Posts Tagged ‘Equality Authority’

Thornton on Budget 2010: Human Rights and Equality Infrastructure

December 10, 2009 2 comments

With the massive cuts in Budget 2009 for the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority, both bodies have maintained their much reduced budgets for 2010. The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman has also maintained its 2009 Budget.

Danielle and Fergal have discussed the impact of the budget on children’s rights here, while Vicky has commented upon the increases and cutbacks in the criminal legal aid scheme and criminal justice here. Eilonoir has noted the increases and cutbacks for those with disabilities here.

I will concentrate on the other areas within the broad human rights and equality infrastructure in this post. Read more…

The Equality and Rights Alliance and the Promise of a Counter-Discourse

November 25, 2009 6 comments

This post builds on a brief exchange with Padraig at the foot of this post, which reported on a speech by Colm Ó Cinnéide at the Equality and Rights Alliance ‘Fairer Ireland’ conference, which took place yesterday. An important report was launched at yesterday’s conference. Entitled Downgrading Equality and Human Rights: Assessing the Impact it focuses on two key issues. First, it outlines the impact of reductions in funding on the work of the IHRC and the Equality Authority. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it outlines fundamental structural deficiencies in the relationships between the human rights watchdogs and government departments which fatally undermine their independence.

The principal conclusions of the report are that:

• The independence of both bodies has been breached. The main points were identified as the behind-closed-doors system of selection and appointment, accountability to government ministers and departments rather than Parliament, civil service staffing and lack of financial insulation of budget from the caprice of government ministers.
• The budget cuts appear to have had a significant impact on the work of the Irish Human Rights Commission and an unquantifiable impact on the work of the Equality Authority. Indicators are presented that enable these issues to be tracked in a number of ways at several levels.
• The design of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority, taken together, does not reach a modern interpretation of the full application of the Paris principles nor the ECRI recommendations, nor in the case of Equality Authority, the 2000 Race Directive.

The report does highlight some deficiencies in the IHRC and EA’s  operations prior to the recent budget cuts. Nevertheless, it is evident that neither organisation can improve – indeed the report doubts whether the IHRC can continue to function – on their current shoe-string budgets.

Joanna McMinn’s foreword to the report  outlines the task which the ERA has now set itself:

These are grim times for equality and human rights in Ireland. In October last year budgetary cuts were introduced that have reduced The Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission to sha-dows of what they were, and should be, in this recessionary period of growing economic and social inequalities.

The upheaval of autumn 2008 also marked a critical fracture in the development of Irish social policy. Given the scale of the cuts made, it is now widely acknowledged that motives really lie in political choices to reconfigure institutions of the state to reduce the values of equality, rights and solidarity rather than solely economic imperatives and value for money.

Equality & Rights Alliance (ERA) formed in order to resist this deliberate and politically motivated targeting of the Irish equality and human rights institutions. The Alliance has subsequently developed its role, positioning itself as an independent and critical voice for the reinstatement and strengthening of the equality and human rights infrastructure in Ireland. We believe that equality and human rights must be central to Ireland’s recovery and rebuilding, not something that can be discarded when it is an irritant or inconvenient.

Read more…

Downgrading Equality and Human Rights: Assessing the Impact

November 24, 2009 1 comment

The Equality and Rights Alliance conference, A Fairer Ireland: Equality and Rights at the Heart of Recovery took place today in Dublin. At the conference, the ERA launched its report Downgrading Equality and Human Rights. This is a really thorough and informative report. The executive summary is available here at Irish Left Review.


