Groups say Crowley resignation courageous

Fri, Dec 12, 2008, 00:00

Equality groups today described the resignation of the Equality Authority chief executive as a principled and courageous step.

Niall Crowley resigned after saying the organisation has been made unviable by the extent of cuts to its budget, and the Government's insistence on the decentralisation of most of its remaining staff.

In a statement today, the Equality & Rights Alliance (ERA), a coalition of 71 civil society organisations, said it admired and supported the stance taken by Mr Crowley in stepping down.

The alliance added it “deeply regretted” Mr Crowley “had been forced into this position because of the budget actions which had effectively rendered the Equality Authority unviable”.

Joanna McMinn, chairwoman of ERA, said Mr Crowley's resignation was in keeping with his integrity, honesty and dedication to the promotion of the principle that equality and human rights must be central to societal values.

"Niall's decision to resign will not have been made easily, and we respect and admire this," Ms McMinn said. "The work of the Equality Authority has been fatally compromised and it is not in keeping with his uncompromising belief in equality and rights to remain as head of an agency which is effectively a lame duck.

“To express confidence that the authority can carry on in a limited and prioritised way is to fly in the face of facts."

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) also extended its “unqualified support” to Mr Crowley.

ICCL director Mark Kelly said Mr Crowley had taken “the only honourable course of action open to him” in light of a 43 per cent budget cut and decentralisation.

“In Irish public life, a principled resignation such as this is rarer than rubies. For anyone to have the temerity to suggest . . . the Equality Authority will still be able to carry out its core functions, but in a more limited and prioritised way, flies in the face of the facts,” Mr Kelly said.

In a letter sent yesterday to the chairwoman of the authority's board, Angela Kerins and Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, Mr Crowley said his position had become untenable as a result of the 43 per cent cut in funding.

He accused Mr Ahern of "victimising" the authority for "doing well what it was established to do".

Amnesty International called on the Minister to explain the "unprecedented and unjustifiable cuts" in the Authority's budget.

“The Government now stands charged with acting to silence a statutory agency established to prevent inequality and discrimination. Such a charge demands a meaningful and considered response. It is not acceptable in our
view for the Minister to reject such a charge via spokesperson,” said Colm O’Gorman, Amnesty International Ireland’s executive director.

He said the decision would "substantially hamper" the Irish Human Rights Commission's work.

The head of equality and campaigning at Siptu, Anne Speed, accused Mr Ahewrn of "dumping equality rights of Irish citizens and workers in the bin" and effectively shuting down the Equality Authority.

“To subject the Irish Equality Authority to a 43 per cent cut in its budget confirms our worst fears, that this government views independent equality advocacy and enforcement as an expendable item on the agenda," she said.

“The responsibility for the resignation of the authority’s CEO, who is widely respected across civic society for his commitment, rests with the Minister and his officials. They doggedly refused to respond to the legitimate concerns of all those representing citizens seeking vindication of their rights.”

The Green Party said it was seriously concerned to hear about Mr Crowley's resignation with it's justice, equality and law reform spokesman, Ciaran Cuffe, saying he had raised the issue with the Dermot Ahern.

Mr Cuffe said the Green Party in Government had been working behind the scenes to ensure the Equality Authority could continue its work and was not completely absorbed into the Department of Justice.

“These are unprecedentedand extremely difficult times in Ireland and everyone has to participate inmeeting the huge economic challenges ahead. But equality cannot be seen as a luxury with which we dispense when funds are low,” said Mr Cuffe.

The Labour Party said the budget cuts had left Mr Crowley in an "impossible position" and suggested that the cuts were taken to force him out of office.

Labour justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said: "The Equality Authority was singled out in a vindictive manner because of the independent and forthright way in which it discharged its duties. No doubt there will be celebrations in the Minister's office today, but the resignation of Mr Crowley and the financial savaging of the Agency will not be a good thing for Irish society."

Elsewhere, Fine Gael's justice spokesman said it was ironic that the office charged with protecting the vulnerable had been victimised.

“The bottom line is that Dermot Ahern did not like Niall Crowley and the Equality Authority highlighting Government failings. It is amazing to me that a body designed to protect the vulnerable is being undermined by the Government that established it, said Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan .

"Fine Gael will not stand by while Minister Ahern dismantles the equality and human rights apparatus of this State. He has behaved in an outrageous, small-minded and bullying fashion. He has brought low the office of Minister for Justice in the manner with which he has attacked the human rights and equality bodies," he added.

Sinn Féín branded as “disgraceful” the Government’s cutting of the Equality Authority’s budget - which it said had forced Mr Crowley to resign.

“The cuts need to be reversed, and the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission need to be enhanced to face the challenging times ahead, times when their expertise and intervention will be called on more than ever," said party equality and human rights spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh.