Northern Ireland Office failed to comply with equality scheme over legacy bill

Northern Ireland Office failed to comply with equality scheme over legacy bill

Geraldine McGahey

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) failed to comply with its approved equality scheme while developing legislation to address the legacy of the past, the Equality Commission has found following an investigation.

An investigation was launched after the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and the Pat Finucane Centre complained that the NIO did not give them a screening document that they expected would have been prepared on legislation announced in March 2020.

The Equality Commission said the NIO had failed to address the matters complained of in the way that it should have and in keeping with the purpose of screening as one of the arrangements set out in its equality scheme to help it fulfil its statutory equality and good relations duties.

It has recommended that the NIO reviews its approach to equality assessment of the proposed legacy bill to ensure that it applies its equality scheme arrangements of screening and equality impact assessment for their stated purpose and as early as possible in the policy development process.

The investigation report also includes a number of other related recommendations to ensure the NIO’s effective implementation of its statutory equality and good relations duties.

Chief commissioner Geraldine McGahey said: “We undertook a detailed examination of how the Northern Ireland Office developed this important policy matter and found failures in the key process of undertaking equality assessment during the policy making process.

“The Northern Ireland Office should have followed the commitments set out in its Equality Scheme and we found that it did not. It must now consider our recommendations for improvements to their processes of undertaking equality assessments of proposed policies.

“While this investigation was underway, the Northern Ireland Office said that it was continuing its work on its equality assessment of its legacy proposals. We expect this work to continue so that decision makers can fully consider any equality implications.”

Welcoming the outcome, Daniel Holder of CAJ said: “We welcome this investigation report by ECNI, which shines a light on haphazard Donald Trump-like policy making on legacy by the NIO.

“It’s notable that the NIO departed from applying its equality scheme procedures properly at the same time that it unilaterally ditched the Stormont House Agreement.

“An equality assessment should have been carried out and made available on the policy at the earliest possible stage to highlight the impact of this change would have, including on victims and their families.”

Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre added: “Whilst the NIO should have provided an equality assessment on the legacy bill to us, and that was the source of our complaint, it is doubly concerning that the NIO also refused to provide the documents to Equality Commission investigators.”

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