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Just doing our job – Sage engagement with UN Committee August 3, 2017

To the Editor Irish Times, printed and online on 03/08/2017

Sir,

Your Opinion piece (IT 2/8/17) headlined ‘Committee against Torture is being misused’ raised a rather wry smile.  I wonder which newspaper it was that wrote the headline which Sage ‘garnered’.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture or UNCAT, is an international human rights treaty that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.  It is important to note that it is not just about torture and that one purpose of UNCAT is to monitor implementation of the Convention at a domestic level on a periodic basis.  There is an established mechanism for Civil Society organisations to engage in this process and bring information to the expert members’ attention.

It was with considerable reluctance that Sage, as a support and advocacy service for vulnerable adults and older people, brought a number of issues of concern to the attention of the UNCAT at recent hearings in Geneva.  The reluctance arose because of concern that issues which we have been encountering over the last three years, which related mainly to degrading treatment, would be seen as being overstated because of the association with torture.  Nevertheless, we did so and in a balanced and responsible way.  The Committee engaged with many of the issues we raised and the Irish Government in turn responded respectfully to all the issues raised by all the groups making submissions.  It would be helpful if the Irish Times were to respond with coverage of the committee’s questioning and the government’s responses before trying to close down a debate with talk of waterboarding.

Like any organisation worth its salt Sage has an agenda.  That agenda is shaped by the issues raised as we engage with people who are vulnerable in all care settings and in their own homes. One part of that agenda is deprivation of liberty.  That it can happen in a care setting and not just a police station or a prison should not minimise the importance of the issue.  Recent testimony to the Citizens’ Assembly touched on this very issue.  As Baroness Hale, recently appointed President of the UK Supreme Court, has stated ‘a gilded cage is still a cage’.

In June the National Safeguarding Committee started a public awareness campaign as part of their work to promote the rights of adults who may be vulnerable.  Their radio ads featured financial, emotional and medication abuse as well as deprivation of liberty.  The campaign, which is publicly funded and is supported by a wide range of government and non-government organisations, did not imagine the issues which it is highlighting.  Neither does the Irish Government which is actively engaging with the issues.

The commencement in full of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015, the establishment of the Decision Support Service and the ending of the systems of wards of court will, when achieved, be indications of progress which the Irish Government can show to UNCAT.  Likewise the passage of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016, if it addresses the issues of deprivation of liberty and chemical restraint.  The establishment of a National Safeguarding Service, independent of all service providers, together with statutory recognition of the practice of independent advocacy, such as is envisaged in the Safeguarding Adults Bill 2017, would make for a ‘hat trick’ of national efforts.

Yours etc.

Mervyn Taylor. Manager: Sage – Support & Advocacy Service.  24-26 Ormond Quay. Dublin D07 DAV9

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