Ireland’s vulnerable groups most threatened by financial crisis, warns UN expert

21 January 2011

Ireland’s economic and financial crisis poses a disproportionate threat to vulnerable groups in the European country who did not benefit much even when the economy was booming, the United Nations independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty said today.

“Ireland’s problems in the long term will not be solved if inequality increases or if the most vulnerable do not have a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society in general,” Magdalena Sepúlveda said, following a week-long fact-finding mission.

She urged the authorities to incorporate into their recovery plan a comprehensive and consistent policy to protect the most vulnerable members of society, in full compliance with human rights standards.

She welcomed measures adopted over the past decade to considerably reduce the risk of poverty, but noted that “the milestones achieved in social protection face a serious threat.”

Her 10-15 January visit was aimed at studying the Irish Government’s efforts and the challenges it faces in alleviating poverty and social exclusion, domestically and internationally.

“Human rights must be particularly protected in times of economic uncertainty. When designing and implementing policy measures aimed at recovery, the authorities must assess their impact on the most vulnerable groups; consider their appropriateness; and examine alternatives aimed at protecting such groups as a matter of priority,” said Ms. Sepúlveda.

She was particularly concerned about the impact of cuts in expenditure on social protection and public services.

“The reductions will mean a decline in services and an increase in costs to access them, leading to further poverty and social exclusion,” she warned. “Retrogressive measures in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights need to be fully justified in the context of maximum available resources,” she added.

Sections of Irish society most disproportionately affected by the crisis include children, single parents, persons with disabilities, migrants, travellers, homeless people, the working poor, people living in rural areas, refugees and asylum-seekers, Ms. Sepúlveda said.

“The substantial cuts in child payments and services in recent budgets can exacerbate their situation, leading to an increase in the worryingly high child poverty rates. This would represent a major step backward for Ireland,” she said.

Ms. Sepúlveda praised the commitment and innovative services provided by communities and civil society organizations.

“The active and meaningful participation of civil society must be ensured in the design, implementation and evaluation of all public services, at all levels of decision-making,” she stressed. “Nonetheless, they should not be considered as replacing Government responsibility towards the delivery of quality social services.”

She also welcomed the Government’s commitment to devoting 0.7 per cent of the country’s gross national product (GNP) to official development assistance (ODA) by 2015.

“This reflects the great value Irish society assigns to international assistance for developing countries. I’m sure that despite the domestic crisis, Ireland will continue to play a key role as international donor,” said Ms. Sepúlveda.

UN independent experts, including Ms. Sepúlveda, report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. They work in an independent and unpaid capacity.

 

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