UN committee to examine Ireland's abortion laws

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald will no longer be attending following the whistleblower controversy

UN committee to examine Ireland's abortion laws

People walk past graffiti on Pearse Street in Dublin, calling for a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Constitution | Image: Niall Carson PA Wire/PA Images

An Irish delegation will be examined at a full-day hearing before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva today.

The committee will look at how Ireland measures up when it comes to the enforcement of women's rights.

A number of organisations made submissions to the UN committee in the run up to today’s meeting, including The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).

In the council's submission, Deputy Director of the ICCL Deirdre Duffy highlighted the topic of women's reproductive rights, calling Ireland's legislation "out of kilter" with its UN and EU counterparts.

"We expect the Irish delegation to be questioned really strongly by the committee on women's reproductive rights [...] I expect the committee will be asking the ambassador - just what does the government plan to do when the [CItizen's Assembly] is finished its job?

"What will happen with the Oireachtas Special Committee? When will a referendum be called, and when will they meet their human rights obligations here?"

Other recommendations include issues around rural women, women in poverty, women affected by homelessness and the historical abuse of women.

Article 41.2

One of the top line issues that will be coming out today centres around the Irish Constitution and the so-called role of women in the home, according to Ms Duffy.

Article 41.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states that: "The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home."

"We've had a constitutional convention in 2013", Ms Duffy said. "There was an overwhelming majority voted for this clause to be repealed. That recommendation went to government and the government accepted it.

"One of the nuances of the recommendation from the convention is that they wanted to insert something about caring in the society [...] And the government seems to be fudging a little bit on that issue."

"An issue around accountability"

Ireland's UN ambassador Patricia O'Brien will appear on behalf of the Irish government, as Minister for Justice and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald will not be attending due to the ongoing whistle-blower crisis. 

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Ms Duffy said there was "an issue around accountability" concerning the government's decision to abstain from sending a junior minister in her place.

"We're really asking for the Tánaiste and the Cabinet very seriously and to push forward with implementation of them," she said.


"No case to answer for"

The Pro-Life Campaign has said that the Irish Government must present the positive case of the Eighth Amendment has done for Irish society at today's hearing before the Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Commenting from Geneva where the hearing will take place, PLC spokesperson Sinead Slattery said:

"Ireland has no case to answer when it comes to our abortion laws. [...] That said, it will not be surprising if the UN Committee criticises Ireland on Wednesday for having laws that protect all human beings, both before and after birth. The pattern for UN Committees of this nature is to castigate countries like Ireland which uphold the right to life, and to ignore the human rights abuses that occur in countries where abortion has become accepted.  

"Ireland’s Eighth Amendment has ensured that this type of discrimination against the most vulnerable members of our society is not practiced. It is imperative that the Government present this very positive side of the Eighth Amendment, and that they highlight the families who say that their children are alive as a direct result of our life-saving laws."