Three resign from Equality Authority over cutbacks

 

Three people have resigned from the board of the Equality Authority, claiming it can no longer fulfil its core functions. They are Louise O’Donnell of Impact, David Joyce of Ictu and Frank Goodwin of the Carers’ Association.

This follows the resignation last month of the chief executive, Niall Crowley, and another board member, Therese Murphy of the National Women’s Council, in protest at the proposed reduction in the authority’s budget of 43 per cent and the continuation of its decentralisation to temporary offices in Roscrea.

In her letter of resignation to the Minister for Justice Ms O’Donnell, a senior official in Impact, said she had been forced to resign because promises by Mr Ahern that the authority would be able to carry out its core functions despite the 43 per cent cut had proved to be empty.

David Joyce said that the organisation’s business plan for 2009, as discussed at its board meeting on January 15th last, was “a pale imitation of the strong independent advocate for equality that the Authority has been since its inception.”

Frank Goodwin said that the independence of the organisation had been compromised by the impact of the cutbacks.

“During a very difficult economic period for the country where cases of discrimination are likely to increase, this is a wholly unacceptable scenario,” Mr Joyce said.

He said he and other board members were very willing to engage with the Minister to discuss savings in the context of the continued viability of the organisation.

“However, your refusal to meet with the full board and the unilateral decisions taken by your department on these issues and failure to engage seriously with the management plan developed by the board before Christmas has sent a clear signal that this was not your intention” he said.

He said he was particularly concerned at the impact all of this would have on the capacity of the Authority's legal section to carry out its important work. This included two inquiries Ictu had asked for, into the use of agency workers as a means of circumventing equality legislation and into sheltered workshops.

Ms O’Donnell echoed this, pointing out that the authority’s revised legal budget for 2009 was already exhausted which meant it was unable to take on any new cases and could struggle to sustain existing ones. The communications budget had been cut to 10 per cent of its 2008 level, with staffing almost halved and experienced staff replaced with new people who had no experience of equality issues.

There is no capacity for new research and some pending research projects will not now go ahead, she said.

Fine Gael equality spokesman Michael D’Arcy said nothing about the Government's "filleting" of the Equality Authority budget made sense.

"Instead of taking a measured approach to cutbacks, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has bludgeoned the life out of an organisation that is designed to protect the vulnerable who are particularly exposed during the current recession.

Labour Party justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said today's resignations exposed "the vindictive nature of the crippling cuts arbitrarily imposed by the Minister for Justice".

"This is the same man who considers the proposal of Senator Dan Boyle to reduce the number of junior ministers to 17 as 'facile' but who pretends that saving a lesser amount of money from the Equality Authority to be a 'major saving'," he said.