State’s policy failings are ‘fuelling division’, says human rights group

IHREC report says State not addressing the root causes of crises in health, housing, poverty and the cost of living

A “paradigm shift” is needed in the State’s approach to economic, social and cultural rights if it is to eradicate poverty, build up public service provision, and better respond to the needs of structurally vulnerable communities, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has said in a report to the United Nations.

The commission submitted its report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESC) as part of Ireland’s fourth periodic review in February. In it, the commission expressed “concern” about the overall trajectory of ESC rights in Ireland, despite the country’s economic development since the last periodic review in 2015.

IHREC said the State was failing to address the root causes of crises in health, housing, poverty and the cost of living “with forward-looking, innovative and sustainable solutions, resorting instead to short-term, emergency and temporary measures”.

“The inadequacy of the State’s response to these systemic inequalities impacts Ireland’s resilience in the face of emerging challenges such as climate change and AI, while also fuelling division and political polarisation, and negatively impacting social cohesion,” it said.


“Poverty, social exclusion and inadequate accommodation are at the core of ESC inequality in Ireland, particularly affecting the right to an adequate standard of living. Many in our society lack the basic resources to live with dignity, despite broader economic prosperity at the national level,” IHREC said.

IHREC recommended that the State develop a strategy and implementation plan on poverty reduction which “embraces a human rights approach with ambitious targets, accompanied by an independent monitoring and evaluation framework with clear institutional accountability”.

Strategic approaches to poverty alleviation should “consider the effects of the social protection system, low-paid and precarious work, financial exclusion, and socio-economic discrimination, and include actions to dismantle these and other poverty traps”.

It also recommended a transformation in “the stigmatising discourse around social welfare, including by politicians and public officials that frames its receipt as ‘charity’ as opposed to an entitlement and a right”.

There was a “lack of adequate public transport links, common recreational spaces and quality public services” in Ireland, IHREC said, which led to “alienation disproportionately experienced by structurally vulnerable groups, while creating circumstances where community division and mistrust can flourish”.

It recommended investment in rural public transport to connect people to employment, education, public services and amenities, to combat social isolation.

On housing, IHREC highlighted “the alarming lack of progress in almost all of the recommendations that the committee made on housing in 2015, such as improving the accessibility, affordability and quality of housing”.

“This has caused and continues to cause serious deprivation for many,” IHREC said.

IHREC reported its concerns to the UN on “the chronic undersupply of housing in the market, the unprecedented levels of homelessness, the persistent issues securing the right to culturally appropriate and quality accommodation for structurally vulnerable groups and the high levels of institutionalisation in Ireland”.

To address these concerns, it recommended that there should be a significant scaling up of supply of public and social housing to match current and future need, and also that a referendum should be held, proposing the insertion of the right to housing into the Constitution.

IHREC member Noeline Blackwell said Ireland was moving in “the opposite direction” it should be in terms of ESC rights.

“There are no simple or piecemeal solutions to creating a fairer and more equal Ireland. Progress will rely on a whole effort from the State, through committed investment, strategic and structural reform, and rigorous implementation,” she said.

“It requires leadership and brave decision-making that acknowledges the lack of progress made so far, the multigenerational, intractable nature of many of the issues raised, and a determined ambition to materially improve the situation of many in our country that suffer inequality in all its forms.”

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times