Thank you to our readers, subscribers, Twitter followers and Facebook fans. As of today, the blog has been viewed 5,000 times in the month of October. Do keep reading, and if you have any suggestions for future posts, feel free to leave them in the comments, message us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/humanrightsblog) or post to our Facebook Fan Page.
The fantastic UK Supreme Court Blog has been following R(E) v JFS closely. I blogged about it here earlier in the week. The UKSC blog provides some of the case documents here and here and the Jewish Chronicle sketches the arguments made during the hearing. Pictured is the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Sir Jonathan Sacks. Media coverage of the case outlines some of its key implications for British education policy as it relates to religious membership:
- The Guardian notes tensions between Jewish bodies which champion the idea of ‘open religious schools’ and those who wish to limit admission to JFS to children with a specific ethnically-grounded religious heritage. Sholto Byrnes has an interesting article on the ‘soft’ issues at stake in the New Statesman.
- The Times highlights the crux of the case for the purposes of the Race Relations Act; the ambivalent position of religious groups which ‘test’ religious identity on the basis of descent as well as practice. The BBC observes that, on this basis, the decision in JFS will have implications, not only for the country’s 33 Jewish schools, but for its 7 Sikh schools.
- The Guardian runs articles – 1 and 2 – which highlight the dilemmas which arise from state funding of religious schools. The main positions articulated are of two kinds: either, as the NSS argues, the state ceases to fund religious schools at all, or the state in furtherance of certain visions of equality, directly prohibits certain admissions criteria for state-funded religious schools. In the aftermath of the Court of Appeal decision in JFS, many Jewish schools adopted ‘points based criteria’ for admission, as reported in the Guardian.
In a follow-up to my earlier post regarding the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate’s Change proposed Heads for a new Climate Change Bill it has emerged that the EU has agreed a joint negotiating position ahead of the Copenhagen Conference this December. The EU has sought to take the lead at the Conference and in settling on a joint platform it is hoped that the EU will be able to push others into agreement.
One of the main stumbling blocks has been on the question of how much financial support as well as the degree of technology transfer that should be given to countries of the Global South. While some of these countries, such as China and India, are emerging as major polluters, others have little or no impact upon rates of climate change. However it is the countries of the Global South who will suffer most from droughts and floods should Climate Change keep going unabated. The UN estimates that yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by up to 50% in some African countries and that up to 200 million people could be displaced by the effects of climate change by 2050. Obviously the Global North is better placed to deal with these changes than the Global South both financially and with regard to technology. There has been extensive research into this sponsored by both the UN and NGOs.
The EU at today’s summit agreed a joint position on climate finance, though an actual formula for establishing a country’s ability to pay was not settled upon. They also agreed to cut emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. Eastern European countries have been particularly concerned that any cuts in emissions will disproportionately affect their abilities to expand and develop their own economies, but with the intervention of Ban-ki Moon were convinced to agree a deal. While the agreed platform by the EU is more likely to lead to success at Copenhagen as Lavanya Rajamani has pointed out one of the greatest impediments to an agreement is the lack of trust in the Global North to fulfill its promises, the lack of success of the Kyoto Protocol is a prime example of this. It will be interesting to watch the various interests formulate their positions over the next month. What is clear is that comprehensive action must be taken soon.
The Irish Times also reports that the High Court will give its final ruling next week on exactly how much may be published of the report of the investigation into the handling by Catholic Church and State authorities of child sex abuse allegations against clerics in the Dublin archdiocese. Padraig has blogged about the case here. Labour Senator and Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin, Ivana Bacik has released a statement in which she calls for an an urgent debate on the operation of section 38 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. Senator Bacik writes:
“The Minister has sought directions from the High Court under section 38 of the Act. The High Court has already ordered the deletion of one chapter of the report, and further directions are now being sought from the Court. I am very concerned about the lack of fairness in the procedures under section 38. The hearing is in private, with no media present. The only persons represented are the State authorities – in this case, themselves under investigation – and any defendants in relevant criminal proceedings, ie alleged abusers… Section 38 does not give any right to be heard, for example, to the survivors or victims of abuse, or the Commission itself. Yet the effect of the section could be to compromise the reports of commissions of investigation, by ensuring that they are neutered before they are published. There is a clear public interest in reviewing the operation of section 38, to ensure greater rights to representation and greater transparency in the process.”
The Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUIG and the Irish Family Planning Association will host a conference on abortion and human rights on Thursday, November 5. Details are here.
The Irish Times reports that Martin Mansergh (left), the Minister of State for the Office of Public Works has suggested that a resolution can be found to the problem of funding Protestant schools as part of next year’s budget. We have discussed the debacle here. Minister Mansergh did not promise that the ancillary grant would be restored to all Protestant schools. Rather he outlined that the government wished to tailor its funding arrangements to those schools most in need; it “was willing to consider any proposals that would more effectively focus funding to meet the objectives of improving access and sustaining Protestant schools, particularly those in rural areas.” The Minister said:
“I was a member of the board of a Protestant secondary school in Dublin city for almost 20 years. Shortly before departing last year, I inquired about the number of block grant pupils [those who benefit from special funding from the State] among the school population of 630 and was told it was in single figures… However, in other areas… the proportion may be 30 per cent or 40 per cent and, in one or two instances, even higher. The case can be made that the cutbacks announced last October bear more heavily on such schools than on those with no substantial disadvantaged intake.”
Via Maman Poulet comes news that concerted lobbying is now commencing around the Civil Partnership Bill 2009, which the renewed Programme for Government commits to introducing and is due to be debated before Christmas. The Civil Partnership Bill 2009 will, when passed, introduce civil partnerships available to same-sex couples only and provide some (primarily property-based) protections for unmarried and un-civilly-partnered couples on the breakdown of their relationship. In addition, s. 5 of the Bill provides that the Minister for Justice may, by order, recognise a relationship from another jurisdiction as a civil partnership in Ireland is he is satisfied that the extra-jurisdictional relationship form has equivalent characteristics to a civil partnership. Foreign marriages between same-sex couples, where they exist, will therefore not be recognised as marriages which, to me at least, means that the Bill does not address the net point in the Zappone & Gilligan v Revenue Commissioners case (for recognition of a Canadian same-sex marriage).
Civil partnerships will not be the same as marriage and marriage will in fact remain the exclusive domain of opposite-sex couples. That said, there are a variety of situations in which the Bill when enacted will provide significant protections to civil partners in areas around taxation, ‘shared’ home, pensions and so on. What is notably absent from the Bill, however, is any provision relating to children. Civil partners will not be permitted to adopt as a couple. Neither will the non-biological parent of a child being parented by both civil partners be able to carry out a second-parent adoption or to have recognised legal connections to the child. Children do become relevant on the dissolution of a civil partnership as their needs can be taken into account in relation to, for example, property adjustment orders and so on.
A number of points needs to be made here from a human rights perspective:
- Civil partnerships are unlikely to answer equality concerns from the LGBT community as they are not equal in status (constitutional, legal and social) to marriage
- Civil partners will not have the same range of protections as married couples in all circumstances, although there will be in most circumstances
- The rights of children to meaningful, legally-recognised and protected relationships to the people who parent them are not promoted by this Bill
- The exclusion of opposite-sex couples from civil partnership discriminates against couples who want legal protections but who do not want to marry for ideological or other reasons
There are whispers that the Bill will be debated on November 2nd, but it does not appear on the Order Paper. However, the debates ought to commence relatively soon and we will follow and reflect on them here on HRinI. While there are plenty of difficulties with civil partnerships as proposed in terms of scope, substance and basic equality principles we must recognise that civil partnerships themselves do represent an important advancement for LGBT rights in Ireland and should be welcomed as a step in the right direction but certainly not the final destination.
On October 19th I spoke about civil partnerships in the UCC Philosoph in a debate co-sponsored by the UCC LGBT Soc. You can hear my speech here, although as the motion was worded (by the Society) as ‘This House would Reject Civil Partnerships in Favour of Civil Marriage’ my support for partnerships as a protective paradigm that can be used by vulnerable couples now does not perhaps come through as clearly as it would have done if the motion were differently worded.