Thursday 14 December 2017

Fitzgerald gets grilling from UN on rights issues

Newly appointed Minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald at a press conference after receiving her seal of office at Aras An Uachtarain. Photo: Mark Condren
Newly appointed Minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald at a press conference after receiving her seal of office at Aras An Uachtarain. Photo: Mark Condren

JUSTICE Minister Frances Fitzgerald has appeared before a United Nations Committee where she faced questioning on Ireland's handling of several human rights issues.

Among the topics raised with the minister were penal reform, equal rights for lesbian and gay people and redress schemes for symphysiotomy victims and victims of state abuse.

The new garda oversight body and Traveller ethnicity were also brought up at the UN's Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.


The Government has also been accused of not keeping up with international standards in terms of the country's abortion laws.

In opening remarks, Minister Fitzgerald said: "Reform of police accountability and oversight mechanisms is my central priority."

She addressed reforms in abortion law in great detail and said there had "been a number of significant recent developments in relation to access to lawful termination of pregnancy in Ireland".

She said the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act had been passed following "extensive" debate. Members of the panel questioned whether the issue would be looked at again.

But members of the delegation said there were "no proposals to amend" the Act and said the issues of right to life had now "been addressed".

Speaking afterwards, Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly said he was "disheartened" by the Government's refusal to look at the issue of women's reproductive rights again.

"On this abortion issue, I'm disheartened by the minister's speech that the constitutional and legislative framework in Ireland reflects the nuanced and proportionate views of the Irish electorate on the question of abortion," he said.

"This is not the case that has been put to the Irish electorate.

"The Irish have never been asked this question.

"If it was put to a vote, I think the answer might be very
different to what we currently have."

The State also came under fire for the shortfall in convictions arising from GSOC investigations. Yuji Iwasawa from Japan said there was "concern" that only 150 cases out 13,000 complaints had been directed to the DPP.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was currently involved "in a very serious programme of reform" and said a range of new proposals for GSOC, to be brought in by the end of the year, would strengthen the agency.

She also said the Government was committed to setting up a new oversight body.


She spoke too of her commitment to speeding up the asylum process, efforts to avoid giving prison sentences for unpaid fines, the extension of domestic violence barring orders to civil partners and the recent reports on the removal of Roma children from their families.

On the "dreadful situation" of the survivors of symphysiotomy, she said: "The Government has decided to establish an ex-gratia scheme for the survivors."

Ms Fitzgerald also said that a new bill that will be aimed at preventing schools from discriminating against gay and lesbian teachers will be published this year.


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