Five into One Won’t Go

8 Sep 2008

Equality & Rights Alliance
Protecting equality and rights in Ireland

Over 40 organisations says Government proposal to merge equality and rights agencies would undermine social justice in Ireland

Five into one simply won't go was the message given to government by Equality & Rights Alliance (ERA), a newly formed coalition of over 40 civil society groups at a press conference today.

Instead of undermining equality and rights protections in the name of an ill-thought out cost cutting exercise, Joanna McMinn, Director of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI), urged the Government to concentrate instead on strengthening the promotion and protection of social justice for the country's most vulnerable.

Equality & Rights Alliance formed in response to the Government's proposal to merge the Equality Tribunal, the Equality Authority, the National Disability Authority, the Data Protection Commission and the Irish Human Rights Commission. The total budgets for the five organizations constitute less than 4% of the overall budget for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

"The plan to merge the agencies is unworkable, inappropriate and frankly untenable," McMinn said. "The five organizations are very different in type, function and statutory remit. A merger would not result in savings or simplify the delivery of services to people. In fact, it may well be the case that a larger body doing the same work will cost more and will be more confusing for those seeking to use their services."

"In these changed times, it is fundamentally wrong that children, older people, families, people with disabilities, Travellers, immigrants and low-paid workers, to name just a few, should be the first to lose a vital rights and equality support system. We are asking the Government to continue to strengthen the protection of rights and equality, not diminish them."

Donncha O'Connell said that the proposal was less about cost cutting and more about suppressing organizations which were doing their jobs well.

"One cannot but fear that 'delivery simplification' will really mean a reduction in that which is being delivered," the NUIG Law Lecturer and former Dean said. "In other words, the more awkward enforcement and promotion powers possessed by some of the bodies will become advisory powers of a much more muted kind."

ERA also stressed that the Government's proposal was pre-empting an action plan for public service reform currently being worked on by a special Task Force. The Task Force was appointed by An Taoiseach only last May following a review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The alliance said that, like the OECD, it would prefer the development of a network system which would allow public service agencies to work together efficiently and cost effectively, sharing resources when appropriate. However, simply merging five incompatible groups into one was a far cry from sensible integration.


Take 5 Reasons

1. Conflict of Interest
- The Equality Tribunal is a quasi judicial body which investigates, hears and decides claims of discrimination. The Equality Authority provides assistance to those bringing those claims - a conflict of interest at the least.
- The Data Protection Commissioner actually regulates data kept by the Equality Authority, the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Tribunal.

2. Administrative Headache
- With decentralization, the new merged body could be spread over five locations. Staff may be duplicated. Redundancies and streamlining could result in far more costs to the exchequer.

3. Confusion for the public
- A larger merged body with an unclear mandate would create confusion.

4. Legislative quagmire
- The agencies are underpinned by 10 different pieces of national legislation, four pieces of European Union legislation and one international agreement. Legislation would have to be time-stakingly reviewed to merge the functions of the groups.

5. Ireland Can't Afford Cutbacks in Rights and Equality
- There is already a high level of unmet need. Research shows that only 6% of those who report discrimination make a formal complaint or take legal action. Existing independent agencies need to be strengthened to meet this need.