I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House. Last week I also raised this issue. As the Minister is present, I welcome the publication of the heads of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill. I acknowledge his commitment to establish the new body that will be strengthened in its ability to respect human rights and the equal status of everyone in our society. I also acknowledge how swiftly he has moved in response to the working group’s report that was grounded in a substantial public consultation process. As the Senators and the Minister are aware, the report is based not only on insights from the public consultation process but up-to-date substantive literature regarding best practice of mergers within a comparative context. What came through from the working group’s report, particularly the executive summary, was that from almost every source, both the consultation and the theoretical literature, a recurring theme emerged that the new organisation must be independent and comply with the UN and Paris Principles. My questions centre on the potency of the new body’s effectiveness and its ability to operate with genuine independence. Resources play an integral part in both.
I also raise my questions in the context of the €3.4 million cut from the budgets of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority since 2008. As a former member of the Irish Human Rights Commission I saw at first hand how the reduction impacted on our work. Even with the “open for business” approach that the commission’s president, Dr. Maurice Manning, and the former CEO, Mr. Éamonn Mac Aodha, had after those cuts, without question the commission had to cut back in exercising its functions with the consequent effect of having less of an impact on the protection and promotion of human rights in Ireland.
With regard to the effectiveness of the new body, I note and welcome head 28 of the Bill which stipulates, “The Commission shall be provided with sufficient resources to ensure that it can carry out each of its functions effectively.” In regard to the independence of the new body I note that the working group outlined how financial security is a core component of institutional independence. Given the restrictions on the budgets of the two bodies and the working group’s assessment that neither body is able to carry out its full mandate in the light of these restrictions, how will the new commission achieve independence and effectiveness? The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, indicated recently that there would be an immediate saving of €500,000 following the merger. Where will these savings be made? It does not appear we will go anywhere near towards ensuring the provision of proper resources to carry out the enhanced functions of the new commission in the context of what is provided for in the heads of the Bill. What are the Minister’s plans to ensure the new body will achieve “A” status from the international co-ordinating committee of the national human rights institutions and thereby indicate that we will comply with the Paris Principles, to which, of course, independence and effectiveness are central?