by Claudine Gaidoni & Dominic Byrne / Attac-Ireland
Submission from Attac-Ireland to the Department of Justice and Equality towards shaping Ireland’s National Report under Cycle 2 of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review process October 2015
Attac-Ireland is the Irish branch of the international Attac network. Attac was founded in France in 1998 and the acronym ATTAC stands for “Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens.” Our central concern is that the economy should be focused on the well-being of citizens, for which we hold the state responsible, rather than on the profits of financial investors. This is why our two main recommendations will be:
– That Ireland oppose TTIP, CETA, TISA and any trade and investment treaty of a similar nature;
– That Ireland support measures such as public CBCR, to make the taxation of multinational companies fair and transparent.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, the Irish government has seen its margin of manoeuvre constrained by the weight of the huge debt which has been transferred from the private sector onto the public purse. In 2014 alone, the government spent €8.2Bn servicing the national debt, at a time of historically low interest rates. This massive debt has resulted in years of austerity, mainly affecting the most vulnerable sections of society. In spite of this, since the last UPR, the Irish government has made some notable progress in the area of human rights, for which we wish to congratulate it.
We wholeheartedly applaud the holding of the referendum on marriage equality, and the subsequent introduction of the marriage bill in the Dáil.
We applaud the fact that, since 1 September 2015, school leavers who have been in the Asylum protection system for 5 years and meet certain criteria can apply for student supports under the Pilot Student Support Scheme. This is a small but welcome improvement in the system of Direct Provision in which asylum seekers in this country find themselves stagnating, with their life on hold, often for years. However, the full abolition of this system is required to fulfil human rights commitments.
We applaud the fall in the rate of unemployment, from 15 per cent at the height of the crisis to 9.4 per cent this year. However, we note the increase in low-hour and short-term contracts, under which even people at work may experience deprivation and insecurity and find themselves at risk of homelessness.
While we acknowledge that progress has been made, we are concerned at what we see as huge steps back particularly in the following areas:
Due to a combination of bank repossessions, lack of social housing and runaway rent increases, over 700 families, with 1500 children, are now living in emergency accommodation in Ireland, and the number is rising. Most at risk of homelessness are lone parent families. We also note the decrease in funding for traveller housing, with the risk of substandard and potentially dangerous accommodation on halting sites.
The situation in Dublin is such that there are virtually no properties for rent which fall within the sum allowed for rent allowance. This means that to secure a tenancy applicants must collude with a landlord to under-report the rent and then make up the difference from social welfare payments. The current housing crisis is also a driver for child poverty. The government’s plans for prefabricated homes may alleviate this to some extent, but as can be seen from the recent tragedy in Carrickmines, prefabricated homes are not a solution to what remains a structural problem. The fact that “Ireland has opted out of Article 31 of the European Social Charter, which commits states to ‘promote access to housing of an adequate standard’ and to ‘make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate resources’” does not bode well for the future. Additionally the UN Special Rapporteur on housing, Leilani Farha, noted in 2014 that there “is a general concern that responsibilities may be transferred away from national level governments without a concomitant transfer of resources, knowledge, capacity and accountability for human rights obligations with respect to the right to adequate housing”. A model in which private developers are seen as the solution to the housing problem, as in Ireland, is therefore not ideal in a human rights context.
“The number of children living in consistent poverty – meaning they are living both at risk of poverty and experiencing deprivation – doubled from 6 per cent to just under 12 per cent between 2008 and 2013. This means 135,000 children – or one in eight – are experiencing material deprivation on a daily basis.”
Particularly at risk are children from single parent families and this situation can only have been aggravated by the recent cut to the lone parent allowance of €86 per week, which is reported to affect around 12,000 of the 140,000 single parent households in the state. The general reduction in social welfare payments also impacts negatively upon children. This is contrary to the government’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indeed the fact that one in eight Irish children live in poverty was described by Professor Phillip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, as “a negation of all human rights”.
Hospital waiting lists and overcrowding in emergency departments:
In October 2015, more than 13,000 patients across the State had been waiting over 18 months for an outpatient appointment, and more than 2,200 patients are waiting that long for inpatient or day case treatment.
