U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Ireland

  The Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary democracy with a long tradition of orderly transfer of power. Individual liberties and civil rights are protected by the 1937 Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court decisions. A civilian police force maintains public safety. Successive governments have had to deal with the spillover into the Republic of terrorist violence from Northern Ireland. That violence led authorities to adopt legislation in 1984 granting the police increased powers to detain and interrogate those suspected of acts of terrorism. During 1993 officials continued to show restraint in exercising these powers. The economy, based largely on free enterprise, has grown rapidly as a result of long-term policies of industrialization and diversification which are agreed upon among the Government, the labor unions, and the business community. The economy performed well in 1993; exports were strong and the budget deficit was reduced. However, the rate of unemployment was 22 percent. The Government and people of Ireland attach great importance to the observance and maintenance of human rights. Significant discrimination against women continued in 1993, although attitudes are changing and legislation seeking to address the problem was introduced.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In the past, politically motivated killings occurred in Ireland as a spillover from the violence in Northern Ireland. In these cases, such groups as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) or the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) usually claimed responsibility. The Government used the full force of law to pursue and prosecute such cases wherever possible. No political or other extrajudicial killings were reported in the Republic in 1993.

b. Disappearance

Persons are not abducted, secretly arrested, or held in clandestine detention by the authorities.

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

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment are prohibited by laws which are observed in practice. Efforts were made to ameliorate the problem of prison overcrowding, but it continues to have an adverse impact on the psychological well-being of detainees. The Irish Council on Civil Liberties noted that prisoners in Ireland have a high suicide rate compared to those in England and Wales; that Ireland's largest prison, Mountjoy Jail, has no sanitation facilities in the cells; that there is no separate, suitable prison for women nor provision of separate secure units for young people, resulting in 14- and 15-year-olds being mixed in with the regular adult population; and that prison conditions are unacceptable for prisoners suffering from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides that a person shall be deprived of personal liberty only in accordance with the law. This is respected in practice. The Constitution also provides for a judicial determination of the legality of a person's detention and requires that the arresting authorities make written explanation to the court about the person concerned. The use of short-term detention without charges being brought is restricted. It is permitted for a maximum of 48 hours in cases covered by the Offenses Against the State Act of 1939, legislation designed to "prevent actions and conduct calculated to undermine public order and the authority of the State." This legislation, reactivated in 1972, was broadened to include other "scheduled offenses" against peace and order. The police may arrest and detain for questioning anyone suspected of any terrorist offense involving firearms, explosives, membership in an unlawful organization, or malicious damage to property. After the 48-hour period, the person must be brought before a magistrate, presented with written charges, and given legal representation. The omnibus Criminal Justice Act of 1984 gave the police increased powers of detention for interrogation. It took effect in 1987 after implementation of the companion Complaints Procedure. The Act gave the police (garda) the authority to detain for up to 12 hours a person under reasonable suspicion of having committed a crime. Neither incommunicado detention nor exile is used.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Fair public trial is provided for by the Constitution and respected in practice. A defendant has the right to legal counsel. The courts are independent, and jury trial is the norm. There is provision for free legal aid and appeal against conviction or sentence. The Constitution provides, however, 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." The Offenses Against the State Act formally authorized such courts in instances of offenses against national security, particularly cases of political violence perpetrated by terrorist groups likely to intimidate regular juries. Rather than having juries, these courts have panels of judges, each consisting of an uneven number not less than three. Their verdicts are by majority vote. Rules of evidence generally are similar to those of regular courts, except that the sworn statement of a police Chief Superintendent that the accused is a member of an illegal organization is considered prima facie evidence of such membership. Court sessions are usually public but may exclude certain persons, other than genuine press representatives. There were 12 special court trials, and 12 convictions, through the end of October. In an effort to provide adequate legal assistance for those unable to afford lawyers, the 1994 budget increases from $3,018,800 (2,000,000 Irish pounds) to almost $7,547,000 (5,000,000 Irish pounds) funding for the Legal Aid Board, which provides legal assistance to the indigent. Part of the increase is to be used to establish new law centers and to enable the 16 full-time and 19 part-time centers to provide improved services to their clients.

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

Some Irish laws, such as the prohibition of divorce, reflect the point of view of the majority of the population. The area of family law – including the rights of illegitimate children – is the subject of current debate in which minority religious communities have taken a vocal and active role. Though not specifically provided for in the Constitution, the inviolability of personal privacy, family, and home is affirmed by the Supreme Court and generally observed. The Constitution, however, provides that the State shall enact no law "providing for the grant of the dissolution of marriage." A proposal to amend the Constitution to permit divorce in limited circumstances was overwhelmingly defeated in a 1986 nationwide referendum. 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, which assumed office in January 1993, has pledged to hold another referendum on divorce in 1994. It announced plans to introduce legislation safeguarding the economic rights of women in marriage before holding the referendum, and in this connection the Parliament passed a "matrimonial homes" bill providing for joint ownership of the principal residence and furnishings. However, on January 24, 1994, the Supreme Court found the bill unconstitutional.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

