Members of the traveling community are grossly overrepresented in the Irish prison system, government officials have acknowledged to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The Irish delegation faced a number of questions about the treatment of Travelers and other vulnerable groups during the second and final day of hearings in Geneva, Switzerland.
Committee members expressed concern that Travelers were being discriminated against by the justice system and that gardaí were carrying out house searches without warrants.
They also expressed concern that Ireland’s recognition of Traveler ethnicity in 2017 had not been confirmed in legislation.
The Irish delegation stated that Travelers made up 0.7% of the country’s population, but 10% of the general prison population and 15% of the female prison population.
He called it a “striking” statistic and said it was important that the needs of prisoners on the journey were taken care of for their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
He said a one-size-fits-all approach would not meet the needs of individual offenders and that a lot of work was being done by the Irish Prison Service and others in this area.
The Garda was also focusing on a human rights-based approach to policing and trying to recruit more members of the Traveler community, including offering an internship scheme, she said.
Ireland has also faced questions over the implementation of the Fines Act in 2016, which provides alternatives to jail for people who fail to pay court-imposed fines.
The law was designed to reduce the high number of short prison sentences imposed for non-payment of fines.
The delegation said the law had reduced the number of fines issued from almost 10,000 in 2015 to just under 900 in 2019, a reduction of 91%.
However, the new fine collection system has proven to be “cumbersome to operate” and is being reviewed by a high-level group chaired by the Ministry of Justice with the aim of streamlining the process.
The committee also asked why there have been so few human trafficking convictions in Ireland when there have been several hundred reported incidents over the past decade. He noted that the first conviction did not come until 2021.
She noted the concerns of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission regarding the decrease in the number of children officially identified as victims of trafficking. There were nine reports of child trafficking in 2019, but none in 2020 and 2021, he said.
Human trafficking is a very difficult crime to investigate, an Irish Department of Justice official said. He said it was pretty typical for the victim to be so controlled that they couldn’t accept that they were being trafficked. Mistrust of the police on the part of people who are not from Ireland is another factor, he said.
The Irish delegation faced questions about the use of emergency surgery in cases where a child presents as intersex.
“We have received information that surgery for intersex children is still performed for social emergencies. This is necessarily done without consent and involves irreversible and deeply damaging procedures,” said committee member Christopher Bulkan.
Each year, two to three children are born with “ambiguous genitalia” in Ireland. They are fully assessed by an interdisciplinary team before any treatment decisions are made, an Irish official said. “Only medically necessary treatment will be carried out.”