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Green Party say they saved the EA, Justice Minister ignores it…

April 23rd, 2009 · 4 Comments · Equality, Equality Authority

Amidst the hype on the junior minister resignations/sackings you may have missed a number of other news stories and spats at the Dáil returned from it’s Easter break.

Questions to Justice, Equality and Law Reform Minister Dermot Ahern (he who hogged Questions and Answers on Monday night last..) yesterday in the Dáil continued to focus on the the Equality Authority. Regular readers of the blog will know that this is a subject I return to on a regular basis.

At the Green Party Conference last month party Leader and Minister for the Enviroment John Gormley made a big issue about saving the Authority and I reported on the matter the night of his annoucement and asked a number of questions.

Yesterday members of the Opposition asked about he announcement made by Minister Gormley and if any jobs had actually been moved back to Dublin or stopped from moving to Roscrea. Pat Rabbitte also refers to the length of time it is taking to appoint a new CEO and that the Minister for Justice is looking for a safe person for the job.  (The verbal questions are follow ups to written questions asked late last month by Deputy Aengus O’Snodaigh (SF) where I questioned if the Green Party had been had.)

Charles Flanagan from Fine Gael also asked about the claim that Minister Gormley made to have had the cuts to the Authority’s budget (43%) reversed.  Dermot Ahern does not seem to have answered if his cabinet colleague was correct and was the saviour?

You have a read of the exchanges and see if you can deduce if the coalition partners were let up a garden path. Whilst the Minister says there will be no more staff moved and the budget would be reviewed there are already reviews undertaken which have not been published – possibly because they don’t appeal to the Ministers sensibilities?

72. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Informationhis policy in respect of the Equality Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14376/09]

76. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will confirm that the planned decentralisation of staff of the Equality Authority has been cancelled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14246/09]

99. Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 539 of 24 March 2009, he will confirm the statement (details supplied) that an independent review of the Equality Authority’s budget will be conducted; if so the make-up, form and timeframe of that review; if he will offer a guarantee that the 43% budget cut will be reversed and the extent to which it will be reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14196/09]

110. Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in regard to the speech (details supplied) he will outline those changes to the Equality Authority that have been reversed; the person by whom the review of funding of the Equality Authority will be carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15585/09]

Deputy Dermot Ahern: I propose to take Questions Nos. 72, 76, 99 and 110 together.

I am pleased to indicate that in launching its new strategic plan on 4 April 2009 for the period 2009 to 2011 entitled, Equality for All in a Time of Change, the Equality Authority fully reaffirmed its determination to continue its important work, while fully acknowledging the changed financial circumstances in which all public bodies operate. I extended my support for the policy contained in the strategic plan when I met the authority on the day of the launch of its plan. The plan highlights the positive contribution that an environment free from discrimination can make to competitiveness and economic recovery. The plan obliges the authority to participate actively in initiatives to promote policy for economic development and competitiveness through enhanced diversity and equality.

For the information of the House I can also state that, notwithstanding the general moratorium on the filling of public service vacancies, the recruitment of a new CEO for the authority is going ahead under the auspices of a public competition being organised by the Public Appointments Service. I am advised that there is a considerable level of interest in the post and therefore it will be some weeks yet before a candidate is selected for appointment under the normal statutory procedures.

As I previously indicated to the House, I recently agreed in principle to a request from the chair of the Equality Authority to suspend the transfer of staff from Dublin to Roscrea on the grounds of hardship. I asked my officials to work out the details on a case-by-case basis with the acting chief executive officer of the authority and to review the situation again in 2011 when other aspects of the wider decentralisation programme are due to be reviewed. Pending that review there will be no further increase in the number of staff in the Roscrea office of the authority, which will be 16.

The special group on public service numbers and expenditure programme will undertake an independent analysis of the position relating to the budget, efficiencies and capacity of the Equality Authority to independently and effectively fulfil its statutory functions. There is no predetermined outcome to that review. I expect the group to take the authority’s allocation in 2008 as its starting point given the significant changes that have taken place in the authority in the past 12 months.

Again, as I previously stated in the House, the Government is fully committed to the equality agenda and the ongoing work of the Equality Authority. Since it became fully operational in 1999 more than €45 million has been provided by the State for the activities of the Equality Authority alone. At least another €30 million was provided to other bodies – the Equality Tribunal and the Human Rights Commission – that have been involved in equality related issues in the past six to seven years.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:Will the Minister confirm whether the reply he just gave to the House is official Government policy or is it his policy on the issue? Was his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, telling the truth at the recent Green Party conference in March when he stated he had succeeded in reversing the cuts to the Equality Authority, and that he had succeeded also in halting the decentralisation of the headquarters of the authority to Roscrea in County Tipperary? Is the Green Party now deciding policy in this issue or is the Minister, Deputy Gormley, being less than frank with the truth?

