The Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter T.D., today (20 April 2012) welcomed the report of the Working Group on the establishment of the new, enhanced Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC). The Report which was presented by the Group to the Minister yesterday will be published today (Friday 20th April 2012). The Working Group was established in October 2011 to advise the Minister on practical arrangements in relation to the merger of the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority, including issues in relation to powers and functions for the new body and other issues to be addressed in the legislation to give effect to the merger.
The Minister thanked the Working Group, chaired by Mr. Michael Whelan, for its detailed examination of the issues. He also expressed his appreciation for the many suggestions and views contributed by members of the public and representatives from civil society which assisted the working group in their work. Following a public invitation, the Group received a total of 69 submissions from the public. These were considered by the Group and informed its deliberations.
In welcoming the formal presentation of the Working Group’s report today, the Minister said "I want to acknowledge the comprehensive and diligent way in which the Group’s members have gone about their work. I am delighted to receive the Report of the Group. I will read it carefully and bring my detailed proposals for legislation to give effect to the merger to Government in the coming weeks. While I haven’t yet studied the Report in detail and my colleagues in Government will also need an opportunity to consider it carefully, I can say that on a first reading it gives me a comprehensive and coherent package of recommendations that meet my key objective of creating a new and strengthened human rights and equality body, drawing from the strengths and best practices of both existing bodies and delivering a levelling up of powers and functions. The recommendations in this Report will ensure that Ireland’s infrastructure to promote and protect human rights and equality is strengthened and capable of operating in a strategic, effective way."
The Minister also expressed his appreciation for the work carried out to date by the staff, Boards and Commissioners of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission, past and present. Each agency in its own right has made a significant contribution to developing equality of opportunity and respect for human rights in Irish society. He looks forward to the coming together of this body of expertise in the new Commission and the new synergies that will result.
The Minister noted the group’s assessment of the importance to the new Commission of having a strong strategic focus and the recommendation that it should take particular care to ensure that its resources are directed with clear strategic purposes. The Group concludes that success of the new IHREC will be measured, not by the number of legal cases taken, but by their impact in promoting its strategic goals.
The report of the Working Group on the establishment of the new, enhanced Human Rights and Equality Commission is available on the following Department of Justice and Equality websites (www.justice.ie, www.upr.ie).
20 April 2012
Note to Editors:
The Working group was established in October 2011 to advise the Minister on practical arrangements in relation to the merger of the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority.
Details of the membership of the Working Group and its Terms of Reference are as follows:
Michael Whelan (Chair)
Michael Farrell Human Rights Commission
Tom O Higgins Human Rights Commission
Helen O Neill Human Rights Commission
Lia O Hegarty Human Rights Commission
Peter White Equality Authority
Kieran Rose Equality Authority
Ellen Mongan Equality Authority
Betty O Leary Equality Authority
Diarmuid Cole Department of Justice & Equality
Tom Cooney Special Adviser to Minister Shatter
Terms of Reference for the Working Group on the new Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC)
The Government has decided that setting up a new, integrated and independent Human Rights and Equality Commission (HREC) is the most effective way of achieving the shared aim of bringing about a culture of respect for human rights and equality. The IHREC will retain the statutory powers and duties of the existing bodies, for example, the power to examine legislative proposals.
The purpose of this group is:
1. To identify best practice in each organisation and the structure and process through which the HREC can ensure respect for human rights, equality, diversity and the freedom and dignity of the individual and the practices in each organisation, if any, that require change and the recommended changes.
2. To identify the functions and areas of work of the existing bodies to be merged; what new functions should be added and the functions, if any, that should cease.
3. To outline how the existing bodies consult with service users; the actions, if any, to be taken to broaden the base of service users; how such processes have fed into the work planning of each organisation and to recommend how these arrangements can be improved for the purposes of the HREC.
4. To advise on what new methods the HREC might employ in carrying out its functions of providing information, education and so forth in the light of the experience gained by both organisations, bearing in mind the overall economic position and the costs of campaigns run to date.
5. To examine the existing internal structures of both bodies and identify what changes are necessary in the IHREC.
6. To recommend the best location for the IHREC.
7. To advise on the best staffing arrangements bearing in mind:
· the Paris Principles;
· the need to ensure continuity of staff service;
· the need to ensure that the skills available to the Commission are appropriate and sufficiently flexible for the Commission to respond to new challenges while at the same time providing career development opportunities for staff.
· the overall current economic position and the limited resources of Government.
8. To advise on what would be the best practice for the IHREC in devising specific objectives and what performance indicators should be used to measure the attainment of the objectives.
9. To advise on the best approaches or means to achieving change - for example making greater use of codes of practice or of strategic cases to achieve changes. Is there a view on which might achieve the greater outcome. Court cases tend to involve the State in one way or another. Would greater use of codes of practice be effective in wider society?
10. To advise on the best form of enquiry powers, and, in particular, to consider whether adopting the model used for Cloyne might be more effective than the current enquiry power.
The Group invited submissions from the public on its work. As indicated in the Report, 69 submissions were received and considered by the Group. The members appreciate all the advice and comments received and the issues raised in submissions inform the Group’s report. The submissions will be published in the coming days on www.upr.ie.