Panel to choose equality commission stands down


MEMBERS OF a selection panel established earlier this week to choose the composition of the new Human Rights and Equality Commission have “stood aside” in the light of concerns about the Bill setting it up from the United Nations.

The chair of the panel, Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, has written to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter explaining their concerns after the intervention of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR).

Last week Mr Shatter announced the nomination of the panel, made up of Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, as chair, Dr Mary Keys of NUI Galway and the Mental Health Commission, Sylda Landford, chair of the Citizens Information Board, Prof Gerard Quinn of NUIG and Prof Gerry Whyte of Trinity College Dublin.

However, on July 13th, the UNHCHR office wrote to the Government expressing the concerns of his office about the heads of the Bill, stating its provisions “do not reflect a full, open, transparent and independent process of appointment” and that the nomination of the selection panel by the Government “may undermine the transparency of the appointment process”.

The high commissioner also urges amendment of the bill to ensure that the new commission appoints its own staff “in an independent manner”, stressing that the UN Paris Principles on such bodies state: “As a principle, [such institutions] should be empowered to appoint their own staff.”

At the moment the heads of the Bill stipulate that the director of the new commission shall be the current chief executive of the Equality Authority, Renee Dempsey.

The selection panel last Monday met two officials of the Department of Justice, but were not made aware of the concerns of the UNHCHR.

According to Ms O’Reilly’s letter to the Minister, they became aware of it afterwards.

“Having reflected on the concerns of the UN Office of the High Commissioner, we now think it prudent . . . to step aside to allow more time and space for the process of reflection and consultation that is obviously needed now,” Ms O’Reilly said.

The development was welcomed by the president of the outgoing Human Rights Commission, Dr Maurice Manning, whose observations raised similar questions to the UNHCHR.

He said: “I greatly welcome the panel’s decision, it showed courage and integrity. So far our views have been rejected, we now hope for a change of approach.”

However, Mr Shatter last night said he was “both surprised and disappointed that the members of the selection panel should release a letter to the media only received in my office today without affording me or my officials an opportunity to respond to the letter nor to meet with them to clarify and discuss any matters of concern”.

He said the competence and independence of the panel to do its duty to the highest standards required by the Paris Principles was not in doubt “either in fact or in perception . . .

“I have asked my officials to meet with them as early as is possible to discuss these matters and to provide such clarifications as are required”.