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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 20 May 1999

Vol. 505 No. 2

Equal Status Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Equal Status Bill will, for the first time, provide protection against discrimination outside the field of employment. It deals with discrimination on the grounds of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the traveller community and gives those who are discriminated against a statutory means of redress. It has a broad ranging scope covering provision of goods and services, disposal of premises and accommodation, education and registered clubs. This measure complements the Employment Equality Act, 1998, which prohibits discrimination on similar grounds in the workplace.

Deputies will be aware of the fate of the Equal Status Bill, 1997. The Bill passed all Stages in both Houses of the Oireachtas. It was then referred to the Supreme Court by the President under Article 26 of the Constitution. The Employment Equality Bill, 1996, had already been referred to the Supreme Court and on 15 May 1997 the court found that Bill to be unconstitutional in three respects. As two technical provisions found unconstitutional in the Employment Equality Bill were also contained in the Equal Status Bill, it then became inevitable that the Supreme Court would also find the Equal Status Bill unconstitutional. The court gave its judgment on the Equal Status Bill on 19 June 1997. As expected, it found those two aspects of the Bill – vicarious liability of employers for criminal acts of employees and use of a certificate in a criminal trial – to be repugnant to the Constitution. The court declined to examine the Bill further.

Preparation of the revised Equal Status Bill was necessarily a more complicated matter than was the development of the revised employment equality legislation. The Employment Equality Bill was examined thoroughly by the Supreme Court, particularly as regards a range of key and controversial provisions, and was found constitutionally sound except for three aspects. It was, therefore, possible to bring forward a revised Employment Equality Bill in the latter part of 1997. That Bill was enacted in June 1998.

In the case of the Equal Status Bill, however, the court did not examine the Bill as a whole and did not give its imprimatur to any aspect of the Bill. It was, therefore, necessary to obtain extensive legal advice before developing the revised Equal Status Bill. As this is a wide-ranging and complex measure, it was necessary to proceed thoroughly and carefully to ensure that the revised measure would pass the constitutional test. It must be emphasised that there has been no undue delay in bringing forward the revised legislation.

There is now widespread acceptance of the principle of equal status legislation. Equal status legislation is among the commitments in the Good Friday Agreement. The enactment of an Equal Status Bill has been a fundamental element of the programmes of successive Governments and it was endorsed by the social partners in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and in Partnership 2000. The reports of the Second Commission on the Status of Women, the Task Force on the Travelling Community and the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities contained recommendations relating to anti-discrimination legislation.

The enactment of equal status legislation is necessary to enable Ireland to ratify the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. This convention has been ratified by 155 countries, including all other EU member states. The enactment of the Equal Status Bill is also necessary to enable us to lift a reservation on the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

At EU level, the fight against discrimination is also set to move beyond the traditional field of gender discrimination in the workplace. The Amsterdam Treaty gives the Community new powers to act on discrimination. Article 13 of the new treaty gives the Community a clear basis for acting to combat discrimination, both in employment and in non-workplace areas, on grounds of sex, race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age and sexual orientation.

The essential thrust of the present Bill is the same as that of the 1997 Bill. Changes have been made to rectify faults identified by the Supreme Court consequential on the court's finding on the Employment Equality Bill, in response to faults identified in legal advice and to correct technical points or remove anomalies. I will now set out the main changes.

The 1997 Bill required service providers to make reasonable accommodation, including the provision of special treatment or facilities, for the needs of people with disabilities, unless such reasonable accommodation would give rise to undue difficulty. The Supreme Court found the comparable requirement in the Employment Equality Bill, 1996, to be unconstitutional. The implications of this judgment were carefully examined before the revised Equal Status Bill was developed. The redrafted version follows the approach taken in the Employment Equality Act 1998, that is, the obligation to make reasonable accommodation is subject to a "nominal cost" threshold. This approach has been taken following extensive legal advice on the matter.

As required by the Supreme Court judgment, vicarious liability of employers for acts of employees now applies in respect of civil proceedings only and the subsection which allowed for the use of a certificate as evidence of an offence has been deleted.

The 1997 Bill provided for the establishment of the Equality Authority with a remit in both employment equality and equal status matters. As the Employment Equality Act, 1998, now includes provision for the establishment of the authority and for its functions in the employment equality area, the present Bill simply extends the functions of the authority to equal status matters.

