Sinead Gibney, chief executive officer of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), outlined the vision of the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission. She said that it had taken some time to bring the joint body into full operation but that task was now complete with the appointment of Commissioners, including the Chief Commissioner, Emily Logan. The priority now is to develop a comprehensive set of strategies grounded in the past experiences of both bodies.
Martin Collins, Pavee Point gave an account of the inequalities experienced by Travellers, their battle for equal rights and the resistance met in seeking these basic rights. He was particularly critical of schools admission policies which, because of their exemption from the equality legislation, allows schools to be discriminatory towards Travellers. He concluded that despite sustained efforts over decades, and some gains in terms of their ethnicity being gradually recognised, little of substance has changed for Travellers.
This section concluded with a panel discussion which focused largely on what was described as the obscenity of direct provision and clarifications on the implementation strategies of the IHREC.
In a short video interview Micheline Sheehy Skeffington outlined the quest for gender equality in staffing promotions in NUIG, whereby she had taken and won an equality case against the university. She spoke of the ongoing campaign by colleagues for fair treatment and how this had raised awareness within the college and elsewhere about the prevalence of gender inequality. She said the glass ceiling that women face continues to operate and urged all women to take action in their own organisations.
Margaret Ward, historian and biographer of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, painted a wonderfully illustrative picture of Hanna as a non-conformist woman whose feistiness and commitment shines through despite the many setbacks she experienced in her life, including the murder of her husband, Francis. She spoke of her resilience and necessary humour in enduring prison terms as a suffragette and as a political prisoner and how she challenged the notion of women mobilising as housewives which she viewed as a term of men’s making that hindered equality.
The afternoon session was chaired by Susan McKay, journalist and author.
David Hickey provided an invigorating account of social and economic developments in South America. He said that the region had finally broken away from the United States stranglehold which hindered its development for decades. The formation of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States organisation (CELAC) had provided the region with an institution upon which to build economic and social cooperation and development. Focusing on Cuba he praised the way it had developed top class education and health systems and shared these with other regional states in response to crisis situations.
Anastasia Crickley, Department of Applied Social Studies Maynooth University, provided a comprehensive outline of the institutions and procedures for scrutiny of state compliance with international human rights instruments. She called for better use of the European Social Charter, which although lacking the enforcement mechanisms of other instruments, is intended to complement the civil and political rights of the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore does provide an avenue to advance economic, social and cultural rights. She also spoke about the importance of engagement with special rapporteurs, pointing to the very good work of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepulveda, in documenting social disadvantage in Ireland and taking the state to account.
This section was followed by a panel discussion based on comments and questions from the floor. The discussion was lively and informative.
The final item of the day was a dramatic piece by actor Donal O’Kelly and percussionist Brian Fleming portraying the impacts of direct provision on the psyche of asylum seekers. This took place outdoor in the courtyard of the venue and was a particularly powerful yet poignant piece on which to end the day.