Human Rights Obligations Ireland

It is not hard to imagine that Ireland's economic crisis will result in even more suicides, alcoholism and mental health problems.  A good time to meet its obligations under the United Nations periodic review and ratify the human rights legislation on mental health? Apparently not.  In fact everything about the government's current policy is about closing hospitals in the name of personal freedoms (a cost saver) while failing to provide services as agreed under the 2005 Helsinki Declaration (a cost).  Helsinki commits clearly to "making specialist community based mental health services available" because “mental health is central in building a healthy, inclusive and productive society".  While few doubt new Minister Kathleen Lynch's sincerity, services will not be forthcoming simply by her commitment to 'closing old buildings'.  Her intangible promises to build community services so far amount to no more than 'making every effort to ...promote greater understanding, acceptance and support for people with mental health problems".  Nice, but it won't create a single new service.

Alan Shatter addresses the UN
It is now flagged as a matter of cost, of course.  But to close hospitals, however old, simply in order to pay banks is criminally negligent when it comes to an already grossly underfunded service.  Even while the money was there Ireland spent only 7% of its GDP on health compared with a figure of 9% common amongst its OECD peers.  And of that 7% it spent only 6% on mental health, compared with an average of 8% in other countries.  And of that inadequate investment the returns were hard to see.  As a report  into services in 2008 found,
The Irish Government has conceded that mental health services are widely deficient, with very few complete multi-disciplinary mental health teams, and limited access to community care or the full range of psychosocial supports that should be part of a modern service. Consequently there is little treatment available for many people beyond medication and/or hospitalisation.
There is also the issue of short-termism. The same report found that 'at a conservative estimate...the overall cost [to the economy] of poor mental health in Ireland was just over 3 billion in 2006, or 2 per cent of GNP'. 

'Laudable" not to have rights
So what of the rights of people in Ireland?  Amnesty International says that under "international human rights law, states not only have an obligation to prohibit discrimination, they also have a positive obligation to ensure equality of opportunity for the enjoyment of the right to health by persons with mental disabilities". But while it is illegal to discriminate against people on grounds of mental ill health, an amnesty survey found that 90% of respondents had experienced discrimination.  In employment for example 45% of employers admitted that they would not employ somebody with a mental health record.  The result of that showed in the Irish census data which found the participation rate in employment for people with mental health related disabilities as 27 per cent, compared with 63 per cent for the general population.  A DCU report puts that employment rate lower, at just 11% in full time and 13% in part time employment.

So what did Alan Shatter say to the UN when they asked him to account for Ireland's human rights record in Ocotober?   Well he went for volume. "We devoted 14 pages of our programme to what we described as fairness issues covering much of the human rights agenda".  He also blamed the foreigners.  It is hard to keep track when "our population is growing and becoming more diverse – about 15% of those living in Ireland are non citizens, for example".  And then he introduced a string of special witnesses who argued that it was far better to fail to ratify these rights than it would be to pretend to ratify them without any intention of following through.  As special witness Gerard Quinn, Director of Disability Law and Policy said for example, “Although there is a delay it’s laudable because there are some countries that ratify but leave atrocious laws in place,”.  In fact failing to ratify was even more laudable because “The other side of the equations is if you do sign, and the period of time between signing and ratification is unduly long, it might in some eyes produce cynicism.” Perish the thought.


For more info on Mental Health
campaigns see the
Amnesty International Mental Health

For advice on living with mental health
and links to support
groups go to Shine online 


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