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Amnesty International calls on the Government to protect economic, social and cultural rights

23rd February 2015, 17:28:24 UTC

Amnesty International has today called on the Irish Government to accept the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention to amend the Constitution and protect economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights.

A year ago, on the 23 February 2014, the Convention voted, by an overwhelming majority of 85%, to strengthen the protection of ESC rights, like the right to health, to housing and to fair working conditions, in our Constitution.

The recommendation was delivered to the Government, in the penultimate report of the Constitutional Convention, in March 2014. Despite the Convention’s terms of reference requiring a response within four months, the Government have yet to do so.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland said: “We call on the Government to, at the very least, accept the Convention’s recommendation in principle.”

“In the lead up to the next general election, we also call on all political parties and groupings to embrace the Convention’s recommendation as a platform for progressing and developing ESC rights.”

“If the Government decides to accept the recommendation in principle, but that its implementation requires further consideration, it is important that this process is open and transparent and that experts from civil society and academia can offer their input, building on the broad participation that was a crucial feature of the Constitutional Convention’s success. We would welcome an indication of progress on this important issue.”

“In a post-bailout Ireland, we need to think anew about how decisions are made at the political level. We need a Constitution that protects ESC rights and provides decision-makers and politicians with an objective, legally sound framework with which to make better, evidence-based decisions. We also need to strengthen accountability mechanisms for when governments make bad decisions that fail to properly consider and respect the human rights of people in Ireland.”

“The Convention’s recommendation represents the clear desire of people in Ireland that the Government take account of its international human rights obligations, including the right to health, housing and an adequate standard of living, when making decisions and spending money.”

Both Fine Gael and The Labour Party strongly supported constitutional protection of ESC rights while in opposition. In 1999, members of both parties voted to support a Labour Party Bill that sought to enshrine ESC rights in the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention was established by the Government as part of a promise for constitutional reform to ensure that ‘our Constitution meets the challenges of the 21st century’.

Made up of 66 citizens, 33 elected representatives, and one Chair, the Convention reviewed and made recommendations on issues set down by the Government.The Government did not select an issue for review in the final session. Instead, Convention members could choose which issue they would examine and elected to examine ESC rights.ESC rights are needed to ensure that people can live a life of dignity. Ireland committed to uphold these rights in international law, when it ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1989.