McDowell rejects criticism of poll by human rights body

Posted By: March 29, 2013

Irish Times. Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The Minster for Justice, Mr McDowell, has rejected as “weak and tendentious” claims by the Human Rights Commission that the citizenship referendum may breach two international treaties, writes Arthur Beesley, Political Reporter.

The Minister’s dismissal last night of the commission’s legal critique of the referendum came after it accused the Government of relying on “vague and anecdotal” evidence to justify the proposal.

The commission said it was not convinced the Government had demonstrated a reasonable and objective need for constitutional measures to restrict the citizenship rights of children born in Ireland to non-EU parents.

It also expressed concern about the Government’s failure to consult it about the referendum before the Cabinet decided to proceed.

The commission president, Dr Maurice Manning, said: “We reiterate our initial view that the proposed referendum may in itself raise issues relating to the protection of human rights and on a closer analysis of the detail of the proposed amendment, we believe that initial view to be justified.”

The commission is a statutory body set up under the Belfast Agreement to monitor human rights. Its membership includes influential legal figures such as the human rights lawyer, Mr Michael Farrell, and Prof William Binchy of Trinity College, Dublin. Ahead of a committee-stage debate on the referendum Bill in the Dáil today, the reservations outlined by the commission amount to one of the strongest attacks yet on the Government proposal.

But Mr McDowell immediately dismissed the commission’s claims and denied that the proposal would breach either the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A spokesman for the Minister said: “The Government when drawing up the proposal would have looked at that area. They’re satisfied that it is fully compliant with international law.

“International law doesn’t just apply in this country. It applies in the international community. And if that argument is correct it means every country in Europe is in breach of international law.”

The spokesman added: “What are we saying, that every other country in Europe is in breach of international law?

“The Minister considers that the argument is weak and tendentious.”

Despite this, however, the commission is to put more pressure on the Government over the referendum in a more detailed legal paper to be published before the weekend. This paper is also likely to address the possible implications of the proposed constitutional amendment on the Belfast Agreement.

The commission is concerned that the referendum may undermine the rights set out in the agreement.

However, it will not publish its findings before a meeting in Belfast today with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which was also set up under the agreement.