Tanaiste Joan Burton has defied the UN by saying that majority votes can be used to deny human rights, just two day after Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald had withdrawn the same argument after the UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland that it was “completely unacceptable”.
Today’s Irish Independent reports that in the Dail, Joan Burton ruled out an abortion referendum being held in the lifetime of this Government, and gave as her reason that “as democrats everyone must accept the will of the people”.
But just this Tuesday, in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Committee had told Ireland that this was a “completely unacceptable” reason to deny Irish women their right to an abortion consistently with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland that human rights cannot be denied by a majority vote in Parliament or in a referendum, and that the whole point of international human rights law is to avoid the tyranny of the majority.
The UN told Ireland to withdraw that argument as a reason for denying Irish women abortions, and after a break in the session, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald did withdraw it. She accepted that “the will of the people” was not a justified reason to derogate from giving people their human rights under the ICCPR.
Tanaiste Joan Burton should now clarify the situation by publicly withdrawing the argument she made in the Dail. She should recognise, as the Justice Minister did on Tuesday, that human rights cannot be denied by a majority vote in Parliament or in a referendum.