The drafting of section 3, which defines discrimination, has been substantially reworded in respect response to legal advice. There are a number of changes in the education area, including the deletion of the provision which allowed schools catering for persons of a particular nationality or national origin to restrict access in certain circumstances. This provision presented constitutional difficulties and, on further consideration, was deemed to be unnecessary.

Provisions dealing with discrimination by firms, including partnerships, against members-partners have been deleted. These provisions were anomalous vis-à-vis the provisions of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, and were not required by the EU Directive on Self-Employed Activity.

Registered clubs, which are found to be discriminatory, will forfeit their certificate of registration but will not be denied public funds or the use of publicly owned recreational facilities. The changes follow legal advice on the matter. Deputies will, doubtless, observe other changes in the Bill, but I do not propose to go into detail in relation to these at this point.

In the past there were some misconceptions about the effect of the Bill on commercial interests. This Bill will prohibit discrimination on specified grounds only. It will not require traders to admit all-comers nor will it prevent business people from refusing service to someone because of bad behaviour or lack of hygiene. It will not give any protection whatsoever to trouble-makers or anti-social elements. I retained in this Bill the various "safeguard" measures which were included in the 1997 Bill to meet the legitimate concerns of vintners and other traders. These safeguards do not interfere with the Bill's central thrust of outlawing discrimination.

I will now deal with the specific provisions of the Bill. It is divided into five parts. Part I contains definitions and sets out what is meant by discrimination. Part II deals with discrimination in particular areas. Part III provides means of redress and compensation for persons who may have suffered discrimination. Part IV together with the Schedule extends the functions of the Equality Authority to equal status matters. Part V contains general and technical provisions.

Part I defines terms used in the Bill. Deputies may wish to note the broad definition of disability in section 2. There is also a comprehensive definition of "services", which includes services and facilities of any nature including access to and use of any place, banking or insurance services, facilities for entertainment, recreation or refreshment, culture activities, transport or travel and professional or trade services. It does not include services provided under a contract of service, services that are not generally available to the public or services covered by the Employment Equality Act.

Section 3 sets out what is meant by discrimination. Discrimination occurs where, on discriminatory grounds that existed, exist, are believed to exist or are considered likely to come into existence, a person is treated less favourably than another person is, has been or would be treated. It also occurs where a person is treated less favourably because of his or her association with a person to whom the discriminatory grounds apply. A further form of discrimination occurs where a requirement to comply with a conditions has a disproportionately adverse effect on a particular category of persons and this requirement cannot be justified as being reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. This form of discrimination is commonly known as "indirect discrimination" although the term does not appear in the present Bill.

The discriminatory grounds are gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race, colour, nationality or national or ethnic origin, and membership of the traveller community. Victimisation of a person because of his or her involvement in proceedings under this Bill is also treated as a discriminatory ground.

Section 4 contains particular provisions related to persons with disabilities. I have already referred to the Supreme Court's finding that the "reasonable accommodation" provisions of the Employment Equality Bill were unconstitutional and the consequent insertion in the Employment Equality Act of a "nominal cost" threshold for reasonable accommodation. This approach has been followed in the present Bill.

Part II deals with discrimination in particular areas. Section 5 prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods and services. There are a number of exceptions for differences of treatment in certain circumstances in particular areas, such as insurance, sporting events and entertainment. Among these exclusions are reasonable differences of treatment in the area of insurance and finance, which are based on actuarial or similar data. Examples of this would be the different treatment of persons under 25 in motor insurance and the different treatment of persons on age grounds in life assurance. Differences of treatment of persons on the grounds of gender, age, disability, nationality or national origin are permissible in sporting facilities and events. Thus, for example, the Bill recognises and allows for different events, such as women's or men's football teams, under 21 football teams – I assume that includes Westmeath – or games for people with a disability. As these examples show, the various exceptions reflect what most people would regard as acceptable and necessary differences of treatment.

Discrimination in disposing of premises and provision of accommodation is also prohibited, subject again to a number of exclusions. Among the exemptions are disposals by will or gift, small premises where the accommodation provider continues to live on the premises, accommodation intended for use by persons of one gender and refuges and nursing homes.

