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Budget cuts put rights at risk, says Amnesty

Resource type: News

Irish Times |

by OLIVIA KELLY THE DECISION to cut funding for two key human rights organisations in last week’s budget could spell their demise, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman has said. The Government’s decision not to proceed with plans to merge the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission had been welcomed with some relief when the budget was announced. However, the cuts in funding mean the agencies may have been made unviable, Mr O’Gorman said. “The most troubling recent development was the slashing of the budgets of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission in the budget last week. While we may have won the battle not to have the bodies merged, in the long run through massive cuts of 43 per cent and 24 per cent respectively we might have lost the war to keep these two vital elements of our domestic human rights infrastructure alive.” Advocacy groups working on a community level were also vulnerable, he said, particularly if they confronted the Government. “We regularly hear of how community groups who speak out have their funding threatened. When Pavee Point rightly raised the humanitarian crisis faced by Roma families living on the M50 roundabout, the Government instigated an investigation into how they were using their funding.” Mr O’Gorman was speaking at the Amnesty Health and Housing in Ireland conference in Dublin yesterday. He told delegates that poverty was as great a threat to human rights as torture. Poverty was man-made and not a “natural side-effect” of economic development, or something inherent in a society or a culture. “Poverty exists because of the political choices that are made, and Amnesty International seeks to challenge the human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is 60 years old this year, gave people rights to housing and health. However, poverty could make these rights impossible to access. “Poverty is no less a human rights violation than torture and, in our modern world, unfortunately, it is often the same people who are experiencing both.” Successive Irish governments had failed to live up to their commitments in relation to housing and health, Mr O’Gorman said. Underpinning social policy in Ireland with respect for human rights would deliver not only a more just and fair society, but also a more economically stable society. “Human rights law dictates that the people most affected by an issue should be involved in creating the solutions. This will not happen in a climate where voices for human rights are being quashed.” Human rights were not arbitrary concepts, they were legally binding covenants which had been signed by the Government. “Ireland has been repeatedly criticised by the UN for not incorporating issues like the right to housing and the right to health into domestic legislation … It is simply unacceptable for the Government to sign international covenants in our name and then, to ignore them in policymaking,” said Mr O’Gorman.

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