Disability rights in Ireland, 3 years later

logoIn October 2013, I wrote a piece about Ireland’s non-ratification status for Blog Action Day, dedicated to human rights in the hope that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would be ratified sooner rather than later.

Three years on, the disability community in Ireland is still waiting for that very ratification.

The UNCRPD, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is an international human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13th December 2006. It consists of a body of international experts that monitors implementation of the Convention by the States Parties. The UNCRPD provides the framework to promote, protect and ensure the rights of all people with disabilities and supports equal rights in all areas of life.

Ireland was amongst the first signatories of the CRPD on March 30th, 2007 but Finland and Ireland are the only EU countries left that have yet to ratify. By signing the CRPD the State has signified its intention to ratify it, and according to Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, this means “Ireland is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty.”

As of December 2016, Ireland has seen 160 different countries ratify before them.

That is sickening, no pun intended.

Reason? The State has repeatedly said it cannot ratify the UNCRPD until it is in compliance with it. They have also blamed their outdated court system, for example, by using Article 12 – Equal recognition before the law.

In last year’s Roadmap to UNCRPD Ratification – legislative reforms deemed necessary to allow for ratification – the State indicated that it will enter a “reservation as per legal advice” to Article 27 in respect of reasonable accommodation.

More delays, indeed.

However, ratifying the UNCRPD is a matter of urgency. Sadly, Dáil Éireann doesn’t care, after all, the UNCRPD is only the most important human rights treaty of the 21st century, and as long as they don’t have to live with a disability, why chase ratification, n’est-ce pas?

So, what is standing in Ireland’s way?


From a legal perspective, nothing prevents the government from ratifying.

At all.

And that feels like a deliberate, stinging slap on the face of all those living with disabilities, as well as on our intelligence.

The Irish government refuses on policy grounds only. And it’s been dragging on for years. What the administration has done in the meantime, is tell people with disabilities to wait just a while longer while they make things better. To “just apply some more patience because it’ll be worth it.”

News flash: people with disabilities have been waiting since March 2007, and they endured an excruciatingly long recession that deliberately took away necessary medical and disability services.

What’s even more outrageous, in November 2012, Ireland successfully campaigned for election to the Human Rights Council, yet it is still to ratify a convention that states that the rights of people with disabilities must be upheld.

As a result, you can compare the lack of UNCRPD ratification to Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest: human rights are only good for you in Ireland if you’re healthy, otherwise, you’re toast.

So, after an eight-year-long severe recession which included many “necessary” and relentless budget cuts to healthcare, nobody ever thought they’d see the end of it. Had Dáil Éireann ratified before the recession, such ruthless cuts would unquestionably not have taken place, as Ireland would quite clearly have breached its international obligations.

But, even non-ratified States have certain obligations to uphold, otherwise, they are in breach of their EU duties as well as those directly under the CRPD, which stem from the Vienna Convention.

Ireland however, happily ploughed onwards during the recession, and some of the budget cuts to health services were:

♦ Approximately 4bn cut from the health system between 2008 and 2014
♦ A near €100m cut to the cost of the drugs payment reimbursement scheme
♦ End to free prescription charges
♦ Cuts to Mobility Allowance, Motorised Transport Grant, Benefit Allowance
♦ Drop in number of day cases and outpatients for hospitals

In their roadmap, the coalition shows what actions are required to complete Article 3, 5, 12, 13, 14, 15, 27, 29 and 33, and their estimated time needed to complete ratification.

(continued below the image)

Map UNCRPD ratifications
Map of CRPD and Optional Protocol Signatures and Ratification (REV.4. July 2014)

In a time when too many physically challenged people all over the world are hurting because of existing inequality, dogma, and exclusion, Ireland, as a recovering western European country has its weakest citizens denied equality and inclusion.

In 2015, Ireland was the first country to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said, “The overwhelming Yes vote makes Ireland a beacon of light for the rest of the world concerning liberty and equality. It’s a historic day for Ireland, a social revolution.”