Nurses on a recent work-to-rule protest highlighted the fact that 100 patients were regularly accommodated in a department designed for 18 trolleys. In the health service waiting lists are still a major problem, the National Treatment Purchase Fund reported in June that there were almost 415,000 people waiting for an outpatient appointment and a further 67,000 were waiting for inpatient treatment. In 2014 ‘The Lancet’ reported that “from 2009 to 2013 financing of the Health Service Executive fell by 22%, which amounted to almost €3.3 billion less in public funding”.The article notes that there has been some improvement in efficiency, which is to be welcomed. However this efficiency cannot compensate for the fact that “numbers of public hospital beds fell by about 900, or around 10%, between 2008 and 2012 and not surprisingly the system is now showing strain”. The government may have issued medical cards to more people than ever due to falling incomes but waiting times, as noted above, are far more of a problem for medical card holders, who cannot afford to avail of private clinics. The difference in waiting times for scans and tests may indeed be retrogressive and discriminatory. The UN advice states that:
“Non-discrimination and equality are fundamental human rights principles and critical components of the right to health. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (art. 2 (2)) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 2 (1)) identify the following non-exhaustive grounds of discrimination: race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status”.
Irish abortion legislation:
Recent tragic cases have shown that the eighth amendment to the Constitution is not workable. At present, terminations of pregnancies are criminalized, even in cases involving rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities and many women who find themselves in these situations are forced to travel abroad for abortions. “Women’s rights in Ireland, particularly sexual and reproductive health rights, are threatened and denied in contravention of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“the Covenant”)…specifically Article 3 and Article 12 of the Covenant, making reference to the jurisprudence of the United Nations (UN) Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (“the Committee”), as well as relevant statements from other UN Human Rights mechanisms”.
We therefore urge the Irish government to introduce a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment and pave the way for a more equal, safe and healthy Ireland.
The UN General Assembly recognised “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights” and the people of Ireland have demonstrated that they do not want private operators to be in charge of water services. This rejection of water privatisation should be enshrined in the Constitution through a referendum and water services should be clearly excluded from any trade and investment treaty negotiations to which Ireland is a party.
CETA, TTIP and TISA:
As human rights expert Alfred Maurice de Zayas pointed out in his speech to the UN Human Rights Council on 16 September, “certain activities of investors and transnational corporations… entail much more than interference in the regulatory space of States but actually constitute an attack on the very essence of sovereignty and self-determination, which are founding principles of the United Nations.”
We support his recommendation that: “The Human Rights Council systematically use its Universal Periodic Review to monitor the human rights impacts of free trade and investment agreements and give guidance to States how to modify them so that human rights obligations are fulfilled. Moreover, the new Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law should devote a session to these issues.”
Taxation of multinational companies:
Taxation provides essential resources to the state to enable it to fulfil its Human Rights obligations. As an organisation we hold the belief that the relationship between tax systems and human rights are intertwined and cannot be ignored. The legitimacy of taxation, it can be argued, is to provide essential services to the citizens of the state and to defend their Human Rights. Multinationals should therefore not be in any way exempted from contributing their fair share of tax in this country, nor should they be facilitated to avoid paying the taxes they are liable for in any other country.
For every dollar in aid that goes to the global south, seven more flow out through tax havens such as Ireland. At the same time, in Ireland itself, we see the impact of regulatory capture by large financial institutions and transnational companies while the opinion of society as a whole is largely ignored. We allowed structures such as the ‘Double-Irish’ and we create new ones like the ‘Knowledge Development Box’ while also fostering the use of Special Purpose Vehicles, Trusts and other means of reducing multinationals’ tax liabilities.
Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights noted in 2014: “Providing an avenue for high net worth individuals and transnational corporations to evade tax liabilities…could be contrary to obligations of international assistance and cooperation, because it can directly undermine the ability of another state to mobilise the maximum available resources for the progressive realisation of economic, social and cultural rights”.
Her successor, Professor Philip Alston, noted this year: “The deep pockets of poverty that persist in Ireland are the result of a series of deliberate and conscious decisions by key actors who have chosen to prioritize other goals… The sanctity of tax policy is too often invoked as though there are no choices to be made”.
It is obvious that the government’s tax policies with regard to multinational corporations are prejudicing Irish efforts to comply with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and other covenants, and, while we welcome the government’s spillover analysis, we note that it is inconclusive in so far as the data was not available to assess whether companies had been using Ireland to evade their tax liabilities in developing countries. All this highlights the need for introducing Public Country by Country Reporting.