The state failed to secure truth, justice and reparation for survivors of human rights abuses in “mother and baby homes”. There were concerns over the adequacy and affordability of housing, barriers to accessing abortion services, and criminalization of sex workers. The government proposed a human rights-compliant accommodation system for asylum seekers.
In January, the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes – established by the government in 2015 following years of campaigning by survivors and their allies – was published. It confirmed long-standing reports of ill-treatment of women and children in these state-funded institutions, which, from the 1920s to the 1990s, were operated by religious orders as a facility where “unmarried mothers” were sent to give birth. Findings included high child mortality rates, poor conditions, physical and emotional abuse, adoptions without women’s informed consent, and vaccine trials on children without adherence to regulatory or ethical requirements.
However, there were many serious gaps in the information, findings and analysis presented by the Commission. For example, no findings were made of forced or illegal adoptions, arbitrary detention or forced labour, despite evidence from survivors’ testimonies. Proposals made by the government on assessing redress for survivors were severely deficient.
Right to housing
A report published in September by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and Economic and Social Research Institute found “persistent problems in relation to housing access”. The report found that some groups, including lone parents, people with a disability and migrants, were particularly impacted by housing quality, overcrowding or affordability issues, while housing affordability also disproportionately impacted children and young people. It found “significant disadvantage in terms of adequate housing”, including cultural adequacy, for the Traveller community.
A constitutional referendum on housing promised in the 2020 Programme for Government was not scheduled. It also remained unclear whether the government would propose a constitutional right to housing in line with international human rights standards, as recommended in 2014 by a government-established Constitutional Convention.
Sexual and reproductive rights
In September, the Abortion Rights Campaign published research into users’ experiences of abortion services in Ireland since access was expanded in 2019. It found negative impacts of the mandatory three-day waiting period for access to services on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and barriers to access on lawful grounds in later pregnancy. It revealed lack of access in cases of severe fetal impairment, which the law permits only where the fetus will die before 28 days post-birth. It found uneven availability of abortion services around the country, difficulties in accessing information about abortion care, and negative attitudes and obstruction from some healthcare providers.
Despite government commitments made in 2018, and reports of ongoing intimidation and harassment outside maternity hospitals and clinics providing abortion services, legislation was not introduced to create safety zones to protect the rights of people seeking abortion care.
Legislation enacted in 2017 that retained offences and doubled criminal penalties for aspects of sex work continued to criminalize sex workers directly and indirectly. Of particular concern was the offence of “brothel-keeping”, whereby two or more sex workers risked prosecution if working together in a premises for safety, as this was considered a “brothel”. A government-commissioned review of the operation of the law, launched in 2020, was not completed by the end of the year.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
In February, the government published a White Paper in which it proposed replacing the widely criticized “direct provision” system of accommodating asylum seekers with a human rights-compliant model by 2024. It conceded that the current system did not respect the dignity and human rights of individuals. A detailed implementation plan was not published, however. Also unclear was how the rights and welfare of people remaining in this system would be safeguarded during the transition.
Right to health
Public inquiries recommended in 2020 by a parliamentary committee set up to review the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – including an inquiry into the high level of deaths of older people in nursing homes – were not established. The government stated that its own review of its efforts would not take place until the pandemic ended.