TEACHERS AND DOCTORS who are gay are afraid they could be fired because of their sexual orientation, a Fianna Fáil Senator has said.
Fianna Fáil’s Seanad Spokesperson on Education, Senator Averil Powe,r has said the Government’s failure to meet its own deadline for publishing legislation to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff means that many teachers and doctors are still living in fear for their jobs.
Senator Power spoke in the Seanad a year on from the publication of a Fianna Fail bill to amend Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act.
She explained that at present, Section 37.1 may be relied upon by religious-run institutions such as schools and hospitals to justify discrimination against employees solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity.
According to Senator Power:
the possibility of such discrimination is a source of real fear and unhappiness for LGBT staff. Many teachers in particular have told me that they feel the need to hide their sexual orientation from their colleagues and pretend to be someone else at work. Each of them has the same message: they want to be judged on the same basis as everyone else – on the quality of their work – not on someone else’s prejudiced view of their sexual orientation.
Last May, Minister Alan Shatter opposed the Fianna Fail bill, saying that he had announced plans to merge the Human Rights Commission and Equality Authority in order to create a new enhanced Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. One of its functions will be to advise Ministers and the Government on new legislation.
Senator Power said that Minister Shatter has not brought forward his own proposals.
Senator Power said she was disappointed that when she raised this in the Seanad, the Government restated its intention to wait for the new Human Rights and Equality Commission to be in place before starting any work on this issue.
There is absolutely no excuse for this delay. Either of the existing equality bodies could have been tasked with doing this work a year ago. Sadly, I think the fact that they weren’t is an indication of the lack of priority that the Government has attached to addressing this issue.
(Senator Averil Power/YouTube)
In response, Junior Minister Joe Costello on behalf of Minister Shatter said that the Justice Minister is committed to strengthening the statutory protection for equality in this area.
He said that on 5 June 2012 the General Scheme of a Bill was published to replace the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission with a new Irish Human Rights Equality Commission. Drafting of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Bill 2013 is itself at an advanced stage.
At the same time, preparations to establish the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission have also advanced.
He acknowledges that there may be frustration in some quarters anxious for a swift amendment to Section 37. However, he cautions against action without having given all interested parties the opportunity to contribute to the debate and fully consider all the options open to us. The new Commission will be uniquely placed to carry out such a consultation.