In the follow-up to its submission to the 2017 session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission provided information on how austerity measures impact on the functioning of civil society organisations. The Commission highlighted that funding should be restored to pre-austerity levels while ensuring the sustainability of civil society resources. This is particularly relevant for civil society organisations and community groups promoting women’s rights. The Commission recommended that the state adopt measures to ensure that resources allocated to organisations working in the fields of human rights and equality, including women’s rights, are protected from future budget cuts and in economic recessions.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission recommended the State to consult with children and disabled people on the General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill: this was to ensure a child and disability rights perspective to the legislation. The Commission has repeatedly highlighted concerns around the involvement of disabled people in decision-making processes. This was particularly notable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislation and policies with significant implications for disabled people were adopted, even though they were not meaningfully engaged. The Commission has stressed the importance of closely consulting and involving disabled people and Disabled Persons Organisations in legislative and policy decision-making processes in line with Article 4.3 of the UNCRPD and General Comment 7 on the participation of persons with disabilities. To ensure meaningful participation, the Commission has called on the State to actively support the further development and involvement of Disabled Persons Organisations. It can do so by providing sustainable core funding, capacity building, and training.
In January 2019, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission published a policy statement on the “Electoral Acts and Civil Society Space in Ireland”. The statement outlined concerns related to the Electoral Act 1997 and its definition of ‘political purposes’ and ‘third party’. The Commission underlined that these are overly broad and can affect the functioning of a range of Irish civil society organisations. They can also restrict their advocacy functions while potentially even constraining their ability to work and seek funding. In 2020, the Commission noted that the General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill does not address these issues. Therefore, in February 2021 the Commission presented a submission to the Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the above mentioned Bill. It stressed that such regulatory measures should avoid placing undue restrictions on wider civil society activity and suggested that a reform of the Electoral Acts is needed.
In June 2021, the Irish government announced a review of its Equality Acts. To support and encourage civil society groups and individuals to engage in the review process, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the civil society organisation, FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), have launched a joint project called Equality ACTion.
To empower the advocacy and work of civil society, rights-holders, community-led groups and trade unions in Ireland, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission operates a grant scheme to support human rights and equality projects across Ireland. This scheme supports research programmes, training and resource activities, conferences, events, and cultural initiatives. Under its Human Rights and Equality Grants Scheme 2021, the Commission supported 28 projects which encompass a range of issues. They include social exclusion and socioeconomic discrimination; racism and discrimination experienced, in particular, by ethnic and minority communities; and empowering people with disabilities to advocate for their rights.