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 Header Item Equality Issues (Continued)
 Header Item Traveller Community Issues
 Header Item Penalty Point System

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter] Before turning to the specific question raised by the Deputy, I wish to make a number of points which are important. The functions of the new Irish human rights and equality commission will involve a levelling upwards rather than downwards of the functions of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission. The purpose of the merger is to strengthen protection of human rights and equality in Ireland. Likewise, reform of the workplace relations institutions aims to deliver a world class workplace relations service and framework, incorporating all functions of the Equality Tribunal, which will serve the needs of employers, employees and consumers and provide maximum value for money. I fully support this reform. The Deputy will be aware that these two initiatives are being undertaken as part of the radical streamlining of State bodies, a key deliverable of the public service reform plan.

In the context of the workplace relations service, the Deputy will also be aware that this provision and the establishment of the service come within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The Equality Authority remains in place and procedures will remain the same until such time as the new body has been put in place. The new body, in respect of which I hope to publish the legislation as early as possible in the new year, will provide all of the backup currently provided by the Equality Authority for individuals who have a complaint in the equality area. The change being brought about means that instead of these issues being dealt with by the Equality Tribunal, they will be dealt with by the workplace relations service, which is important because on occasion a dispute or allegation in the labour law area can end up before two forums, namely, the Equality Authority and Employment Appeals Tribunal. The intention is to provide for synergy and a greater focus in this area, which will ensure that where more than one issue arises from an individual's employment, the matter can be dealt with by one body. In the equality area the backup and assistance currently provided by the Equality Authority will continue to be available under the aegis of the new body.

Traveller Community Issues

 57. Deputy Dessie Ellis Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his plans to introduce legislation to recognise Traveller ethnicity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54485/12]

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I have no immediate plans to introduce such legislation, although, as I have indicated in the past, serious consideration is being given to the issue. I am aware of the long-standing wish of many Travellers that such status be granted, but there are some divergent views. I am also aware that the previous Government was of the view that Travellers were not an ethnic minority. Dialogue between staff of my Department and representatives of Traveller organisations has taken place in the past on the issue, for example, during the course of a seminar on the third State report under the Council of Europe Convention on National Minorities. In addition, earlier this year the National Traveller Monitoring and Advisory Committee, on which sit representatives of all the national Traveller organisations, as well as officials of the Department of Justice and Equality, established a sub-group specifically to consider the issue of Traveller ethnicity. Arising from the work of this group, among other things, a conference was held in Dublin Castle, supported by my Department. At this conference various aspects of the ethnicity subject were considered by a wide spectrum of opinion.

  I remind the House that Travellers in Ireland have the same civil and political rights as other citizens under the Constitution. The key anti-discrimination measures, the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977, the Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts, specifically identify Travellers by name as a protected group. The Equality Act 2004 which transposed the EU racial equality directive, applied all of the protections of the directive across all of the nine grounds contained in the legislation, including the ground of membership of the Traveller community.  All of the protections afforded to ethnic minorities in EU directives and international conventions apply to Travellers because the Irish legislation giving effect to these international instruments explicitly protects Travellers.

  I inform the Deputy that consideration of this issue remains ongoing with a view to ensuring full analysis of all aspects of the granting of ethnic status to Travellers is available to the Government when coming to a decision on the matter. I expect to publish the report of the conference early in the new year.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn There has been foot dragging on this issue for a long time. Coming from the Traveller tradition - my mother and grandmother are Travellers - it is critically important that we define the rights and responsibilities of the Traveller community. This issue relates to their rights in terms of culture and their unique place in Irish society. When these have been firmly established and guaranteed, we can then deal effectively with the issue of responsibilities, as it applies to every citizen of the State. What consideration is being given to this matter? Is the Minister moving towards defining the Traveller community as an ethnic group within Irish society and has he been involved in consultations with the representatives of the Traveller community on the matter?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The purpose of the conference to which I referred was to allow for a wide exchange of views. I understand two speakers from the Traveller community spoke in favour of Travellers being identified as an ethnic minority, while one other spoke against this. Debate and discussion on the issue are ongoing. We must be careful that in taking this route we do not make decisions that will have unintended consequences. Other Departments are involved in the consultation process. It is hoped that when the report of the conference is published in the new year, it will lead to further discussion. I am conscious of the issues involved. However, we must ensure decisions are not made that separate Travellers from the wider community. All of the legislation to which I made reference, including the anti-discrimination legislation and the European Union directive which we have transposed in a specific way within legislation, has been designed to ensure Travellers are not discriminated as part of the wider community. An important question is what advantages there would be to the Traveller community being named as an ethnic minority. For example, there are particular difficulties within the Traveller community in that the estimated life span of Travellers is substantially lower than that of members of the settled community. The question that arises is whether a separate ethnic identity would bring about a change in this regard, or is there a need for other issues to be addressed? I am conscious that this is an important issue. However, I want to ensure it does not become a flag of convenience in that if a change is effected, the assumption will be that all is well with the world and there are no other issues to be addressed. I also want to ensure that if we go down this route, members of the Traveller community favour it and that it will not give rise to unintended consequences and create unexpected difficulties. This issue requires wide consultation with other Departments.

Penalty Point System

 58. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the progress made in his Department's investigation into the writing off of penalty points on certain persons' records; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55464/12]

 68. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he has received information regarding the write off of a number of motoring offences for a person (details supplied). [54508/12]

 96. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his plans to alter the method in which motoring offences are followed up by the Gardaí; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54497/12]

 104. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the date on which he received information regarding the write off of substantial numbers of motoring offences by some Gardaí. [54507/12]

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I propose to take Questions Nos. 58, 68, 96 and 104 together.

The allegations referred to by the Deputies are not that some people have had penalty points written off, but that in a number of cases members of the Garda Síochána have inappropriately cancelled fixed charge notices, mainly for speeding. The allegations appear to be made on the basis of records of cancellation on the Garda PULSE system.

Fixed charge notices are an alternative to prosecution and give a motorist the opportunity to acknowledge the offence, pay the fixed charge and, where the offence is a penalty points offence, incur the appropriate penalty points. If the motorist does not pay the fixed charge, he or she will in the normal course be prosecuted for the alleged offence.

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