The introduction of facial recognition technology under Garda’s enhanced surveillance powers and the lack of hate crime legislation in Ireland have been identified as key issues that the United Nations Human Rights Committee is likely to raise when it meets with government representatives next week.
The meeting, which takes place every four years in Geneva, is organized by the UN as part of its oversight role over the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Ireland signed in 1989.
It can make recommendations on how states should improve their compliance with the covenant. In the past, it has called on Ireland to abolish the Special Criminal Court and to ratify the protocol to the main UN convention against torture – the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.
Neither has yet been addressed by the government, but executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) Liam Herrick remained optimistic ahead of next week’s hearing.
He pointed to other areas where involvement with the Committee has produced more tangible results, including gender equality, women’s rights and historical abuse of people in state-run institutions.
“There is a strong track record of committee recommendations being adopted by the government, and then there are other matters such as the Special Criminal Court that have yet to be dealt with,” said Mr Herrick.
He welcomed the government’s decision to send a delegation to Geneva led by Children’s Secretary Roderic O’Gorman. “It’s not always the case that a full-fledged minister leads the delegation, and other countries often don’t send such a senior official, so that’s a positive step and one that will be recognized by the committee.”
A shadow report prepared by the ICCL for the committee also highlighted other issues affecting people in Ireland, including members of the LGBT+ community, travellers, Roma and survivors of mother and baby homes.
“We have long called for closer and better-regulated supervisory powers for the Garda,” said Doireann Ansbro, ICCL’s head of legal affairs and policy. “However, since our shadow report to the UN, we have been extremely disappointed to learn that the government was proposing an extension of powers to use controversial facial recognition technology.”
She said such technology “risks privacy violations, potential discrimination and further violations of data protection law”.
The ICCL also recommended that hate crime laws be introduced, taking into account the needs of the communities affected by such crimes.
“Ireland has no hate crime laws and the provisions on hate crime are outdated,” said Luna Lara Liboni, the organization’s equality and hate crime policy officer.
She pointed to “a worrying increase in attacks against the LGBTI+ community during Pride Month” and said it was “time for Ireland to send a clear message that these crimes are unacceptable and that steps are taken to ensure that all affected communities feel safe”.