Thursday, 29 March 2018
Appointment of Members of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission: Motion
We are here today because of the provisions of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. Under section 13 of that Act, there is a requirement that before individuals are appointed to the commission, a resolution of this House be passed supporting those appointments. I and Fianna Fáil will support the resolution put forward by the Minister of State. I agree with him that the individuals identified in the motion who seek to be nominated and appointed to the commission are eminently qualified. I wish them well in respect of the important function they have to play in the commission. Like the Minister of State, I also want to commend the outgoing commissioners on the work they did.
The Minister of State will be aware from the legislation that, as is the case in many areas, appointment to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission involves quite a complicated procedure. Many years ago, Ministers were simply able to appoint people they thought were suitable. We have now reached a stage where the Public Appointments Service, PAS, plays a very significant role in identifying candidates suitable for appointment. The statute before Members has a very complicated structure. It requires the PAS to run a competition that must then identify individuals who are suitable. Then, under the Act, in particular section 13, there is a requirement that the PAS will ensure that the individuals to be nominated have experience and knowledge of matters connected with human rights and issues such as gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation and the other grounds which are identified in our equality legislation as being heads of equality measures to ensure they are complied with.
I welcome the motion being put forward by the Government. I hope the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission adopts a proactive role in terms of trying to ensure human rights and equality in this country are put to the forefront of the political agenda. I hope the commission will seek to make life uncomfortable for Members of this House and other institutions of the State. It is extremely important that an equality commission, in particular, seeks to probe and advance the equality agenda beyond what may be perceived as being comfortable by Members of the House. We need to ensure that we do not get into a situation whereby we tick a box in respect of equality and human rights, say that a commission is in place to deal with that and we are complying with international obligations and that because we have been credited with an A standard, everything is fine. That is not how human rights and equality should progress.
When Mr. Niall Crowley was head of the Equality Authority, he made life very difficult for Governments. That is the role an equality and human rights commission should play. It should make life difficult for the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and me. It should push the boundaries and seek to ensure that equality is not simply a political soundbite, but rather a political objective. While I am on that point, it would be remiss of me not to mention the legislation Fianna Fáil and I have introduced in respect of an amendment to the equality and equal status Acts. We seek to put in another ground of discrimination, namely, discrimination on the grounds of social and economic rights. I would like an equality authority to be able to probe and advance that right. At present, however, it cannot do that because our law does not provide for it.
I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the amendment. A money message should be provided for that legislation. I know the Minister of State is uncomfortable with it. He is perfectly entitled to oppose the amendment and be uncomfortable with it, but if we want to progress and advance equality in areas other than those with which we are comfortable, we will have to ensure we add separate grounds. We do not want equality to be seen as a niche area. We need to ensure that the very many people in this country who face gross inequality every day have somebody fighting for them to ensure that equality measures are advanced rather than simply ignored. It is a responsibility of politicians but I also see it as a responsibility of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
I wish the commission well in the future. I wish the seven new board members or commissioners well and hope they do an excellent job. I hope they will see it as their function to make life uncomfortable for the political institutions in the State and other institutions.