Walking around Brussels I often wonder what it must be like to be blind here and on foot, or in fact to have any kind of physical disability and have to negotiate your way around. It’s not just the proliferation of old cobbled footpaths with their proliferation of holes from missing cobbles, or just as hazardous, their proliferation of loose and proud cobbles, nor even the proliferation of dog-shit; it’s the narrowness of those footpaths, the obstacles permanent and temporary that are strewn in your way, blocking anyone with a buggy or a wheelchair.
I want to stress that this is a very particular criticism of the footpaths in Brussels, not to be taken as a condemnation of the entire city and/or its inhabitants, both of which I generally enjoy. It’s nevertheless a serious criticism, and far more serious if you have any kind of physical disability.
In that sense then I think this is one area where Ireland has made great progress over the last couple of decades, genuine efforts being made at every level, which is why I'm mystified as to why Ireland is yet to ratify the United Nations Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Oh we’ve signed the Convention, then Minister for Justice Michael McDowell doing the honours ten years ago, on March 30th 2007, with the very worthy comment: “This convention represents a blueprint for a significant improvement in the lives of these people (with disabilities)". So why the delay?
The current Minister for State for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath, recently said that "While Ireland not having ratified the CRPD is a recurring point of criticism by the United Nations, in addition to many domestic national governmental organisations, it should be noted Ireland is in many respects more advanced than many other EU member states in terms of service and the position of people with disabilities".
Is that meant to be an excuse? Surely – as I read it anyway – that’s even MORE reason to sign the Convention?
This Thursday March 30th 2017 at 11am, exactly ten years after Minister McDowell’s signature and declaration, there will be a Disability Rights Protest taking place at Leinster House. It's being hosted by Joanne O'Riordan from No Limbs No Limits and is supported by over 114 organisations that represent people with disabilities and their carers around the country.
Just to confirm, the UNCRPD does not create new rights, but instead requires the states to ensure, protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. It would however mean that Ireland could now be monitored both domestically and by the United Nations for its performance in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities. These specific rights include such as:
Equality before the law without discrimination;
Right to Life, liberty and security of the person;
Equal recognition before law and legal capacity;
Freedom from Torture;
Freedom from Exploitation, violence and abuse;
Freedom of Movement and nationality;
Freedom of Expression;
Respect for Privacy ;
Respect for Home and Family;
Right to Education;
Right to Health;
Right to Work .
Not very radical, is it?
Look, Minister McGrath, Ireland is the last country in the EU yet to ratify this Convention. Do the right thing, and let people like Joanne O’Riordan get on with living their lives.