Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

IHRC merger 'risks independence'

Dr Maurice Manning says the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission must be independent of the state

Government plans for the merger of human rights and equality commissions could risk the new body losing its independence from the state, it has been warned.

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has called for revised proposals on how people are appointed to the board of the reformed organisation, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).

Part of the IHREC's job is to hold the Government to account, but IHRC president Dr Maurice Manning said that would not be possible if it is not completely free from state control.

"The procedure for appointment of the board needs some revision to meet the required standards for openness, consultation, transparency and independence," said Dr Manning.

The existing draft legislation requires a select committee nominated by the Government to appoint the new board.

Dr Manning said once established, it will also be vital for the body to appoint its own staff, without political interference.

Dr Manning said he is also concerned that when the two commissions join forces they may be moved into a Government building which, considering its job is to hold the state to account, would seriously risk its independence.

He pointed out that international standards for national human rights institutions demand they have control over all human resources, budgeting, spending, authorisation and drafting of financial controls to ensure their independence.

However, he welcomed the fact the IHREC would be accountable to the Oireachtas as opposed to the Department of Justice.

"An ongoing connection to one Government department risks both the actual and perceived independence of the new body and has had a negative impact on the functioning of both the IHRC and the Equality Authority in the past," said Dr Manning. "As much of our scrutiny concerns the work of departments in general and the remit of the Department of Justice in particular, there will always be conflict or potential conflict if the situation remains as is."

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