Speaking in the Seanad today Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane called for the full establishment of an All-Ireland Bill of Rights as envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement.
Senator Cullinane said that the state has a responsibility to ensure that the right of citizens to health care, housing, employment and access to services are vindicated.
He said hollow words and false promises were not enough and what was required was a Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The Seanad was addressed by Dr. Maurice Manning, President of the Irish Human Rights Commission.
Senator Cullinane said:
“I welcome Dr Manning and commend him for his work with the IHRC over many years. There is no question that the IHRC play a very important role in ensuring that the government lives up to its obligations under human rights instruments. The impression has been created by successive governments as well as by a largely compliant media that Irish people do not have to worry about human rights issues that we are guaranteed not to face breaches of our rights.
“Clearly this is not the case. It is very much the case that we have a long way to travel to be where we want to be as regards human rights. Human and Civil rights include the right to healthcare, education, access to services and unemployment. In this state we have a two-tier health service which is denying citizens their right to proper health care. We have an education system failing many children. Parents in the past have been forced to take the state to court to get their children the education they deserve as of right. People with disabilities are denied access to services. Carers are not valued and workers are denied the right to collective bargaining.
“We have international obligations under documents such as the European Social Charter which guarantee the right to healthcare, the right to shelter, the right to education. Can we say that we measure well against such rights, is the right to shelter, the right to healthcare and the right to education truly satisfied?
“I must point out concerns I have in relation to the proposed merger of the IHRC and the Equality Authority. The Government proposal can only lead to a loss of focus and expertise in two distinct fields. It will confuse and diminish the potential to promote equality and defend human rights. It is nothing more then a cost saving exercise and must be opposed.
“A failure to promote, protect and vindicate human rights is a failure of politics. I commend the countless civic society organisations that advocate on behalf of peoples rights. Legislators must do more then empathise and listen. We must act and deliver. Human and Civil rights are not something to be bartered for or at the whim of a Government to confer. They are universal and the birthright of all citizens. As we seek to build a new Republic, it must be one underpinned by a genuine commitment to uphold and vindicate the rights of our citizens.”