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Coronavirus pandemic exposes Ireland’s inequalities, says human rights report

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission highlighted the importance of building human rights principles into the recovery from Covid-19.

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A Direct Provision centre in Co Meath (Niall Carson/PA)

A Direct Provision centre in Co Meath (Niall Carson/PA)

A Direct Provision centre in Co Meath (Niall Carson/PA)

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed, in the “starkest terms”, inequalities in Ireland’s society, the head of the human rights commission said.

Frank Conaty, acting chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic – through vulnerability to the virus or by actions taken to suppress it – are the same groups who experience disadvantage or discrimination.

In its 2019 report, the IHREC said these include older people, women and children, members of the Traveller and Roma communities, homeless people, vulnerable migrants – including those living in Direct Provision centres – people with disabilities, and people with mental and psycho-social challenges.

“Most particularly, the harshest effect of the pandemic has been visited on older people who are resident in congregated care settings, such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities,” Dr Conaty added.

“As of 20 May 2020, 63% of all confirmed and probable Covid-related deaths were associated with long-term residential care settings, the majority of which are nursing homes.

“Ireland is facing into a period of considerable economic stress and it is critically important that the distribution of this burden does not exacerbate existing inequalities in our society.”

He also highlighted the importance of building human rights and equality principles into the recovery from Covid-19.

Dr Conaty also said that recent events in the US have shone a light on racism and its “invidious impact” on individuals and society.

“Ireland is not immune to the malaise of racism,” he added.

The report also revealed that the commission dealt with 2,165 queries about human rights and equality law through Your Rights last year.

A total of 21 cases, involving 41 individual clients granted legal advice and representation, were concluded. This compares with nine cases involving 14 individual clients in 2018.

Among these were cases involving disability, age, race, housing assistance and the Traveller community.

One case involved five people who alleged they had been discriminated against when they were refused service in a hotel bar.

They had been attending a conference at the venue on issues affecting the Traveller community, and went to the bar afterwards only to be informed that the hotel was serving residents only.

The matter was resolved through mediation.

PA