July 2022. The State party is requested to provide, by 28 July 2025, information on the implementation of the following  recommendations:

Accountability for past human rights violations

The State party should:

  • a) Ensure the full recognition of the violation of human rights of all victims in these institutions, and establish a transitional justice mechanism to fight impunity and guarantee the right to truth for all victims;
  • b) Intensify its efforts to increase complaint mechanisms for victims and to raise their awareness in order to investigate all allegations of abuses, prosecute suspected perpetrators where appropriate and, if convicted, punish them with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offence;
  • c) Guarantee full and effective remedy to all victims, removing all barriers to access including, inter alia, overly burdensome standards of proof, short timeframes to apply to the redress schemes, the ex-gratia nature of the scheme and the requirement, in order to receive compensation, to sign a waiver against further legal recourse against state and non-state actors through judicial process.

Non-discrimination, hate speech and hate crime

The State party should redouble its efforts to combat hate speech and incitement to discrimination or violence on the grounds of, inter alia, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation and gender identity, in accordance with articles 19 and 20 of the Covenant and the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression. It should also inter alia:

  • a) Proceed with the timely adoption of the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Crime) Bill 2022 ensuring its provisions and restrictions are compatible with Covenant.
  • b) Improve relevant data collection and take effective measures to prevent and sanction both online and offline hate speech;
  • c) Strengthen its awareness-raising efforts aimed at promoting respect for human rights and tolerance for diversity, eradicating stereotypical prejudices based on race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • d) Encourage the reporting of hate crimes, and ensure that hate crimes are thoroughly investigated, perpetrators prosecuted and punished, and victims provided with effective remedies;
  • e) Provide adequate training to central and local authorities, law enforcement officials, judges, and prosecutors on addressing hate speech and hate crimes, and to media workers on promoting acceptance of diversity.

Freedom of religion

The Committee reiterates its previous recommendations that the State party should:

  • a) Consider taking concrete steps to amending articles 12, 31 and 34 of the Constitution that require religious oaths to take up senior public office positions, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 22 (1993) on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, concerning the right not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public;
  • b) Take the appropriate measures to provide secular education through the establishment of non-denominational schools and ensure the further amendment of section 37 (1) of the Employment Equality Act in a way that bars all forms of discrimination in employment in the fields of education and health.

Here you can find all the recommendations given by the Committee in the Concluding Observations.

The follow-up report of Ireland on the implementation of the recommendations is due in 2025. The next list of issues will be adopted in 2028, and the next periodic report is due in 2029. 

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