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11/08/2017 12:00:00 AM


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Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017

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Second Stage

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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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Deputy Catherine Connolly

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Deputy Catherine Connolly

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Catherine Connolly

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Snippet Contents:

While I do not have any hesitation in supporting the Bill, like the previous speaker, I am under no illusion that it will create equality. The two Acts to which previous speakers referred which prohibit discrimination on nine grounds are not adequate to prevent discrimination on socioeconomic grounds.
To respond to the Minister of State, having read the Bill, I also note problems with the text, specifically the general nature of the legislation. However, that is not a good reason to reject the Bill at this point. While the Minister of State set out many of the problems with the Bill, he ignored countries which have introduced this type of legislation. If he chooses to set out problems, it is incumbent on him to consider the countries which have successfully introduced legislation and to consider the issue of rights.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire referred to our obligations under Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I do not like repetition but as has been pointed out, the recent overview of equality legislation in Europe prepared by the European network of legal experts noted that 20 of 35 European countries have already introduced legislation to prevent discrimination on grounds related to socioeconomic status. As a member of the European Union - the Government repeatedly boasts that Ireland is the best in class when it comes to the EU - I would have expected the Government to have studied the best legislation in place on the Continent and at least placed it before the House. Belgium, Hungary, Croatia and other countries have legislation in place and France is working on similar legislation. I will not waste my time listing all the countries with this type of legislation in place.
Discrimination on any ground prevents full participation in society. There is an onus on a Government when a Bill of this nature comes before the House to set out its pluses and minuses. I believe the Government has set its mind fundamentally against giving rights on socioeconomic grounds at any level. I am pleased to note the Minister of State is shaking his head. My colleague, Deputy Thomas Pringle, who is unfortunately not present and would love to participate in this debate, used his Private Members' time to introduce legislation on socioeconomic rights, which was rejected out of hand by the Government. Deputy O'Callaghan may wish to correct me but I believe Fianna Fáil also opposed Deputy Pringle's legislation.
Coincidentally, one year ago, I asked the then Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to outline the steps she was taking to introduce socioeconomic status as a discrimination ground following legislative and case law trends across Europe. In her reply, the Tánaiste stated: "I do not have plans at this stage to introduce socio-economic status as a discrimination ground in equality legislation." She also noted that the Oireachtas did not support a Private Members' Bill which sought to insert into the Constitution a statement relating to socioeconomic grounds and clearly indicated that the Government had no intention of going down this route, either in the Constitution or in legislation, because she believed the best way to introduce equality was through policies. While I happen to agree with her on the issue of policies, the Government's policies have caused discrimination on the ground. Inequality is built into its housing strategy, the privatisation of health services and so on.
I am afraid I am left with no option but to agree with Fianna Fáil on this Bill. I do not believe we will solve any problem without considering the policies which the Tánaiste and then Minister for Justice and Equality honestly referred to in November 2016. Unfortunately, this Government and its predecessor have built discrimination into their policies.
I propose to address the comments made regarding local authority houses and estates. I cringe when I hear the much repeated mantra about deprivation, criminality and anti-social behaviour on local authority housing estates because it is not accurate. Criminality exists at every level of society.