Rights commission head to step down a year early

Tue, Aug 24, 2010, 01:00

THE HEAD of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Prof Monica McWilliams, is to stand down from her post a year early, she confirmed yesterday.

She will leave in August next year rather than in 2012.

The former Women’s Coalition Assembly member succeeded Brice Dickson as head of the commission in 2005.

Her announcement comes as the Northern Ireland Office seeks a 25 per cent reduction in the commission’s budget.

Prof McWilliams said she would be returning to her post as head of women’s studies in the University of Ulster.

She said new commissioners were due to be appointed in September next year and she was stepping down a year early so that there could be a new chief commissioner who could set his or her stamp on the organisation.

“I honestly believe that any new commissioners ought to be able to come in under a new chief commissioner,” she said.

She added that the proposed 25 per cent cut in funding from the commission’s £1.7 million budget was also a factor in her decision.

An additional factor was that the commission was no longer allowed to seek external funding from the US charity Atlantic Philanthropies, as in previous years. The charity was set up by Irish-American businessman and philanthropist Chuck Feeney.

Prof McWilliams said the Northern secretary, Owen Paterson, had denied the commission such funding.