11 July 2002 Edition
Defending the human rights agenda
Tar Isteach AGM
A broad cross-section, including trade unionists, represenatives of statutory agencies, the broad community sector, the Irish language movement, film and media production, young people and republican ex-prisoners and their families came to the Tar Isteach's AGM in Dublin last weekend to hear a powerful address on human rights in Ireland.
Tar Isteach, which is the Dublin based republican ex-prisoner group, is one of the Coiste na n-Iarchimí ex-prisoner groups. The Coiste was set up following the Good Friday Agreement to support, through mutual aid and cooperation, the prisoners, their families and people displaced through the conflict.
Donncha O'Connell from NUI Galway and the coordinator of Coiste, Mike Ritchie, led a discussion in the morning, chaired by ex-prisoner, Eamonn Nolan, on the future of the human rights agenda and the opportunities for Coiste groups to play a part in the struggle to establish these rights.
In an inspiring address, Donncha spoke of how the Dublin government supported a human rights agenda through the GFA and backed the establishment of a strong Human Rights Commission in the North, yet has failed to take this agenda seriously in the South. The Human Rights Commission in this state has so far not been resourced and has as yet done nothing, he said.
He explained that the Dublin government has adopted the European Convention on Human Rights but at a sub-constitutional level, where, if conflict arose between Irish law and the convention, Irish law took precedence, which relegated and undermined the importance of the European Convention within the state.
Donncha went on to talk of the leaked report, still not published, on the Offences against the State Act. We have been told it recommends that the Special 'Criminal' Court and the Offences Against the State Act (OASA) should be retained to deal with "the continuing threat of organised crime". In the US, where there is 'organised crime', they don't have the OASA, nor do they feel the need to derogate from the principle of the right to fair trial by your peers. Donncha also spoke of the need for policing reform, the need to set up an Ombudsman independent of the state and with real powers. In all these areas, the Dublin government has been stupendously laggard and has fallen behind the aspirations it had negotiated in the GFA, he said.
There has emerged, in this context, an overt and rearguard attack oagainst the Equality Authority and the whole human rights agenda. There are still those who don't want to institute or protect the rights of the disabled, but would prefer to deal in charity. There are those who do not want to recognise gender equality as a human rights issue.
"We need to contest, to engage in debate on this issue," said Donncha. "And we need to recognise that the human rights agenda is a political agenda, just as much as the agenda of those who oppose human rights."
"We need to be looking to place social and economic rights centre stage and play a part in forging an alliance of the left and working to advance the argument. If we don't contest for human rights, for social and economic rights, then these rights will not be secured in the Ireland of tomorrow."