New criminal law provisions further curtailed the right to silence by allowing adverse inferences to be drawn from a person’s silence during police questioning. Asylum procedures continued to be prolonged, and failed sufficiently to take children’s needs into consideration. Two reports were published on the abuse of thousands of children over decades by members of the Catholic clergy. The abuse was covered up by church and state authorities. There was a shortfall in mental health services. The treatment of rape survivors by the criminal justice system gave rise to concern. The human rights of trafficking victims were not adequately protected.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, enacted in July, extended the remit of the jury-less Special Criminal Court to certain “organized crime” offences. Provisions of the new law also allowed adverse inferences to be drawn from a person’s silence during police questioning, thereby undermining the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself. The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) complained that parliament (Oireachtas) and the public had been allowed insufficient time to consider the new law.
In July, the IHRC said that the 32 per cent cut in its 2009 funding seriously hampered its statutory functions. It recommended that it should be made answerable to parliament, not to a government department.
The Civil Partnership Bill 2009, published in June, proposed to permit same-sex couples, opposite-sex couples and cohabiting companions to register civil partnerships. The Bill recognized a number of other rights and obligations previously afforded only married couples. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups criticized it for not giving same-sex couples a right to civil marriage or addressing the unsatisfactory legal situation of children of same-sex couples.
Police and security forces
In April the IHRC, while welcoming positive initiatives underway within the police (An Garda Síochána) to make the service more human rights compliant, expressed concern at the slow pace of reform in key areas. It set out a range of recommendations on further reforms needed for the service to become more transparent and accountable. It also called for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which deals with complaints against the police, to be sufficiently resourced to carry out its functions effectively.
In October, the IHRC informed the UN Human Rights Committee that physical conditions in many prisons were unacceptable, sometimes amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment, and that in the previous 12 months overcrowding had reportedly reached severe levels, increasing the potential for violence among prisoners.
Counter-terror and security
The government cabinet committee established in 2008 to review and strengthen legislation dealing with the search and inspection of suspected rendition flights did not publish legislative proposals.
Guantánamo Bay detainees
In September, the government announced that it had accepted two former detainees from the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for residence in Ireland.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
There remained concern at the length of asylum proceedings, which in some cases took three to five years. Legislation proposed in 2008 to introduce a single procedure for determining refugee status as well as other forms of protection was not enacted.
In November, the Ombudsman for Children found that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children received a lower standard of care than children in the mainstream care system, and that many resided in uninspected private hostels. She expressed concern that 419 unaccompanied children had gone missing from care between the end of 2000 and June 2009 and was critical of the response to such incidents. She also concluded that the asylum process did not take sufficient account of children’s age or vulnerability.
In May, the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Ryan report) outlined the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of over 30,000 children between 1936 and 2000 placed by the state in institutions operated by Catholic religious orders. It found that the Department of Education, health boards and religious orders failed to protect children or to investigate complaints. In July, the government gave commitments to implement the Commission’s recommendations, including by providing reparation to abuse survivors and addressing serious gaps in current child protection and care systems.
A report by the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation (Murphy report) into the handling of clerical child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin between 1975 and 2004 was published in November. It found that hundreds of abuse cases were covered up by the church and state authorities, including the police.
A referendum on the incorporation of children’s rights in the Constitution was further delayed.
Right to health – mental health
There was a shortfall in mental health services, especially for vulnerable groups such as children and people with intellectual disabilities. In May, the Inspector of Mental Health Services described the 247 admissions of children to adult units in 2008 as “inexcusable, counter-therapeutic and almost purely custodial”.
In April, the Mental Health Commission reported on care and treatment practices in two mental health in-patient facilities in Clonmel. It found a poor and unsafe physical environment, high levels of injuries to patients in uncertain circumstances, inappropriate medication and use of seclusion, an absence of basic levels of privacy, and restrictions on movement.
In December, a review by the Rape Crisis Network of the criminal justice system’s response in rape cases found that just 30 per cent of cases reported to the police led to prosecutions. It observed that both the police and the prosecution service assessed the credibility of a rape report against a narrow stereotype, a factor in deterring survivors from reporting their ordeal. It also found that the most common reason given by victims for considering withdrawing complaints was poor treatment by the police.
Also in December the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held a hearing in a case concerning three women who complained that restrictions on obtaining an abortion in Ireland violated their human rights.
Trafficking in human beings
A report by the Immigrant Council of Ireland in April found that at least 102 and probably many more women and girls were trafficked into or through Ireland for sexual exploitation over a two-year period.
In June the government published a three-year national action plan to prevent and combat trafficking. Its proposal to continue housing survivors of trafficking in accommodation dedicated to asylum-seekers gave rise to concern that they would be inadequately protected from the risk of further harm. Very few victims were granted a “reflection and recovery” period.
The government failed to publish its first report on arms exports and brokering for the year 2008, required under the Control of Exports Act 2008.