Protect the Irish Equality Authority

eqaulityIt is clear that the Irish government is panicking about finances. In the run to save money, the area of equality and anti-racism would be hit hardest. Many of the cuts make sense only if they are viewed as an attempt to save money while also axing independent organisations. Thus we saw the axing of Integrate Ireland Language and Training, spearheaded by the TCD Centre for Language and Communication Studies, teaching English to refugees since 1996. Even though the IILT itself was planning to mainstream its activities, the Department of Education closed it down without consultation. Thus we also hear that the NCCRI may be incorporated into the office of the Minister for Integration and, while I have been a critic of the NCCRI which, I believe, has passed its sell-by date, closing it down points to not taking the equality sector seriously.

But it is the plan to merge the Equality Authority, the Irish Human Rights Commission and the office of the Data Protection Commissioner, which is the most worrying. I am not quite sure what the Irish Human Rights Commission actually does, but I have no such doubts about the Equality Authority. Although attacked by former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and by right wing writers such as Kevin Myers, the Equality Authority is doing a sterling job. A quick glance at its website reveals that during 2007 the EA responded to 10,993 queries. In addition it dealt with 737 case files, 87 related to ageism, 177 to disability, 225 to discrimination against the public sector, 63 dealt with discrimination against Travelers, 68 cases dealt with the race grounds and 65 with the gender grounds, both of which continue to be a significant focus of cases taken under the Employment Equality Act.

Beyond statistics, the Equality Authority has utterly changed the Irish climate where discrimination on gender, race, and age grounds had been par for the course. By merging it and decentralizing it, the government seeks not only to save funds, but also to weaken this crucial agency and the anti racism and equality sector.