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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Ireland

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Ireland, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary democracy with a long tradition of orderly transfer of power. The Constitution and Supreme Court decisions protect individual rights. The Government and an independent judiciary traditionally respect and protect these rights.

The Government controls the police and the armed forces. The spillover of violence from Northern Ireland led to legislation in 1984 that increased police power to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists. The police have shown great restraint in exercising these powers.

The economy is based largely on free enterprise. It performed well in 1994, and the rate of unemployment declined.

Human rights problems within Ireland arise primarily from the substandard prison conditions (especially the lack of separate facilities for women and for children), the lack of a coherent policy on refugees and asylum, and discrimination against and abuse of women and children.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, and there were no reports of violations. However, in many prisons conditions are barely tolerable, due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, or lack of other facilities. There are no suitable prisons for women, and a lack of separate areas for young people results in 14- and 15-year-olds being mixed in with adult prisoners. The Government has indicated it hopes the overcrowding will be eased by the anticipated early release of prisoners as a result of the peace process in Northern Ireland, and by a planned new large prison. On the other hand, it has shown no intention of significantly increasing its funding for prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution stipulates that no person shall be deprived of personal liberty without due process under the law. It requires that arresting authorities make written explanation to a court about the suspect, and that the court determine the legality of the detention. The Criminal Justice Act of 1951, as amended in 1984, stipulates that "as soon as reasonably possible" the police must bring an arrested person before a justice of the district court or, if none is available, before a peace commissioner. The Government and the courts fully respect these provisions.

Detention without a charge is permitted for up to 48 hours in cases covered by the Offenses Against the State Act of 1939, which aims to "prevent actions and conduct calculated to undermine public order and the authority of the State." This Act allows police to arrest and detain for questioning anyone suspected of any terrorist offense involving firearms, explosives, membership in an unlawful organization, or malicious damage to property. A person arrested under this Act may be held, without a charge, for up to 24 hours, and for a further 24 hours if a chief superintendent or still higher-ranking police officer so directs. A detainee who is not charged within the 48-hour maximum period must be released upon its expiry.

The Criminal Justice Act of 1984 empowers the police to detain for up to 12 hours anyone under reasonable suspicion of having committed a crime. The authorities do not impose incommunicado detention or exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for fair public trial, and the legal system honors this. The accused generally may choose his or her attorney. For indigents, the State assumes the cost.

The courts are independent, and jury trial is the norm. However, the Constitution provides for the creation of "special courts" to deal with cases in which the "ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order" (e.g., due to a likelihood of terrorist intimidation of those courts). The Offenses Against the State Act authorizes use of special courts for offenses against national security, particularly cases of political violence. In lieu of juries, these courts have panels consisting of an odd number of judges (at least three) whose verdicts are by majority vote. Rules of evidence are essentially the same as in regular courts except that the sworn statement of a police chief superintendent identifying the accused as a member of an illegal organization is accepted as prima facie evidence. Sessions of special courts are usually public but the judge may exclude certain persons, other than journalists; appeal of exclusion can be made only through a separate judicial proceeding. In 1994 there were 15 special court trials, resulting in conviction of 20 defendants.

In cases of certain other types of offenses (e.g., sexual), the judge in a regular court may exclude any or all persons except officers of the court, lawyers, or journalists, ostensibly to protect the reputations of persons involved in the trial.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Supreme Court has affirmed that, although not specifically provided for in the Constitution, the inviolability of personal privacy, family, and home must be respected in law and practice; and the Government honors this.

However, the Constitution provides that the State shall enact no law permitting divorce. A 1986 nationwide referendum overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to amend the Constitution to permit divorce in limited circumstances. In the same year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the prohibition of divorce is not a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Ireland is a party. The Government has pledged to hold another referendum on divorce, which now seems likely to occur in 1995.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for these freedoms, and the Government fully respects them. The law prohibits publication or utterance of "blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter"; enforcement of this is directed almost exclusively against pornographic material.

The state-owned radio and television network has traditionally denied airtime to members of certain blacklisted political organizations, even lawful ones, under the 1960 Broadcasting Act. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of this policy. The Provisional Sinn Fein (the legal front of the illegal Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) was long among the excluded organizations, but when the ban on it expired in January, the Government decided not to renew this. Broadcasting is mostly state-controlled. A Broadcasting Complaints Commission oversees standards and investigates complaints about programming. The State does not control newspapers, and no legislation regulates them per se.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

These freedoms are provided for by the Constitution, and the Government respects them even as regards groups associated with illegal terrorist organizations. Membership in the illegal organizations is punishable by imprisonment for up to 7 years.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government does not hamper the teaching or practice of any faith.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There is complete freedom of movement within the country, as well as freedom to engage in foreign travel, emigration, and voluntary repatriation.

The Alien Act of 1935 gives the Justice Minister unlimited discretion in regard to treatment of all aliens, including those who qualify for refugee status under international law. The authorities have accepted asylum seekers only on a limited case-by-case basis, and have held them in detention in some cases for over a year before rendering a decision.

Some asylum seekers have been turned back upon arrival. The police have completed the report requested by the Justice Minister on a 1992 incident in which they violently forced a group of 27 Kurdish men, women, and children--injuring many--back onto an aircraft at Shannon Airport, and denied them access to an interpreter, to a lawyer, and to a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The report has not yet been released, pending the outcome of court action.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

A constitutional requirement that elections be held at least every 5 years has always been met. Suffrage is universal for citizens over age 18, and balloting is secret. Several political parties have seats in the bicameral Parliament. Members of the Dail--the chamber that carries out the main legislative functions--are popularly elected; in the Senate, some members are elected and some are appointed by various bodies. The President is popularly elected for a 7-year term, and is limited to two terms. An appointed Council of State serves as an advisory body to the President.

