Minister for Justice & Equality Alan Shatter has rejected claims he will undermine the independence of the proposed Human Rights and Equality Commission with his plan to nominate its director.

Mr Shatter was responding to criticism that the new body will fail to satisfy the United Nations that it is independent.

The minister made his remarks to journalists after launching the final report of the Equality Authority as a separate entity.

Recently he produced the heads of a Bill to merge the Authority with the Irish Human Rights Commission.

The draft legislation provides for the appointment of the current Chief Executive Officer of the Authority, Renee Dempsey, as Director of the new Commission.

However the current President of the Human Rights Commission, Dr Maurice Manning, has responded saying the new Human Rights and Equality Commission will need to have the ability to publicly recruit and appoint its own staff, calling this "a criterion of its independence".

Dr Manning added that the purpose of any National Human Rights Institution is to hold Government to account on its human rights record and that it is not an arm of any Government department.

Meanwhile, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has warned that the international "A" ranking granted to the former Human Rights Commission by a key UN Human Rights Committee will be put in jeopardy unless the new Commission is empowered to appoint its own chief executive after an open and transparent public appointments process.

Mr Shatter rejected claims that he was undermining the new Commission's independence.

He said it is fully accepted that when you are creating a new body, there are reasonable transitional arrangements you can put in place to ensure continuity.

He added that Ms Dempsey was independently appointed to the position of CEO of the Equality Authority.

But the minister also said that he would listen to representations on the draft legislation.

Call for more education on equality legislation

Also speaking at the launch, the outgoing Chairperson of the Equality Authority underlined the need for more education of public and civil servants on equality legislation.

Angela Kerins was commenting on the finding that the Government Departments and State Agencies constitute the largest sector in relation to which legal case-files were processed by the Authority last year, closely followed by the education sector.

She noted that together they are the largest service-providers in the State.

The Annual Report details initiatives already taken by the Authority in the public sector, as well as in other areas of society to enhance awareness of equality issues.

Ms Kerins said alleged discrimination on grounds of disability, gender, age and race gave rise to most of the Authority's legal activity in 2011 and that this reflected previous trends.

Meanwhile, a national charity for older people has said the Equality Authority's report highlights the challenges the Republic faces if it is to become a truly age-friendly society.

Age Action Ireland was commenting on the revelation that age was one of the top three grounds for complaints processed by the Authority last year.

According to the report, the issue prompted a quarter of complaints under the Equal Status Act and 17% of cases under the Employment Equality Act.

Age Action's spokesman Eamon Timmins welcomed the prominence of the topic in the Authority's caseload.

He said that while it continued to be a cause for concern that employers and service providers discriminate on grounds of age, it was encouraging that significant numbers of older people were challenging this behaviour and using the laws that are there to protect them.