6 October, 2011

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter, TD, has today, Thursday 6 October, 2011, announced the appointment of a Working Group to advise him on the establishment of a new and enhanced Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The group will be chaired by Michael Whelan who, up until recently, served as a member of the Prisons Authority Interim Board.  Formerly a senior member of Guinness Ireland Group HR team, he has wide experience in industrial relations including extensive change programmes and holds an MSc in Organisation Behaviour from Trinity College. The group also includes representatives of the current Board of the Equality Authority, members of the Irish Human Rights Commission and representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality. 

On making the appointments Minister Shatter reaffirmed his commitment "that this new more streamlined body will be able to more effectively, efficiently and cohesively champion human rights and equality".  He also pointed out that new body must ensure to promote a culture that respects the human rights and equal status of everyone in our society.

The Group will have a short timeframe for their work as the Minister intends to have a new Commission in place by the end of February.


Note to Editors:

Details of the membership of the Working Group and its Terms of Reference are included below.

Membership of Working Group

Michael Whelan (Chair)


Michael Farrell    

Irish Human Rights Commission

Tom O'Higgins    

Irish Human Rights Commission

Helen O'Neill     

Irish Human Rights Commission

Lia O'Hegarty    

Irish 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 (HREC)

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 HREC 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 HREC.

6. To recommend the best location for the HREC.

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 HREC 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.