The Government must ensure its budgetary policy reflects Ireland’s economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights obligations and create a more open budgetary process, according to a new report launched today by Amnesty International Ireland.
The report, Bringing ESC Rights Home: Applying Ireland’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Obligations to Budgetary Policy, recommends that the Government establish a minimum level of protection for all ESC rights. These include the right to social welfare, healthcare, education, and an adequate standard of living, which includes housing. At the very least this fundamental core of ESC rights must be guaranteed to all people, and progressively built on.
ESC Report Teaser“Human rights do not exist in some idealist abstract, they are designed to be highly achievable in reality,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland. “They recognise that states do not have infinite amounts of resources and that the full enjoyment of many ESC rights cannot be achieved overnight. But they also lock in the need for non-discrimination and for the protection of a basic standard of living for everyone, no matter what the resource challenges.”
The report recommends that ESC rights should be used as a budgetary framework by policy makers, particularly in relation to the allocation of resources. This would help provide clarity regarding who and what to prioritise, ensure fairer, more equal outcomes for all, and enable a more open, transparent process.
It also recommends that government departments clearly identify outcomes to be achieved from expenditure and track expenditure from departmental vote to programmatic spend. They should also have effective reporting procedures in place on expenditure against allocation and agreed outcomes to ensure that state resources are effectively being used.
“What we do and how we do it, really matters. Ultimately, good policy making requires good evidence to underpin it and good systems to be in place to deliver on the policy objectives,” said Dr. Frances Ruane, Director of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). “In some cases, we need to go back to the drawing board to clarify what we are trying to achieve and the best way to deliver those objectives. Only when we have done that, are we in a position to develop policy and implement it in a strategic way.”
Transparency is also a key issue, with the report stating that the Government should ensure access to information and a full understanding of the budgetary process among the public. It also suggests that a specific budget line should be created to finance measures that achieve transparency and participation.
“Civil society organisations play an essential role in ensuring budgetary accountability; the Government should take steps to guarantee their meaningful involvement in the budget process. This can’t be a tick the box exercise. It should be clear to organisations what weight is placed on their submissions and how their recommendations are taken forward,” said Noeline Blackwell, Director General of FLAC.
The report calls for all government departments to carry out pre-budget impact assessments from a human rights and equality perspective, particularly when budget cuts and/or tax increases are proposed. It also notes that any inquiry into factors that contributed to the economic crisis in Ireland should be independent, transparent and participatory.
“In the immediate aftermath of the economic crisis there was a lot of talk about changes to the budgetary process. The Government committed to opening it up to public scrutiny in order to restore confidence and stability. We also heard a lot about transparency and accountability. There has been some small progress, but nothing like enough, “said Colm O’Gorman.
“With the Irish economy beginning to stabilise, it is time for the Government to deliver on those early promises. A perfect example of how to do that is to use human rights as the basis for a budgetary process that is people-focussed, coherent, transparent and accountable.”