Last week’s resignation by Equality Authority head Niall Crowley has focussed belated attention on a round of Budget cuts which, at the time, went largely unnoticed – certainly by the general public.
In October, the Government decided that over 40 public bodies should be abolished, amalgamated or absorbed into the relevant Government departments. Budget 2009 spelt the end for organisations as diverse as the Educational Disadvantage Committee and the National Crime Council, while other bodies have been absorbed into central Government (for example, the Combat Poverty Agency is being absorbed into the Department of Social and Family Affairs, while the ‘residual functions’ of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, funding for which will cease, are being absorbed into the office of the Minister for Integration in the Department of Justice) or had their back-office facilities amalgamated (e.g. the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission – which have also had their budgets slashed).
All the bodies mentioned above have one feature in common: their remit was to provide policymakers with evidence-based advice and, in the case of bodies such as the NCCRI and the Equality Authority, to monitor and publicise the treatment and experience of minorities. The Equality Authority and Human Rights Commission are also tasked with providing support and representation to those taking discrimination cases. As such, these and similar bodies are essential to a functioning democracy.
In advance of the Budget, there had been indications that the Equality Authority and Human Rights Commission would either be abolished in their entirety, or merged. The fact that they ‘merely’ had their budgets slashed – by 43% in the case of the Equality Authority – represented an ostensible reprieve which probably had more to do with the need to meet Ireland’s international obligations than with a sudden volte-face on the part of the Government. However, the cuts in funding may yet render Ireland non-compliant with its obligations.
Both the Equality Authority and the IHRC were established pursuant to international instruments/agreements: the Equality Authority was established to meet the State’s obligations under EU anti-discrimination directives, while the IHRC was established as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
With regard to the remit of the Equality Authority, the EU Racial Equality Directive stipulates that:
“Member States shall designate a body or bodies for the promotion of equal treatment of all persons without discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin. These bodies may form part of agencies charged at national level with the defence of human rights or the safeguard of individuals’ rights”.
Given the 43% cut in the Equality Authority’s funding, it is hard to see how it can fulfil that remit.
The IHRC was set up in accordance with the so-called Paris Principles governing national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights, which stipulates that “the national institution shall have an infrastructure which is suited to the smooth conduct of its activities, in particular adequate funding (emphasis added).
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the IHRC has an extensive remit which includes:
“keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of laws and practices, making recommendations to Government as necessary; providing information and promoting awareness of human rights; considering draft legislation referred to them by the new Assembly; and, in appropriate cases, bringing court proceedings or providing assistance to individuals doing so”.
To quote the press statement issued by the IHRC on November 4th following a plenary meeting held to discuss the funding cut:
“The proposed grant for 2009 of €1.6 million will not even allow the IHRC to pay staff salaries and basic operational costs which amount to €2million. A cut of the scale proposed would also leave the IHRC completely unable to perform its functions. It would put its survival in doubt.”
It is thus clear that, given the funding cut, the Government is in breach of the Paris Principles and, furthermore, has made it impossible for the IHRC to perform its functions as specified by the Good Friday Agreement.
What is also clear is that the apparent reprieve for the Equality Authority and IHRC – against a background of heightened, and almost certainly orchestrated, media speculation regarding their abolition in the weeks leading up to the Budget – served to divert attention from the Government’s decision to abolish/amalgamate/subsume other bodies with an equality and social inclusion focus – Combat Poverty being the prime example.
Such organisations had clearly been a long-running irritant, and the opportunity to silence them proved irresistible. Niall Crowley’s resignation, however, has once again focused attention not only on the cuts themselves, but on the crucial role played by many of the public bodies targeted by the Government.
Further information on the cutbacks can be obtained from the ERA site. The Equality and Rights Alliance was formed specifically to combat the (originally) proposed merger of the Equality Authority and Human Rights Commission, and has continued campaigning against the cuts.
Latest posts by Alex Klemm (see all)
- Cutting Beneath the Radar - December 16, 2008
- ILR Podcast: Interview with Dr. Paul O’Mahony - November 9, 2008
- Shattering the Drugs Consensus - July 23, 2008
- Thornton Hall and GSL: A Stalking Horse for Privatisation? - June 3, 2008
- The ‘Good Family’ Criminals - April 22, 2008