These freedoms are provided for by the Constitution and generally respected in practice. Publication or utterance of "blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter" is an offense punishable by law. In practice this law is directed against pornographic material. Convictions result in sentences requiring fines. The state-owned radio and television network, on the basis of constitutional provisions dealing with public order and the authority of the State, has denied airtime to members of certain listed political organizations, including Provisional Sinn Fein, the legal political front of the illegal Provisional IRA. In 1982, the Irish Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this policy. Political parties not on the list are given access both to publicly owned radio and television facilities and to major independent daily newspapers and criticism of the Government in such media flourishes. A provision of the 1960 Broadcasting Act prohibiting broadcasts on radio or television of Sinn Fein representatives was not recertified by the Government upon its expiration on January 19, 1994. The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that radio and television networks could not prohibit the "nonpolitical" appearance of someone simply by virtue of incidental membership in Sinn Fein. Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

These freedoms are provided for by the Constitution and respected in practice. Certain terrorist organizations, such as the Provisional IRA and INLA, however, are illegal, and membership in them is an offense against national security punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 7 years. Political parties or groups associated with such organizations, such as Sinn Fein, are not proscribed, although some of their freedoms may be restricted, as described in Section 2.a.

c. Freedom of Religion

The population is 94 percent Roman Catholic. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and there are no restrictions upon freedom of worship.

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

There is freedom of movement within the country, as well as freedom to engage in foreign travel, emigration, and voluntary repatriation. Irish authorities have accepted asylum seekers only on a limited basis and apply international definitions to those who claim refugee status. Some applicants for asylum have been held in detention for varying lengths of time – occasionally over a year – pending the adjudication of their applications. Others, such as a group of 27 Kurdish men, women, and children, who asked for asylum at Shannon Airport in November 1992, were violently forced back onto their aircraft. These Kurds were denied access to a lawyer, an interpreter, or a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Eyewitnesses reported that during the struggle police and immigration officials resorted to physical and verbal abuse; many were injured. The Minister for Justice asked the police for a full report, which at year's end was not yet available. The Alien Act of 1935 gave the Minister for Justice unlimited discretion in regard to treatment of all aliens, including those who qualify for refugee status under international law. Although Ireland has ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 New York Protocol, their provisions cannot be implemented until they have been incorporated into domestic legislation.

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

Since the end of the Irish Civil War in 1923, periodic elections have resulted in the orderly transfer of political power. There are several political parties, and independents may stand for election to either House of Parliament. The constitutional requirement that elections be held at least every 5 years has always been met. Ireland uses a proportional voting system, and the secrecy of the ballot is fully safeguarded. There is universal suffrage for those over 18 years of age. Only 20 of 166 parliamentary deputies are women. Women participate in all departments of government, but are underrepresented at senior levels. There are two women ministers and three women ministers of state.

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

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties operates freely and without hindrance as the principal independent organization interested in domestic human rights issues. The Government has generally ignored efforts by prisoners' rights advocacy groups to improve conditions of detention: there was relatively little pressure on the Government to do anything; money to improve facilities significantly was lacking; and the popular attitude was that prisoners were criminals who deserved harsh treatment.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

A criminal law bill dealing with sexual offenses passed on July 7, inter alia, legalized homosexuality.


Women are discriminated against in the areas of equal pay and promotion to senior positions in both the public and the private sectors and the provision of child-care facilities. The Government pledged to implement the recommendations of the Second Commission on the Status of Women, publicly released during the year. These recommendations include a requirement that at least 40 percent of all public appointees be women (see below). The Government created in early 1993 a new department, Equality and Law Reform, for the purpose of legislating gender equality and the prohibition of all forms of discrimination. Women were overrepresented in the lower grades of the public service and underrepresented in the higher grades. The Antidiscrimination (Pay) Act of 1974 and the Employment Equality Act of 1977 sought to provide protection and redress against gender and pay discrimination. The Employment Equality Agency monitors their operation. The number of cases has fallen in recent years, but progress in eliminating the differential in the key index of average hourly earnings in industry has been very modest. In 1993 the average hourly wage for women was 60 percent of what men received and their weekly earnings averaged 68 percent of men's weekly pay. Violence against women occurs, and while no one has systematically studied the extent of the problem, it is believed to be serious. The Rape Crisis Center had 5,009 inquiries in 1992 about rape, sexual abuse, and child sexual abuse; 25 women who claimed to have been raped contacted the Center soon after the crime. Comparable figures for 1993 were not available. The Center estimated that 30 percent of rape victims report the crime to the police and that 10 percent of those (3 percent of the total) go to trial. In addition to rape and other sexual abuse, beatings of women and children are common; they are frequently related to alcohol abuse. A number of organizations exist which function as lobbying groups on behalf of more effective legislation, prosecution of those accused of these crimes, and protection for women. The media have expanded coverage of crimes against women. The Rape (Amendment) Act of 1990 criminalized rape within marriage and provided for free legal advice to the victim. Women's groups are seeking the extension of this provision to that of actual legal representation, as well as increased counseling and other support services for the victims of rape and domestic violence. The Prime Minister established the Second Commission on the Status of Women in 1990 with the mandate to promote greater equality for women in all facets of Irish life. As priority objectives, the Commission identified child care, training and education, the development of employment opportunities, legal rights and protection, and the appropriate funding of representative bodies and support services. At the Government's request, the Commission paid particular attention to the needs of the full-time homemaker (only a third of Irish women work outside the home). It was in this regard that the Commission obtained from the Government the promise of early introduction of legislation providing for automatic joint ownership of the family home. The Council for the Status of Women, representing over 100 national women's organizations, provides the central focus for pursuit of legislative and other reforms to end discrimination against women and to promote fuller participation by women in the social, economic, and political life of the country.


