Announced review of equality law timely and necessary says legal rights NGO FLAC
22 June 2021
FLAC has welcomed the announcement today of a commitment to review Ireland’s Equality legislation. The announcement was made by Roderic O’Gorman TD, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth while delivering the Closing Address at Status Check: 20 Years of the Equal Status Acts, a seminar series organised by FLAC and the Law School at Trinity College Dublin. The Minister stated,
“It is now more than twenty years since the introduction of the Equal Status Act, and in that time Ireland has seen huge societal changes. I’m delighted to be announcing this review of Ireland’s equality legislation today at FLAC’s ‘Status Check: 20 Years of the Equal Status Acts’ conference. For decades, FLAC have been central to ensuring equal access to justice to some of Ireland’s most marginalised communities. I look forward to working with them and other interested parties as we progress this review.”
In welcoming the Minister’s announcement, FLAC Chief Executive, Eilis Barry commented:
‘This announcement is not just timely, in light of the twentieth anniversary of the Equal Status Acts; it is also a vital and appropriate policy response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic highlighted and exacerbated the inequalities in Irish society.
Equality and non-discrimination should have been a driving force of the State’s response to the pandemic, as required by the Public Sector Human Rights and Equality Duty which requires public bodies to have regard to the need to promote equality when carrying out their functions and must be at the heart of our pandemic recovery.’
Throughout June, the Status Check series heard from a diverse range of NGOs, activists, practicing lawyers and leading academics in the field of Equality. While Ireland was once at the forefront of Europe in terms of Equality law, there are now several serious questions about whether the equality code meets our obligations under European and international law, and provides an effective remedy to all those who experience discrimination.
To restore Ireland’s place as leaders in equality and anti-discrimination law, the planned review must address matters like the overly broad exemptions which currently apply to the State under the equality code; public bodies such as An Garda Siochána must be brought explicitly and unambiguously within the prohibition on discrimination and harassment. The minimal obligations on service providers, schools and colleges to accommodate people with disabilities also need to be significantly improved.
FLAC welcomes the commitment to introduce a socio-economic status ground to Ireland’s equality legislation. The protected grounds under equality law must be kept under review to ensure they reflect how discrimination is understood and experienced. The legislation must therefore also allow for complaints in cases of overlapping and intersectional discrimination such as that experienced by, for example, Roma women.
Finally, the review must ensure that all those who experience discrimination have access to an effective remedy. Procedural barriers to making discrimination complaints must be removed, and legal aid must be made available to victims of discrimination. Ultimately, the review should seek to ensure that the Equality framework is robust enough to combat discrimination, redress disadvantage and promote equality in a radically different Ireland to that which existed when the Equal Status Acts were introduced more than two decades ago.
Notes to Editor
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an Irish human rights organisation, which exists to promote equal access to justice. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250). Free legal advice is available from volunteer lawyers through a countrywide network of advice clinics (these clinics are currently conducted over the phone) – more at www.flac.ie/help/. FLAC provides legal representation in a small number of cases in the public interest. FLAC provides legal advice directly to members of both the Roma Community and The Irish Traveller Community via specialist legal clinics. FLAC engages in policy work in areas of law that most impact on disadvantaged groups and including consumer credit, personal debt, and fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid. It operates the public interest law project PILA.
FLAC’s Recommendations for the proposed review of Equality Legislation
FLAC is of the view that the following amendments to the Equal Status Acts are necessary.
- The definition of services in the ESA needs to be amended to explicitly include the functions of the State, in order to ensure that bodies like An Garda Siochána, the Prison service and the Immigration Services are brought within the prohibition on discrimination and harassment.
- The exemptions in section 14 of the Act need to be reviewed and amended to ensure that the State and public bodies are not exempted from the legislation and to ensure compliance with international and EU obligations. A recent High Court judgement has enlarged to a worrying extent the exemptions in the Act that applies to the State
- The discriminatory grounds need to be reviewed. The Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 contains a very useful and workable definition of a disadvantaged socio economic status ground (The 2021 Bill is available at: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2021/6/)
- The legislation also needs to provide protection against intersectional discrimination, the multiple and combined forms of discrimination experienced by marginalized individuals and groups such as Roma women.
- The onus on services providers, educational establishments, and accommodation providers, to make accommodation for people with disabilities, needs to be greatly strengthened, and the exemption which exempts any accommodation which costs more than nominal cost, needs to be amended to ensure compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
- The obligations in section 42 of the 2014 IHREC Act, on public bodies, in carrying out their functions, to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and promote equality and human rights, needs to be strengthened.
- There needs to be legal aid available in discrimination claims under the Equality legislation as has been recommended by the UN CERD committee.
- The provisions of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 which transfer the jurisdiction for certain discrimination complaints against licensed premises to the District Court must be repealed.
- The procedural barriers which require a potential claimant to write to a potential respondent within two months of the act of discrimination, needs to be repealed
Status Check: 20 Years of the Equal Status Acts
Previous Seminar Sessions
FLAC Seminar Series in Association with the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin were held at lunchtime weekly throughout June. For full programme and further information visit https://www.flac.ie/news/2021/05/12/status-check-20-years-of-the-equal-status-acts-fla/
Session 1: Examining the Effectiveness of the Equal Status Acts
- Chair: David Fennelly (TCD and Law Library)
- Prof. Judy Walsh (UCD)
- Sinéad Lucey (FLAC Managing Solicitor)
Available on our YouTube page here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsR4Y9coTic&ab_channel=flacireland
Session 2: Socio-Economic Status and Equality Law
- Chair: Dr Fiona Donson
- Paul McKeon (Inner City Activist, speaking from lived experience)
- Tamás Kádár (Equinet)
- Siobhán Phelan SC (Law Library)
Recording available here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KawIHWn697w&ab_channel=flacireland
Session 3: 16 June 2021 Ireland’s Evolving Equality Architecture
- Sinéad Gibney (Chief Commissioner, IHREC)
- Niall Crowley (former CEO of the Equality Authority)
- Eilis Barry (FLAC Chief Executive)
Recording available here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvoFsYNyKv8&feature=emb_title&ab_channel=flacireland