Northern Ireland Delegation Ace it in Geneva


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Northern Ireland Delegation Ace it in Geneva

28 March 2017

Northern Ireland Delegation Ace it in Geneva

In mid-March, representatives from Disability Action along with June Best and Tony O’Reilly travelled to the United Nations in Geneva along with colleagues from across the UK to present evidence to the UNCRPD Committee. Below we hear from Tony who gives an insight into his Geneva experience.

I remember the feeling I had when in the last decade, the UK decided to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). At long last I thought, we have made a huge advance in finally understanding that every issue facing us today would no longer be understood in terms of needs, special needs, or unmet need to be more accurate. Rather we would be treated as holders of rights, and more importantly first and foremost as human beings in a tolerant more understanding era, that acknowledged the terrible mistakes of the past. A past that that had characterized us as objects of charity, a resource burden within our communities; whose lives had no place on any human rights agenda.

I am aware that those who know me, think I'm a dreamer, and that I have some romantic notion that very existence of the Convention and that the process of its progressive implementation is the most effective way to address discrimination and inequality. Guilty as charged.

My friends at Disability Action, who made my trip to Geneva possible, and led the Northern Delegation in their presentations to the UN Committee on the key issues facing disabled people in the UK are, like the Northwest Forum of People with Disabilities, whom I was there to represent, are of course equally guilty in understanding that our progress towards equality must have our humanity and our human rights at its core.

So when I was asked by Disability Action if I would like to go to the UN in Geneva, I was only too delighted to accept such a generous invitation. I was overwhelmed with excitement, apprehension and joy all the same time. This trip would be no holiday to the land of Roger Federer, my Swiss tennis hero, it would be a much bigger adventure, and one in which I would get to see the very processes that brings the Convention to life. 

Indeed the 3 days we were there, we saw little of Geneva, our time was spent working on highlighting the key issues of concern to disabled people in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom. We spent a day (and evening) and a half together in conference rooms, preparing our presentations to the Committee with the help and support of the International Disability Alliance and European Disability Forum in the form of Juan and Sophie-Ann who guided us through the formal process and the appropriate formal and informal protocol to address the Committee. My friends June, Patrick. Karen and I, the Northern Ireland Delegation, also met on our own as well to ensure that the key issues raised by disabled people in Northern Ireland would also be heard by the Committee. In fact, the real joy of this trip was the fact that there was no sight-seeing or leisurely stroll to Lake Geneva, our entire focus was representing disabled people as best we could. It was my kind of trip, and one whose historical significance was not lost on me.

I don't want to overstate the importance of the trip, in itself it will not likely be a significant landmark in the progression of disabled people's human rights. Our meeting in Geneva after all took place just four months after the same Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) found the UK had committed “grave or systematic” breaches of the convention, following an inquiry – the first of its kind since the Convention (treaty) came into force in 2008 – into the government’s social security reforms and cuts to public services. Of course there are many road blocks to progress, but what's important to remember is that this process is happening and that it does exist, and its very existence is historic in itself; at the very least disabled people are speaking about what matters to them and what the government should do in each of the devolved regions to address them in the context of human rights and on the International stage. It's the beginning of the beginning of understanding that our issues have a place on the human rights agenda. With expert knowledge and clarity of purpose, we all spoke as one to the Committee and left them in no doubt as to what we thought were the key issues facing us. 

My comrades from Northern Ireland spoke with authority, conviction and professionalism that was neither devoid of passion or an understanding of importance of the occasion. Trust me when I tell you they did us proud. It was with total sincerity three of the most exciting days I've ever had. I think we all understood that if this is the only reason for our existence, then there was certainly purpose to it and a great reason for being.

I've told friends of mine on numerous occasions that the most wonderful experience of my life was visiting Wimbledon in June 2003 and meeting briefly the great Roger Federer. Alas, that event will have to take second place because our wee trip to Geneva was just a little bit more important and the friends I travelled with totally worthy of this great adventure.

It was a privilege to be asked, to be there and to share the journey with such great friends.

> Tony discusses attitudes towards disabled people

geneva pictures


  • The UN Committee on the Rights of those with Disabilities is examining the UK’s record in implementing the convention as a whole.
  • On Monday 13 March 2017 UNCRPD Committee took evidence from grassroots user-led organisations and other DPOs, such as ourselves the Northwest Forum of People with Disabilities under the umbrella of our membership with Disability Action Northern Ireland as well as the UK’s national equality and human rights bodies, including the Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in their joint role as the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland (part of the UK Independent Mechanism), as part of a process that will see the UK government examined on its record in public in August.
  • The committee will use the evidence we gave to them at that meeting to help it produce a “list of issues” on which it needs further information from the UK government. That list is set to be published later this month.

Tony O' Reilly

Northwest Forum of PWD's/Disabled People's Voices Northern Ireland - Human Rights and Equality for all.

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