The Supreme Court, Equality, Golfing and ‘Need’

November 3, 2009 6 comments

UPDATE: The full text of the judgment (4 opinions) is now available here. (h/t Vicky Conway)

The Irish Times reports today that  the Supreme Court has held that Portmarnock Golf Club is not a “discriminating” club under the Equal Status Act. Women are permitted to play at Portmarnock but may not become full members. By a majority of three to two, the Supreme Court upheld a 2005 High Court decision (Equality Authority v. Portmarnock Golf Club & Ors [2005] IEHC 235 (10 June 2005) that the club, while refusing to admit women as members, is not a “discriminating” club under the Act because it fell within exemption provisions in Section 9 of the Act. Section 9 provides that a club “shall not be considered to be a discriminating club…if its principal purpose is to cater only for the needs of persons of a particular gender..\[or] it refuses membership to other members”. There is an account of some of the argument in the Supreme Court here. The Times reports quotes from the judgments of Denham and Hardiman JJ (pictured at left)

The authority argued the club is a discriminatory club under the Act on grounds its “principal purpose” is to play golf, not to cater only for the “needs” of men. The club contended its principal purpose was to cater only for the golfing needs of men.

In his judgment allowing the appeal, Mr Justice Hardiman said the club argued it was a gentlemen’s golf club, a golf club for gentlemen. The authority said that could not be so within Section 9 because, in the authority’s view, the club provided facilities for the game of golf which was not a “need” of men.

The ordinary, natural and literal meaning of the word “needs” is that set out in the Oxford English Dictionary and it was broad enough to embrace social, cultural and sporting needs as well as more basic needs for things such as air, food and water, the judge said.

In his view, the authority’s construction of the term needs was “a narrow, outdated and unnatural one”.

Dissenting, Ms Justice Denham said she was of the view the principal purpose of Portmarnock golf club was golf and that it catered for the needs of men and women, not just men.

A spokesman for the Equality Authority said the authority welcomed the fact that the Supreme Court had now clarified the law and said the Oireachtas could now examine whether or not the Equal Status Act needed to be amended. Joanna McMinn of the Equality Rights Alliance said the law needed to be changed and the decision was a bad day for equality and a bad day for women. Commentaryto follow when the judgment is published in full. Back at the time of the High Court decision, the Equality Authority were closer to the mark:

The Judgement maintains an unsatisfactory status quo. A significant institution in our society can continue to exclude women from membership. It can continue to set a standard that runs counter to any aspirations we might have as a society for greater equality between women and men. This is unsatisfactory in a context of significant and persistent inequalities experienced by women in a broad range of sectors. We still hope that Portmarnock might consider their options and change their membership rules so as to establish a new and more acceptable standard in regard to gender equality

Update 2:

  • Mr. Justice Geoghegan latched on to one of the stranger aspects of this body of law. “He described as “extraordinary” the fact, where a club is found to be discriminatory, the only sanction that may be imposed on it under the Act is withdrawal of its drinks licence (if it has one). If it chose to lose its licence, a club could continue to forever discriminate without penalty… This “tiptoeing” by the drafters had created real problems of interpretation of the Act.” The link also covers Mr. Justice Hardiman’s sharp criticisms of the Equality Authority.

Update 3:

Lots of coverage in Wednesday’s papers:

  • Carol Coulter in the Irish Times says that ‘the unmentioned elephant in the court-room was the undefined, but undoubted, social and business advantages conferred by membership of a historically exclusive club, whose exclusivity was maintained by yesterday’s judgment.’ The Equality and Rights Alliance make the same point.
  • The members of Portmarnock golf club talk about ordinariness and common sense here
  • The Times also gives a summary of the dissenting judgments here while the Examiner has a pithy quote from Denham J. : “Portmarnock Golf Club is exactly what its name says – a golf club in Portmarnock,” she said.

Equality and Human Rights on the Political Agenda

October 5, 2009 2 comments

Now that the referendum to amend the Constitution in respect of the Lisbon Treaty has been passed by a 2/3 majority, domestic political attention can finally be focused elsewhere. Top of the agenda this week is surely the process of renegotiation of the Programme for Government between the Green Party and Fianna Fáil with a document submitted from Mary Harney who, of course, is now party-less following the demise of the Progressive Democrats. The Green Party has made it clear that equality and human rights and, particularly, securing budgets for organisations committed thereto is within their agenda for this week’s talks.

There is little doubt but that this process is being driven by the Green Party whose leader, John Gormley, has said that unless the revised programme for government is passed by a 2/3 majority of the Green Party at conference next weekend the party will be obliged to pull out of government, thereby most likely triggering a general election. (For commentary see this piece in the Sunday Tribune) Read more…