Belfast Telegraph

Chief set to quit human rights body as cuts hit

By Claire Weir

Northern Ireland’s Chief Human Rights Commissioner is to leave her post a year early.

While Monica McWilliams has admitted that she is unhappy about budget cuts to the service, she added that her primary motivation is ensuring a seamless transition for new appointees to the organisation in 2012.

Ms McWilliams has revealed that she will leave the post next August — along with the current commissioners— rather than the intended date of 2012.

She says this will give the new board and her replacement a chance to settle into their roles at the same time.

Ms McWilliams says she is uneasy about Northern Ireland Office plans for a 25% funding cut at the Commission and a decision to block the group from seeking funding from a US-based charity, Atlantic Philanthropies.

“I am going to leave next year with the rest of the commissioners rather than 2012 which was the original plan,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“In this way I am aiming to protect the Commission.

“I am unhappy that the decision to effectively park a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland has been made.

“We have been told there will be a 25% funding cut and we have also been stopped from seeking external funding from Atlantic Philanthropies.

“All of these things have helped me make the decision to go early. What we need is for the Government not to fetter the independence of this Commission. There will need to be a new Chief Commissioner and a new team, and bringing that about at the same time will be more beneficial.

“I will have been in this role for six years by the time I step down and I have achieved and delievered everything I said that I would.

“I realise that cuts are happening everywhere, in every department, everybody faces cuts, I’ve faced bad times before, but it is the political context, the feeling that very important issues are being kicked into the long grass, which concerns me most.”

The Human Rights Commission was set up in 1999 following the previous year's Good Friday Agreement.

Former Women’s Coalition MLA McWilliams replaced Brice Dickson as its Chief Commissioner in 2005.

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