Ireland to publish national action plan on business and human rights, finally

Ireland will become the “16th country in the world, and the 12th EU member state to adopt a national plan on business and human rights” according to Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee, when the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade launches the long-awaited Irish national action plan in the coming weeks. The action plan is aimed at implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights, which were endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.

In response to the latest in a series of questions put by Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan in the Dáil on the whereabouts of Ireland’s national action plan, Minister McEntee explained that the Irish Government approved the national action plan in July and that it will be launched by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney “within the next few weeks”. She described the national plan as being the result of a “collaborative effort” led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, involving “extensive consultations with business, civil society organisations and other Departments and agencies”. As to the purpose of the national plan:

Its goal is to promote responsible business practices at home and overseas by all Irish business enterprises. It brings together two of our national priorities: our commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and to being one of the best countries in the world in which to do business.

The comments by the Minister confirm certain aspects of the national action plan and its envisaged implementation, and indicate that some proposals that were present in the “working outline” document published in 2015 have been retained. For example, a “business and human rights implementation group” will be established with representatives drawn from Government, the business sector and civil society. Its role is to “take forward the implementation of the actions” set out in the plan and it will meet twice a year for three years to review implementation. According to Minister McEntee

The initial priorities for the implementation group are set out in the plan and are structured according to the three pillars of the UN guiding principles: the state’s duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to protect human rights and the access to remedy.

We also learned from the Minster’s comments that a “forum on business and human rights” is to be convened within two years of the national action plan’s adoption in order to review progress.

In their Dáil exchange last week, Deputy O’Sullivan was critical of how slow the Irish Government has been on meeting its stated business and human rights commitments, and how this national action plan has been “a long time coming”. She described the national plan as “vital” in light of the “many examples of violations of human rights” committed by Governments to facilitate multinational companies, including the displacement of people and land grabs. She referred to the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh as having been caused by “the desire for greater profits, faster turnaround times and cutting corners”.

Deputy O’Sullivan also asked whether there was a need for updating the many submissions that were made by interested parties, given the delay in publishing the national action plan. Minister McEntee acknowledged that “there has been a lengthy process and individuals have had the opportunity to have their say”, but emphasised the importance of publishing the national action plan at this point. She explained that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade “has committed to publishing it in the coming weeks”, but added, a little worryingly, that “We hope to stick to that deadline”.

The numerous civil society and other organisations that made detailed and repeated submissions during the consultation process will also be hoping that there are no further delays in the publication of the national action plan but moreover, that the national plan that is eventually presented offers a meaningful opportunity for a genuine advancement of business and human rights in Ireland.

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