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'Unite for Rights' - Full speech by Martina Anderson MEP

4 November, 2016 - by Martina Anderson MEP

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has said the remain vote of the North must be respected to protect the rights of people with disabilities. 

Speaking at the Unite for Rights conference she hosted in Louth, Ms Anderson said; 

"This conference is very timely as we, as a community, face several challenges in relation to the protection of our hard-earned and essential rights for people with disabilities. 

"We face the challenges of austerity, the failure to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the British government's plan to scrap the Human Rights Act and we face Brexit.

"It is shameful and unacceptable that the Irish government has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

"It has taken decades to build rights and protections, to put people at the centre of policies, whether at a European level or indeed here. 

"Brexit will take us backwards. We need to unite to protect those rights. 

"The people of the north voted to remain and we need to raise our voices and demand that our vote is fully recognised and respected."

Here is the full speech below:

Maidin maith, a charide, failte raiobh.

I’m delighted to be hosting this event, Unite For Rights, on the rights of persons with disability in Ireland.

I feel this conference is very timely as we, as a community, face several challenges in relation to the protection of our hard-earned and essential rights.

We face the challenges of austerity driven politics on this island and in Britain, we face the lack of ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we face the scrapping of the Human Rights Act and we face Brexit.

Later sessions of this conference will address the rest of these points, this session will address Brexit.

We believe that the interests of the people of Ireland are best served as members of the European Union.

To that end, Sinn Fein campaigned vigorously for the north to remain in the EU. We did so with particular focus on the island of Ireland as a whole. It is simply unacceptable that one part of Ireland remains a member of the EU as another part of the country is dragged out of the EU against our will.

Yet that is the reality we face.

Sinn Féin critically engages with the European Union.  We support what is positive and in the interests of Ireland, oppose what is not
Sinn Féin MEPs work on a daily basis to reform the EU, to deliver prosperity and safeguard the rights of citizens, to respect the sovereignty of member nations and to force the EU to be transparent and fully accountable

Our position is very clear:

  • Our place is within Europe
  • 10% of the north’s GDP comes from the EU
  • There is 1.2billion Euro of trade between the north and south of Ireland each week
  • 24,000 farmers receive an average annual CAP payment of £25,000
  • 87% of farmers’ income comes from the EU
  • Annually millions of pounds are secured from EU Transnational programmes for SMEs, universities, and NGOs

It is clear that economically we will be devastated if we are dragged out of the EU against our will however the social consequences of this are even more worrying.

The EU has for decades brought about rights and entitlements to end discrimination against all sectors of society. Many of these decisions have a direct and positive impact on persons with disabilities.

The Social Chapter, part of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, for example featured legislation relevant to people with disabilities requiring all European countries to adopt the standardized Blue Badge allowing parking concessions for people with disabilities.

The Employment Equality Framework Directive, which is a major part of EU labour law, combats discrimination in the workplace on grounds of disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age.

In 2000, The Employment Equality Directive required all Member States to prohibit disability discrimination in employment.

In 2004, an EU Directive was brought forward requiring that the packaging of all medical products must include the label in Braille
The EU Air Passengers Regulation in 2006 established the rights of access for disabled passengers.

This was followed by similar regulations for rail, sea, bus and coach in 2011.

In 2009 the Charter of Fundamental Rights became legally binding.

In 2009 the EU adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities committing Member States to uphold and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

The south of Ireland, remains just one of two EU countries, who have failed to ratify this convention. In recent national reviews of human rights standards, the United Nations have called on the Irish government to ratify as soon as possible.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2009 prohibited discrimination on various grounds, including disability, and recognised the right of people with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence and integration
The Better Regulation Directive also in 2009 established regulation of electronic communication services to facilitate access for disabled users. 

Similar Directives address audio-visual media and radio services.

EU employment law provides a minimum standard below which domestic employment law cannot fall. 

Laws have included prevention of sex and race discrimination as well as certain maternity rights.  EU law has often forced the British government to accept new categories of employment rights.
These obligations will be removed from the British Government after Brexit. 

Brexit will mean that the British government is not legally bound by any of these directives.  There will be no onus on them to ensure protections against discrimination as laid out by the European Union.

We already know from experience that the Tory government has no regard for those in need of support, those who are discriminated against and the most vulnerable in society. 

We have already seen the impact of their cuts to benefits where people with disabilities will be affected disproportionally.

The British Government currently plans to cut up to £1000 per year from benefits for disabled families. This move would see 3 million families affected.

This is an indication of the British Government’s opinion on persons with disabilities!

After Brexit, they will have no European Union obligations to maintain and that is a cause for great concern.

Some EU rights have direct effect, meaning that individuals can rely directly on EU law. Brexit would mean these rights would automatically cease to apply with no ‘domestic’ law offering the same protections.

