The Equality Authority
Thursday 24 July 2008
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here this afternoon to join the Chairperson of the Equality Authority, Dr Angela Kerins, the Chief Executive, Niall Crowley and his team in launching the 2007 annual report of the Equality Authority.
On behalf of my colleagues in Government, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the outgoing Chairperson, Ms Karen Erwin and the Members of the Board whose term ended in July 2007. Ms Erwin and her colleagues, a number of whom have sat on successive Boards of the Authority, have given sterling service to the State in promoting equality in Irish society and have been instrumental in shaping the organisation that exists today.
2007 was a year of significant achievements by the Authority.
I must thank the Authority for its cooperation in advancing its decentralisation programme and congratulate you on the progress achieved last year, with the successful establishment of an advance office in Roscrea.
2007 saw the Authority, with the support of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, leading a successful programme of events for the "European Year of Equal Opportunities for All", which has garnered high praise across Europe for its ambition and inclusiveness.
I am pleased also to welcome the Chairperson and members of the new Board, appointed in 2007 and recently augmented by four new members.
The challenges facing today’s Authority are very different to those of the fledgling agency which took over from the Employment Equality Agency in 1999.
The decade since the establishment of the Equality Authority has been one of unprecedented expansion of the Irish economy. Important economic and social progress has been made. Ireland has grown in confidence and has welcomed greater diversity in our society.
We are now moving into a different environment. We are faced in the short term with a period of economic and fiscal challenges, of exchequer consolidation and new social realities.
We know that there will be challenges in the labour market and these challenges have implications for society generally and the way the responsibilities of Government are organised and administered.
The gains of the past decade must not be lost. Government is committed to protecting the weaker sections of society in this time of transition and is taking measures to address the current challenges, particularly the maintenance of policies that support economic and budgetary sustainability.
These changed circumstances have implications also for the Authority, not only for its resources but in regard to its activities and the demands being placed on the organisation.
The Authority will also have to match its priorities to its resources to meet the challenges it is facing in carrying out its primary purpose – which is to combat discrimination.
The Authority is well placed to address these challenges as it embarks on drafting its 4th strategic plan, for the period 2009 to 2011. The Equality Acts lay out a clear framework to assist the Authority in this task, and state that the strategic plan must comprise the key objectives, outputs, related strategies and use of resources of the Authority and have regard to the need to ensure the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of the Authority’s resources.
I look forward to its submission to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for his approval later this year.
I note the comments in the Annual Report regarding perceived delays in the Equality Tribunal and recognition by the Chief Executive that the situation had improved. I would strongly urge the Board in preparing their new Strategic Plan to engage with the Equality Tribunal to see what steps of a procedural and administrative nature could be taken by the two organisations in minimising delays.
Provision of information and advice to the public on equality legislation is one of the Equality Authority’s basic functions.
The Authority remains the first port of call for many people who feel discriminated against or are uncertain about their entitlements under equality legislation and under maternity, parental and adoptive leave legislation.
However, many other agencies, between State agencies, trade unions and community and voluntary organisations and the media, play an important part in informing members of the public of their rights and obligations. This extends from general awareness to detailed advice on how to remedy a specific difficulty. The accuracy, timeliness and reach of the information provided through these means can vary widely.
The State looks to the Equality Authority to provide quality control and a coherent structure through which the relevant information, in whatever form, can be channelled to the public.
In conclusion I would like to thank the Equality Authority, Board Members and staff, for all your hard work and commitment during 2007 and wish you all success in meeting the challenges before us for 2008 and beyond.
Thank you again for inviting me here today.