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Niall Crowley has resigned as chief executive of the Equality Authority in response to an act of political revenge. He was a rare public official who stood up to ministers and senior civil servants. His resignation is also a very rare act of courage in Ireland and highlights the contrast between the finger-wagging impotence of Irish financial regulators during the boom and a public official who was prepared to put his job on the line.
Niall Crowley, is a son of former AIB Bank chairman Niall Crowley and grandson of Vincent Crowley, who was a founding partner in 1919, of Kennedy Crowley Chartered Accountants, that later became Stokes, Kennedy Crowley and is now trading as KPMG.
The Equality Authority was set up in 1999 to eliminate discrimination and promote equal opportunities under the 1998 Employment Equality Act and the 2000 Equal Status Act. The acts prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, services, accommodation, facilities and schools on nine grounds of age, gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community.
The 2009 Equality Authority budget was cut by 43% and in the ministerial lucky dip of the gombeen public staff decentralisation "plan," in late 2003, the then Minister for Defence Michael Smith, had termed the planned move of 500 jobs to Tipperary, including the Equality Authority to Roscrea - - in Smith's political constituency - - as "one of the best days ever for the county." However, specialist Equality Authority staff, were not prepared to move and together with the biggest public sector budget cut, Crowley took an honourable course and resigned.
Crowley's resignation follows a meeting last Wednesday, which he had with the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and his officials, at which a proposal from the board that would have involved a 32% cut in funding, while allowing the authority to continue to function on a minimal basis, was rejected.
Ahern and his 34 ministerial colleagues with several hundred constituency helpers, political advisers, spin masters and drivers on the public payroll, together with their own costs, have made no cuts to their own budgets other than a 10% pay cut - - which merely negates the fraudulent benchmarking increase. In a State that for long paid lip service to republican principles, minority rights are an easy target and the opportunity to cut down an inconvenient public voice has been taken in the guise of prudent budgeting.
In his letter of resignation Niall Crowley accused Ahern of "victimising" the authority for"doing well what it was established to do".
He said the "only credible explanation" for the treatment of the authority was that some of its case work, "particularly in relation to allegations of discrimination in the public sector, has been experienced as a threat by senior civil servants".
Crowley described as "simply not credible" the Minister's rationale for the cuts on the basis that he was prioritising crime.
He said that the cuts to the authority's budget were in stark contrast to the 2% cut in the Disability Authority's budget, the 1% cut in the Legal Aid Board's funds, and the 9% cut in the Data Protection Commissioner's funds. None of these bodies were engaged in fighting crime.
Contrast the courage of Niall Crowley, with that of financial regulators who had three or more decades of tugging the forelock to politicians in the Department of Finance. A serious financial crisis was necessary for them to find some back teeth but the damage was already done.It of course risks personal sacrifice to challenge authority and too many in the public and private sectors opt to go with the flow and the potential for political patronage.
2 Clonmel Street
11th December 2008
It is with deep regret that I am writing to tender my resignation as Chief Executive Officer of the Equality Authority. I have been forced into this action by the manner in which I believe the Equality Authority has been rendered unviable by the decision of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to cut its funding by 43% and to continue decentralisation of its staff. My position as Chief Executive Officer has become untenable as a result.
It has been a privilege to work for the past ten years in the Equality Authority. I have appreciated the opportunity to be part of an organisation that has been able to respond so effectively to a broad range of people who find their participation, progress and well being diminished by discrimination. It has been inspiring to play a role in an organisation that has been so committed to and expert in developing a support infrastructure for policy makers, employers and service providers to better promote equality, value diversity and combat discrimination.
The work of the Equality Authority has been fatally compromised by the strategy of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the Government's budget. Staff turnover, due to continued decentralisation where the current Equality Authority staff are not in a position to move to Roscrea; staff reduction of the scale required to meet the reduced pay budget now being made available to the Equality Authority; and the limited financial resources to fund the developmental, legal and information work of the Equality Authority mean that the Equality Authority cannot operate to even a minimal level. The loss of staff expertise and skills consequent to the foregoing further undermines the ability of the Equality Authority to operate to necessary standards in carrying out its work.
The rationale given by Minister Dermot Ahern T.D. for the Department's strategy is simply not credible. It is not credible to explain the 43% cutback in funding for the Equality Authority on the basis that the Minister seeks to prioritise combating crime. The budget cutback of the Equality Authority stands in stark contrast to that of organisations such as the National Disability Authority (a 2% cutback), the Legal Aid Board (a 1% cutback), or the Data Protection Commissioner (a 9% cutback) none of which play a role in combating crime. It further strains credulity when the Minister suggests that this cutback can be offset by reduced rental costs for the Equality Authority - a possible €200,000 saving on rental does not resolve the cutback of nearly €2,500,000 being made to the overall funding of the Equality Authority.
The only credible explanation I can see for what has been done to the Equality Authority appears to be that the casework strategy implemented by it, particularly in relation to allegations of discrimination in the public sector, has been experienced as a threat by senior civil servants and/or Government. It would further appear that the independent voice of the Equality Authority has had to be silenced for becoming an awkward witness to the inequality and discrimination in our society. The Equality Authority is being victimised for doing well what it was established to do.
It is required under European Union Equal Treatment Directives that Member States establish a specialised equality body to provide independent assistance to victims of discrimination, to conduct independent surveys of discrimination, and to publish independent reports relating to discrimination. The Equality Authority has been acknowledged across the European Union as an exemplary model in this regard. Ireland is now in danger of moving from being a European leader in this area to being in breach of the Equal Treatment Directives for lack of a specialised equality body that is able to effectively and independently carry out these functions.
At yesterday's meeting the refusal by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to countenance the very limited proposals for viability put forward by the Board of the Equality Authority was most disappointing. The Equality Authority merely sought flexibility to delay the staff decentralisation now required and sought further funds of €700,000 which would have meant accepting a 32% cut in funding. This would have enabled the Equality Authority to operate at the most minimal level.
This response by the Minister was the final factor in reaching my decision. I cannot stand by and pretend that the Equality Authority is viable in these circumstances. I hope that my resignation might encourage a review of what is being done to the Equality Authority so that this important institution can be retained in a viable format and can continue to make an effective and independent contribution to a better and more equal Ireland.