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Priority Questions - Human Rights Issues

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 754 No. 3

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 63.  Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy  asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter  if he will assure Dáil Éireann that the new body resulting from the merger of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Alliance will continue to provide independent assistance to victims of discrimination in the same manner which the Equality Authority has provided heretofore; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6521/12]

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter On 6 October 2011 I announced the terms of reference of the working group to advise me on the merger of the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority. At the time I made a clear statement that the new human rights and equality commission would retain all the statutory powers and duties of the existing bodies. The House will have an opportunity to consider whether that requirement is met when the relevant legislation comes before it in due course.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy Merging two organisations with two cultures is never easy. The Equality Authority, as one would expect, had a particular focus on the issue of equality. Can we take it from the Minister’s reply that independent legal assistance and advice will continue to be made available to those who require it and that such assistance will be provided in a proactive way? Does the Minister intend to take the opportunity, in enacting the legislation required to merge the two bodies, to go further by introducing additional reforms? If so, are there areas of particular concern to him?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The review group I have appointed comprises four members each from the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission, as well as representatives of my Department and an independent chairman. Its remit is to examine the changes and reforms which might be effected, at the same time as the introduction of legislation to bring together the two bodies. It was originally my hope the working group would be in a position to report back by the end of November 2011. It has completed an extensive body of work and I understand its report should be available to me this month.

[250]I have made clear my view that we should have an enhanced human rights and equality commission which not only meets our international obligations in these areas but provides the best possible forum for addressing issues of human rights and equality. I do not want to prejudge the group’s report, but I would be surprised if it does not suggest important reforms and innovations. The report will be published and will inform the development of the Bill. The preparation of the legislation has been delayed because the group has taken somewhat longer than anticipated to complete its work. However, I hope to have the Bill published some time after Easter, although I cannot give a specific date. I look forward to receiving the group’s report, the contents of which Members of the House will have an opportunity to consider. The Government is open to ensuring there is in place a body with real powers to allow it perform the functions mentioned by the Deputy and which may have a slightly broader remit in some areas than do the two current bodies.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy We all know the situation the country is in. In that regard, was the group working within constraints in terms of what initiatives it could bring forward? In other words, were there other initiatives that could have been brought forward in an ideal situation?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The review group was given a broad remit to present from its perspective the best possible option. My duty as Minister is to ensure there are reasonable resources in place for what is established. I cannot pre-empt the decisions the group may make. While I was concerned previously that the Irish Human Rights Alliance was under-resourced, in particular during recent years, substantial resources were made available to the Equality Authority. It is hoped that in having one body there will be an economy of scale, which will provide not alone for its application of powers and objectives but will allow the work to be done at a lesser cost.

In response to the Deputy’s question, no financial sum was stated to the review group although it will be conscious of how much money was made available this year and last year to both agencies. My budget for 2012 is not substantially greater than it was for 2011. However, it is not less than what was available for the two agencies, which is to be welcomed. The Government takes seriously its commitment to provide an enhanced independent equality commission to replace the Irish Human Rights Alliance and Equality Authority.

I look forward to receiving the report of the group, which comprises good people whom I know devoted substantial time to their deliberations. I also look forward to the input of that report into the development of the necessary legislation.


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