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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 Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy] We are now awaiting Report and Final Stages of the Bill. The spirit of allowing people with convictions to be allowed to rehabilitate is worthy of pursuit, and many of the amendments went towards allowing people a second chance. That will cover a large portion of the criminal conviction issue.

I disagree about trying to designate a crime by type of person or whether it is linked to a cause. For example, that might apply to an act of violence of a certain level carried out by somebody who may be an animal rights campaigner or who may believe an act of vandalism is a valid protest against the property tax. That would create a great difficulty so the matter should be set, as it is currently within the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill, at the crime level rather than at person type. I support that element of the Bill.

There is the potential for further debate on rural issues, particularly with regard to publicly provided services. There is a requirement to protect people living in rural areas but when we speak about privately provided services, we should accept that for some provision of services, the cost of delivery to rural areas must be built into pricing. One cannot allow for prejudice against people living in rural areas but equally we cannot force an uneconomic cost on business.

The spirit of the Private Members' Bill is good and if parts of it could come back before us, it would have merit. There was much good work done here in debating spent convictions and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, accepted amendments from many parties. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, to push through that legislation as it would go a long way to achieving what is requested in this Bill.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lyons): Information on John Lyons Zoom on John Lyons The next speaker is Deputy Stanley, who is sharing time by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Equality is at the core of what we believe should be modern republicanism. Sinn Féin has long promoted the idea of an Ireland of equals in a Europe of equals, and this not just a hollow slogan dusted down for elections. Sinn Féin is committed to building a united Ireland where equality is at the centre of how we measure the nation’s success. This equality will include social, political and economic equality but, unfortunately for citizens on the island, we see an Ireland far more unequal now than in the past. Consecutive Governments have pursued policies that have created inequality and contributed to the level of inequality that exists today. A former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, former Deputy Michael McDowell, promoted inequality when he stated, "A dynamic liberal economy like ours demands flexibility and inequality in some respects to function". He also indicated that it was such inequality "which provides incentives". I hope we have moved on from that view.

In November last year Sinn Féin pledged support for the Equality Budgeting Campaign, a broad-based coalition of trade unions, community groups and non-governmental organisations seeking the introduction of equality budgeting in this State. Simply put, equality budgeting means that no Government could introduce a budget without it being equality-proofed first. It is no surprise that this Government has failed to embrace this process as budgets we have seen here would never see the light of day if they were equality-proofed.

So what will the Sinn Féin Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2013 do? It has three basic aims. It will add six new additional anti-discriminatory categories to the already existing nine categories. Namely, Sinn Féin would include in the category trade union membership, socioeconomic back ground, Irish language speakers and former political prisoners. The previous speaker referred to this and although he may not be familiar with it, this concept is in the Good Friday Agreement. It specifically refers to people who were in prison as a result of the conflict and who have served their sentences or got early release under the Good Friday Agreement.

We would also include rural dwellers in the list of categories. The Bill will also introduce equality impact assessment, with all public bodies and Departments having to implement the process. It will also introduce a notion of equality budgeting, where economic policy making and planning places equality at the centre of decisions concerning public expenditure and income.

One issue I want to raise is the right to join and be represented by a trade union. People have the right to join a union but they do not have the right to be represented. We should remember that any gains made by ordinary people and their families were achieved after campaigning and struggle, and without trade unions many of the gains we now take for granted would never have been achieved. Issues of child labour, maternity benefits, annual leave and the 40-hour week were all successfully won not because the likes of William Martin Murphy woke up one morning and said he would grant such requests but rather because trade unions won the fight. In this city we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Lock-out and in the streets around here, people were engaged in an epic struggle for the right to join and be represented by trade unions. Jim Larkin and James Connolly gave leadership and dignity to those people.

It is only appropriate tonight that we reflect on the gains made by trade unions and we must also reflect on challenges facing us today. How much has really changed? Sadly, workers remain fearful of the consequences of joining a union, and I am sure the Minister of State comes across such people as much as I do. It is shameful that 100 years after the great Lock-out, men and women live in fear of what their employer will do if they join a trade union. This is a very common issue and I feel very strongly about it. I have met trade unions organisers in the midlands on this very matter, and they recount stories of workers - men and women - living in fear of even being associated with trade unionism, never mind joining a union.

In particular, this problem prevails in the meat industry, where some employers in their race to the bottom to increase profits have employed immigrants on a minimum wage - in some cases it is reported to be even less - and proceeded to isolate them form the rest of the workforce. When unions attempt to engage with and organise the workers they are met with a wall of silence and fear. We have heard of cases where fathers use their children to translate stories to union organisers of bullying and victimisation in work and threats from employers. This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated in 21st century Ireland. This Bill is an attempt to help overcome some of this fear, and it will make it illegal to discriminate or bully workers who organise themselves in a union. It is 100 years since the Lock-out and such steps are long overdue.

I will also highlight inequality in our communities. For years the great and the good, including people in Government, have dismissed any debate on inequality as airy-fairy, but such arguments can no longer be dismissed. The boast of being a low tax economy has had serious negative social effects, and we only have to look at number of telling statistics to see that. The number of children living in poverty has increased by nearly 32,000 since last year, from 200,000 in 2012 to 232,039 in 2013. That is nearly one in five children living in poverty. The number of people living in poverty overall has jumped from 706,000 to 731,984 during the same period. This is the human face of austerity and inequality, which forces people into poverty and divides our society with devastating consequences.

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