Bill on merger of human rights bodies to be published ‘shortly’

Minister for Justice says ‘last lap’ on legislation on Equality Authority and IHRC is the hardest

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he hoped to publish the Bill on the merger of the IHRC and the Equality Authority before Christmas. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he hoped to publish the Bill on the merger of the IHRC and the Equality Authority before Christmas. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times


Legislation providing for the merger of the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and the Equality Authority is expected to be published “before Christmas”, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said.

The controversial decision to merge the two bodies was announced by the Government in September 2011.

Both bodies had their budgets cut during the first round of Government cuts in 2008.

Speaking at a conference in Dublin Castle, Mr Shatter said the last lap with regard to the merger was “proving to be the hardest” but that the Bill was nearly finalised and he expected to be able to publish it “very soon”.

“It remains my hope that the legislation will be published before Christmas. There’s one remaining issue that’s the cause of some minor drafting difficulty and I hope by the end of this week it will be resolved,” Mr Shatter said.

The Minister said he and his departmental officials were also engaged in ongoing discussions about the 2014 budget and the staffing arrangements for the new body.

It was of “vital importance” that it had the resources required to properly fulfil its wide ranging statutory functions.

Mr Shatter said that when the Bill was published it would provide for the introduction of a positive duty on public bodies to conduct their business “in a manner that is consistent with individual human rights, in reflection of the commitment contained within the current Programme for Government”.

This model of “positive duty” was not the model found elsewhere, he said.

“The commission will have an important role in its development and in achieving a key tool which will be meaningful and effective in actively promoting equality and human rights across the public sector.”

The Minister said the work already undertaken by the commission with its human rights education and training project across the civil and public service was an excellent example of the “soft” and “persuasive” powers he envisaged would be influential in the development of such a public duty.

A working group set up to advise the Minister on how a new commission should function, received 69 submissions.

It found the new body should adhere to the terms of the Paris principles that guarantee any human rights body should be independent from Government under statute.

Mr Shatter was addressing the International Conference on Human Rights Education and Training for the Civil and Public Service, which is taking place at Dublin Castle until Thursday.

Representatives from more than 30 countries are in attendance, including delegates from national and local government bodies, law enforcement, human rights institutions and civil society organisations.

As the conference opened today, the IHRC and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on UN member states to provide effective human rights training for all public sector employees.

The bodies said it was particularly important for the civil and public service to receive such human rights training, since they were in constant tough with individuals and could have a considerable impact on their human rights.

The conference will be addressed this morning by the Minister for Justice, by Eamon Mac Aodha, the Irish Ambassador to Belgium, by Elena Ippoliti of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, James Connington of the Institute of Public Administration and by Fiona Murphy, manager of the IHRC’s human rights education and training project.