Three rights issues ‘urgent’ – judge

Article by Jamie Smith and Mary Fitzgerald – Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Swedish judge who wrote the UN Human Rights Committee’s report on Ireland has said she is confident the Government will act to meet the committee’s concerns on human rights.

Elizabeth Palm, a former vice-president at the European Court of Human Rights, said three priority areas that require urgent State action are prison conditions, provision of secular education and the setting up of an inspection regime to ensure Shannon airport is not used by aircraft involved in the rendition of suspects.

“The Attorney General said the Government had been given assurances from the US president himself, but the Government should not rely on this. It must be careful in relying on official reassurances,” said Judge Palm, who said the best approach was to set up an inspection regime at Shannon.

The committee published its assessment of how the State is fulfilling its obligations under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights yesterday in Geneva. The body has given the Government a year to come back and provide relevant information on the three priority issues highlighted in the report. It also makes 19 recommendations to the Government to amend laws and establish practices to ensure it complies with the UN charter.

Ms Palm said she was concerned at the lack of primary school places for children seeking a secular education. “About 98 per cent of primary schools in Ireland seem to be denominational, and religious education is integrated into the curriculum,” she said.

Ms Palm said prison conditions featured in previous reports on Ireland by the committee. “Of particular concern is the fact that remand prisoners are not kept separate from people convicted of crime in Irish prisons. Overcrowding is also a problem.”

She said the plan to build a new prison called Thornton Hall as a means of solving the overcrowding problem was unlikely to work.

She criticised the Government for not advancing the abortion issue in Ireland since the publication of previous reports.

Colm O’Gorman, director of Amnesty International’s Irish branch, urged the Government to accept the committee’s recommendations on the renditions issue.

The Irish Traveller Movement said the committee’s recommendation the Government recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority would bolster its campaign for recognition of ethnic status.

© 2008 The Irish Times

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