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Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017

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Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017\Second Stage
Bills\Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017\Second Stage

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Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017

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Snippet Contents:

Such individuals could potentially force State resources to be redirected towards addressing their circumstances rather than targeting those resources at persons in greatest need. It might be difficult, in this context, for public service providers to set criteria restricting the provision of non-statutory services where resources were limited and certain groups needed to be prioritised. The provisions in this Bill also carry the risk of interfering with ministerial discretion in allocating funding to specific areas.
The Government has taken action in a more targeted manner to address instances of discrimination where it believed there was a clear need to do so. The Government took action to prohibit discrimination in the letting of residential accommodation on the basis that a person is or is not in receipt of rent supplement or a housing assistance payment. The Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 amended sections 2 and 6 of the Equal Status Act 2000 so a person could not be discriminated against when renting because he or she is getting rent supplement, the housing assistance payment or any other social welfare payment. This means landlords can no longer state, when advertising accommodation, that rent supplement or the housing assistance payment is not accepted, and they cannot refuse to rent accommodation to a person because he or she is in receipt of a social welfare payment.
The Government's view is that the case for the amendment of the equality legislation must be based on clear evidence. At present, we do not have objective evidence that individuals are actually experiencing discrimination because of their address or background. We are relying on anecdotal evidence, which may provide a very partial picture. In this regard, Deputy O'Callaghan told us two stories of people he met. That is fair enough but we need to know the exact extent of any such discrimination. We also need to isolate the potential discrimination from any other factors that might affect the person's employment status. A person might find it difficult to get employment because she or he has poorer educational qualifications. An individual might find it harder to get employment in a rural area with more limited job opportunities. If we are to amend the equality legislation, we need to be sure that discrimination is what we need to tackle rather than other factors, such as training needs or educational disadvantage.
I recognise that this issue is inherently complex, as the Deputies have said, and that it is very difficult to arrive at a precise definition. As Deputies will be aware, a report on this question was undertaken by UCC in 2004. The report, Extending the Scope of Employment Equality Legislation: Comparative Perspectives on the Prohibited Grounds of Discrimination, which I read recently, found that discrimination on the basis of socio-economic status is not necessarily revealed by distinctive external features. It also found that there is extreme difficulty in providing proof of discrimination, particularly where the burden of proof lies with the victim of discrimination.
Before proceeding with a flawed Bill, we need to examine this issue in more detail so we can proceed on the basis of a solid evidence base and a targeted definition of need. Accordingly, the Government proposes to commission research to establish the extent and prevalence of discrimination on the basis of place of residence or related factors. Such research would also have the purpose of establishing whether such discrimination was occurring in regard to employment or access to goods and services, or both. It would establish whether a legislative response was needed and, if so, which Acts needed to be amended. The researchers would be also asked to devise a more precise formulation for the additional equality ground if it were decided that this were needed. In taking this process forward, the Government would seek to work with appropriate State bodies and agencies, such as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The Equality & Rights Alliance has also done some useful preliminary research in this area, as outlined in its report, An Analysis of the Introduction of Socio-Economic Status as a Discrimination Ground. I am sure most Deputies present have read it. My objective is to set the research process in motion imminently. The immediate priority will be to draft appropriate terms of reference.
As I said at the outset, I share the concern that we should seek to address barriers that create disadvantage for individuals in our society and prevent them from realising their potential. We can work together to devise appropriate solutions to this challenge but this Bill's ambiguity is such that, however laudable its intentions, it does not provide an appropriate way forward. Accordingly, the Government cannot support it. We want to carry out research on this and share and debate it with colleagues in the House, and we then want to proceed with a fact-based agenda. I recommend against accepting this Bill.