What Would Extreme Budget Cuts Mean for the Irish Human Rights Commission?
The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC), set up in 2000 (Human Rights Commission Act 2000) as a result of Chapter 6 of the Belfast Agreement is an independent body, funded by the state, that has a broad function to promote and help to protect human rights in Ireland. Human rights, in this respect, is defined as rights contained in the Constitution, in legislation (such as the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003) and under other international treaties to which Ireland is a party. The vulnerability of the IHRC to budgetary cut-backs has also been much in the news in recent months. As the countdown to Budget 2009 begins to begin it is perhaps worth contemplating what impact budget cuts may have on the IHRC’s capacity to carry out its roles.
This must, of course, begin with an acknowledgment that there are likely to be areas in which rationalisation and budget cuts are necessary. That is a given for effectively all organisations that are publicly funded at the moment. However it is one thing to expect rationalisation in terms of costs such as printing, photocopying, storage etc… and another when it comes to cutting that organisation’s budget to the degree that it is so resource-poor as to be unable to carry out its functions. Many of the IHRC’s functions involve procuring expensive services. In the main, we are referring here to legal services. Legal costs will arise in two of the most important areas of the Commission’s work: commentary on proposed legislation (for which lawyers are regularly hired to write advice) and intervention as amicus curiae in cases concerning human rights issues in Ireland.
If the IHRC is unable to carry out these two functions because of a lack of funds, then its capacity to influence the legislative process to try to make sure the Oireachtas avoids enacting laws that are not compliant with Ireland’s domestic and international human rights law obligations and its capacity to bring all relevant human rights law to the attention of a court in its position as amicus will be greatly reduced.
Creating and cultivating rights-compliant legislative and judicial cultures is vital if we are to continue to move towards full respect of individual rights in Ireland. The IHRC plays an important role in that process. Unreasonable reductions in government budget allocation to the IHRC would seriously jeopardise its effectiveness and, if imposed, will call into question this government’s commitment to the effective protection and promotion of human rights in Ireland.