Belfast Telegraph

Convention backs rights protection

Members of the Constitutional Convention have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strengthening protection of economic, social and cultural rights in Ireland.

Eighty-five per cent of the decision-making forum said the Constitution should be bolstered in regard to those issues.

The 100-strong representative body, made up of 33 politicians, 66 lay members and an independent chair, make recommendations to the Oireachtas on potential future constitutional amendments to be put to the people in referendums.

During this weekend's ninth and final meeting of the Convention, members weighed the arguments of those advocating for and against change in the areas of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights.

Amnesty Ireland Executive Director Colm O'Gorman made a presentation for constitutional amendment while barrister and former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell opposed the move, insisting responsibility for those rights should rest with the Oireachtas and not the judiciary.

Economic rights are those rights that relate to labour and property rights, these rights include the right to work and to fair conditions of work.

Social rights include the right to social security, education, to an adequate standard of living and to shelter.

Cultural rights include the right to participate in the culture of one's communities and that ethnic minorities have the right to practice their own culture, faith and language.

As well as backing greater protections, members also voted to highlight certain rights which should be expressly stated in the Constitution, namely:

:: Housing

:: Social Security

:: Essential Health care

:: Rights of people with disabilities

:: Linguistic and cultural rights

:: Rights covered in the International Covenant on ESC rights.

Tom Arnold, chairman of the Convention, said: "This weekend members of the Convention were asked to consider the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights in the Constitution.

"This was the final weekend of the Convention but the members never waned showing tremendous dedication to the subject matter.

"The members heard robust arguments in favour and opposing reform with the implications of any changes carefully assessed, generating a very thorough and passionate discussion.

"As this is the final meeting of the Convention I have to express my sincere thanks and congratulations to the members for the work they have done over the past 15 months in examining and making recommendations on aspects of the Constitution.

"These members were asked to give up their time to consider changes to our Constitution and did so in the spirit of public service. The Convention on the Constitution showed us that the Constitution is a living breathing document with a very real impact on our lives.

"It has been an enormous privilege and pleasure to work on this project and my sincerest of thanks to everyone involved for their effort."

A report containing all of the evidence that was presented over the weekend along with the recommendations of the Convention will be compiled and laid before the Oireachtas.

The Government has undertaken to respond to the convention's recommendations within four months by way of debates in the Oireachtas and, where it agrees with a particular recommendation to amend the Constitution, to include a time frame for a referendum.

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