The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence today announced details of the membership of the Selection Panel to select members of the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The Selection Panel will select the persons to be recommended to the Oireachtas and the President for appointment. The members are:

The Ombudsman, Emily O Reilly (chair of the Panel)

Dr. Mary Keys, National University of Ireland Galway and member of Mental Health Commission

Sylda Langford, Chair of Citizens Information Board

Professor Gerard Quinn, National University of Ireland Galway

Professor Gerard Whyte, Trinity College Dublin

The General Scheme of a Bill to amalgamate the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority was published in June and referred to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for consideration. The General Scheme was based on the Report for a Working Group set up by the Minister to advise on practical arrangements for the merger. As part of the process of preparing their Report, the Working Group undertook a consultation process with NGOs and other interested parties. The Group received 69 submissions and these informed its recommendations to a considerable degree. Notwithstanding that this prior consultation process took place last year, the Minister considered that it would be of benefit in raising public awareness of the merger proposal and the detail of what is involved, as well as of the broader human rights and equality agenda in our society, to facilitate a further public engagement with the issues and therefore he asked the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to examine the Heads and undertake a further focussed consultation process with civil society and other interested parties on the content of the General Scheme.

The General Scheme provides for an independent selection process to nominate people for appointment to the new Commission, and appointment by the President following passing of a resolution by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister particularly asked for the Committee’s views on Head 13 – which provides for the process by which the new Commission will be selected and appointed – and the Committee has made three recommendations:

· The Panel, as far as possible, should be gender balanced:

· Members of the Panel should have a proven track record and expertise in areas relevant to the work of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission; and

· A member of the Panel should be excluded from being a member of the Commission.

The Committee has also expressed an interest in meeting with the members of the Selection Panel and this will be arranged for a suitable date in September.

The intention is that the independent Selection Panel will invite applications from persons interested in serving on the new Commission, run a selection process and make a recommendation to the Government on a slate of candidates for appointment by the President in due course. It is anticipated that applications will be invited in early September. Further details in that regard will be published in due course.

The intention also is that the persons selected for appointment to the new Commission will be appointed to both existing bodies (the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority) in the interim. Operating in an integrated way, the new commissioners can then prepare a transition programme and a Strategic Plan for the new body. This important preliminary work will also involve, as a matter of priority, the completion of a staffing review.

In announcing the appointment of the Selection Panel, the Minister said,

"I am grateful on my own behalf and that of the Government to the members of the Panel. Selecting the members of the new Commission in this way is a new departure for us in this state. The members of the Panel are all eminent persons who are well qualified to undertake this task. The selection process will be undertaken in a way that is objective and completely independent of Government. When I published the General Scheme of the Bill last month, I said that our society will benefit from having a strong and effective human rights and equality body.

The new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will in due course seek accreditation with the UN as Ireland’s National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). This is of crucial importance to ensure that the new body achieves the highest international standing and domestic credibility to its independence and remit. I have made strengthening the new Commission and ensuring that it complies unequivocally with the ‘Paris Principles’ a personal commitment in the preparation of this Bill and in the merger process. I am confident that the new body will maintain the high standing and reputation the Human Rights Commission has achieved internationally."

24 July 2012