The Government has agreed in principle to merge the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority into a new Human Rights and Equality Commission. The purpose of this change is to promote human rights and equality issues in a more effective, efficient and cohesive way.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter, TD, will bring forward legislative proposals to establish a new Human Rights and Equality Commission. The essential objective of this body will be to champion human rights, including the right to equality. It will play a key role in:

• encouraging State authorities to put respect for human rights and equality at the heart of their policies and practices;
• monitoring compliance with international and constitutional human rights standards;
• helping people to understand what their rights are and how to protect them;
• promoting political debate on human-rights and equality issues, in particular by providing consultative opinions on proposed legislation;
• appearing before the superior courts as amicus curiae ('friend of the court') to assist the courts with the interpretation of human rights standards in specific cases;
• investigating human rights and equality concerns, and
• publishing and promoting research and reports on human rights and equality issues.

The Minister said, "There is a compelling need to revise our human-rights protection architecture. The Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority have overlapping roles. As things stand, the Irish Human Rights Commission is struggling to function due to shortage of funds. The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (when auditing the IHRC financial statements in 2010) highlighted lack of adequate funding as a risk to the IHRC as a ´going concern´*. It is simply not feasible in the current economic and financial emergency to fund two bodies with overlapping functions. A leaner, more streamlined body will be able more effectively, efficiently and cohesively to champion human rights and to further maintain and further build on international reputation of the present Irish Human Rights Commission." 

The Minister continued: "Drawing together in a single body the main strands of the vital human-rights and equality agendas will positively strengthen the ability of the new Human Rights and Equality Commission to effectively, efficiently, and cohesively promote a culture that respects the human rights and equal status of everyone in our society. It will also have the virtue of preserving the integrity of our human-rights commitment under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and enhancing our compliance with international human-rights law and various EU Directives." 

The new body will comprise 12 board members compared to the present bodies which have altogether 27 Board Members at present. Savings on Board and administration fees provides better value for money and a more streamlined structure which will improve the ability of the new Commission to fulfil its obligations in a more effective and coordinated manner. The Minister also said that: "The amalgamation provides a welcome opportunity to give the new Commission a direct reporting function to the Oireachtas through its committee system, something that the Commission itself has sought so as to copper-fasten its independence of Government." He also said that the new Human Rights and Equality Commission "will unequivocally keep faith with the ‘Paris Principles’ on national human-rights bodies" (Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 48/134 of 20 December 1993).

The Minister will now consult with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. He said: "The proposal for a new Human Rights and Equality Commission will preserve the integrity of our commitment under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to keep equivalence of human-rights arrangements between the two jurisdictions." 

The Minister also thanked the members of the Equality Authority and the members of the Irish Human Rights Commission for their commitment and professionalism in carrying out their important roles.

* The previous government substantially reduced the funding available to the Human Rights Commission. A 32% reduction in Grant-in-Aid to the IHRC resulted in 2009 in a funding allocation by Government of €1,596,000. This was further reduced in 2010 to €1,532,000 and in 2011 (by virtue of the Dec 2010 Budget) to €1,463,000.

The previous government also reduced funding to the Equality Authority. Grant-in-Aid allocated to the Authority was reduced by 4% in 2009 to €3,333,000. This was further reduced in 2010 to €3,200,000 and in 2011 (by virtue of the Dec 2010 Budget) to €3,057,000

**The term of office of the members appointed to the Equality Authority expired on the 31st August 2011 and the term of office of members appointed to the Irish Human Rights Commission is due to expire on the 1st October 2011. The Minister intends to create an ad hoc group chosen from the outgoing members of the Equality Authority and the current members of the Irish Human Rights Commission to advise on and assist in the arrangements required for the establishment of the enhanced and integrated new Human Rights and Equality Commission.

9 September 2011