I am in solidarity with Senator Norris calling for a debate on homophobic bullying. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality heard evidence from many groups against homophobic and transphobic bullying on 17 May but I am in solidarity with the Senator.
I welcome the publication of the heads of the Bill on the establishment of the human rights and equality commission that the Minister, Deputy Shatter, published earlier this week and his commitment to put in place a new body that will be strengthened in its ability to respect the human rights and equal status of everyone in our society. He has moved swiftly in response to the working group’s report which reflects the public consultation process that fed into it. I am sure all Members would agree that now more than ever before within the context of our vulnerable Irish society and economy we need to get it right in terms of the way equality and human rights can be delivered side by side.
I have some questions I would like the Leader to ask of the Minister, Deputy Shatter. Of primary concern in the establishment of this body is that it is effective and that it has the resources to be effective and the way it will be regarded at international level. As many Members are aware, the Irish Human Rights Commission was regarded by the UN as an independent national human rights institution. The new body will not have that special status. It will not yet comply with the Paris Principles but it needs to prove in its first year that it is able to be independent and comply. As Members will recall, the budgets of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority were cut significantly in 2008, totalling about €3.4 million. The working group’s report noted that the current bodies do not have enough resources to meet their existing obligations. On “Morning Ireland” earlier this week the Minister for Justice and Equality indicated that with the merger there would be immediate savings of €500,000, which is welcome because it could go towards the work, but will the Leader ask the Minister from where those savings will come and how we will recover the €4 million that has been lost by the two bodies to allow the body be effective in its first year? It must be effective in its first year to be declared independent in terms of the Paris Principles. Given that we are still seeking a seat on the Human Rights Council the Minister should be able to answer these questions sooner rather than later.