Women number only 20 of the 166 deputies in the Dail; 8 of the 60 senators; and 2 of the 15 ministers. Of the 15 junior ministers, 3 are women. While women participate in all departments of government, they are underrepresented at senior levels. Official data show that at year's end women held 30 percent of all public-sector jobs.

Section 4 Government Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The principal independent organization monitoring domestic human rights issues, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, operates without hindrance from the Government. The Government is similarly open to investigation of human rights abuses by international or nongovernmental organizations.

However, most independent critiques of human rights in Ireland have focused on the overcrowding and other conditions in the prisons, and the Government has generally ignored their recommendations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,

Disability, Language, or Social StatusExcept as regards employment, neither the Constitution nor the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, race, sex, language, or social status. The Constitution, as amended, forbids state preferment of one religion over another and discrimination on the grounds of religious profession, belief, or status.


Working women are discriminated against as regards pay and promotions, in both the public and the private sectors, and many are also hampered by inadequate child-care facilities. In 1990 the Government established the Second Commission on the Status of Women, which published its recommendations in early 1993; the Government pledged to implement them, including a requirement that at least 40 percent of all public appointees be women.

The Antidiscrimination (Pay) Act of 1974 and the Employment Equality Act of 1977 provide for protection and redress against discrimination based on gender. The Employment Equality Agency monitors their operation. The number of cases has fallen in recent years, but progress in eliminating the differential in earnings has been very modest. In 1994 the hourly industrial wage for women was 60 percent of what men received and their weekly earnings averaged 68 percent of men's weekly pay.

There have been no systematic studies of violence against women, but indications are that it is widespread. In 1994 the Rape Crisis Center, a private organization, received some 5,000 telephone calls. The Center estimates that only 30 percent of rape victims report the crime to the police, and that only 10 percent of those go to trial. A 1990 act criminalized rape within marriage, and provided for free legal advice to the victim. In addition to rape and other sexual abuse, beatings of women are common.


The Status of Children Act of 1987 abolished the concept of illegitimacy and provided for equal rights for children in all legal proceedings. There are no reliable data on enforcement, or on societal treatment of children, but it is believed that child abuse is common. In recent years, sexual abuse of children has been receiving increased media attention.

People with Disabilities

There is no legislation to protect disabled persons from discrimination in employment or in other matters, or to improve their access to buildings or transportation, and little has been accomplished in these regards. Few public or private buildings have facilities for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The right to join a union is guaranteed by law, as is the right to refrain from joining. The law prohibits anti-union actions before registration of a union.

About 55 percent of workers in the private and public sectors are members of unions. Police and military personnel are prohibited from joining unions or striking, but they may form associations to represent themselves in matters of pay, working conditions, and general welfare. The right to strike is freely exercised in both the public and private sectors. The Industrial Relations Act of 1990 prohibits retribution against strikers and union leaders; the Government effectively enforces it through the Department of Enterprise and Employment. In July the Department of Enterprise and Employment promulgated a code of conduct for industrial relations in essential services; negotiations between business and labor on the code's implementation were in progress at year's end.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions represents 68 unions (including some in Northern Ireland). Both it and the unions affiliated with it are independent of the Government and of the political parties. Unions may freely form or join federations or confederations and affiliate with international bodies.

In 1994, as in previous years, strikes were common and some went on for several months.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Labor unions have full freedom to organize and to engage in collective bargaining. The Anti-Discrimination in Pay Act of 1974 and the Employment Equality Act of 1977 make the Employment Equality Agency responsible for oversight of allegations of discrimination. If the Agency is unable to effect resolution, the dispute goes before the Labor Court, which consists of one representative each for the employer and the union, plus an independent chairperson. The Unfair Dismissals Act of 1977 provides various forms of relief in cases of employers guilty of antiunion discrimination, including the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities. Most terms and conditions of employment are determined through collective bargaining, in the context of a national economic pact negotiated every 3 years by representatives of unions, employers, farmers, and the Government. In February the latest such pact was concluded, and as usual it establishes standard pay increases and fixes a cap on any increases subsequently negotiated at local levels.

The Industrial Relations Act of 1990 established the Labor Relations Commission which provides advice and conciliation services in industrial disputes. The Commission may refer unresolved disputes to the Labor Court, which may recommend terms of settlement and may set up joint employer-union committees to regulate conditions of employment and minimum wages in a specific trade or industry.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is prohibited by law and does not occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 14 years with the written permission of the parents. For children of age 15 the law limits worktime to 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week. For those of age 16 or 17, the limits are 9 hours per day and 40 hours per week. These provisions are effectively enforced by the Department of Equality and Law Reform.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no general minimum-wage law, but there are several applicable to specific industrial sectors, mainly those that tend to pay lower than average wages. Although the lowest of these minimum wages would not be sufficient to provide a decent living for a family of four, low-income families are entitled to additional benefits such as subsidized housing and children's allowances. The standard workweek is 39 hours. Working hours in the industrial sector are limited to 9 hours per day and 48 hours per week. Overtime is limited to 2 hours per day, 12 hours per week, and 240 hours in a year. The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing four basic laws dealing with occupational safety that provide adequate and comprehensive coverage. There were no significant complaints from either labor or management in 1994 regarding enforcement of these laws.

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