Educational establishments may not discriminate against students in matters such as admission or access to courses. There are a number of exemptions in the education area. For example, single gender schools are permissible. Denominational schools may refuse to admit non-co-religionists in certain circumstances. Education establishments may make reasonably necessary distinctions based on gender, age or disability in relation to sport. Differences of treatment are also warranted if the admission of a student with a disability would make impossible, or be seriously detrimental, to the education of other students.

Sections 8 to 10 deal with discrimination by registered clubs. The approach taken in relation to such clubs differs from that taken in other areas. The Bill does not prohibit discrimination by clubs against members or potential members. Instead it seeks to discourage such discrimination by allowing a complainant to apply for a determination from the District Court that a registered club, that is, one which can sell intoxicating liquor, is a discriminating club. If the club is determined by the District Court to be a discriminating club, it will not be entitled to renew its certificate of registration until it has rectified the situation.

A number of exemptions are provided in section 10 in relation to registered clubs. Clubs are not regarded as discriminating just because they cater for persons of a particular religion, age, nationality or ethnic origin. A club may provide separate, but equivalent, facilities for particular age groups or different sexes in certain circumstances. Relevant and reasonably justifiable differences of treatment in relation to sporting facilities or events based on gender, age, disability, national or national origin are permissible. Cer tain positive action measures designed to promote greater equality are also exempted.

In section 11, sexual harassment or harassment based on any of the discriminatory grounds is prohibited in the areas covered by the Bill. A person in authority in an educational establishment, a person providing services or accommodation or disposing of goods or premises may not sexually harass or harass a student or customer, etc. Furthermore, a person who is responsible for the operation of an educational establishment or a place at which goods, services or accommodation facilities are offered to the public may not allow a student, customer, etc., to suffer sexual harassment or harassment there. It will, however, be a defence for the person responsible to show that he or she took reasonably practicable steps to prevent such harassment. Section 12 prohibits any form of advertising which indicates an intention to discriminate, to sexually harass or to harass.

I have already referred to some of the specific exemptions which apply to particular areas. There are also some general exemptions in sections 14 and 16. For example, actions which are required to be done by or under statute, court order, EU law or international obligations are exempt, as are bona fide positive action measures. A reasonable preferential charge for persons together with their children, married couples, persons in a specific age group or persons with a disability is permissible. Differential treatment is acceptable where it arises in the exercise of clinical judgment or because the person concerned is incapable of entering an enforceable contract or of giving informed consent.

Section 15 deals with safeguards. It makes it clear that a service provider or similar person is not required to serve a customer if the service provider has reasonable grounds, other than discriminatory grounds, for the belief that provision of the service would create a substantial risk of criminal or disorderly conduct or behaviour or cause damage to property. It also provides that action taken in good faith for the sole purpose of complying with the Licensing Acts is not discrimination.

Sections 17 to 19 make special provisions for the needs of persons with a disability in the area of transport accessibility and convenience in using public streets and pavements. They provide for regulations requiring that buses and trains and bus and train stations be readily accessible to persons with disabilities. In addition, road authorities must provide kerb ramps or similar features when constructing or altering public paths.

I will now turn to the enforcement provisions under Part III of the Bill. Claims of discrimination or harassment may be referred to the Director of Equality Investigations, an independent official whose establishment is provided for in the Employment Equality Act, 1998. This office will provide a simple, inexpensive and speedy means of redress for victims of discrimination. As I have already said, the decision on whether a club is a discriminating club is a matter for the District Court and I would emphasise that the Director of Equality Investigations will have no function in the matter of discriminating clubs.

The procedures outlined in sections 21 to 39, which deal with cases referred to the director, correspond, subject to certain modifications and exceptions, to those applicable to cases referred to the director under the Employment Equality Act, 1998. I will mention some aspects of the redress procedures. A claim referred to the director under this Bill must be preceded by an initial notification to the respondent within two months of the alleged discrimination, or of its most recent occurrence. This requirement is intended to put the respondent on notice and give him or her the opportunity to take remedial action.