Oh, the irony of a health minister talking about equality and inclusion when his own department is shirking responsibilities everywhere.

But, here we are, one year later and disability inequality is still very much a 2016 issue if you happen to be live with a chronic or terminal illness. While government officials are always well-versed, they cannot seem to remember the meaning of the word discrimination.

When Ireland eventually ratifies the UNCRPD, their obligations regarding the rights of persons with disabilities would be as follows:

♦ adopt legislation and administrative measures to promote the human rights of persons with disabilities;
♦ adopt legislative and other measures to abolish discrimination;
♦protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and programs;
♦ stop any practice that breaches the rights of persons with disabilities;
♦ ensure that the public sector respects the rights of persons with disabilities;
♦ ensure that the private sector and individuals respect the rights of persons with disabilities;
♦ undertake research and development of accessible goods, services, and technology for persons with disabilities and encourage others to undertake such research;
♦ provide accessible information about assistive technology to persons with disabilities;
♦ promote training on the rights of the Convention to professionals and staff who work with persons with disabilities;
♦ consult with and involve persons with disabilities in developing and implementing legislation and policies and in decision-making processes that concern them.

Seeing the long list of obligations Ireland needs to adhere to, makes me feel nauseated because it looks like the Irish government is stalling the ratification for reasons only they know. From the outside, social justice is not on their agenda.

People should not be denied their fundamental rights because they are ill and live with a disability. Being able to live life to one’s fullest potential is not just a given to healthy people anymore.

People with disabilities have a voice, and they will (and need) to continue to use that voice to say that enough is enough, that the coalition has to find money where people can afford it most.

They must confront the government and show them the value of their life as is, warts and all. Ask them if they are only as valuable as the money they put into the tax system. Ask them if they are as important and as valuable as healthy people.

It is my very bitter view that the Irish administration intentionally used austerity and recession as a legitimate reason not to ratify the UN convention. Had they ratified, again, the enormous level of disability cuts to services might not have happened. It would also equate to the most disgraceful, cynical political spiel any government has put upon its weakest in society. Deliberately denying human rights is cynical, shockingly disturbing and something that needs to be reversed. Not today, and not tomorrow.


Let’s hope that the UN spotlight on May 11th in Geneva will highlight just how badly we need the ratification to happen. Nine countries have submitted advance questions on Ireland’s human rights record ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) examination. Questions will include issues on abortion, homelessness and the lack of ratification. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is expected to address the advance questions and other matters raised at the meeting.

(1) “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

People concerned with this issue can do several things:

  1. Contact your local elected representative to express concern about the 9-year delay to ratification of the CRPD.
  2. Contact any TD involved in Government negotiations to ask them to include ratification of the CRPD in the Programme for Government.
  3. Contact the Department of Justice to urge them to commence the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act as quickly as possible. This legislation will provide supports to exercise their legal capacity and is a significant barrier to ratification. You can contact the Department of Justice at info@justice.ie

Further reading

My UNCRPD Posts for the MS Society

  1. Access to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  2. United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities
  3. The General Election- One MSer’s Perspective
  4. Budget 2016 

Own blog

  1. UNCRPD – Getting Ready to Ratify (1)
  2. UNCRPD – Getting Ready to Ratify (2)
  3. UNCRPD – The Right on Participation in Political and Public Life
  4. Disability rights in Ireland
  5. Disability rights in Ireland, 3 years later
  6. The sorry state of neurology in Ireland
  7. The sorry state of neurology in Ireland, one year on
  8. Disable Inequality campaign
  9. Irish public transport: access all areas?
  10. Disability is never cured with one pill alone
  11. UNCRPD in Ireland – begging for change

For more info, check these links:

Infographic overview CRPD

The Convention in Brief

Status of Ratification Interactive Roadmap

UN Enable: official website of the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

New UN website 

International Calendar of Disability Events 2016

© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner are strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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