Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gormley Fails to Persuade Ahern to Restore the budget of The Equality Authority

It is clear that the coalition comprising this Government has distinct elements. Fianna Fail are the untuned diesel engine. The Green Party provide the heating, air conditioning and catalytic coversion. The Progressive Democrats are the timing chain that sundered at 30,000 kilometres following one hand-brake jerk too many by Michael McDowell. Jackie Healy Rae and Lowry are synthetic floor mats inside the vehicle.

The Equality Authority was one of the first casualties of public spending reductions when Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform cut the Authority's 2009 budget by 43% from €5.89 million to €3.33 million. The former chief executive, Niall Crowley, subsequently resigned but is to be replaced, despite the ban on pulic service recruitment.

John Gormley TD, Leader of the Green Party, at its recent annual conference, categorically stated that these cuts would be reversed but Minister Ahern confirmed today, April 22, this will not happen.

I find myself having little sympathy for the Authority. An award was made of €3,500 was made earlier this year to a former pupil of Dunmore Community School in Galway on grounds of gender discrimination. This arose from a 2004 dispute between the recipient of the award and the school authorities concerning the length of his hair. The person concerned was a Leaving Certificate pupil at Dunmore and sat the examination at another centre.

It was also reported that a €1,000 award was made in relation to a similar dispute at another school. Both awards are payable by the Department of Education and Science on behalf of the taxpayer.

I found it utterly incredulous that the State should have any involvement whatsoever in disputes of this nature and the thought of taxpayers money being awarded frankly appalled me. The Minister reported that €45 million in public funds has been committed to this Authority since it was established in 1999. It has clearly lost its credibility with the Minister and at least some sections of public opinion so it I am not surprised that this is the outcome and that the resources that it had hitherto enjoyed will be used for policing.

The expenditue of the Department of Justice Equality & Law Reform was €2.59 million in 2008 having increased by 51% since 2003. It is forecast to be reduced to €2.4 billion this year. Savings at The Equality Authority less than 2% of the projected savings. The marginal difference is minute but the political hiatus is deep. The Minister's has taken a bead at the Authority despite his generous comments about the recently published document Equality for All in a Time of Change.

The prosposed decentralisation of The Equality Authority is on hold although there are 16 staff already located there and a further 19 are based in Dublin. This will threaten the viability of the outlet that Birkenstock were rumoured to be planning for Roscrea.

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