There is a six month limit for referral of claims to the director, which may be extended in exceptional circumstances to 12 months. The director may at any time dismiss a claim in which the complainant has insufficient interest or which is made in bad faith or is trivial, vexatious or frivolous. The director may investigate a claim or, alternatively, seek to resolve the matter by mediation. Having investigated a claim, the director may award compensation and-or require that a particular course of action be taken. Compensation is limited to the maximum that could be awarded in a civil case in contract, currently £5,000.

The director will have strong investigative powers to enter premises, to obtain relevant information, through interview or otherwise, and to ensure the imposition of sanctions in the event of failure or refusal by persons to co-operate with an investigation. Decisions of the director may be appealed to the Circuit Court within 42 days. The Equality Authority will have the power under section 24 to refer certain cases to the director. Such cases could involve discrimination against a group of persons or a situation where the person concerned is not in a position to bring a case themselves. The authority may also refer cases involving prohibited advertising, failure to provide kerb ramps and non-compliance with regulations on transport accessibility. It will also have the power to seek injunctions.

Part IV, together with the Schedule, extends the functions of the Equality Authority, as set out in the Employment Equality Act, 1998, to include equal status matters. Part V deals with general matters, including expenses, regulations, vicarious liability, offences and commencement.

This Bill is a core element of my Department's equality agenda. It is part of a wide ranging programme of measures aimed at the promotion of greater equality and the full participation of all groups in the economic, social and cultural life of this country. Its provisions and those of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, would give Ireland a comprehensive anti-discrimination code. I look forward to contributions by Deputies on this important legislation.

Finally, after a two year wait, the Equal Status Bill is being introduced. However, one might ask, with justification, why the delay? While the Minister explained that a great deal of legal advice had to be sought, the essential thrust of this measure is the same as that of the 1997 Bill and it could have been introduced much sooner. Nevertheless, I hope this revised Bill will meet Supreme Court requirements.

The Minister described the Bill as a ground-breaking measure with the potential to affect many areas of Irish life. However, before any of us starts to congratulate ourselves on this anti-discrimination legislation, we should face reality. The Bill is being introduced at a time when Dublin Bus is purchasing 150 new buses which will not be accessible to people with disabilities and when wheelchair users still have difficulty booking taxis, despite the approval of a further 820 licences for wheelchair adapted taxis. It is being introduced at a time when no transport organisation, including State companies funded by taxpayers, provides disability transport units to ensure the transport needs of disabled people are met. It is being introduced at a time when the interdepartmental committee set up to look at the transport needs of disabled people has not operated for a year. It is being introduced at a time when the 1992 building regulations are being blatantly ignored and disregarded. It is being introduced at a time when many of our health centres are inaccessible. More importantly, it is being introduced in a week when once again, to our shame, we witnessed a protest march to the Dáil last Tuesday by people with disabilities seeking justice, fair play and transport for all.

We must be realistic and admit that the revised Bill is being introduced against this background of discrimination, exclusion and inequity. I pay tribute to the former Minister, Mervyn Taylor, who introduced the first Equal Status Bill and who, in many ways, broke many barriers with his and his Government's determination to process equality legislation. It is regrettable that this Bill is necessary but there is no doubt that in our society, equality legislation is necessary. Sadly, we still harbour some prejudice and intolerance. In spite of many attempts to sweep it under the carpet, too many of our people experience discrimination and intolerance. The Bill, which I welcome, prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race, colour, national and ethnic origins and membership of the travelling community.

I wish to pose some important questions. Does the substance of the Bill live up to its worthy aspirations? Is it about equality, justice and equal rights? Is it based on the principle that every individual has an equal right to participate in society? All of us believe that everyone should be seen to be of equal worth and entitlement but are they? Will the legislation succeed in breaking down the old barriers and outdated attitudes? It is by answering these questions that we will be able answer the most far reaching question. Will this legislation create the reality to which we aspire?

Yet in spite of all the equality legislation that has been introduced and all the promises and commitments that have been made in party manifestos and programmes for Government, we must, with some shame, admit that too many people still experience discrimination and that is an unpalatable reality. We must also admit that negative and hostile attitudes still flourish in society. This is the second attempt to introduce this type of legislation as the Equal Status Bill, 1997, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on grounds that some of the sections in it were considered repugnant to the Constitution.

