Equality became the plaything of an elite


LAST SATURDAY’S letters page carried a protest from a number of writers and artists, the seven “Saoithe of Aosdána”, about the recent cuts to the budget of the Equality Authority, and the consequent resignation of the authority’s CEO Niall Crowley and a number of board members. While it is nice to see Irish artists engaging with real life, I was disappointed that this response seemed no more than a knee-jerk reaction to a safe PC issue.

The letter bore little evidence of any effort to go beyond the impressions planted in the public mind by those with strong vested interests in ensuring that the equality agenda remains a plaything of an ideological elite with little interest in fairness or justice.

The letter-writers asserted that the cuts, being greater than any imposed on other Department of Justice-funded bodies, would “obviously render the authority far less effective in practice”.

This is not obvious at all. Those seeking to bring down the Equality Authority since the implementation of the recent cutbacks have had things all their own way. Reaching out to like-minded ideologues in the media, they have created the impression that equality in Irish society has been dealt a death blow. This is bogus. One aspect of this saga that has not been widely reported is that the Equality Tribunal, by far the more important body in the context of equality, has had its budget increased by 17.5 per cent. In 2007, the most recent year for which figures are available, only 7 per cent of cases heard by the Equality Tribunal were initiated by the Equality Authority. The authority takes only occasional test cases, usually in accordance with a narrow ideological agenda. The concerns of the esteemed Saoithe of Aosdána that “there will be seriously adverse consequences for people experiencing discrimination” are, happily, unfounded.

For the Equality Authority under Niall Crowley, the word “equality” meant something only vaguely related to the natural and ordinary meaning of the word. The authority’s main focus has been the promotion of a form of social engineering targeted against core notions of difference between males and females. One issue that has greatly exercised the authority is “the all too familiar use of blue and pink colours to communicate gender appropriateness” in the advertising of products relating to children. Earlier this year the authority engaged the ESRI to conduct a study of the work patterns of men and women, and announced that women work 39 minutes per day more than men. Virtually all media coverage reported this finding as fact. It was nonsense. An examination of the small print revealed that the researchers had included all shopping and travelling in the “work” category, which meant that women were counted as “working” while out shopping, travelling to the gym or going to meet friends. Courtesy of the Equality Authority under Niall Crowley, divisive initiatives like this cost the taxpayer many hundreds of thousands of euro.

While one recent Equality Authority document noted that “under 1 per cent of people whose principal activity was looking after home or family were men”, the authority under Niall Crowley has been notoriously reticent about helping men to combat the truly grotesque forms of discrimination which inexorably lead to this situation. Among the functions of the authority is an advisory role in relation to inequities residing in law, including a responsibility to draw such lacunae to the attention of the relevant Government Ministers. On several occasions, I and others have requested Niall Crowley’s assistance in confronting the appalling abuses of men and children perpetrated by family courts, and other core issues affecting men as men. Always, he would blather on about the difficulties with the law or culture, but ultimately it became clear that he didn’t want to know.

Far from being the end of the equalisation of Irish society, then, the departure of Niall Crowley and the board members who support him may offer, for the first time, an opportunity to promote a true concept of equality in Irish society. Now, briefly, there may be a chance to wrest equality from the grip of ideologues and vested interests and hand it back to the people.

Since several of the signatories to last Saturday’s letter are writers, I would expect them to have a healthy respect for the true meanings of words. My dictionary defines “equality” as “the state of being equal”, and “equal”, inter alia, as “having identical privileges, rights, status etc”. Perhaps the esteemed Saoithe will be surprised to learn that this is not Niall Crowley’s definition. In an advisory document prepared last year in conjunction with the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, Crowley wrote: “The primary objective for work on men in gender equality must be to strengthen the role and contribution of men in challenging and changing the structures, institutional policies and practices, and culture (including stereotypical attitudes) that generate and sustain the inequalities experienced by women”.

The “equality” agenda as it relates to men, therefore, concerns how they might make the world a more equitable place for women. No Saoi of Aosdána, and not even the great George Orwell, could make this stuff up.