Call for new protected grounds of socio-economic status and criminal conviction

Call for new protected grounds of socio-economic status and criminal conviction

Sinéad Gibney

Equality legislation should be updated to protect people on the grounds of socio-economic status and criminal conviction, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has said.

The national equality body today published a second set of recommendations to government as part of ongoing engagement with the review of the Equality Acts.

On the introduction of a socio-economic status ground, and following two decades of calls for its introduction, the Commission believes “it is a matter of justice that this ground be incorporated into Irish legislation”.

Its introduction would not only strengthen the effectiveness of the Equality Acts, but would constitute a crucial shift in the equality landscape in Ireland, it said.

On the introduction of a criminal conviction ground, the Commission recommends the inclusion of a broad prohibition on discrimination on the ground of criminal conviction that is not limited to spent convictions in both the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act.

It also recommends that further research, safeguarding victims’ rights, be conducted to determine the appropriate exemptions needed in relation to this ground.

The Commission has also recommended change to the existing gender and family status grounds. The gender ground in the Equality Acts should be amended to include explicit reference to, and define gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics, it said.

The ‘family status’ ground should be renamed the ‘carer’ status ground, and be defined to ensure a broader range of parents and persons who provide care to adults are protected, it recommended.

The submission sets out over 55 specific recommendations on access to justice and legal aid; on exemptions under the Equality Acts; on protected grounds; on positive duties; on positive action and measuring effectiveness and data collection. It also recommends the introduction of a ‘purpose and principle clause’ to guide implementation of the law.

Chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “People across Ireland experience discrimination in many different ways throughout their lives. Equality law is a significant part of the State response to discrimination so the government’s review of equality law in Ireland is a milestone opportunity for change.

“The law must adapt to provide effective prevention of, and protection against, discrimination, now and into the future.

“Our recommendations will assist with the current government review and also serve as a pathway to help shape future equality law in Ireland. We brought together legal experts from academia and civil society to assist us in setting out a vision for what equality law in Ireland might look like into the future.”

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