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Protecting economic, social and cultural rights in Ireland – and internationally

By Rosalind McKenna, Coordinator, Human Rights in Ireland Programme,  Amnesty International Ireland,

Three years on from its adoption, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights needs five more countries to become parties to it before it comes into force. Rosalind McKenna, Amnesty International Ireland’s Human Rights in Ireland Coordinator, reflects on three years of campaigning – and the progress that is being made.

“We hope to be in a position to sign the Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights before the end of this year.” So spoke Ireland’s Justice Minister at the Human Rights Council on 6 October, to the delight of myself and everyone else who has been campaigning for this.

When it comes into force, the Optional Protocol will ensure that everyone can access the rights enshrined in the Convention. This includes the right to healthcare for pregnant women, the right to adequate housing for people living in slums and the right to education for children from minority communities.

Amnesty International Ireland has been campaigning for the Optional Protocol since 2007, ensuring that this brand new piece of international law is on the political, public and media agenda.

We worked to ensure the wording of the Optional Protocol would not restrict human rights. We made the Irish government aware that international treaty negotiations cannot be hidden from the public, that people in Ireland care about the human rights agreed to in their name.

For the last three years we have been asking the Irish government to sign and become party to the Optional Protocol. And we have not been alone. We have mobilized around 30 other organizations to call on the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) to commit to the Optional Protocol.

We also engaged the public by launching a social media campaign. Emails were sent marked “The Irish Government doesn't want you to read this”, asking people to write to the government. The Taoiseach subsequently went on record saying the government was “positively disposed” to signing.

Unfortunately, it continued to stall. In March, Ireland got a new government, and then in October – breakthrough! The commitment from the Minister was a great victory. We will continue to pressure the government until it actually puts pen to paper!

Amnesty International's global Demand Dignity campaign continues to call on governments worldwide to sign and become party to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Check out the recent declaration made by jurists and other human rights experts here.