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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 Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire] A word that has been absent from the debate so far is "class". Essentially, we are talking about class. Sometimes "working class" and "disadvantaged" are used as synonyms but I do not believe that necessarily should be the case. Acute disadvantage is a very specific issue whereas the working class in Ireland is a much more substantial category, although there is a substantial cross-over. That is a slight digression but it is an important point nonetheless in terms of understanding disadvantage.

  I accept the comments and the intention of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, as bona fide but I am disappointed with his response, which is a very technical one. It is entirely within the scope of these institutions that the Bill could proceed even to pre-legislative scrutiny after Second Stage, which is facilitated in certain committees. There is international precedent for such legislation. The European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination shows that legislation in 20 of the 35 European countries provides protection against discrimination on a ground related to socio-economic status. We are behind the curve in that regard. Among other things, Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination on the grounds of social origin and poverty, among others.

  I will now turn to the substance of the Bill. As a people, we often delude ourselves into believing that Ireland is a classless society. Perhaps that is changing now. Some of that is underpinned by the fiction that the party system in Ireland, the two big parties of the supposed middle, was a function of that society. However, I very much believe that class is real and always has been real. We have all heard stories of people being refused employment on the basis of their address or using a different address for employment. In Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt uses a different address to try to disguise the fact that he came from a lane in Limerick. Class difference and discrimination on that basis always has been a fact of life in Ireland.

  In the context of this debate I am reminded of the English writer, Owen Jones, who wrote the very excellent book Chavs, which documented very clearly how words such as "chav" and stereotypes of working class people were deemed largely acceptable by the media and treated as mere banter, whereas in reality they were enforcing structural and very real inequality and discrimination. The reality is that the opportunities afforded to working class people in this country are substantially less than people who are better off. In this city the obvious example is access to higher education. In Dublin 6 access is in excess of 90%, in Dublin 17 it is 15% and in Dublin 10 it is 16%.

  I will provide another example of discrimination. I read an excellent article by Patrick Freyne in The Irish Times on 22 July last. I would recommend it to the Minister of State. It detailed the use of stop and search powers on young people, particularly from the inner city and other working class areas. It provides testimony of the impact that has on young people from those areas. Experts in the area include Gareth Noble and Dermot Walsh. They agree that such discrimination has an effect. It is in such areas that discrimination is experienced on an everyday basis and currently there is very little remedy for it. If enacted, the Bill would provide a remedy and a ground for taking action.

  I am disappointed with the Minister of State's response. It is possible to tighten up the definition. I find it very difficult to accept that some of the examples given would be entertained by a court, but if the Minister of State is of the view that it is merely a problem of definition then surely the issue could be addressed on Committee Stage. If the principle and the pieces of legislation that are intended to be amended are clear then I do not see any reason the situation could not be rectified given that we are, apparently, all united on the principle that socio-economic discrimination should not be allowed.

  Two very clear and precise areas of discrimination that could be addressed by the Department, which are not included in either of those Acts, are discrimination on the basis of political belief or on the basis of trade union membership. If the Minister of State is interested in precise definitions, they are two perfectly precise areas that are within the gift of the Minister of State to deal with in the legislation.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe Like other speakers I support the thrust of the Bill. The Minister of State has raised a number of issues such as pre-legislative scrutiny. I am conscious that we have identified areas of high socio-economic deprivation in the past and we introduced programmes such as RAPID to tackle them. As a society we have identified that particular areas needed to be addressed and supported.

I am also conscious of the effect on people who live in areas that have a high level of crime or gangland killings of the coverage by newspapers and television. Someone in such an area can be impacted if he or she goes for a job interview on a day following a news story. Regardless of what is said, it is in the back of an interviewer's mind that he or she is from a particular area. We have all heard stories in our constituencies about people who held the strong view that the interview was over as soon as the interviewers heard where they lived. We all accept that is wrong.

We are all aware from history of what happened in the neighbouring jurisdiction where people were discriminated against in the past because of the area in which they lived, the school they attended or their perceived political allegiance if they considered themselves as Irish. They suffered discrimination in the areas of jobs and housing. Thankfully, we have moved on in that regard.

The intention of the Bill is to identify those areas that need to be examined in terms of discrimination. Other speakers referred to the fact that it is illegal to discriminate against people because of gender, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or because they have a disability or are a member of the Traveller community. We have been successful in addressing discrimination in those areas. We do need to examine how discrimination affects people. We need to do a lot more to tackle racism, sexism and homophobia in society. The intention behind the Bill is a positive start. Hopefully, it will give people a firm legal avenue to challenge such discrimination.

I am sure we would all accept that we need a renewed focus on tackling poverty and inequality in society. We must devise a suite of social and economic measures to tackle this man-made inequality. I do not believe enacting legislation will solve those problems but it will go some of the way towards resolving them. Legislation would also empower and encourage people to take cases where they feel there is discrimination. That is what has happened where such legislation has been introduced.

There are other areas we could examine in terms of discrimination. Reference was made to trade unions, for example. Some CEOs regularly boast about not hiring anyone who is a member of a trade union. We are still waiting on robust collective bargaining legislation.

We also need to introduce legislation on discrimination against ex-prisoners, in particular those who qualified under the Good Friday Agreement. All sorts of promises were made about those prisoners but they are still discriminated against when it comes to travel and adoption. The situation affects men and women and it must be addressed. Ex-prisoners are discriminated against when they try to get taxi plates because of their former political status. Such discrimination is wrong and goes against the Good Friday Agreement and it should be outlawed in future equality legislation.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill. It gives us an opportunity to start thinking about what is wrong with society. Clearly, discrimination on the basis of where people live, a poor background or because they are not wealthy would go against the ethos of everyone here.

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