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Rolling back economic and social rights to aid the banks?



The banking bailout in Ireland will cost at least €50 billion, or about the equivalent of €22,500 euros each for Ireland’s two million tax payers. This has left the Irish government facing a large budget deficit. But should Ireland be cutting back on the protection of economic and social rights to finance this deficit? And who is bearing the burden of these cuts?

Ireland’s National Recovery Plan, rushed through the Dáil (parliament) last week to secure the IMF-EU rescue line of credit, suggests that the poorer will be hit harder than the wealthier. The plan sets out cuts in social welfare, slashing 24,000 public sector jobs, raising regressive taxes such as VAT to 23% and widening the income tax bands to include lower-paid workers. It will also introduce new fees for education, water and local services. Meanwhile, the minimum wage will be cut, but the country's corporate tax rate of 12.5%--one of the lowest in the world--will not change.

Ireland already has the highest child poverty rate in the European Union (before taxes and income transfers) witha staggering 34% of households with children in poverty according to new research on inequality and child-wellbeing in rich countries from  UNICEF. This figure drops to 11% after taxes and transfers, which shows the importance of redistribution of resources to combat child poverty. The Children’s Rights Alliance, a group of 90 NGOs, has denounced the child benefit cuts also embedded in the austerity measures. Social Justice Ireland has also labelled the 2011 Budget as “unjust, unfair and inequitable” given the escape of the corporate sector and those who benefit from tax breaks from bearing the burden. 

The National Recovery Plan fails to mention Ireland's obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which requires the progressive realization of economic and social rights--and by extension prohibits retrogression and non-discrimination. Despite the limited availability of resources, the government bears the burden of proof in demonstrating why these cuts are necessary and why the costs of the €50 billion bailout should be disproportionately borne by Ireland’s poor.  

Ireland will come under international scrutiny for compliance with its human rights obligations next year in its its first review under the Universal Periodic Review on October 6, 2011. Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, the UN's Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty will also visit to Ireland on January 10, 2011.