Former chief of equality body details events leading to his resignation


FORMER CHIEF executive of the Equality Authority Niall Crowley has claimed an attempt was made to remove him four and a half years before he eventually resigned in protest at the halving of the authority’s budget.

The claim comes in a book just published by Mr Crowley, Empty Promises: Bringing the Equality Authority to Heel, in which he outlines the history of the body and the events that led to his resignation in December 2008, and those of six members of the board. He describes various areas of tension between the authority and its sponsoring department, the Department of Justice, during his tenure.

He also argues that new economic and social policies, with an increased focus on equality, are now needed if we are to emerge from the economic recession.

Mr Crowley states that in May 2004 he was summoned to a meeting with an official of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, where he was given a letter saying his five-year contract terminated in June, and the letter was notice of same.

He says at its meeting in February that year the board of the authority had unanimously decided to reappoint him on a permanent basis, in conformity with the Employment Equality Acts. He took legal advice and informed the department of the board’s decision. The board also took the matter up with the department because it considered its independence was being challenged.

Eventually, another five-year contract was offered. In accepting this offer, the board also passed a resolution bringing him within the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act, thereby becoming permanent. The contract stipulated that he accept the decentralisation of the authority.

The minister for justice at the time was Michael McDowell. He did not wish to comment on the controversy, but a source close to him stressed he had got on very well with Mr Crowley, and there had never been any animosity between them. “All this was probably positioning in relation to decentralisation,” the source said.

Mr Crowley also states in the book: “The decentralisation issue began shortly before this incident,” and he describes how the authority had fought its proposed decentralisation to Roscrea on the grounds that it would severely inhibit its work and lead to the loss of much of its expertise. This view was endorsed by Goodbody Economic Consultants, engaged to study the impact of decentralisation on the organisation, he says.

Mr Crowley describes how the Department of Justice took legal action in the High Court challenging the authority’s right to appear as an amicus curiae(friend of the court) in a case involving a Traveller family. The High Court ruled in favour of the authority.