Many of my comments will relate to people with disabilities. The Supreme Court decisions shocked and dismayed these people, in particular. The Irish Council for People with Disabilities stated that "The Supreme Court ruling had taken disability back to the dark ages when property was more important than people." It immediately initiated a campaign for a constitutional referendum to add a clause banning discrimination against people with disabilities. That was an understandable and reasonable reaction from a sector which weighed all its hopes for equality on this and other legislation.

The review group on the Constitution proposed the addition of an anti-discrimination clause. It is for this reason that there is an onus, a moral obligation on us to get it right this time and I hope that, in a spirit of co-operation, we end up with a Bill that will truly promote equality and prohibit all forms of discrimination. While I acknowledge that many improvements were made to the 1997 Bill on Committee and Report Stages, nevertheless, I will propose further amendments which are necessary and vital to ensure that this Bill will provide and guarantee the protection and rights of all sections of society. However, I assure the Minister that my amendments and opinions will be offered in a spirit of co-operation and I hope he will give fair and reasonable consideration to them.

On publishing the Bill, the Minister described it "as a ground-breaking measure with the potential to affect many areas of Irish life" and said that it would enable Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. He did not refer to important treaties, conventions and covenants, which could have an impact on the success of this legislation, especially as it applies to people with disabilities. The Amsterdam Treaty which came into force on the 1 May 1999 contains an important general non-discrimination clause. Unlike Irish legislation, the Amsterdam Treaty does not state that discrimination can occur if the costs are more than nominal costs. This general provision in Article 6 should have been used as a basis for equality legislation here. Both the Amsterdam Treaty and the Equal Status Bill aim to ensure that there is social inclusion and, therefore, should have the same basis.

I am disappointed that much of the contents of the Bill does not adequately, if at all, reflect the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. Its report was debated and accepted by this House, yet, as with the National Disability Authority Bill, 1998, many of its recommendations have been ignored, diluted or, even worse, changed in this Bill. The definition of "access" is based on physical access only and the supply of information through an accessible medium is not mentioned. The Bill only recognises spoken or written language and this excludes those who cannot communicate through spoken or written language. To be effective the Bill should specifically provide for information in an accessible format and also Irish sign language.

An unwelcome change in the Bill is that the onus lies on the individual with a disability to prove a case, which is unlike the previous Bill where the onus was on the service provider. This is a particularly important change when it is taken into account that the majority of people with disabilities come from backgrounds where they are marginalised, discriminated against and, as a result, have a great fear of bureaucracy and administration. However,the essence of the Bill is good and the changes which I will recommend will copperfasten the elimination of discrimination and social exclusion faced by many people. We must have the courage to confront the challenge of ensuring that a proper and strong Bill is passed into law.

We are going back over old ground in this legislation. As with the National Disability Authority Bill, 1998, I have a problem with the definition of "disability" as used in this Bill. It is still very much a medical definition and the language used in it has caused distress to many people with disabilities and it is hurtful. In 1997, the USI expressed outrage at the definition and stated that the then Minister had revised the positive outlook for people with disabilities through the language used to define "disability" in the Bill. When words such as "malfunction" and "malformation" are used in a definition they conjure up a medieval image of people with disabilities.

In any legislation, whether it is this Bill, the National Disability Authority Bill, 1998, or the Employment Equality Bill, 1997, we should be able to define sensitive conditions in a language that is positive and not demeaning. How can people hope to be treated as equal citizens when they are described as "different"? I hope the Minister will give serious consideration to amendments to this definition on Committee Stage. We depend too much on international and legalistic definitions, rather than on humane and sensitive terminology. The Minister stood firm during the National Disability Authority Bill, 1998, debate on the definition, but, nevertheless, there must be room for agreement.

I welcome the inclusion of parents and other close relatives in section 2, as they can often be discriminated against by virtue of having a disabled son or daughter or relative, but where are people who live in residential care or sheltered housing accommodation covered? Section 4 is contentious in that it seems to revolve around the medical module of disability. For the great majority of people, use of the word "special" conjures up an image of major cost and, therefore, could be used for ensuring that people with disability are excluded. Many people are angry with the philosophy and terminology used in this section. Put bluntly, it means that accommodation provision for people with disabilities is to be measured in terms of financial cost, without any definition of what is nominal.

