Green TD tells committee he opposes cuts to rights bodies

 

GREEN TD Ciarán Cuffe has told the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence, Equality and Women's Rights that he opposes Government policy on cutting the budgets of human rights bodies.

The Equality Rights Alliance (ERA), an umbrella group of 71 organisations set up to oppose cuts to the funding of the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority, was making a submission to the committee yesterday.

This prompted a vigorous debate, in which members of the Opposition accused the Government of being "vindictive" in cutting the budgets of the two bodies by 24 and 43 per cent respectively.

Fianna Fáil deputies said the cuts were necessary. Noel Treacy said decentralisation would promote "equality" in access to the Equality Authority.

Fine Gael spokesman on justice Charlie Flanagan said the Opposition parties were on record as saying that these cuts were an attempt by the Government to silence the agencies.

"It is not a coincidence that the cuts are in organisations that may, from time to time, because of their statutory remit, be at variance with Government policy.

"I can offer an alternative to the Government of merging or abolishing redundant talking shops," he said, referring to a list that included prison visiting committees, the National Crime Council and film classification bodies.

Labour justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said: "I don't accept cutting any agency by 43 per cent is a cutback. The intention is to kill it. It will have this effect sooner or later. Advantage has been taken of the financial climate to deal with any agency that's an irritant. There have been cuts, but nothing commensurate with this.

"Our democracy is robust to set up agencies like this and know they're not going to kowtow."

Mr Cuffe said: "I think this goes far beyond fiscal savings," adding that he tended to agree with Mr Rabbitte's analysis. He said he had brought his arguments to his colleagues in Government and he hoped there would be some room to manoeuvre.

Noel Treacy (FF) said the Government did not have the capacity to spend money ad infinitum. "I fully support the Human Rights Commission," he said.

"I have full confidence in the head of the HRC and his capacity and that of his staff to go forward together and meet the challenges."

Thomas Byrne of Fianna Fáil said there was no agenda against any group, but the money that came in to any family, any country, had to be spent responsibly. Other budgets had been slashed.

"Not to the same degree," Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh said.

Earlier, Mark Kelly, on behalf of the ERA, said the cuts were clearly an attempt to muzzle the organisations.

He said the Government was operating on a double standard, as it was a co-sponsor of a UN resolution urging the strengthening of human rights bodies while dismantling them at home.