Ireland is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a directly elected president, an executive branch headed by a prime minister, and a bicameral parliament. The country held free and fair parliamentary elections in 2016 and a presidential election in 2018.
An Garda Siochana (or Garda) is the national police force and maintains internal security under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality. The defense forces are responsible for external security under the supervision of the Department of Defense but are also authorized to perform certain domestic security responsibilities in support of the Garda. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.
The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, including in the security services and elsewhere in the government.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits words or behaviors likely to generate hatred against persons because of their race, nationality, religion, national origins, or sexual orientation. Although a referendum to remove blasphemy from the constitution passed in 2018, the law still prohibits blasphemy, defined as publishing or uttering “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” The law permits defendants to argue “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value” as a defense.
Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The same prohibitions against language likely to generate hatred and blasphemy that affected freedom of expression also applied to the press. The government can prohibit the state-owned radio and television network from broadcasting any material “likely to promote or incite to crime or which would tend to undermine the authority of the state.” Authorities did not invoke these prohibitions during the year.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee or subsidiary protection status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers whose initial applications are rejected can appeal the decision. Asylum seekers have access to legal advice.
NGOs and the UN Human Rights Committee continued to express concern over the length and complexity of the application and appeal processes. In 2018 the average length of stay in “direct provision,” a system that includes housing, meals, a weekly cash allowance, and access to health care for asylum seekers, was 24 months.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally follows the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which permits the return of asylum applicants to the EU member state of original entry for adjudication of asylum claims. As of July the government received 58 asylum seekers who were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.
Employment: In July 2018 the EU’s recast Reception Conditions Directive was transposed into domestic law. The directive allows access to the labor market for a broader range of persons seeking international protection than those receiving “direct provision” and removed previous limitations to employment, such as salary restrictions and ineligible sectors for employment. An individual seeking asylum can access the labor market nine months after submitting an application for international protection.
Access to Basic Services: The country employs a system called “direct provision” for asylum seekers that includes housing, meals, a weekly cash allowance, and access to health care. Children have access to education. As of December 2018, 75 percent of asylum seekers remained in the government-run support system for less than three years, compared with 73 percent in December 2017. More than 40 percent of asylum seekers spent more than two years in direct provision. The Irish Refugee Council, the national ombudsman, and the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the detrimental effects of long stays in direct provision accommodation for asylum seekers. In November 2018 the direct provision facilities reached capacity, which required the government to house asylum seekers in emergency accommodations in hotels around the country. As of August, 1,068 individuals were in emergency accommodation, including 177 children. NGO representatives said the government’s use of emergency accommodations led to serious difficulties accessing basic services, including health care and education.
Durable Solutions: The government operated a resettlement program to accommodate up to 200 persons referred by UNHCR or identified through selection missions to UNHCR refugee operations. Under the Irish Refugee Protection Program, the government committed to accepting 4,000 refugees, including 2,622 via the EU relocation program. The government has relocated 1,022 refugees since 2016. The government provides a postarrival cultural orientation program and civics and language courses.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (subsidiary protection) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and granted such protection to 200 persons in 2018. Such individuals were entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, health care, and housing. The government did not make determinations on subsidiary protection status at the same time as determining asylum status. This caused delays, as a separate determination on subsidiary protection could take from several months to more than a year to complete.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the laws effectively. There were no reports of central government corruption during the year.
Corruption: There were isolated reports of low-level government corruption during the year.
Financial Disclosure: Elected and appointed officials, as well as civil servants at the higher grades, are required to furnish a statement in writing to the Standards in Public Office Commission of their financial interests and the interests of their spouse, civil partner, and child that could materially influence the person in the performance of official functions. The commission verifies the disclosures. The commission made public the financial disclosures of elected officials. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The law obliges public bodies to take account of human rights and equality in the course of their work. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), an independent government organization, monitored adherence of public bodies to legal obligations. The IHREC was active throughout the year, holding consultations, training sessions, briefings, and policy reviews on human rights issues.
There is also a human rights subcommittee of the parliamentary Committee on Justice, Defense, and Equality. It examines how issues, themes, and proposals before parliament take human rights concerns into account.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and the government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law provides a mechanism for the registration of employment agreements between employers and trade unions governing wages and employment conditions.
Police and military personnel may form associations (technically not unions) to represent them in matters of pay, working conditions, and general welfare. The law does not require employers to engage in collective bargaining. The law provides for the right to strike, in both the public and private sectors, except for police and military personnel. The Association of Secondary Teachers alleged that its members were penalized under legislation designed to discourage public-sector unions from striking. It filed complaints with the International Labor Organization and the European Committee of Social Rights, claiming that their members were financially penalized for striking while members of a nursing union were not.
