New equality watchdog members appeal for funds and staff

Merged body has no chief commissioner

Prof Siobhan Mullally, who spoke on behalf of the people appointed to the  Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Photograph: Alan Betson

Prof Siobhan Mullally, who spoke on behalf of the people appointed to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Photograph: Alan Betson

 


Members of the State’s new human rights and equality watchdog have appealed for adequate resources and the swift appointment of a full-time chairman.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will replace the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority, which are being merged in a move the Government says will save about €500,000. However, the scale of the task facing the new body emerged yesterday when its 16 members designate came before the Oireachtas joint committee on justice for the first time since their selection last month.

The committee heard that the combined staff of the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority is expected to be 15 at the end of this year, compared to 73 five years ago. The position of chief commissioner is still vacant because an appointment panel failed to find a suitable candidate for the full-time role.

Sixteen individuals were formally appointed members of the new commission last month but, speaking on their behalf, Prof Siobhán Mullally said their status with regard to the equality authority had not yet been resolved. “This is a matter of concern for the members designate, as there are many challenges facing the authority.”

Prof Mullally said the new body would need sufficient funds and staffing in order to properly take on its wide range of functions. “It will be of the utmost importance that the new commission will commence its work on a sound financial basis to enable us to fulfil these tasks and to undertake new tasks that may arise.”

Prof Mullally told the committee she and her colleagues believed the selection committee appointed to oversee the nomination of members designate had played a crucial role in establishing the credibility of the new body. A “similarly independent and transparent” approach should be taken in selecting a chief commissioner, and this should be done “without delay”.

Setting out issues the watchdog would address, Prof Mullally said it would be “very pro-active” in highlighting the impact of budget cuts on vulnerable groups in society.

“As a human rights and equality institution, we need to ensure that inequalities are not perpetuated, that basic economic and social rights are respected and that you don’t have a disproportionate impact in terms of... budgetary measures being adopted on the most vulnerable people in our society,” she said.

The justice committee chairman, David Stanton of Fine Gael, said it was anxious that a chief commissioner be appointed as soon as possible.