Human rights inspections need to be carried out at nursing homes because older people are not getting the protection they need, according to advocacy groups.
And the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Age Action, and Sage Advocacy believe the solution to this is “independent, human rights-focused” inspections.
They say the pandemic has illustrated the need to put in place special measures to protect people who live “behind closed door”.
ICCL’s executive director Liam Herrick said: “The story of human rights in Ireland over the past century has been dominated by the vulnerability of people who are living in institutional and confined settings.
“Covid has again illustrated the need to put in place special measures to protect people who live behind closed doors.
“As a country, we must learn from our past and ensure that the proposed new national system of inspecting centres of detention is extended to all healthcare settings including nursing homes and residential centres.”
Sarah Lennon, executive director of Sage Advocacy, said: “Covid-19 has exposed the dangerous architecture on which the current system of care in congregated settings for older people is built.
“Ireland’s current long-term support and care system, with a high reliance on residential nursing homes is totally inadequate to safeguard older people who may be in vulnerable situations.
“A suite of measures, including rights-based inspections, is required to ensure the safety, dignity, and rights of older people in nursing homes.”
Age Action CEO Paddy Connolly said: “The high rates of mortality of older people in institutional settings during this pandemic has exposed grave weaknesses in Ireland’s systems of care.
“Ireland’s preference for institutional models of care, where people are congregated in large numbers, are in and of themselves human rights restrictions, but also create environments for human rights abuses.
“We need to view and inspect these settings through a human rights lens.”
ICCL has been campaigning for 14 years for government to ratify the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).
The OPCAT obliges states to create a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to ensure people are treated humanely and with dignity.
It does this through a system of independent inspectors who can make surprise visits and who can speak to anyone living in these settings.
The government is then supposed to take on board any recommendations for improvements. The NPM should oversee inspections of all prisons, detention centres, and residential or care institutions.
Although Ireland signed this convention in 2007, it has not ratified it.
ICCL say the State has, as a result, “been paying nothing but lip service” to the treaty since. Ireland is one of only three EU countries that have up to now failed to ratify OPCAT.
“Why are we not looking after people to the same standard as most of the rest of the EU?”, asked ICCL.
“We have to change this now.”