Labor unions have the right to pursue collective bargaining and in most instances did so freely, with employers’ cooperation in most cases. While workers are constitutionally protected in forming trade unions, employers are not legally obliged to recognize unions or to negotiate with them. The government facilitates freedom of association and trade union activity through the Labor Relations Commission, which promotes the development and improvement of industrial relations policies, procedures, and practices, and the Labor Court, which provides resolution of industrial relations disputes.
There were no reports of violations of the law protecting the right to freedom of association. The country allocated adequate resources to provide oversight of labor relations. The Labor Court is a court of last resort for trade unions and employers and sought to process cases with a minimum of delay. Workers freely exercised their labor rights. Unions conducted their activities without government interference. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination. Labor leaders did not report any threats or violence from employers.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law.
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) monitors compliance with employment rights, inspects workplaces, and has authority to prosecute alleged violations of employment rights.
The law considers forced labor to be human trafficking. The penalty for human trafficking is sufficient to deter violations; the government has not convicted a human trafficker since 2013. NGOs, including the Migrant Rights Center of Ireland (MRCI) and the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), alleged that employers subjected men and women to forced labor in construction, restaurant work, waste management, commercial fishing, car washes, and agriculture, as well as in private homes as domestic servants. In 2018 Vietnamese and Chinese men prosecuted and sentenced for cannabis cultivation showed indicia of forced labor, such as document withholding, restriction of movement, and nonpayment of wages. Following an internal review, the government maintained that these individuals were not victims of human trafficking but did not share any details of their review. The Romani community and undocumented migrant workers were high-risk groups susceptible to human trafficking.
The law allows undocumented workers to sue exploitative employers for back wages and compensation in cases of forced or compulsory labor. Trade unions and NGOs, including the MRCI and the ICI, contended that the government needed to do more to identify and support victims and prosecute employers.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and employment of children younger than age 16 in full-time jobs. Employers may hire children as young as age 14 for light work on school holidays as part of an approved work experience or educational program. Employers may hire children older than 15 on a part-time basis during the school year. The law establishes rest intervals and maximum working hours, prohibits the employment of children 18 and younger for most late-night work, and requires employers to keep detailed records of workers younger than 18. Seafarers ages 16 or 17 may be required to work at night if the work is not detrimental to their health or well-being.
The law identifies hazardous occupations and occupational safety and health restrictions for workers younger than 18, which generally involve working with hazardous materials or chemicals. Employers must verify there is no significant risk to the safety and health of young persons and take into account the increased risk arising from the lack of maturity and experience in identifying risks to their workers’ safety and health. The law stipulates that exposure to physical, biological, and chemical agents or certain processes be avoided and provides a nonexhaustive list of agents, processes, and types of work from which anyone younger than 18 may require protection. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and there were no reports of illegal child labor.
The WRC is responsible for enforcement, and it was generally effective, with adequate resources and investigative and enforcement powers. Employers found guilty of an offense are subject to penalties that effectively deterred violations. The Health and Safety Authority has responsibility for overseeing hazardous occupations and can impose the same penalties as specified for other workers.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law bans discrimination in a wide range of employment and employment-related areas. It defines discrimination as treating one person in a less favorable way than another person based on color and race, creed, origin, language, sex, civil or family status, sexual orientation, age, disability, medical condition, or membership in the Traveller community (also see section 6). The law specifically requires equal pay for equal work or work of equal value. The law provides the same legal protections to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community; divorcees; single parents working in state-owned or state-funded schools; and hospitals operating under religious patronage.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and the nature of penalties for violations was sufficient to deter violations.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum hourly wage exceeds the unofficial poverty line. Laws establishing and regulating wage levels cover migrant workers. The law limits overtime work to two hours per day, 12 hours per week, and 240 hours per year. The government effectively enforced these standards. Although there is no statutory entitlement to premium pay for overtime, the employer and employee may arrange it.
The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation is responsible for enforcing occupational safety laws, and these laws provided adequate and comprehensive protection. Depending on the seriousness of the violation, courts may impose fines, prison sentences, or both for violating the law. Penalties are sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides for fines of up to 1,000 euros ($1,100) for certain offenses. There were no complaints from either labor or management during the year regarding shortcomings in enforcement.
All sectors of the formal economy effectively enforced minimum wage, hours of work, and health and safety standards. The WRC secures compliance with employment rights legislation in these areas through inspection and prosecution. The WRC’s Inspection Services have the authority to carry out employment rights compliance inspections under employment legislation.
By law an employer may not penalize through dismissal, other disciplinary action, or less favorable treatment employees who lodge a complaint or exercise their rights under health and safety legislation. Employers have an obligation to protect an employee’s safety, health, and welfare at work as far as is reasonably practicable. According to a report from the Health and Safety Authority, there were 39 workplace fatalities in 2018, a decrease of nine from 2017. Twenty of the fatalities were in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector.