“Despite having signed the convention in 2007, ratification of the CRPD has been subject to numerous delays”
The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is the first human rights treaty of the 21st century. The purpose of the Convention is outlined in Article 1 of the CRPD: “The purpose of the present convention is to promote protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity’. The Convention has been ratified by 171 UN member states, and by all but one EU member state – Ireland. Despite having signed the convention in 2007, ratification of the CRPD has been subject to numerous delays.
Last May, the Government and Minister for Justice promised that the CRPD would be ratified within six months, according to Finian McGrath, Minister of State with Responsibility for Disabilities. The State’s reasoning behind delayed ratification of the CRPD is that it could not ratify the convention until it is in compliance with it. However, with the last piece of major legislation needed to ratify the convention passed in December 2015, pressure to ratify the convention is mounting. At the time, the Minister McGrath stated that further delays in incorporating it into law could not be justified.
Gary Lee, Chief Executive of the Centre for Independent Living, has made numerous calls for the convention to be ratified. In correspondence with Trinity News, he says that the continued failure by the government to ratify this convention is a ‘dreadful affront’ to people with disabilities in Ireland. Lee feels the governments handling of the situation “also sends out a very strong message right from the top of Government that people with disabilities are not viewed as equal citizens in Ireland and any moves towards equality are not exactly a priority”.
The Centre for Independent Living provides for those with disabilities in Ireland by giving them the means to live independently with empowerment and support, through providing accessible transportation, training skills and personal assistants along with peer support and other schemes. It remains that many of these people with disabilities are treated differently in Ireland. Gary gave us an insight into some of the problems members of the Centre for Independent Living can face: “Many of our members have to give at least 24 hours’ notice to use the DART. Many have no adequate personal assistance services effectively confining them to their homes.”
With increasing pressure on independent living services, many people are inappropriately placed in nursing homes and institutions: “3,000 [people] are in institutions despite eleven years of a Government policy to free them. At least 1,100 younger people with disabilities are inappropriately placed in nursing homes.”
The CRPD simply seeks to make plain that international human rights apply equally to people with disabilities. Further issues affecting the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities include access to employment, transport, housing, and general support services. Gary describes the current state of affairs as “truly appalling”, stating that “all the CRPD seeks to do, in human rights terms, is to create a level playing field for all, yet successive Irish governments have continued to stall ratification”.
The Convention is paternalistic in nature, according to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and departs from old models of disability wherein people with disabilities are considered ‘passive recipients’ of decision-making.
“Coming to college and living on my own has really opened my eyes to the stigma and blatant discrimination against those with disabilities – I’ve been turned away from clubs and bars because they have no lift and they were trying to ‘protect me'”
Niamh Herbert, a Junior Freshman European Studies student, has organised a student protest in favour of the ratification of the CRPD, which will take place next Thursday, January 19 at 12pm outside Leinster House. Niamh has first-hand experience of the discrimination people with disabilities are subject to on a daily basis. Lack of accessible on-campus accommodation means she has no choice but to commute to Dublin from her family home in Kildare. As such, for Niamh, having a disability has added further complications to her transition to college life from the beginning. “Coming to college and living on my own has really opened my eyes to the stigma and blatant discrimination against those with disabilities – I’ve been turned away from clubs and bars because they have no lift and they were trying to ‘protect me ‘.”
While frustrated by government inaction in offering Irish people with disabilities their basic rights, she is determined to help push for ratification. Her commitment stretches beyond ratification however, and she hopes to continue as an advocate of disability rights through disability rights group ‘Disability and I’ which she has established along with Senior Freshman English and Film Studies student, Laura Beston: “The downfall with the [disability rights groups] that do exist is that they are not run with the help of those with disabilities. The idea behind ‘Disability and I ‘ is that it’s a platform for people with disabilities, by people with disabilities.”
Beyond ratification of the CRPD, Niamh says there is still a long way to go before achieving equality for Irish people with disabilities, “The ratification of the UN CRPD is only the first of a million steps that Ireland needs to make before disability equality in Ireland. I’m just hoping the government will feel the pressure and finally ratify the UN CRPD like they should have done 10 years ago.”
Declan Treanor, director of Trinity Disability Service, says that the service fully supports Irish ratification of the UN CRPD, and that Trinity’s policy towards people with disabilities supports the UN aims as outlined in Article 1 of the Convention:”Trinity College Dublin is committed to ensuring the students, staff and visitors with a disability have as complete and equitable access to all facets of Trinity life as can reasonably be provided.”
As Gary, Niamh and Declan look forward to the ratification of the UN CRPD in the near future, and the continued promotion of the aims of the Convention, you can join the campaign to promote disability rights in Ireland by attending the protest outside Leinster House on Thursday. Further information about the protest is available on the ‘Disability and I’ Facebook page.