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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — Call to opt-out of WHO changes

I am calling for a debate on Ireland opting out of the amendments to five articles in the international health regulations that were adopted on 27 May 2022 by the World Health Assembly. On that day, 194 unelected, unaccountable and largely unknown delegates to the assembly from the WHO member states agreed on amendments to five separate articles of the international health regulation, namely, articles 55, 59, and 61 to 63, inclusive. These amendments are legally binding on WHO member states and do not require ratification by national legislatures or the President’s signature, both of which are required for national legislation under Irish law. While four of these amendments give no cause for concern, the amendment of Article 59 slashes the period after which future amendments would come into force from 24 months to 12. Furthermore, the time during which a member state can exercise its right to reject was shortened by 18 months to ten.

Amendments to the international health regulations often have sweeping effects on WHO member states, and the periods after their passing are an essential time to allow individual states to appraise such amendments and choose whether to opt out. The World Health Assembly, WHA, is now examining a whopping 307 amendments to the international health regulation, which are expected to be decided on at the 77th assembly in May 2024. If Ireland does not opt out of the May 2022 amendments, we will have only one year to prepare for the implementation of these 307 amendments in our country, and even less than one year to decide which ones will be of benefit to Ireland and which we could do without.

No one in this House or outside of it is under any illusion as to the current health of our healthcare system. We need time to make preparations for changes to it at national level. As such, I think Ireland should reject the 2022 amendments to Article 59 of the IHR and that President Higgins and An Taoiseach should write to the WHO to signal this. To that end, we should have a debate in this House on the matter. We have until November of this year to take action on this.

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