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Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 961 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly] We have had the bankers but we do not use the same language at all when it comes to people outside a local authority estate. I ask Members of the Dáil to be careful in their use of language in regard to local authority estates.

Many of the problems in local authority estates have been caused by the negligence of successive managers and staff at local authority level and by Government policy in failing to provide enough money and allowing problems get out of hand in a small number of estates rather than dealing with them. I have also seen local authority apartments knocked that were far superior to any of the private accommodation that has gone up in a middle-class area in Galway city.

I cringe and react when I hear this language used repeatedly in terms of deprivation. One has to ask the question, why did some areas have this label applied to them? What was the role of the local authority or of the Government? What was the reason for inaction?

While I welcome and support the legislation and look forward to detailed scrutiny of it and teasing out the problems, we certainly need to look at Government policies.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Bogfaimid ar aghaidh anois go dtí na Rural Independent Group. Glaoimse ar Deputy Mattie McGrath. There are seven minutes for his group.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath We have 20 minutes between us.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Sorry?

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Is it seven minutes?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Yes. There are two minutes going to Deputy Fitzmaurice. If Deputy Mattie McGrath starts, he might get the seven minutes, if nobody else comes in.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Go raibh maith agat.

The Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts prohibit discrimination on nine specified grounds. As the explanatory memorandum for this Bill makes clear, statutory intervention to expand the protection of both Acts to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disadvantaged socioeconomic or social background would involve an amendment to the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000.

The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that persons can no longer be discriminated against on the basis that they come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic area or background. For instance, if this Bill was enacted, employers could not discriminate against a job applicant because he or she came from a disadvantaged local authority estate or an area that is associated with higher levels of criminality or anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, it would not be permissible for service providers to discriminate against people because of where they live. I welcome that. Surely this is something we can all support.

I have questions, however, around where the burden of proof lies in determining whether discrimination has actually occurred. There are also concerns around how we strike the appropriate balance in this area. That is delicate and difficult for employers. If we are forever expanding the grounds on which discrimination can be claimed, then it will become almost impossible for an employer to legitimately refuse to employ someone. I hope some of these issues can be teased out during this debate and when the Bill proceeds to Committee Stage and some amendments are tabled, and I hope to table some.

I support Deputy O'Callaghan in putting forward this legislation. In regard to the Acts of 1998 and 2000, respectively, one is talking about nearly 20 years ago. It is timely that we would have some movement here.

There is a cry, daily if not hourly, for all kinds of legislation on equality and we have had referendums and everything else. There has been significant emphasis put on such matters. Where is the fairness here in terms of the most basic human right - the right to have a job, to work and to self-determination? I believe people are entitled to a fair day's pay for a fair day's work but they have to get the work. I agree with the previous speaker, the Acting Cathaoirleach, Deputy Connolly, who is double jobbing. Like myself, she is able to go from the floor of the House to the Chair go tapaidh. Fair dues to her. I agree some people suffer discrimination. The best of people live on council estates in different parts of the country. It should not be because of where one comes from. We have to be fair. I am an employer. I suppose I should declare that. I have a staff. I normally do not have to conduct interviews because people come looking for work and I take them on if they are suitable. The question of where they come from never enters into it in my book because in south Tipperary we know most people.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan As long as they are from Tipperary.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Not quite. I have gone over the border to Kilkenny an odd time and, indeed, to east Cork as well. Thankfully, we know the people.

The people give loyal service and I salute them. One retired recently after 25 years, so I must not have been that bad an employer. I am only making the point that businesses cannot work without good employees but one must have respect for employees as well. It is a two-way street. If we are discriminating just because of where people come from, where they were born, who their parents were or whatever, that is wrong at a time when we have such a plethora of calls for equality on this, that and the other. The latest one is in regard to bullying. One will be afraid to come in here and say anything in a couple of years in case we will be accused of bullying. It has gone over the top. That is why this Bill by Deputy O'Callaghan is timely.

I compliment Deputy O'Callaghan on bringing forward much legislation since he arrived here. I wish the Deputy well and I provide support where support is necessary, but I hope to table amendments to this Bill. In other areas there is too much legislation but with the 20-year gap here, this is a timely review. I hope that when it is teased out in committee, amendments have been tabled and it passes through the House, it will not languish somewhere as has happened with some legislation, where it gets forgotten about and never gets implemented. That is a serious issue in the system. We pass legislation with good intentions, and there might angst and upset about it. However, we must wait to see if it is implemented, or ask whether or when it will be implemented.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I commend Deputy O'Callaghan on bringing forward this Bill. I cannot understand why the Government does not agree to it. If there are parts of a Bill that the Minister does not agree with, let it be debated on Committee Stage where amendments can be tabled. If the Government was wise and if the Minister of State was listening, they would know the Bill is fairly sure to go through. In the interest of so-called new politics, it would be advisable to let it go to Committee Stage. If there are elements that are a problem, Deputy O'Callaghan is probably willing to listen.

Regardless of where a person comes from, it is a matter of whether he or she is able to do a job. Members come from different backgrounds. If one is able to do a job in any walk of life, no matter where one comes from, it should not make a difference. It is important that employers have that motto because at the end of the day it is about doing the job. It is not about where one comes from, where one lives, what one does, who one's father or mother was, or anything like that.

There is another matter that needs to be addressed. There are people, especially those with disabilities, trying to get work who, unfortunately, if they go one hour over this so-called threshold, are afraid they may lose their allowance. We need to address that. It is the same for those who are unemployed, especially in parts of rural Ireland, who might go to work for someone but it takes so long to get back on benefits if it does not work out, it is not enticing enough. We need to bring in a new system to ensure that we accommodate such persons, especially those with disabilities and the unemployed, so that they are not afraid to go to work.

In many rural areas, there may be summer work or seasonal work but the fear is that if one takes it up and it does not work out or it does not last the full year, two years or whatever, one is caught and is back to square one. We should have a system where at the end of the year, whatever one has earned should be able to be considered on a taxable basis.

The Government should not to be afraid to accept the Bill. The Minister of State will get a chance in committee where the teasing out can be done.

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I wish to share time with Deputies Murphy O'Mahony and Niamh Smyth. If the Acting Chairman could tell me when I am at three and a third minutes, it would be great.

  I support the Bill being put forward.

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