21 October 2015
Ministers Fitzgerald and Ó Ríordáin have published a roadmap to Ireland’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which outlines legislative changes to be undertaken to enable Ireland to ratify the Convention, along with the estimated timeframe involved. The Ministers also approved the drafting of an omnibus bill to progress miscellaneous legislative amendments necessary to proceed to ratification, the Equality/Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the General Scheme of which will be published by the end of this year, with enactment by the end of 2016.
Ireland signed the Convention in 2007 and is one of three EU member states yet to ratify. Ireland is a dualist State, Article 29.6 of the Constitution providing that international agreements have the force of law to the extent determined by the Oireachtas. It is essential therefore that the State is in a position to meet the obligations it assumes under the terms of an international agreement from the moment of its entry into force for Ireland. Before the State can ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, enactment of new legislation and amendment of existing legislation is required to ensure obligations will be met upon entry into force for Ireland.
The Roadmap sets out the considerable work currently underway to deal with outstanding barriers to Ireland’s ratification, including legislation governing decision-making capacity, mental health legislation, the law governing the administration of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), amendments to the criminal law, and the removal of archaic and offensive references in legislation across Government Departments to persons being “of unsound mind”. Other hurdles include the resolution of the constitutional issue concerning reasonable accommodation, and ensuring that the Convention’s requirements are met in relation to deprivation of liberty. These, along with any outstanding miscellaneous legislative amendments, will be resolved in the Equality/Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
Minister Fitzgerald said: “It has taken us a long time – too long – to get to this point, so I am delighted to be in a position to publish a document that I believe will set out clearly and concisely what it is we have to do to meet all the requirements of this very important international Convention. We are proud of our record where human rights and equality issues are concerned, and we take our responsibilities seriously. For that reason, it is important that we get this right, and that the amendments we make to our laws will ensure practical and meaningful realisation of the Convention’s principles in a coherent and cohesive way.”
Minister Ó Ríordáin said: “For Ireland, ratification will mark the end of the preparation and implementation phase, not the beginning. As I have stated many times on record, we are deeply committed to ratification of CRPD. Equality is not about treating people the same, but creating the circumstances that will allow the outcome for each person to be the same; it is about making sure that every individual has equal access to the enjoyment of their rights. We are not there yet, but the Roadmap we are publishing today shows how we intend to get there and how much time it will take.”
Note for Editors:
The main areas for legislative amendment, as set out in the Roadmap, are as follows:
· Capacity: The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill will comprehensively reform existing legislation governing capacity. The bill is currently at Report Stage in the Dáil and should be enacted by end-2015.
· Civil law: The Juries Act 1976 requires amendment to the provision rendering persons with a mental illness ineligible to serve on a jury. Appropriate amendments will be brought forward in the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill.
· Criminal law: Two main legislative amendments are required in our criminal law. Firstly, section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 will be replaced. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill was published on 23 September 2015, and amendments to replace section 5 of the 1993 Act are being prepared and will be brought forward at a later stage. Enactment is expected in early 2016.
· Secondly, an amendment to section 4 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 will be necessary to address the issue of discriminatory treatment of persons whose decision-making capacity is in question. This will be included in the Equality/Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, for enactment by end-206, if not progressed in separate legislation before then.
· Mental health legislation: Following publication of the Report of the Expert Group, the Department of Health is working on the General Scheme of a Bill to reflect these changes in revised legislation. It is expected that this Bill will be published in 2016.
· The issue of administration of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) is being dealt with separately. The Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2008, which passed all stages in the Seanad in 2011, is currently at second stage in the Dáil. When enacted, it will make immediate changes to the Mental Health Act 2001. Enactment is expected by end-2015.
· Deprivation of liberty: legislative clarity is needed on the issue of nursing homes and similar residential care facilities, who has statutory responsibility for a decision that a patient should not leave for health and safety reasons, and what appeals process should be in place.
· Electoral Acts: provisions of the Electoral Act 1992 are premised on the assumption that a person with a mental disability lacks capacity to perform as a member of the Dáil.
· The Department of Justice and Equality will bring forward the necessary amendments, in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Attorney General, on the matter in the Equality/Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, for enactment in 2016.
· Companies Act: The use of the phrase “member of unsound mind” in section 188 of the Companies Act 2014 will be amended by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in the upcoming Accounting Bill 2015, enactment of which is intended by end-2015.
· Reasonable accommodation: the Equality/Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will address the constitutional issue concerning reasonable accommodation