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Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe] This approach would ensure that all Departments and public bodies, when introducing new policy or budget measures, would complete equality impact assessment schemes and consultation on a statutory compulsory basis. The Bill would ensure the Government and public bodies exercised their functions in a way designed to reduce inequality and create the conditions for a more inclusive society. Who could be opposed to this? It should be a key priority of the Government at all levels.

Everyone is aware of the economic crisis we are going through. It is affecting families and individuals in every village and town in Ireland, but it affects some groups more than others. Some in the vulnerable groups I mentioned earlier are overwhelmed. The Government talks the talk of getting Ireland’s finances back on track, on improving our international standing and increasing trade, but we must ask, for whom? In the meantime the Government is going after the unemployed, single parents, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the youth and those with special needs. Have those at the very top, the high income earners, the wealthy and the speculators felt the pinch? Do they shoulder their fair share of the weight? This has led to a significant rise in inequality and poverty in the State. Figures show the gap between the richest and poorest in Ireland increased by 25% in 2010, with the top 20% earning 5.5 times the income of those in the lowest 20%.

The percentage of people in Ireland living in consistent poverty increased in 2010, as did the percentage of children at risk of poverty which stands at 19.5%. I see this in my constituency of Dublin South-West. Large parts of my constituency have unemployment rates of more than 40% and the Government has no magic wand. Yesterday in the Dáil I raised the case of two constituents with life threatening illnesses who have been waiting for more than three years for housing adaptation grants. These simple grants would not cure them of these terrible illnesses, but they would massively improve their lives and the lives of their families. These people are not looking for millions, but for small amounts which would transform their quality of life. Under the Bill their rights would be supported.

It is time the Government woke up to the needs of the Irish people. The average family and household in Ireland is drowning in debt yet every budget takes more and more from their disposable income. Families the length and breadth of the State deserve better. They deserve equality budgeting and it is time the Government started serving the needs of the majority of our citizens.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Yesterday I listened to Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn opening the debate. In the course of his speech I received a text from someone in my office telling me to ask Deputy Emmet Stagg and other Labour Party Deputies whether they support the Bill. Unknown to me the person who sent the text had read the Labour Party's policy. I replied that I would ask. I listened to the arguments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and I was not impressed. I am impressed at Fine Gael's ability to put Labour Party Ministers and Minsters of State on the front line for contentious issues such as this. Yesterday it was Deputy Kathleen Lynch and today it is Deputy Seán Sherlock.

Essentially the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, said we cannot afford equality. From a Fine Gael Minister this would have been understandable because Fine Gael does not believe in equality, but the Labour Party’s stated policy is for equality proofing. By opposing this equality-proofing Bill Labour Party Deputies will vote against their party’s policy position. What is the value of the Labour Party in government if its only role is to bolster the conservative economic and social politics of Fine Gael?

As Deputy Pearse Doherty stated, the Labour Party’s founding father James Connolly is accepted as the principal author of that part of the Proclamation which guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities and the section which commits to cherish all the children of the nation equally. The fact is equality does not exist in this society. It is a republic in name only and the policies of the Government and of successive Governments have contributed directly to a growing inequality, particularly between the rich and the poor.

I am an Irish republican. I believe in a republican system of governance. I believe in a real republic in which the people are sovereign and equal and have all–encompassing rights, including economic rights, the right to a home, job and education, to a health service from the cradle to the grave, to a safe and clean environment and to civil and religious liberties. This is what republicanism and genuine democracy are about. They are about embedding equality into the daily life and experience of citizens. The imposition of equality duties and equality-proofing Government policies and budgets and public bodies through impact assessments are a means of achieving this and of dictating outcomes. Without this, equality will remain little more than a pipe dream.

It is a fact that inequality is all around us in this part of the island. It famously exists also in the North, but there it has the added dimension of generational, sectarian and political discrimination. Interestingly, the other parties here reference the continued existence of inequalities in the North as a pretext for attacking Sinn Féin. There is no logic, truth or rationale to this position. They quote poverty levels in west Belfast to justify their own position. They refuse to acknowledge the citizens of west Belfast, in common with other communities throughout the North, are tackling these issues on a daily basis and succeeding against the odds. It is because these citizens took a stand – they would be waiting a long time for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Labour Party to help them – that generational and political discrimination are being tackled. In the Six Counties there are now equality protocols and equality-proofing of government policies, budgets and public bodies. If this is good enough for the North why cannot citizens in this part of Ireland have these rights?

Equality is cited 21 times in the Good Friday Agreement, including in the pledge of office for Ministers. The Government is co-author and guarantor of this Agreement. A complete section is given over to equality protocols, and legislation is designed to ensure equality in employment. We all live in a post-Good Friday Agreement Ireland. This is very obvious in the North but not so obvious here. It is catch-up time in this State and legislating for equality here must be a key part of this. This should include the charter of rights to which the Irish Government signed up 15 years ago.

Active discrimination against the Traveller community is totally and absolutely unacceptable. Apart from being ethically wrong, no person or community should be treated as second class or non-citizens. Equally is good and inequality is bad for society. Inequality is expensive and uneconomic. Sinn Féin’s equality legislation is about achieving a more equal and prosperous society, which is in everyone's interests.

If we consider the programme and record of the Government the need for this approach is obvious. The ESRI found the budget for 2012 had a disproportionate impact on the least well-off in society and this was repeated in the budget for 2013. Every day we see the removal of citizens rights and the reinforcement of privilege for the elites in society. Our Bill would require an equality impact assessment to prevent the implementation of unfair policies, which is why the Government opposes the Bill.

We also need equality for the Irish language and for rural Ireland.


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