Neither is it clear in what circumstances the claim of nominal cost will apply. This section has been rewritten just to comply with the Supreme Court judgment, and is not based on what we want in reality. It still allows service providers to opt out and to continue to exclude people with disability from their services.

The Bill also uses the term "reasonable accommodation" which is open to interpretation. What is reasonable accommodation? Who will decide on what is, or is not, reasonable? Take, for example, the owner of a night-club who may think the cost of a disability ramp is unreasonable and, therefore, will not ensure accessibility. This section must be tightened up and clearly copperfastened to ensure the term "reasonable accommodation" cannot be used as a cop out mechanism.

There is another example of where the word "reasonable" is clearly preventing access. Section M of the Building Regulations Act states that any building erected after 1992 must be wheelchair accessible. However, if one is renovating a building which was built before 1992, one has only to make reasonable adjustments. If the Minister examined what people describe as reasonable access, he will find that inaccessibility still exists. Because of that word "reasonable", many buildings are still inaccessible to people with disabilities. If one takes a trip around any city or town with a wheelchair user the fear of exclusion quickly becomes a frightening reality.

Section 4(4) is welcome in general terms, but it should not be included in the disability section. Due to its inclusion in that section, it further excludes and marginalises people with mental health disabilities. Why is this section confined to the disability section of the Bill? What about the harm that can be caused to persons who have excess alcohol, drug abusers, those who suffer from road or air rage, or others? Why was this section only written under the disability heading? In its present format, it is basically an insult to people with disabilities.

Section 5(2)(e) raises a particular concern for me. It seems that insurance companies are exempt from what constitutes discrimination in respect of differences in the treatment of persons in relation to annuities, pensions, insurance poli cies or any other matters related to the assessment of risk where the treatment–

(i) is effected by reference to–

(I) actuarial or statistical data obtained from a source on which it is reasonable to rely, or

(II) other relevant underwriting or commercial factors,

The wording of this section seems to make legal the current discriminatory practices by insurance companies against people with disabilities. This discrimination places a huge burden on such people. I know of people experiencing difficulties in obtaining car insurance. The cost of the car is not the problem, it is the cost of the insurance. In one case, a person with a disability was quoted an annual premium of £3,000 for car insurance. The Bill should help such people instead of copperfastening the rights of insurance companies.

Serious questions must be posed on this section. Who decides on what is reasonable? What are the other relevant factors that are not mentioned? What is described as "actuarial or statistical data" has been and continues to be used by insurance companies in determining which customers they will insure, or what loading they will apply to customers. Any section that so facilitates this custom must be strictly examined and debated in full on Committee Stage.

There are many sections in the Bill on which I do not have time to comment at this stage. On Committee Stage I intend to discuss in more detail other sections, including section 17 which deals with the accessibility of transport. Those who are aware of the feelings of people with disabilities know that the question of mobility is one of their primary concerns. In the space of a year we have seen three protest marches to Leinster House by people with disabilities. We should ensure in this Bill that such people can become more mobile by having access to the same type of transport that we all enjoy.

The Bill is welcome but it is important to ensure that, when enacted, the legislation will work and will have the desired effect. There is simply no point in passing flawed legislation. This is a second chance for us to get it right. We have had the benefit of the last debate on this matter so there can be no excuse for not framing the Bill as perfectly as is humanly possible. The concerns and reservations raised can be dealt with in a positive manner. I hope the Minister will consider the issues raised by me in a fair and co-operative way. We must, as a matter of priority, enact an Equal Status Bill that will truly promote equality and prohibit discrimination. The quality of life for so many people depends upon our deliberations. I hope that, together, we will serve them well.

I welcome the Bill, although, in common with Deputy Ahearn, I am concerned that it has taken almost two years to introduce it. This followed a Cabinet decision in June 1997, when the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government came into power, to re-enact the Employment Equality Bill and the Equal Status Bill, which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Deputy Ahearn referred to one example within the last six months where Dublin Bus purchased 150 buses which were inaccessible to people with disabilities. That, in itself, is an indication that it would have been better to have introduced the Bill at a much earlier stage. In that way, the legislation would have been in force when Dublin Bus made the decision to purchase a new fleet. The company would, thus, not have been permitted to buy buses to which people with wheelchairs cannot gain access. Dublin Bus has promised to change its ways in future, but the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that such discrimination does not take place.

