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Human rights body says 24% cut makes it unworkable

Resource type: News

Irish Times |

by Carol Coulter The Human Rights Commission has sought an urgent meeting with the Department of Justice to discuss the cut of 24 per cent in its budget, which it said will leave it completely unable to perform its functions. In a statement following a plenary session of the 15-member commission, it pointed out that it was set up to fulfil a promise made by the Government under the Belfast Agreement. “As such, the IHRC is a key part of the peace process and its establishment was directly supported by the people of Ireland when they approved the agreement,” it said. The commission was aware of the difficulties caused by the economic downturn, but described the 24 per cent cut as “disproportionate and excessive”. The overall cut in the department’s budget is 4 per cent. The reduced allocation would leave the commission with a budget of EUR1.6 million for next year. Its budget this year was EUR2.1 million. Referring to the proposal in the Budget that it integrate administrative and other facilities with those of the Equality Authority, it said resulting savings were likely to be minimal, especially as the decen tralisation of the Equality Authority to Roscrea is continuing, though it has no permanent accommodation there. Staff costs in the commission are EUR1.5 million, and the staff all have contracts which would cost more to buy out than to continue paying. Office and administration costs run to about EUR600,000. This means the commission’s future is in doubt if the cuts are maintained, the statement said. Promotion and protection of human rights should be a priority in Government spending, especially in current economic conditions when people are more vulnerable to exploitation, it added. It pointed out that as recently as July last the United Nations explicitly called on the Government to strengthen the independence of the IHRC by giving it sufficient resources to do its job properly. It is also seeking to be directly accountable to the Oireachtas, because its mandate covers work done across many Government departments. Its mandate includes promotion and protection of human rights in Ireland, in co-operation with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. It is an independent statutory public body with a president who, under the legislation, enjoys the same terms as a High Court judge. Its first president was retired Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Donal Barrington, and he was succeeded by former Fine Gael senator Dr Maurice Manning. The legislation mandates it to advise the Government on law and practice in relation to human rights, ensuring they comply with Ireland’s international human rights obligations. It provides for redress for possible violations of human rights through offering legal assistance, conducting inquiries or providing its expert opinion to the courts as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”). It monitors whether Ireland is in compliance with the European ‘ Convention on Human Rights Act 2003, which incorporated the Convention into Irish law. Late last year the commission was criticised by Government Ministers for its report on the use of Shannon airport by US planes involved in the “extraordinary rendition” of people to detention centres suspected of using torture. It recommended that the Garda Siochana be empowered to search such aircraft. Last Friday the Government changed its policy to allow such searches to take place.