Home > Human rights, equality and the National Drugs Strategy.

Dillon, Lucy (2016) Human rights, equality and the National Drugs Strategy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 58, Summer 2016, p. 9.

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In 2014 Ireland became the first EU member state to introduce legislation that combines equality and human rights as a ‘public sector duty’. This public sector duty requires public bodies to take proactive steps to promote equality, protect human rights and fight discrimination in relation to their functions and powers. Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 states:1


A public body shall, in the performance of its functions have regard to the need to:

  1. eliminate discrimination,
  2. promote equality of opportunity and treatment of its staff and the persons to whom it provides services, and
  3. protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of its members, staff and the persons to whom it provides services. 

The Act requires public bodies both to set out in their strategic plans an assessment of the human rights and equality issues it believes to be relevant to its functions and purpose, and to have policies, plans and actions in place to address those issues, or to include proposals on how such policies and plans will be put in place. Annual reports need to report on developments and achievements in regard to these issues.


The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), established under the 2014 Act, published its first strategy in January 2016, covering the years 2016–2018. One of the goals in the strategy is the ‘proactive implementation of our legal powers, in particular positive public duty’.2 Among the outcomes the Commission will be measuring in relation to this goal are whether there is an increase in awareness of human rights and equality issues, and in positive action among ‘duty bearers’, i.e. public bodies.


It is within this legislative context that Niall Crowley, the former Chief Executive Officer of the now defunct Equality Authority in Ireland (1999–2009), gave a presentation at CityWide’s 20th anniversary conference in November 2015.3 He explored the opportunities that this statutory public sector duty offers the National Drugs Strategy. He discussed how to develop an equality and human rights statement for the strategy that will ensure equality and human rights are built into the planning, implementation and evaluation of the strategy. He also noted that this public sector duty will ensure the full integration of ‘communities of interest’ such as LGBT, travellers, New Communities and other minority groups, into the development of the strategy.4


1 Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2014/act/25/enacted/en/html

2 Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (2016) Strategy statement 2016–2018. Dublin: IHREC, p. 9. Retrieved 30 June 2016 http://www.ihrec.ie/download/pdf/strategystatement.pdf

3 Niall Crowley’s presentation is available at  http://www.citywide.ie/citywide-20th-anniversary/workshops.html

4 For an account of human rights and drug policy in Ireland prior to the finalisation of the current National Drugs Strategy, see B Pike (2008) Human rights and illicit drugs policy. Drugnet Ireland (27): 11–12. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12108/

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