The Status of Children Act of 1987 and the Child Care Act of 1991 provide for governmental promotion of the welfare of children. However, there are no reliable statistics concerning the enforcement of these laws. In 1992 Ireland ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite the Convention's provision that governments must make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, the Government had not done so by the end of 1993. Children born out of wedlock have the same rights as other children. The Status of Children Act abolished the main legal discrimination between the two categories. The terms "legitimate" and "illegitimate" may no longer be used in legislation. A 1991 seminar organized by the Youth Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions highlighted the issue of low pay and exploitation of young people still attending school and engaged in part-time or holiday work. A subsequent survey revealed that the rates of pay, as established by joint labor committees, were not being followed. On the average, female workers over 16 years of age were paid 90 percent of males' hourly rate; females under 16 were paid 72 percent of males' rate.

People with Disabilities

Few public or private buildings have facilities for the disabled. Public transport has none. The Dublin Bus Company plans to begin using five "low-bottom" buses in January 1994 as a first step in accommodating the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to associate freely and to strike. The right to join a union is guaranteed by law, as is the right to refrain from joining. Antiunion actions before registration of a union are legally prohibited. The Industrial Relations Act of 1990 introduced limitations on picketing but generally renewed legal guarantees of immunity to union members and officials for industrial actions with regard to terms or conditions of employment. Strikes in 1993 included a brief "wildcat" strike at Dublin Airport by Aer Lingus employees, a week-long Dublin bus drivers' strike, and a dental assistants' strike which lasted 4 days. The Employer-Labor Council mediated a settlement of the latter by offering the dental assistants the amount they wanted as a "special payment" rather than as a raise which would apply to all public sector employees. 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 them 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 strikes and union leaders; the Government effectively enforces it through the Department of Enterprise and Employment. A 2-week strike by employees of the state-owned Electricity Supply Board in the spring of 1990 led the Labor Relations Commission to draft a code of conduct for industrial relations in essential services. The Ministry of Enterprise and Employment promulgated the code in July. Negotiations between business and labor on the code's implementation were in progress at year's end. There are no restrictions on civil liberties which affect unions. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), which represents unions in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, has 88 member unions with 678,800 members. Both the ICTU and the unaffiliated unions are independent of the Government and the political parties. Unions may freely form or join federations or confederations and affiliate with international bodies. The ICTU is affiliated with the European Trade Union Confederation.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Labor unions have full freedom to organize and to engage in collective bargaining. Legislation prohibits antiunion discrimination. The Anti-Discrimination in Pay Act of 1974 and the Employment Equality Act of 1977 make the Employment Equality Agency responsible for oversight of disputes over allegations of discrimination. If the Agency is unable resolve such disputes amicably, the Labor Court becomes responsible for doing so. The Unfair Dismissals Act of 1977 requires employers guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate workers fired for union activities. Most terms and conditions of employment are determined through collective bargaining, which took place in 1993 in the context of a national economic pact, Program for Economic and Social Progress (PESP), negotiated by representatives of unions, employers, farmers, and the Government. The PESP included an agreement between the Congress of Trade Unions and the Federation of Irish Employers establishing standard pay increases for the 3-year period of its duration. The agreement also provided for a one-time wage increase of up to 3 percent to be negotiated at local level during the second year of the PESP. 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. The Labor Court, consisting of an employer representative, a trade union representative, and an independent chairman, may investigate trade union disputes, recommend terms of settlement, engage in conciliation and arbitration, and set up joint committees to regulate conditions of employment and minimum rates of pay for workers in a given 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 exist in practice.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 14 years with the written permission of the parents. Hours of employment are limited by law for those 15 years of age to 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week. Those from 16 to 17 years of age may work up to 9 hours per day and 40 hours per week. These provisions are effectively enforced by the Labor Department.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no general minimum wage legislation. However, some workers are covered by minimum wage laws applicable to specific industrial sectors, mainly those that tend to pay lower than average wages. Although the lowest of these minimum wage rates would not be sufficient to provide a decent living for a family of four, additional benefits, including subsidized housing and children's allowances, are available to low-income families. Working hours in the industrial sector are limited to 9 hours per day and 48 hours per week. Overtime work is limited to 2 hours per day, 12 hours per week, and 240 hours in a year. As part of the National Economic Pact adopted in 1987, the standard workweek has been reduced to 39 hours. 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 1993 regarding enforcement of these laws.

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