Ireland’s independent human rights watchdog, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), has indicated that “tough new criteria” will be applied to determine whether the new Human Rights and Equality Commission (HREC) lives up to international best practice.
The ICCL was responding to the publication of the Report of the Working Group on the new Human Rights and Equality Commission.
The report echoes a number of recommendations made by the ICCL in its November 2011 submission to the Working Group. These include recommendations that the new body:
• Fully uphold the UN’s ‘Paris Principles’ on National Human Rights Institutions
• Report directly to the Oireachtas, as opposed to the Department of Justice, on which it relies for funding
• Preserve, not reduce, the existing functions of the Human Rights Commission and Equality Authority
The ICCL has also welcomed the report’s recommendations that commissioners, staff and management should be appointed through an open, transparent and merit-based process, and that funding should be ‘ring-fenced’ to ensure the new body can carry out its functions effectively. Other positive recommendations in the report include the proposal that there be a general duty on public bodies with regard to equality and human rights.
However, the report remains ambiguous on the precise legal functions of the new body’s equality arm, particularly with regard to Equal Status cases. The report states that the functions of the Equality Authority in relation to Equality Tribunal cases will continue under the new body, including once the Equality Tribunal is subsumed into the new Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). However, the report fails to acknowledge that this only applies to Employment Equality cases, and not to the Tribunal’s other function – complaints under the Equal Status Act. The ICCL trusts that this issue will be clarified swiftly.
According to ICCL Director Mr Mark Kelly:
“We welcome the positive spirit of the report. However, this new entity will require accreditation by the International Co-ordinating Committee (ICC) of National Human Rights Commissions (NHRIs). Tough new criteria have been identified by the ICC’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation regarding the standard that NHRIs should meet and the ICCL intends to play an active role in that accreditation process to ensure that the new HREC will meet best international standards in substance, not just in form.”