International conference presses for ratification of UN disability convention

Diane Kingston
Diane Kingston

Leading disability rights groups have piled further pressure on the Government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The treaty was the subject of a major international conference yesterday, organised by NUIG’s Centre for Disability Law & Policy, the Centre for Independent Living, Disability Action NI, Disability Federation of Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, Irish Disability Studies Association, Queen’s University Belfast and the Social Change Initiative.

The convention has been ratified by 172 countries, including the UK, but has yet to be ratified by Ireland, despite Government assurances that ratification remains a “very high priority”.

Diane Kingston, former vice-chair of the UN’s own CRPD committee, was the keynote speaker at the conference in Croke Park.

Ms Kingston told delegates that the “cost of exclusion far outweighs the expense of inclusion”. She examined the ways in which the UN monitors states’ performance under the treaty, how people with lived experience of disability can participate in the monitoring of states, and how the convention can be used to promote rights.

She also said the sticking point in ratification for the Irish government was confusing the issue of mental capacity with legal capacity.

Ms Kingston explained: “They are totally separate things. At some point most us temporarily lose our mental capacity - for example, if you’re in the pub until 2am. But you don’t lose your legal capacity.”

The conference also heard from disability rights campaigner Robbie Sinnott of the Blind Legal Alliance, who recently took the Government to the High Court over voting rights.

His case against the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government asked the State to allow him to vote in secret rather than through a ‘trusted friend’ or presiding officer.

Mr Sinnott told conference delegates that the worst part of his experience was being ignored when he first raised the issue.

He said: “They told me to bring them to court.”