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Government urged to expand discrimination laws to include social class and criminal convictions

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has also recommended changes to the existing gender and family status grounds.

THE IRISH HUMAN Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has called on the Government to expand equality legislation to include discrimination on the ground of socio-economic status and on the ground of criminal conviction.

The commission has also recommended changes to the existing gender and family status grounds. 

The proposals are contained in a second set of recommendations to Government as part of an ongoing review of the current equality laws.

The commission said it believes “it is a matter of justice” that a socio-economic status ground be introduced, after calling for its introduction for two decades.

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

The commission is recommending a broad prohibition on discrimination on the ground of criminal conviction. This would not be limited to “spent convictions”, where people are not obliged to disclose the conviction after a certain amount of time has passed.

It said that further research on safeguarding victims’ rights should be conducted to determine the appropriate exemptions needed in relation to this ground.

The commission said the gender ground in equality legislation should be amended to include explicit reference to and define gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.

“In reforming the gender ground, consideration should be given to reframing the
exemptions relating to gender to ensure the current protections for trans men and women are not diluted,” the recommendation reads.

It said consideration should also be given to reframing exceptions relating to gender to ensure discriminatory treatment between different groups within the gender
ground is not unintentionally facilitated.

It also 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.

The submission sets out over 55 specific recommendations in relation to access to justice and legal aid, exemptions under equality legislation on protected grounds and measuring effectiveness and data collection.

It also recommends the introduction of a ‘purpose and principle clause’ to guide implementation of the law.

“People across Ireland experience discrimination in many different ways throughout their lives,” Sinéad Gibney, IHREC chief commissioner, said.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

The full submission can be read on IHREC’s website.

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