Irish Times Tuesday July 15th 2008
UN committee to question rendition stance
CAROL COULTER, Legal Affairs Editor
THE IRISH Government will be asked by a UN committee today to justify its failure to act on extraordinary rendition and to legislate in the areas of abortion, transgender identity, non-traditional families and freedom of religion in schools.
It will also be asked to justify its policies on the summary deportation of certain foreign nationals, the continued use of "slopping out" in prisons and the imprisonment of debtors.
The questions are raised in a "Shadow Report" to the United Nations Committee on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Irish Government is presenting its five-year submission on the state of human rights in Ireland in Geneva today.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said: "The issues are under discussion in Geneva today and tomorrow by a high-level Irish delegation led by the Attorney General." It is likely that a statement will be issued at the conclusion of the discussions.
Three organisations, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Flac and the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), collaborated in preparing the shadow report to assist the UN committee in questioning the Government on its record.
They published this report in Dublin yesterday, and it was launched by Judge Michael Kirby, the longest-serving judge on the High Court of Australia (its Supreme Court).
Judge Kirby said it would not be appropriate for him to enter into discussion of Irish controversies, but he compared some of the issues raised with those he had encountered in the Australian courts. Deaths in custody, the increase in the rate of detention, the "verballing" of vulnerable suspects and the degradation to be found in Victorian prisons, he said.
However, he said there was no Special Criminal Court in Australia, and he was surprised to see that in Ireland, unlike Australia, there was no right for a suspect to have a lawyer present during interrogation. He also expressed surprise at the lack of provision for secular education and the exemption of the Garda from freedom of information legislation.
Referring to legislation for same-sex couples, and describing his own same-sex relationship of 40 years as "a great blessing in life", he said: "It is always a source of surprise and a little pain that a long-term relationship is thought to threaten marriage. It is not intended to. It suggests a degree of fragility in marriage that is not justified by my experience."
Speaking for the ICCL on the shadow report, Mark Kelly said there were two areas of particular concern. One related to Article 7 prohibiting torture, and the Irish involvement in the "extraordinary rendition" by the CIA of people to centres where they faced torture. There was now evidence that two of them had been transported on flights that landed in Shannon, he said, and under domestic law such flights could be inspected.
Sam Priestley, of the IPRT, said that, despite numerous criticisms of "slopping out" by international bodies, there was still no commitment from the Government to the provision of in-cell sanitation for all prisoners.
Michael Farrell, of Flac, said the legal rights body had taken the case of Lydia Foy, a transgendered women, to the High Court, and it had found that Ireland was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights in denying her an identity in line with her new gender.
He also said it was discriminatory that child benefit was available only to "habitual residents" as this meant the children of asylum-seekers and others were unable to participate in many activities with other children. The shadow report also criticises a number of proposals contained in the Immigration and Residence Bill, including the provision for summary removal, which the report states is incompatible with Ireland's obligations under the covenant.