State plans merger of five bodies instead of just three

 

THE GOVERNMENT is proposing to merge the Equality Tribunal and the National Disability Authority with three other equality and human rights agencies.

Official documentation seen by The Irish Timesconfirms that there are plans to merge these two bodies, as well as the Equality Authority, the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Office of Data Protection Commissioner, into a single agency.

The Government had previously signalled that only the latter three agencies would be merged.

The Government has also proposed to have a subsidiary merger of the National Disability Authority with the Office for Disability and Mental Health.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Minister for Health Mary Harney announced the establishment of the Office for Disability and Mental Health only last January to promote the achievement of targets in these areas under the auspices of the Department of Health and Children.

The National Disability Authority (NDA) was established under the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 1999 to promote and secure the rights of people with disabilities.

The proposed mergers are listed in an appendix to a letter from a senior official in the Department of Finance to Department of Justice Secretary-General Seán Aylward, dated July 15th.

The Appendix is entitled "Rationalisation/Amalgamation of Semi-State Agencies".

There is a further proposal to: "Continue modernisation of [ the] Property Registration Authority to effect merger of Land Registry/Registry of Deeds".

There is a total of 36 non-commercial agencies and other bodies operating under the aegis of the Department of Justice, including the Equality Authority, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Garda Síochána Complaints Board and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

The five bodies whom it is proposed to merge were informed of the plan at a meeting with officials at Dublin Castle on July 23rd last. They were then given until September 12th to respond to the proposal.

President of the Human Rights Commission, the former Fine Gael TD Maurice Manning said earlier this week he had an open mind about the merger but did not believe substantial savings would result from it.

In a statement yesterday, Labour's spokesman on Human Rights, Joe Costello TD pointed out that the commission was established under the terms of the Belfast Agreement in the Good Friday talks 10 years ago and its status could not be unilaterally altered.

"The Fianna Fáil government was never enthusiastic about the establishment of the Human Rights Commission," said Mr Costello.

"The legislation was not finally enacted until 2001 and the Government has consistently ignored reports and recommendations it has published since then.

"It now seems that the tightened Exchequer situation is going to be used to neuter organisations like the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority that have been critical of the Government," he said.