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

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lyons): Information on John Lyons Zoom on John Lyons The next slot is for Members from the Technical Group and I understand Deputy Donnelly proposes to share time.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I wish to share time with Deputies Joan Collins, Boyd Barrett and Mattie McGrath.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lyons): Information on John Lyons Zoom on John Lyons Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I support the Bill before the House, which aims to put equality budgeting on a statutory footing and is a welcome proposal. This means that in preparing Bills relevant to the budget and other operations of public sector bodies, the authority can give advice to those public sector bodies on how they should approach and ensure equality in their operations and planning. It ensures the public bodies will have a strategy to foster equality in their operations and in wider society as a result of what they do. Moreover, it will monitor the outputs to ensure these things actually are happening and that the organisations in question will have, through further training, the capacity to do this. Equality budgeting is a sensible path for Ireland to follow and I suggest this is an opportunity to improve Ireland's planning and implementation capacity in order that particular groups and marginalised groups in particular are not inadvertently discriminated against in highly important legislation, such as the annual budget process.

The Cabinet handbook states that regulatory impact assessments should be conducted for all significant legislation. As every Member of this House is aware, this does not happen. However, it must happen if Members as legislators are to improve their effectiveness over the coming years, and the inclusion of equality budgeting in that process would be a useful addition. There is no downside to introducing equality budgeting in Ireland and putting it on a statutory footing. It improves transparency and provides useful checks on how public assets are deployed to make sure one group is not inadvertently discriminated against or gaining over another group. It also improves strategic thinking and analysis at a national level, at the official level here in Parliament and at a local level within individual public sector bodies. In short, equality budgeting is a more enlightened and smarter way for officials, politicians and civil society to work.

I encountered equality analysis in the form of gender-proofing in the course of policy work I was undertaking in the United Kingdom. It was the first time I had seen it and it was highly effective, because what we were proposing was put through a gender-proofing process and that forces the mind to start thinking in different ways. When thinking about policies or seeking to deploy public assets, it forces the mind to ensure the inclusion of various groups, be they based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, income level or whatever. I commend the Bill to the House.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins This is an important amendment Bill which I support fully. The issue of equality budgeting was raised more than a year and a half ago in respect of its impact on sections of society. It has been seen to operate fairly effectively in places such as Scotland, where it has been in place for a number of years. Consequently, useful legislation in this regard exists in other countries that could be used as a map. Equality budgeting is really important because of the internal devaluation that has taken place on foot of the Government's troika programme. It has meant the driving down of wages and conditions in all areas, particularly for the lower paid and in respect of women and young people. As to whether the impact this is having is known, like others, I am aware of its visual impact and of the stories people tell me. However, neither the actual figures nor how it is affecting people are known, and it is really important that they be known. Obviously, such cuts will increase income inequality and it is a question of how other austerity measures, including cuts to the health services, education, special needs assistants, disability supports and welfare entitlements, as well as the imposition of the universal social charge, are affecting the system. A group of carers representing the Give Carers a Break! campaign today made that particular point. They outlined how they had experienced a devastating cut of approximately 5% when there was an overall cut of 1.2% in the social welfare bill last year and they have called for equality-proofing.

I also wish to make a point about a group of people who are particularly vulnerable, namely, the self-employed, who have been badly hit in the economic collapse, particularly given the lack of access to social supports and so on. A man named Tony Rochford has been outside the gates of Leinster House for the past two days. He had his own business that failed and is not paying the local property tax because he cannot afford to do so. He considers it to be the straw that broke the camel's back. He has been on hunger strike for 17 days and while some Members might suggest leaving him outside for a while as he will give up, this man will not do that. He is absolutely determined to make an issue out of this and every Deputy and backbencher in Leinster House should listen in.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lyons): Information on John Lyons Zoom on John Lyons The Deputy's time is up.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins They should state that because of austerity and what has happened in Ireland, a man has been on hunger strike for 17 days and this should not be ignored. Members should be out there supporting him.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Briefly, I support this Bill. It is absolutely right to add these other categories for inclusion in the equality legislation to ensure that equality extends to all sectors that need it and that potentially suffer discrimination when it comes to dealing with State agencies or in respect of how public assets are deployed. Consequently, this Bill is welcome.

I wish to give two instances of what matters can lead to when equality is not taken seriously. The first is the case of the aforementioned Tony Rochford, who is outside Leinster House. I had never met the man before but he was a self-employed tiler who, like many self-employed people in the construction sector, has been devastated by the economic crisis. He is trying desperately to pay his mortgage, only to then have the property tax loaded upon him. However, because of the particularly draconian manner in which non-payment is dealt with in the case of the self-employed, as opposed to the PAYE sector, he now cannot work because he has not been given a tax clearance certificate. This is really desperate; he is faced with a choice of either paying his mortgage or paying the property tax and has taken what is an extreme form of action. I do not suggest it is the right form of action but it is an action he has decided to take, namely, to go on hunger strike. He has been on hunger strike for 17 days and he appears to be expressing determination to go all the way. I ask the Government to consider the self-employed in this regard because in all sorts of ways they are hit disproportionately by the impact of the crisis, the property tax and so on. I believe that Tony Rochford's case underlines the need to do something urgently about this.

How much longer do I have?

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lyons): Information on John Lyons Zoom on John Lyons The Deputy has 20 seconds.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I also might mention briefly just where such desperation might lead. I also just now met a man named Mike Mahon outside Leinster House. He is a pensioner who had an interest-only deal on his mortgage whereby he was paying €150 per month. After that interest-only deal ran out, he suddenly was faced with a bill of €900 per month, which he could not pay.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lyons): Information on John Lyons Zoom on John Lyons I am sorry, Deputy, but your time has expired.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett He now is facing jail because he did something rather rash and stupid - that is, he glued together an ATM. I ask the Government to intervene in this regard.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I also wish to support this Bill because I do not believe there is any regulatory impact assessment of public spending and, as for all the Bills being passed in this Chamber, one is more draconian than the next. I saw when, under the late Brian Lenihan, the Oireachtas introduced a pension levy on everyone from the bottom up. However, it was reversed for the senior civil servants and they got away with it.


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