Home > Human rights and extreme poverty in Ireland.

Pike, Brigid (2011) Human rights and extreme poverty in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 38, Summer 2011, p. 10.

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Between 10 and 15 January 2011, at the invitation of the then Irish government, the UN’s independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, undertook a mission to Ireland. She focused on the impact of the economic and financial crises in Ireland and the effects of recovery measures on the level of enjoyment of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights, by the most vulnerable individuals and groups in Ireland, including problem drug users. On 17 May 2011 Ms Sepúlveda submitted her report to the UN. In it, she makes concrete recommendations on how to implement a human rights-based recovery in Ireland.1 

While acknowledging that the government’s anti-poverty and social inclusion strategies may need to be adapted in light of the worsening economic situation, she encourages the government to ensure as a minimum that the 23 high-level goals in Towards 2016 continue to be the primary targets for Ireland’s social policies. She also endorses the target set by the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007­–2016 to reduce the number of those experiencing consistent poverty to between 2% and 4% by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016.
Ireland’s human rights obligations apply even during times of economic hardship, and recovery measures must not disproportionately impact the poorest segments of society, according Ms Sepúlveda. She calls on the government to undertake a human rights review of all budgetary and recovery policies to ensure they comply with fundamental human rights principles.
According to the independent expert, having signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Ireland must devote the maximum available resources to ensure progressive realisation of all economic, social and cultural rights by its population. Given that Ireland remains an affluent country with a relatively high GNP per person, Ms Sepúlveda expresses concern about the level of taxation in Ireland, which she notes is lower than in most other European countries: ‘... seeking to achieve adjustments primarily through expenditure cuts rather than tax increases might have a major impact on the most vulnerable segments of society. Reductions in public expenditure affect the poorest and most vulnerable with the most severity, whereas some increase in taxation rates could place the burden on those who are better equipped to cope. ’ (para. 24)
Ensuring non-discrimination and equality are regarded as fundamental pillars of the human rights framework. Despite the existence of a strong body of equality legislation in Ireland, Ms Sepúlveda urges the government to be particularly mindful that policies do not exacerbate the challenges faced by groups vulnerable to discrimination, such as single mothers, children, Travellers, people with disabilities, migrants, asylum-seekers and the homeless. She also encourages the government to take positive measures to help these vulnerable segments to ‘regain their equal footing with the rest of Irish society’. She goes on to observe:
A number of recent measures are concerning in this respect, especially reductions in child benefits and benefits for job seekers, carers, single parent families, persons with disabilities and blind persons. The impact of these measures will be exacerbated by funding reductions for a number of social services which are essential for the same vulnerable people, including disability, community and voluntary services, Travellers supports, drug outreach initiatives, rural development schemes, the Revitalising Areas by Planning, Investment and Development (RAPID) programme and Youthreach. (para. 34)
1.  Report of the independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona. Addendum: Mission to Ireland. United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Seventeenth Session, 17 May 2011. A/HRC/17/34/Add.2
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 38, Summer 2011
Page Range
p. 10
Health Research Board
Issue 38, Summer 2011
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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