Call for changes to how board of human rights body is appointed

 

THE PROCEDURE for appointment of the board of the new Human Rights and Equality Commission needs revision to meet the standards required under UN principles for human rights institutions, according to Dr Maurice Manning.

He is president of the Irish Human Rights Commission, which has presented its final annual report before it is due to be merged with the Equality Authority to form the new body.

He called for the legislation setting up the new human rights and equality body to ensure openness, consultation, transparency and complete independence from the State, in line with the UN principles for national human rights institutions, known as the Paris Principles, to which the Government is committed.

“The procedure for appointment of the board also needs some revision to meet the required standards for openness, consultation, transparency and independence,” he said.

He said he had never worked with better staff than existed in the human rights commission, who regarded their work as truly vocational. “But this would not be possible if the commission was not in a position independently to hire its own staff,” he said. “That absolutely must continue to be the case, both from a functioning and from a credibility perspective.

“There must never be a situation where staff are moved in or out of the new commission as part of a wider governmental or departmental staffing strategy.”

The draft legislation at the moment provides for the new commission to be appointed by a selection committee that is nominated by the Government and for the director of the new body to be the existing chief executive of the Equality Authority, Renee Dempsey.

Asked if this provision accorded with the Paris Principles, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter told The Irish Times he was satisfied it did as Ms Dempsey, former head of the disability equality unit in the then Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, had been appointed to be the chief executive of the Equality Authority throughout open competition.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Shatter said the new commission would have to update a review of its staffing needs and put together a business case for its staff, which would have funding implications.

He said the selection process for new commissioners would be objective and outside the influence of Government. One of the primary purposes in publishing the heads of the Bill setting up the new body was to subject it to scrutiny. Ireland was seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council and wanted the new body to have “A” status from the UN.

Dr Manning welcomed the fact that the new body would be accountable to the Oireachtas, rather than to the Department of Justice.