World Day of Social Justice 2011 & Ireland

UNToday marks the UN World Day of Social Justice. A society built on social justice is a society that not only values equality and diversity, but also puts economic and social frameworks in place for the achievement of social justice for all, regardless of race, creed, disability, sexuality, gender, political opinion, gender identity ethnicity, class and the myriad of other ways that we as human beings view and distinguish each other. Social justice is closely linked with economic justice, and as Ban Ki -moon has stated in his message for World Day of Social Justice,

Growing inequality undermines the international community’s progress in lifting millions out of poverty and building a more just world. The fault lines are visible in falling wages for women and young people and limited access to education, health services and decent jobs.

This week in Ireland we were reminded how socially unjust past actions, such as slavery, confinement and discrimination on the basis of class and gender can blight individuals full potential in later life. An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny gave a heartfelt apology to the Magdalene women. The Magdalene women fought to be heard for many decades of the plight they faced at the hands of religious institutions, directly and indirectly, assisted by the people of Ireland (see, hereherehereherehereherehereherehere and herefor simply a sampling on the issues regarding Magdalene Laundries that have previously been discussed on this blog).

From past (and continuing) wrongs to present social justice concerns, the recession has had an enormous impact on achieving a socially just Ireland.  With a standardised unemployment rate of 14.6%, 6.9% of people in consistent poverty, 24.5% of people suffering some form of deprivation and 16% of people at risk of poverty (see, Central Statistics Office).  Today, the Mangan Report on Child and Family Social Assistance Payments recommended the changes to the way child benefit and family income supplement are paid. Children’s charities have expressed concerns about these measures.

A final issue of relevance for the World Day of Social Justice relates to how we treat the ‘stranger’ to our shores. The direct provision system continues to institutionalise and separate asylum seekers from the rest of society. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) report on Ireland noted (paras 113-117)  that for a short period of time a system of direct provision may be useful. However, the vast majority of asylum seekers spend many years in the direct provision system, the elements of social control (unable to cook meals, clean, sharing facilities), unsuitability for families and young children and high levels of depression within direct provision accommodation centres, led to ECRI to make two recommendations:

116. ECRI recommends that the authorities conduct an in depth systematic review of the policy of direct provision, in particular with a view of allowing asylum seekers greater control of their everyday life.

117. ECRI calls on the authorities to consider creating an alternative system that would promote independence, ensure adequate living conditions and address the cultural, economic, health, legal and social needs of people seeking protection.

Today in Seanad Eireann (Ireland’s upper house of parliament), Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh stated:

…on numerous occasions during my two years as a Member of this House I have outlined my hope a similar apology [as made to victims of the Magdalenes] will not be required from a future Taoiseach in respect of the direct provision system. I have grave concerns about the system of direct provision and I am of the opinion that it must be reviewed. Coverage in the press this morning indicates that some €655 million was paid to the private companies which ran the direct provision system during the past ten years. These companies have unlimited status and, therefore, we are not in a position to discover the level of profits they have made. These profits were made on the backs of people kept in conditions that were far from satisfactory from a civil rights perspective.

World Day of Social Justice is also significant for the institution I am affiliated with. In September 2013, UCD School of Law, along with our colleagues in the UCD School of Social Justice will welcome incoming students to the new Law with Social Justice (BCL (Hons)) degree programme. Judy Walsh and I will deliver a dedicated module to our incoming students on the interaction of law with issues of social justice, that will provide students with a theoretical framework for consideration of the role that law and legal systems play in enhancing or lessening social justice in society.