I don’t know the motivation behind Minister Mary White’s first substantial decision since she was elevated: to commission assessments of three state bodies with responsibility for equality: the Equality Authority, the Equality Tribunal and the Human Rights Commission, which was reported in the Irish Times at the weekend.
Her motivation might be bad, in that it could be that she, a Green Party minister, rather than Fianna Fáil’s Dermot Ahern, has now taken up the cudgels that he was forced to quietly drop a little over a year ago when he cut the Equality Authority’s budget by 43% and announced ‘efficiencies’ would be introduced through sharing ‘back office functions’. (It would have been interesting to see how that could happen seeing as the Human Rights Commission has the colossal number of one staff who deals with administration and finance, and the Equality Tribunal and Equality Authority’s staff are civil servants in the Department of Justice (and Whatever it is These Days), and their pay-processing and other ‘back office functions’ are already pooled with the Department’s.)
Alternatively, it might be an attempt to kill that earlier plan by using a well-oiled civil service technique against itself: get a review done, but in Minister White’s case, it could be that she intends to stack the review to get the answer she wants rather then the one others have sought. What suggests that possibility is the report that the assessments are to be carried out by academics outside the civil service. However, the Irish Times report makes clear that the external assessments are simply to “prepare the ground for a full-scale review of the bodies”. Is it the case that ‘real’ Ministers or permanent government in the civil service (or both) want the irrelevant shenanigans these bodies get up to stopped, and have duped the knight on a horse from the Green Party to find out for them where the landmines are by sending her out to do the first sortie while they build a tank that will follow behind and trammel all in its path?
May I suggest an alternative, Minister, if you really want to see how we can improve the effectiveness of the equality and human rights systems in the State? Ask your academics from outside the civil service to do an assessment of how effectively each government department has implemented Appendix K of the Revised Regulatory Impact Assessment Guidelines for the proposals it has prepared for the Cabinet. As you and all the key officials will know, Appendix K sets out how a proposal is to be assessed for its impact on poverty.
And ask the academics from outside the civil service to establish how frequently each government department has, as recommended in paragraph 4.48 of the Revised Regulatory Impact Assessment Guidelines, contacted the Equality Division of the Department of Justice or the Equality Authority for assistance in carrying out an assessment of the equality impact of proposals they have placed before government, and how well the proposals have been amended to take account of concerns identified by the Equality Division or the Equality Authority.
Also, ask the academics from outside the civil service to establish how frequently each of the government departments have, as recommended in paragraph 4.58 of the Revised Regulatory Impact Assessment Guidelines, contacted the Human Rights Commission for assistance in carrying out an assessment of the human rights impact of proposals they have placed before government, and how well those issues raised in all of those human rights impact assessments have been dealt with in the final proposal. And ask how many ministers (other than Michael McDowell, who did use the system) have referred heads of bills or other proposals to the Human Rights Commission for observations before proceeding with it in the Oireachtas.
Finally, ask the external academics to examine the (public) records on cases taken before the Equality Tribunal to establish the proportion of those cases in which a state body has been found to be in breach of the equality legislation, and how many of those have been Government Departments.
I wonder what ‘back office efficiencies’ that exercise would suggest are needed.
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