The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has called for a change in equality legislation to include discrimination on new grounds of socio-economic status and criminal conviction.
The call came in the body’s second set of recommendations to Government as part of a process of review of the equality acts that includes the Equal Status Acts 2000-2018 and the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015.
The commission says that the introduction of a ground of socio-economic status is “a matter of justice” that would constitute “a crucial shift in the equality landscape in Ireland”.
The human-rights body also calls for a broad prohibition on discrimination on the ground of criminal conviction that is not limited to spent convictions.
It adds, however, that further research should be carried out to determine the appropriate exemptions that would be needed to safeguard the rights of victims of crime.
IHREC’s submission has also recommended changes to the existing gender and family-status grounds.
It wants the gender ground in the equality acts to be amended to include explicit reference to, and define, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.
IHREC also says that the ‘family status’ ground should be renamed the ‘carer status' ground, and be defined to ensure that a broader range of parents and persons who provide care to adults are protected.
Call to rename WRC
Its submission also includes recommendations on access to justice and legal aid, and on exemptions under equality legislation.
Its recommendations on access to justice include:
- The State should return complaints of discrimination in licensed premises to the purview of the Equal Status Acts and the jurisdiction of the Workplace Relations Commission by repealing section 19 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003,
- The renaming of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to reflects the full extent of its remit,
- A tailored approach to the provision of legal aid for minority and structurally vulnerable groups to redress “a systemic imbalance and a culture of discrimination”, and
- Expansion of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme to include a wider range of areas, such as employment and equality cases before the WRC.
Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney described the Government’s review of equality law as “a milestone opportunity for change”.
“The law must adapt to provide effective prevention of, and protection against, discrimination, now and into the future,” she added.