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Justice Minister oversees roll back on human rights and equality commitments

16 October, 2008

Speaking from the Dáil this afternoon Sinn Féin Justice, Equality & Human Rights Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD described Budget 2009 as a roll back on previous human rights and equality commitments. Deputy Ó Snodaigh also questioned Justice Minister Dermot Ahern on the government's refusal to legislate for political party fundraising transparency saying "Sinn Féin is the only party to publish its audited accounts on an annual basis. Where are Fianna Fáil's accounts? Why are they afraid to publish them? Who are the people filling the coffers of the Fianna Fáil party? Or should we just look to who benefited most from the budget?"

The Dublin TD said:

"What does the Budget's 'rationalisation of state agencies' mean for equality and human rights? The Equality Authority and Human Rights Commissions' facilities, back office, administrative services and access for citizens are to be fully integrated. This is combined with a budget cut of over €3 million down from €8 million in 2008, which is almost 40%. The impact of these important independent watchdogs will be greatly diluted in the future.

"What did the Human Rights Commission do to deserve such an assault? They put Government complicity with serious human rights abuses under the spotlight. Their recent report on extraordinary rendition and Shannon airport springs to mind. And what will the 43% cut in funding to the Equality Authority mean? The ESRI have demonstrated that just 6% of those who report discrimination make a formal complaint or take legal action. In 2007 the Equality Authority dealt with 737 case files yet it only represented a fraction of those who contacted it for assistance. The 43% cut means that the gap between the high level of need in relation to seeking redress from discrimination and the level of advocacy available will grow even further.

"Gender equality and women's issues are to suffer a cumulative cut of over 100%. Grants to national women's organisations are down 5%, equality proofing is down 30%, the COSC office for domestic, sexual and gender based violence is down 18%, equality monitoring is down 8%, and gender mainstreaming and positive action for women are down 45%. All this at a time when the gender pay differential remains high, women still get sacked for being pregnant, the rate of attrition for sexual offences is unrivalled and domestic violence continues a common occurrence.

"A further Human Rights Budget Victim is to be the Garda Ombudsman Commission. The various reports published this year including the Morris reports and Hartnett report demonstrate the indispensability of an effective and independent mechanism to deal with complaints made against on Garda Síochána. GSOC is vital to the recovery of public confidence in the Gardaí, to the prevention of Garda abuses and to redress where abuse occurs. Currently as a result of inadequate funds GSOC is not capable of delivering its mission. The 5 percent cut to its budget will compound the situation. It has been so under-resourced that proposals have been muted to lease back investigation to the Gardaí themselves. This must not happen. Instead the government should substantially increase funding to GSOC for the good of communities and for the good of the force itself.

"I will turn now to the Justice Minister's speech. Yesterday in the Dail Dermot Ahern, not for the first time, engaged in the worst type of gutter politics and used the privilege of the Dáil to repeat lies published in a Sunday newspaper.

"Can I remind the Minister that Sinn Féin is the only party to publish its audited accounts on an annual basis. It is Sinn Féin that has been calling on the Government to publish legislation to compel political parties to publish their accounts and it is Fianna Fáil who have rejected this.

"Where are Fianna Fáil's accounts? Why are they afraid to publish them? Who are the people filling the coffers of the Fianna Fáil party? Or should we just look to who benefited most from the budget?

"We won't take any lectures from a Minister in a Government that has just condemned the most vulnerable people in our society to pay for its economic incompetence.

"Aside from that nonsense he in fact had precious little to say for himself and his government. He had nothing to say about the implications of the Budget for equality and human rights, implications I have just outlined. Why because he simply cannot defend the indefensible."

"He did say that his "greatest priority is the fight against crime" and that's why he "put the money where it should be". I beg to differ. Crime prevention measures are being cut by a whopping 32%.

"The prisons budget is to remain unnecessarily high. Had the government progressed the long promised Enforcement of Fines Bill then spending on prisons could have been greatly reduced. That Bill could have provided for alternatives to incarceration for the non-payment of fines. Community service orders cost a fraction of their custodial equivalents and have also been proven to more effectively prevent re-offending thereby offering the potential of significant savings. Instead the government dumped that bill off their legislative programme this term and are now cutting the allocation to probation services for offenders by 7% and to the probation service as a whole by 3%. This is a foolish and expensive policy choice. The government have consciously chosen to pursue this costly and ineffective approach to crime with tax payers' money. It's criminal!

"Drugs are at the root of so much crime that any effective approach to crime reduction will ultimately have to place tackling drugs at its centre. Yet in a further testament to this government's failure to prioritise tackling crime the drugs initiatives and young peoples services fund is to be cut by 5%. The National Drugs strategy which concludes this year was unsuccessful because it was under-funded. The upcoming new National Drugs Strategy is now being neutered by this budget before it even sees the light of day." ENDS

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