Opening Statement by Minister of State David Stanton, T.D., regarding the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Appointments


Dáil Éireann


29 March 2018


Dáil Motion:

That Dáil Éireann noting that the Government on the 27th February, 2018 nominated Francis Conaty, Heydi Foster-Breslin, Salome Mbugua Henry, Caroline Fennell, Patrick Connolly, Tony Geoghegan, and Colm O’Dwyer for appointment by the President to be members of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, recommends, pursuant to section 12(3) and section 13(1)(b) of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, that Francis Conaty, Heydi Foster-Breslin, Salome Mbugua Henry, Caroline Fennell, Patrick Connolly, Tony Geoghegan and Colm O’Dwyer be appointed by the President to be members of the Commission with effect from a date to be determined by the President for a term of office of 5 years.


Thank you Ceann Comhairle, I move the motion.  I thank the Dáil for the opportunity to make my remarks on this important motion today to recommend the appointment of seven Commissioners to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. 


The Commission is Ireland’s National Human Rights Institution and also our National Equality Body.  The functions it serves in the protection and promotion of human rights and equality are core elements in the proper functioning of a democratic society.  These appointments are significant for all of us. The Commissioners work in pursuit of an inclusive Ireland where human rights and equality are respected, protected and fulfilled for everyone, everywhere.  The IHREC’s mission is to build a fair and inclusive society that protects and promotes human rights and equality in Ireland.  I cannot overstate the importance of their work.


IHREC was established as an independent statutory body by the 2014 Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act.  Now in 2018 we see the Commission really hitting its stride  - with a recent public human rights and equality awareness campaign underpinned by a public information service.  Significant progress has been made on the Public Sector Duty - raising awareness in public bodies of their legal obligation to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and protect human rights.  Furthermore, IHREC has a significant programme of research underway which has already seen publications in a range of key areas to support equality and human rights policy development.  This represents only a sample and snapshot of the important work undertaken by the Commission.


We are fortunate in Ireland to have a Human Rights and Equality Commission with an “A” status accreditation from the International Coordinating Committee on National Human Rights.  This recognition underlines the Commission’s domestic and international standing and institutional independence.   It is because of the structural independence of the Commission that we have this motion before us today.  Members of the Commission are appointed by the President following the passing of a resolution in each House of the Oireachtas.  This safeguards the independence of the Commission and precludes any Government influence in the appointments process.


The 2014 Act outlines the appointments process, which required the Department of Justice and Equality to engage the Public Appointments Service to carry out the selection of the best available candidates.  The Department consulted with PAS in agreeing the selection criteria and process to be implemented. This process took account of the skills needs identified by the Commission and sought to ensure that the provisions of the 2014 Act were complied with.  The State Boards process is followed in these circumstances with one notable exception as provided for in the legislation.  Instead of providing the Minister with a list of suitable candidates to select from for appointment, in this case the final selection was made by PAS.  PAS appointed a selection panel, with no representative of the Department on either the shortlisting panel or the interview board.  The entire selection process; from the placing of the advertisement on the PAS website to the final selection; was managed independently by PAS.


There was a high level of interest with a total of 149 applications.  Seven candidates were recommended for appointment.  I note that two of the seven selected served a previous term on the Commission.  I doubt there can be any disagreement that the seven candidates recommended by the Public Appointments Service are eminently qualified for the role of Commissioner.  They possess a broad range of skills required by the Commission, an in depth knowledge of matters connected with human rights and equality; and bring a wealth of experience across multiple sectors.


It is important that membership of the Commission is suitably diverse to broadly reflect the nature of Irish society. This is a requirement under the 2014 Act, which also includes a provision to ensure an appropriate gender balance.  These are the types of issues that the Government considered when it accepted the recommendation of the Public Appointments Service to appoint the seven members.


It would be entirely remiss of me not to take this opportunity to pay tribute and express my sincere thanks to the outgoing Commissioners for their hard work, dedication and in particular, for the expertise and knowledge they contributed to the essential work of the Commission in its implementation phase.


It is my privilege today to recommend these candidates to the House for appointment.