On International Day to Eradicate Poverty FLAC seeks removal of anti-Poverty provisions in Budget

17 October 2008

Today, 17th October, marks the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. However, Tuesday's budget represents an assault on Ireland's poor, many of whom are vulnerable to inequality and human rights violations. In the budget, the Government has launched an outright attack on bodies that fight for equality and human rights in Ireland while at the same time claiming to protect the vulnerable. The Government is attempting to extinguish independent and critical voices that act to monitor, highlight and combat poverty and inequality here and this has to be resisted.

The Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission have had their funding utterly slashed. The Equality Authority loses almost half of its funding at 43%, while the Commission has its budget cut by almost a quarter at 24%. The figures themselves show a reduction from €5.89m to €3.3m for the Equality Authority and from €2.09m to €1.59m for the Commission. This is far more severe than the cuts made to other state bodies. Both organisations were already struggling to fulfil their important mandates through lack of adequate funding. Just three months ago the UN Human Rights Committee made a specific recommendation to the Government that it "strengthen the independence and the capacity of the Irish Human Rights Commission to fulfil its mandate fully and endowing it with adequate and sufficient resources...".

The Government has also decided that the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission should share back office and administrative services. While any workable cost savings are welcome, FLAC is concerned about the practical difficulties of such a decision. With the fast-tracking of the Equality Authority's move to Roscrea, Co. Tipperary and the Commission based in Dublin city centre, how will the sharing of back office amenities work in reality? These bodies had been located in prime central locations in Dublin in order to increase their visibility and to facilitate easy-access for vulnerable and marginalised groups who need to avail of the services and expertise. How will members of these groups be assured that the organisations in question will be accessible to them?

The existence of the Equality Authority is required to meet the State's obligations under the EU Racial Equality Directive which stipulates the designation of National Equality Bodies. The dramatic reduction in funding of the Authority raises a question as to whether the state is meeting its obligations. Indeed the attitude of the Government, as evidenced by this budget, to bodies which work to improve the lives of the State's marginalised and vulnerable people calls into question the Government's own commitment to these individuals. The work of such bodies inherently involves criticism of the Government; in a mature democracy where this is for the purpose of improving the plight of the vulnerable, the State should work closely with such bodies rather than effectively silencing them.

With a budget reduction of 30%, the Equality Section of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has also had a percentage cut which is double that of any other area within the Department.

Bodies whose work has a particular resonance in these times of economic turmoil, such as the Combat Poverty Agency and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI), find themselves with very uncertain futures. The Combat Poverty Agency has been subsumed into a Government department while the Government has simply ceased all funding to the NCCRI. Under the remit of the European Fundamental Rights Agency, the NCCRI operates as the national monitoring body for racism and intolerance, an important role in an increasingly multicultural society.

Agencies which would help to address certain causes of poverty such as the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education, the Educational Disadvantage Council and the National Adult Learning Council have all been abolished. Gender mainstreaming and positive action for women as well as the National Women's Strategy have had their funding reduced by 45% while Cosc, the national office for the prevention of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence has had its funding reduced by 18%.

On the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Government has basically shown the country's most marginalised and less well-off that they are off the State's agenda. Today, more than ever, Ireland's poor need the expertise of the equality, human rights and anti-poverty bodies which have been working tirelessly to assist them.

FLAC calls on the Government to review these provisions and to ensure that subsequent legislation does not exclude marginalised people but rather includes positive measures to protect them.




Editors' notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights organisation dedicated to the realisation of equal access to justice for all. It campaigns through advocacy, strategic litigation and authoritative analysis to contribute to the eradication of social and economic exclusion.
  2. The recommendations made by the Human Rights Committee in July 2008 was part of their third periodic examination of Ireland under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in which they made a range of observations and recommendations relating to human rights in Ireland today. This document is UN Document: CCPR/C/IRL/CO/3. The Principles referred to here are the Paris Principles established by General Assembly resolution 48/134 which relate to the status and functioning of national human rights institutions such as Irish Human Rights Commission.
  3. The Irish Government published its Budget proposals for 2009 on Tuesday 14 October 2008.