Cuts decimating services, equality groups complain
THE Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and Equality Authority have complained that cuts in funding and staff have forced them into providing drastically reduced services.
The bosses at the agencies – which are in the process of being merged – were speaking at the launch of their 2012 annual reports, also attended by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
Despite being strapped for cash, the agencies' reports outline how they were involved in some high-profile cases in 2012 including the case of a Sikh garda recruit who was not allowed to wear a turban, and multiple sclerosis sufferer Marie Fleming's challenge to the law banning assisted suicide.
Equality Authority chief executive Renee Dempsey said staffing in its legal services section was "seriously reduced" and that 41 cases were opened during 2012 and 91 cases were closed. That is down from 156 new cases opened and 134 cases closed in 2011.
She said the reduction in the number of cases handled reflected "the resources and capacity of the legal section during the year, in particular where we had only one solicitor for a large part of the period".
Meanwhile Des Hogan, acting chief executive of the IHRC, said staffing levels there were "strained". The commission's annual report notes that it has seen a 39pc reduction in funding since 2008, receiving a grant of €1.4m last year.
Mr Shatter said that he has been a "vocal critic" of the cuts imposed on both agencies and said: "Funding and staffing levels need to be restored to a level which will allow the new commission operate in an efficient and effective manner."
He said his department was in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to reach an agreement on the matter. Mr Shatter said it was "essential" that the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission "receives adequate resources to recruit essential staff to enable it to properly fulfil its mandate even in these difficult times".
Disability was cited most often as grounds of discrimination regarding employment and equal status acts to the Equality Authority in 2012, with a combined 548 queries.
The authority notes that it was involved in the case of a Sikh member of the Garda Reserve, Ravider Singh Oberoi, who made a complaint under the Equality Act that he was not allowed wear a turban as part of his uniform. The High Court ruled in favour of the Garda Siochana which had argued that as a reservist Mr Singh Oberoi was not an employee and thus not subject to the act.
In another case an equality officer decided against a woman who complained that she was rejected for a job in the Department of Justice on four occasions due to race, age, gender and marital status. One of the woman's claims was that she was discriminated against due to her Canadian accent, "which she contends some Irish people find irritating". The decision is being appealed.