Cutting Beneath the Radar

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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.

Notes:

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.

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5 Responses

  1. Ian

    December 17, 2008 9:38 pm

    It seems to me that this is an ideological attack on what all of these organisations represent – equality, abolishment of poverty, tackling racism – for me these cuts were something that we on the left should have been strongly attacking too. What is not exactly clear to me is – who made the decisions on these cuts – was it the government or did they just rubberstamp proposals by civil servants? – also the story about the Secretary General of the Department of justice being the subject of a complaint by the Gardai to the Equality Authority is very curious. There is one thing for sure – This Minister for Justice is regressive on social policy isssues.

  2. Donagh

    December 23, 2008 10:44 am

    I think Suzy’s post is worth reposting in full. There is no doubt that there is an attempt to mussel negative comments being made about this issue, and certainly anything that would connect the slashing of the EA budget and the investigation by the Gardai which was instigated by them around Sean Aylward responsibility for leaking personal information in the case of the sacking of a prison chaplin while Aylward was head of the Prison Service. That he is now Secretary General of the Dept of Justice and thus has serious clout tell us everything about this sniveling Government. FF will ploughed 1.5 billion into a financial institution which could have a share price of 5c in a couple of days times, and which holds assets, as Morgan Kelly put it today ‘of dingy shopping centres and derelict development sites’. Kelly is right, it is better to burn this money than give it to Anglo. But FF prefer to stick by the money men who’ve helped them out in the past. Similarly, this budget was written by mandarins.

    You were absolutely right on this point Ian. This fiasco over the Equality Authority points this up very clearly. Aylward probably authorized the budget cut, and now Ahern has to defend it. Here’s Suzy’s post which provides the order of business in the Seanad where David Norris claims that a Government Minister threatened that he would be politically punished if he attempted to continue to raise the issue of the slashing of the Equality Authority budget:

    During the Order of Business in the Seanad this week Senator David Norris has raised issues concerning the resignation of Niall Crowley and cuts faced by the Equality Authority on several occasions.

    On Friday Senator Norris informed the house that he had been harassed by a government minister about raising issues concerning matters related to Niall Crowley’s resignation. Specifically the Minister was angry that Norris had raised the matter of the involvement of now Secretary General, Sean Aylward in the investigation of a case taken against the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister (as yet unnamed) warned the Senator that he would be ‘politically punished’ if he continued to raise the matters. The relevant piece from the order of business is included below.

    Senator David Norris: On foot of newspaper reports, without any personal animus against people whom I do not recall ever having met and about whom I do not know anything, I have raised questions about the way in which the chief executive officer of the Equality Authority was driven out of office. He is a person of the highest integrity. I asked a series of questions. I wish to put on the record of the House that attempts have been made by senior members of Government to intimidate me, to indicate to me that I would be politically punished if I attempted to continue to raise these matters. If that ever happens again, I will name the Minister who did it, and I will not stop in this House. I will do the same outside and I will let anybody who dares to intimidate me or to interfere with the democratic process take his or her chance against me in the courts. I am one of the most litigious people in this land and I have never lost – the worst I had was a draw.

    We have indicated that that we will celebrate the first meeting of Dáil Éireann in 1919 and it is perfectly proper, wonderful and honourable that we should. In the context of the attacks upon human rights and the swingeing cuts, the Government should bear in mind these two sentences from the programme of Government for the First Dáil in 1919:

    “We declare that we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for all, which alone can secure permanence of Government in the willing adhesion of the people…

    It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland.”

    That is the test against which the Government will be judged.

    Senator Terry Leyden: Successfully.

    Senator Jim Walsh: Some €45 million has been spent on the Equality Authority in the past decade, which is a considerable sum of money.

    Senator David Norris:It is buttons compared with the waste.

    Senator Jim Walsh: This year the authority’s funding will enable it to have 38 staff.

    Senator David Norris:None of them has any experience.

  3. Alex Klemm

    December 24, 2008 12:04 pm

    Thanks for this, Ian and Donagh – am away for the moment so have only just caught up with comments. Ian, there cn be no doubt, as you say, that this the attack on the Equality Authority is part of an ideological culling of agencies which have been vocal against discrimination and/or which have produced or commissioned research which runs counter the the ideological status quo. The full list of culled bodies (http://www.budget.gov.ie/2009/downloads/AnnexDRationalisationOfStateAgencies.pdf) makes informative reading – in this context ´rationalisation´must qualify for euphemism of the month.

  4. Bridie Cox

    August 7, 2009 2:04 pm

    Isn’t it time the goverment stepped in to eradicate elder abuse in this Country. It goes on and on….It rarely gets front page headlines, and when it does nothing constructive happens and on and on it continues.
    Please focus on it and make Ireland wake up to the terrible abuse perpetrated on our elderly…. in Public and Private settings.We are in the early stages of setting up our website.
    Regards
    Bridie Cox
    Retired Psychiatric Nurse.