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The Equality Authority annual report 2011 was launched today which shows that over 8,000 queries were made relating to five pieces of legislation under the remit of the Authority. The report marks the conclusion of the work set out under the Authority’s Strategic Plan for 2009-2011.

During 2011, 156 new case files were opened by the legal section of the Authority and by the end of the year 134 case files were closed, 25 applications for representation were considered and 23 were granted.

The Authority worked alongside the HSE crisis pregnancy on a research project exploring women’s experience in paid work after pregnancy which resulted in three reports published in conjunction with the ESRI. This was the first nationally representative survey on pregnancy at work. The Authority also conducted a study on the incidence and positive impact of equality policies and flexible working.

Additional work by the Authority included the development of equality partnerships with organisations in the public and private sector. The Authority also worked to promote equality mainstreaming within the VEC and Further Education Sector.  

 In her summary, the Chief Executive Renee Dempsey drew attention to the planned merger of the Equality Authority with the Human Rights Commission and said how “it signals a further change for the Equality Authority and, as before, staff will be called upon to show flexibility and adaptability in this changing environment”.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter TD said how “equality and human rights are two sides of the same coin” and “equality cannot be achieved without addressing respecting human rights”. The new Commission “will combine the strengths of both existing organisations. Its functions and powers will take from the best and most effective of those of the two existing organisations and will level them up, to ensure that the new body is stronger and more effective that the sum of its constituent parts”.

The Minister commended the work of the working group, appointed last year to deliver advice on practical issues in relation to the merger. The priority now in relation to the merger is to undertake a review of staffing ends and put together a business case. This will however incur “funding implications which will not be easy for me to deal with in the current fiscal environment” the Minister stressed. He added: “The selection process for new Commissioners will be objective and outside the influence of Government. I am concerned that the new Commission should reflect a wide spectrum of Irish society” an obligation according to the Paris Principles.

The creation of the newly enhanced Human Rights and Equality Commission “is not only important domestically but the merger is also important to the international reputation of our State. We want the new Commission, as Ireland’s designated body for the promotion of equal treatment under EU anti-discrimination law, to build on the strong international reputation established by the Equality Authority. We also want the new Commission to be accredited as a National Human Rights Institution with ‘A’ status, and we are seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council.”

With the mandate of the Authority now at an end, the Minister acknowledged the work of the Authority’s and the Commission’s staff and their “generosity in accepting an extended term to facilitate the transition to the new Commission”. “The last few months may have been a time of some uncertainty and apprehension for you all. I hope that now with the publishing of the Working Group Report and the General Scheme of the Bill we can all look to the future with more confidence.”