Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission 'severely restricted' by budget cuts

Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (PA)
Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (PA)

Northern Ireland's human rights watchdog has said its job is being "severely restricted" by repeated budget cuts.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) said its £1.1m annual budget has been almost halved, in real terms, since 2010. 

In addition, its staff number has dropped from 32 in 2009 to 14 at present.

The body, set up under the Good Friday Agreement, is funded by the Northern Ireland Office and provides assistance to individuals taking human rights-based legal challenges, as well as taking its own cases to court.

Speaking to the BBC, the NIHRC's chief commissioner Les Allamby said the organisation has had to deal with eight annual budget cuts.

"Within this budget, we are required to provide a range of public services including taking strategic legal cases, providing advice to government on critical issues such as Brexit, carrying out investigations as well as promotion and education," he said.

"Our ability to take strategic legal cases to challenge human rights violations is severely restricted by our budget."

In its latest annual report, the NIHRC warned that further budget cuts would be required to maintain its current workforce.

One of the body's most recent high-profile cases was a Supreme Court challenge to Northern Ireland's abortion laws, which lasted more than five years and cost £225,000.

In the last financial year, the NIHRC said it received more than 400 public requests for assistance.

Mr Allamby said: "The organisation will continue to take a can-do practical approach to its mandate to protect and promote the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland.

"To do that, we need a decent financial platform. As a statutory public body, we are obliged to live within our means, nonetheless it would be remiss of us as an organisation not to highlight the difficulties we face in fully meeting our mandate."

The Northern Ireland Office said it remained "committed to the ongoing work" of the NIHRC.

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