In respect of the Roscrea situation, are we now going to have two Equality Authority offices, the Minister, Deputy Gormley’s rump in Dublin, which he calls the headquarters and the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern’s decentralised offices in Roscrea? This shambles is of the Minister’s making and the sooner it is sorted the better.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: This is not a shambles. It was originally agreed that the majority of the Equality Authority would decentralise to Roscrea and that a core staff would remain in Dublin. The Government made the decision in the context of the tightening budgetary situation last year that we would, in effect, suspend decentralisation for the majority of the projects, especially in those areas where no contracts had been agreed for the construction of buildings.

There were three separate categories. Some were ready to go to contract or contracts were more or less finalised. In the case of others, interim arrangements were in place, such as the Equality Authority, where people had already decentralised to Roscrea and were in situ there – a number of agencies had a dual location. There were others that had not gone to contract and in respect of which people were not in temporary accommodation. The Government decided these would no longer go ahead. With regard to the Equality Authority, there were a number of people in Roscrea and a number in Dublin. There is no difference of opinion between myself and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. The fact is—–

Deputy Charles Flanagan: He said the cuts were reversed and that he had succeeded.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: —–that there are 16 people in Roscrea at present and approximately 19 in Dublin. A number of the latter bilocate. That was part of their contract long before there was any row about the Equality Authority.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, said he had twisted the arm of the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and that the latter had caved in.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: Quite a number of senior personnel – one or two have already purchased houses in Roscrea – are bilocating between the two locations.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Bilocating, God almighty, I cannot get over this. There are now two equality authorities. The Minister tried to destroy the one we had and now has created two. I suppose he will be able to cycle to the one in Dublin but will have to drive to Roscrea. I never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life.

Can I ask my question again? The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, claims the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform reversed the cuts to the budget of the Equality Authority. Is this true or false? When the latter gutted the Equality Authority and drove out the chief executive in an act of vindictiveness, did he reverse his decision?

I note the Minister is to recruit a new CEO. I suppose that will take a while because he will have to be sure this one is safe. If he ever recruits a CEO who is willing to discharge his functions, he will probably want to drive him out again.

Where is the Deloitte audit of effectiveness and value for money in the Equality Authority? Why is the Minister sitting on it and why will he not publish it? Why will he not make it available to us? Will he make it available to an bord snip nua before any decision is made? For how long will the bilocation to which the Minister refers take place? For how long will we have a gutted Equality Authority in Dublin and 16 people located in Roscrea?

Is it any wonder public spending in this country is as it is? It is an unbelievable mess and the Minister and his colleague, Deputy Gormley, have made it worse.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:The issue of having two locations – Roscrea and Dublin – predated any row, any resignation of the—–

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: What row? With whom?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Was it a row with the Green Party?

Deputy Dermot Ahern: —–predated any resignation of the CEO.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Deputy Gormley is a pussycat.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: What I state is absolutely the case; the decision predated the—–


An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Please allow the Minister to reply.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: It was part of the employment contract of a number of people in senior management that they would bilocate between Roscrea and Dublin. That was part of the decision made by the Government when it suspended the decentralisation programme overall. There is absolutely no difference between the Greens and Fianna Fáil in respect of this matter.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, said he had reversed the decision and had succeeded in twisting the arm of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: We have the one commitment in regard to equality and it speaks for itself. Since 1999, we have invested €45 million in the Equality Authority. Deputy Rabbitte spoke about an equality authority when in Government but did nothing about it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Rabbitte to be brief. I want to allow Deputy Ó Snodaigh to ask a final question.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I apologise to Deputy Ó Snodaigh but this is my fourth attempt to obtain a response. Will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform state whether the statement by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the effect that he persuaded him to reverse the cuts in respect of the Equality Authority is true or not?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: That is the net issue.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: The budget for 2009 is the same as was indicated in the last set of Estimates and it amounts to €3.3 million. In the context of the expenditure review, we have asked those involved to examine again the issue of the Equality Authority from the starting point of 2008, which was before any cuts were made for 2009.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Therefore, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was codding us and the members of his party and there is no basis for the remarks members of the Green Party.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Rabbitte to allow Deputy Ó Snodaigh to contribute.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: The decision on whether the authority receives more or less money will be made by the Government in the aftermath of the review.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Is the Minister aware that the Vice President of the European Court of Human Rights recently criticised Ireland for cutting the budget of the Equality Authority so drastically? Last year the Government made great play of presenting a report to the UN Human Rights Committee, of which Judge Elizabeth Palm was a member.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: When I entered office, I made a decision, particularly in the context of a contracting Exchequer position, that all the areas that were not crime-related had to take a significant hit in view of the fact that I wanted to increase the resources for Operation Anvil and for the Criminal Assets Bureau. I did so to retain the number of gardaí because that is my first priority. I regret other areas in the Department must be subject to a significant cut but that is the position given the restricted resources we now have and will have in the years ahead.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, says he is calling the shots on this.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Ministerless Gormley.

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