Head of state: Mary McAleese
Head of government: Brian Cowen (replaced Bertie Ahern in May)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 4.4 million
Life expectancy: 78.4 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 6/6 per 1,000

The use, production and transfer of cluster munitions were banned. Concerns were expressed about overcrowding in prisons and the inadequate provision of children's mental health services. Proposed reductions in government spending threatened to undermine the protection of human rights.

Arms trade

The Control of Exports Act, which came into force in May, tightened controls over the export of goods, technology and technical assistance for military use. However, gaps remained, including in the control of overseas licensed production agreements, and in the transit and transhipment of military and security goods.

In December, Ireland ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The same month the Oireachtas (parliament) enacted the Cluster Munitions and Anti-Personnel Mines Act, outlawing the use, development, production, acquisition, possession, retention and transfer of cluster munitions and explosive bomblets. The Act also prohibits investment of public money in any company that produces cluster munitions or anti-personnel mines.

Children's rights

A referendum on the incorporation of a range of children's rights into the Irish Constitution, promised in 2007, had not been scheduled by the end of 2008.

In April, in a report of his visit to Ireland in November 2007, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights noted high levels of child poverty in Ireland, and called on the authorities to promote equal opportunities in order to protect children against the negative impact of economic hardship.

The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) expressed concern in July at the inadequate availability of non-denominational primary education in Ireland.

Child protection guidelines were not made statutory, contrary to recommendations by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2006. In April, a report of an inquiry by the Health Services Executive into a child protection incident in 2004 exposed serious gaps in child protection policies and procedures.

Police and security forces

In July, the HRC expressed regret at the backlog in cases lodged with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, and concern that this had led to a number of complaints involving allegedly criminal conduct by police officers being assigned to the Garda Commissioner (the head of the police force) for investigation.

The HRC also expressed concern that access to a lawyer during police interrogation was not prescribed by law, and that the right of an accused person to remain silent was restricted.

In April, a Garda Emergency Response Unit used an electro-shock stun gun for the first time in Ireland during an arrest.

Prison conditions

In July, the HRC noted the persistence of overcrowding in a number of prisons, and expressed concern at a shortage of mental health care for detainees and the high level of inter-prisoner violence.

Discrimination – Travellers

In July, the HRC expressed concern that Ireland did not "intend to recognize the Traveller community as an ethnic minority", and that "the criminalization of trespassing on land in the 2002 Housing Act ... disproportionately affects Travellers".

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 was published in January, aiming at consolidating and updating all immigration and asylum legislation. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the HRC expressed concern about aspects of the Bill, while welcoming the creation of a single procedure for reviewing applications for refugee status and subsidiary protection. The HRC called for the Bill to be amended to provide for an independent appeals procedure to review all immigration-related decisions, and noted concerns about the "alleged lack of independence" of the new Protection Review Tribunal which would be created by the Bill, to replace the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. The Bill would allow a government minister to appoint Tribunal members.

In April, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about conditions in accommodation centres for asylum-seekers, including overcrowding and problems of safety.

Legal and institutional developments

Drastic cuts to the funding for 2009 for the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority, announced in October, threatened to prevent these bodies from carrying out their work.

In July, the HRC had called on the government to "strengthen the independence and the capacity of the Irish Human Rights Commission ... by endowing it with adequate and sufficient resources".

Right to health – mental health

In April, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights noted concerns at the lack of implementation of the 2006 mental health strategy. Particular concern was expressed about the 3,000 children on waiting lists for mental health assessment, and at the continued treatment of children in adult facilities.

Counter-terror and security

In November, the government established a Cabinet Committee on Aspects of International Human Rights. Its remit included reviewing, and making recommendations to strengthen, the statutory powers of the police and civil authorities regarding the search and inspection of aircraft potentially engaged in renditions.

Violence against women and girls

In July, the HRC expressed concern about continuing impunity for domestic violence, "due to high withdrawal rates of complaints and few convictions".

Trafficking in human beings

In June, the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 came into force, creating an offence of trafficking. The Act criminalized the use of services of victims of trafficking, and abolished any defence based on the victim's consent for such offences.

The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 would, if enacted, provide for a 45-day recovery and reflection period for victims of trafficking. It would also provide for a six-month temporary residence permit for victims, but this would be conditional on the victim's co-operation with a criminal investigation.

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