Brexit will therefore impact on:

  • Annual Leave
  • Agency Worker Rights
  • Part-time Worker Rights
  • Fixed Term Worker Rights
  • Health and Safety Regulations
  • Paternity, maternity and parental leave
  • Anti-discrimination legislation … and more

For people with disabilities, many of the protections that enable them to work and not to be discriminated against by employers are protections that are underpinned by EU law – they will lose out if member states are not bound by these.

In addition, the loss of the European Social Fund would have a huge impact on people with a disability.  Necessary services and expertise may be lost.

The European Disability Strategy, that runs to 2020, has 8 vital priority areas: Accessibility, Participation, Equality, Employment Education and Training,  Social Protection,  Health and External Action.

EU Member States have worked together to ensure health issues are not affected by national borders – we see it locally with the projects such as the North West Health Innovation Corridor.

The NWHIC spans the arc of the Northwest to include Sligo, Letterkenny, Derry and Coleraine and was launched in May 2013.  Their vision is that by 2020, the Northwest of Ireland will be internationally recognised as a health and social sciences research and innovation zone driving the local economy.

This year I brought a delegation of representatives of the NWHIC to Brussels who met with European Commission representatives from the Directorates for Health, Research, Innovation and Technology.
The NWHIC is an example of how well cross border cooperation can work and it is a positive step towards creating an island wide health care system.

The result of the Brexit referendum would severely hinder this kind of collaboration in the future and the knock on effects of this will be huge.

Movement and regulation of health professionals, procurement rules, medicines and devices and all-island patient entitlement, could all be affected.

In regard to disabled citizens working, studying and living abroad, they are entitled to access to social and health care in the host country and are entitled to receive the same treatment as nationals. 
Brexit, again, could put an end to this if the British government does not accept the continuation of free movement of people.  This will make it more difficult for people with disabilities to work, study and live abroad or even to go on a holiday.

The British government will have to secure bilateral social security agreements with every single EU Member State to ensure people with disabilities can access welfare payments in another country. 
For many disabled people the medicines that they are required to take are heavily regulated.  To reduce risk and bureaucracy, the EU provided legislation designed to harmonise the approach to medicine regulation across the EU.  This too could be lost.

One of the most significant bodies to be created under the EU was the Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED)
It maintains a pan-European academic network in the disability field to support policy development in collaboration with the Commission’s Disability Unit – Its aim is to support the objectives of a European disability policy towards the goal of full participation and equal opportunities for all disabled people.

We will no longer be central to such policy developments if we are dragged out of Europe.

Other EU agencies operate with the interests of disabled citizens a forethought.  The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC), for example, is at the heart of the fight against communicable diseases.

I am gravely concerned that, unless the British government continue to contribute to this organisation, many public health benefits achieved over the past 40 years may be lost.

You can imagine how far down the list of priorities this will be for the current British government!

In regard to the future of the Human Rights Act: this discussion has intensified as it becomes clear that the British government no longer has to comply with the human rights obligations of the EU Treaties.  This would cause a huge change in the judicial system and across our society.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights would not apply to Britain post Brexit and the EU Court of Justice would no longer have any jurisdiction over Britain.

Again this year I brought delegations to Brussels and Strasbourg where I launched legal advice that we had commissioned by Doughty Street Chambers on the Repeal of the Human Rights Act.

We'll hear more about that in section two when Kate from Doughty Street Chambers will give her presentation.

In my own role I am co-president of the intergroup on disabilities in the European Parliament and rapporteur of the Civil Liberties report on the Implementation of the recommendations from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities within the European Union.

You can find a copy of our report on the USB in your pack.

Although the EU has been central in promoting and protecting rights for people with disabilities there is a long way to go.

The UNCRPD has produced a list of issues identified with the operation of the EU in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities.  They have identified serious short fallings in the EU that we then sought to address.

We called on the European Institutions to fully implement the recommendations of the UN committee as soon as possible and to enhance engagement with the sector on as wide a base as possible.
I am delighted to say that my report was overwhelmingly supported by both the committee and the European Parliament and will inform EU policy making in relation to disabilities in the future.

It has taken decades to build rights and protections, to put people at the centre of policies, whether at a European level or indeed here.
We had to fight for section 75 legislation locally and we have to fight to ensure national governments implement the requirements as agreed through European cooperation.

Brexit will take us backwards. Brexit will enable the British government to tear it up, start again, and who will they seek to benefit?

Recent developments show how important your opinion is and even more importantly, how vital it is that you express it.

The Taoiseach has initiated an all-Ireland ‘conversation’ on Brexit.
In that forum we are promoting achievable measures in order to protect all that I have outlined above.

All Irish voices in this debate must be shouting about securing designated special status for the North. 

That threatens no ones constitutional preference and this State, as a continuing member of the EU, has the right and in our view the obligation, to bring forward such a proposal.

The people of the north voted to remain and we need to raise our voices and demand that our vote is fully recognized and respected.
We need to remain in the EU, get rid of the negative and build on the positive. We need to Unite for Rights!

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