European Parliament to be told of equality body cuts

 

THE CUTBACKS at the Equality Authority will be highlighted today when the European Parliament hears a complaint that Ireland is not in compliance with European law.

The Equality and Rights Alliance will make an oral submission to the parliament’s petitions committee, based on a written submission it made last September. The submission claims the authority’s effectiveness has been “significantly impaired and its independence undermined” due to cuts.

The alliance is a coalition of 140 civil society groups and activists concerned about the erosion of equality, anti-poverty and human rights supports. It includes groups such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the European Anti-Poverty Network.

The delegation will tell the committee that the authority’s post of legal adviser is unfilled due to the public service embargo.

Alliance member and lawyer Orlagh O’Farrell said this was “a further serious gap” in the authority’s ability to discharge its core functions under EU directives.

“As the Equality Authority has had half of its budget withdrawn and a reduction of its staff by 25 per cent, we contend that it can no longer effectively fulfil its designated tasks,” she said.

“Furthermore, the vacancy of a legal adviser to the body means that there is a gap in terms of the authority’s capacity to advise on strategic case litigation and to respond to any proposed legislation which is likely to impact on people experiencing inequality and discrimination.”

Ms O’Farrell said the alliance’s submission had received support from Opposition and Independent MEPs. The committee can make recommendations to the European Commission or can take legal proceedings when necessary.

The controversy over cuts to the authority came to the fore in December 2008 when its then chief executive Niall Crowley resigned in protest at a 43 per cent cut to the budget and the refusal of Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to halt its decentralisation to Roscrea, Co Tipperary.

He said afterwards there was “extraordinary” hostility from some civil servants towards the authority and much of it went back to cases taken by the authority against the public sector.

Earlier this month, Minister of State for Equality Mary White said recommendations for a review of the authority, the Equality Tribunal and the Human Rights Commission would be brought to the Government before Christmas.