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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 Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis] Government Members will claim that Sinn Féin is not being real about the finances of the State. I propose that those who believe they will build an economy and maintain a society based on cuts to the most vulnerable - the disabled, the elderly, Travellers and single parents - are not being real. They are being lazy and callous. If they are neither of these, then they are weak and apologetic for these grossly unfair and insufficient approaches. Equality is something for which we should all strive. We should oppose inequality across the board. The Minister of State's rhetoric indicates that he will never strive towards equality, given some of his excuses.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien Tonight, we saw the Labour Party's version of equality, that being sharing the same speech two nights in a row so that both speakers might make the same statement.

  I will cite some of the arguments made last night by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and again tonight in the same speech given by the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, for not supporting our Bill. One of the reasons given by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, for the Government not supporting the Bill was that "the Bill proposes that there would be very resource-intensive obligations on the full range of public bodies to prepare and publish equality impact assessments of their work for approval by the Equality Authority". This is an absurd argument and is an argument for not doing anything. This is surprising, given that it is the Labour Party's policy. How are jurisdictions with less resources than Ireland able to conduct budget equality impact assessments when this State cannot because doing so would overburden an already stretched public sector? The North and Scotland can do it, but Ireland refuses to do it. The only reason is that there is no political will on the part of the Labour Party and Fine Gael.

  The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, also stated: "In the Bill to establish the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, which we are working on and hope to publish before too long, we are taking a different approach to ensuring that public bodies place equality and human rights at the heart of what they do." Let us see how this fits in with the Government's proposals.

  Last September, the Taoiseach attended a ceremony to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Irish Human Rights Commission, IHRC. While he was commending the work of the IHRC, he was proposing to merge it with the Equality Authority and to water their powers down. At the time, we published a Bill to oppose the merger because we wanted to safeguard the bodies, one of which - the IHRC - was established as part of the Good Friday Agreement of which the Government is a co-guarantor. In opposition, the Ministers of State, Deputies Kathleen Lynch and Sherlock, opposed any such merger. Now in government, they seem to have rolled over to Fine Gael's demands.

  Last night, the Minister of State also stated:

After attacking some of the Bill's technical drafting issues, she got to the nub of the issue, that being, what would be the point in proceeding with the Bill if, as she believed, it would change nothing. If she believes that the introduction of a budget impact analysis assessment process will achieve nothing, it says more about her than it does about anything else. This is her party's policy. SIPTU, ICTU and a number of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, came out yesterday and today in support of the Bill. Is the Minister of State telling them that the introduction of such analyses will have no positive or progressive effect on society? It beggars belief.

  I also wish to cite two comments made by Deputy Ciarán Lynch last night. He stated:
    Equality is a subjective concept. Someone might come before this House and propose that because of the mortgage difficulties which obtain, everyone should receive a write-down of 30% on his or her mortgage. That would be an equal measure but it would also be subjective because we would be giving a break to people who would not deserve it and we would probably not be giving enough assistance to those who require it. When we discuss equality, we should place it in a subjective context.
This is complete waffle. I do not even know where he gets it. He is obviously confusing the concept of equality with equity. He also stated: "The legislation before the House constitutes another aspect of Sinn Féin's subjectivity when it comes to dealing with prisoners." He may recall that Sinn Féin tabled a Private Members' motion in the Dáil to mark the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement last May. In moving the Government amendment, the Tánaiste, Labour's leader, and the Taoiseach stated during the debate:
        -- the Government, as joint and co-equal guarantors of the agreements, is committed to continuing to:
          -- work to ensure that the agreements are fully implemented.
There is nothing subjective in what we propose. It may have escaped Deputy Ciarán Lynch but the agreements also include political prisoners. Is the Labour Party stating that it refuses to implement the agreements fully?

  Deputy Ciarán Lynch also stated: "If the Bill is an attempt on the part of Sinn Féin to embarrass the Government, then it has missed by a mile." We are not in the business of trying to embarrass the Government. It does a good enough job of that itself.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Hear, hear.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien It does not need help from us. We are concerned with proposing constructive solutions and working with Deputies to try to better the lives of Irish citizens. This Bill is an attempt to do so. Instead of focusing on what Government Members perceive to be drafting issues, why do they not sit down and work with us on its positive aspects and allow it to move on to Committee Stage where we could work together to strengthen it?

As the Ministers of State have criticised the Bill and its drafting, I should point out that it was drafted with the help of some of the legal experts provided and resourced by the Bills Office of the Oireachtas. It is not just us who the Ministers of State are criticising, but also the people working in the Bills Office who helped us to draft this legislation.

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