Under the terms of the Bill, public and private bodies cannot discriminate in the nine categories referred to. The Dublin Bus case is a good example of why it would have been better to have reintroduced the Bill more swiftly. I published a Bill at the end of last year to encourage the Government to move more quickly. The Minister has indicated that the Supreme Court did not investigate the previous Equal Status Bill in any great detail. Nevertheless, it was not necessary to delay the legislation until now. The constitutional problems were not particularly severe in relation to the Equal Status Bill.

The Bill is presented within the context of a broad international framework. The Good Friday agreement is one of the most important elements upon which the Bill is based. There is a commitment in that agreement to produce equal status legislation as well as a Human Rights Bill which is being worked on in committee at the moment. I regret that I cannot attend the committee today because it is sitting at the same time as this debate is taking place.

There are also the UN's standard rules and a variety of international conventions, some of which the Minister referred to in his contribution. These include, for example, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Amsterdam Treaty is clearly of central importance. There is also the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled People of 1975, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Retarded Persons, which was the language used at the time, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.

As Deputy Ahearn said, the Amsterdam Treaty provides a general framework for non-discrimination in Article 6, which states that without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. There is no mention in that Article of "nominal cost", a phrase which is included in this Bill and in the Employment Equality Act.

The standard rules on the equalisation of opportunities for persons with disabilities are very important as a framework in which we set our legislation. These were adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 1993. The main purpose of the rules is to show how society has to and can change to allow all its members to participate on an equal basis. There is more detailed guidance in the standard rules as to what is required than ever before. The rules cannot be enforced legally but it was hoped that they could be an accepted standard internationally when looking at the lives of people with disabilities. The Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities adopted those rules as a major reference guide during its discussions and included them in its final report.

The rules cover all aspects of a person's life and show how states can make social, political and legal changes to ensure that people with disabilities can become full and equal citizens of their country. The rules also provide the basis for technical and economic co-operation among States, the UN and other international organisations. There are 22 such standard rules and Ireland was one of the signatories to them.

That is the international context to this important Bill. I am disappointed by the reproduction of the term "nominal cost" from the Employment Equality Act in this Bill. The Minister knows we tried hard to have that amended during the debate on the Employment Equality Act. Section 4 of this Bill is very disappointing and, as Deputy Ahearn said, it concentrates on people with disabilities in a way that the other nine categories are not concentrated on. That concentration is very negative and I hope the Minister looks at it again.

I refer particularly to section 4(2), which states that a refusal or failure to provide the special treatment or facilities to which subsection (1) refers shall not be deemed reasonable unless such provision would give rise to a cost, other than a nominal cost, to the provider of the service in question. Section 4(3) states that a refusal or failure to provide the special treatment or facilities to which subsection (1) refers does not constitute discrimination if, by virtue of another provision of this Act, a refusal or failure to provide the service in question to that person would not constitute discrimination. Where a person has a disability that in the circumstances could cause harm to the persons or to others, treating the person differently to the extent reasonably necessary to prevent such harm does not constitute discrimination.

The concept of undue difficulty is one with which the Supreme Court took issue and could be more positively dealt with. We are taking a step back rather than a step forward by including this section and I ask the Minister to look at it again. We are trying to improve the protection of these nine categories and this section does the opposite.

We are experiencing a time of economic growth and there is a lot of wealth in the country, including in the coffers of the Minister for Finance. We are now at the important stage of defining what kind of society we want in the next millennium. We want a society that is based on citizenship and that is interactive. I believe the public would be very supportive of spending more funds on those suffering disadvantage, including those suffering a variety of disabilities.

The nine grounds on which discrimination is outlawed in the Bill are comprehensive and proactive in promoting tolerance and respect for diversity. There is disturbing evidence that the potential for racist sentiment is not far below the surface, though most citizens empathise with the stranger in a strange land. There is also evidence of a selfishness that does not want to share but the Bill will help combat racism. There has been a steady stream of immigrants into Ireland in the recent past which can be divided into many categories: students, EU citizens, asylum seekers and non-EU citizens who have qualified for work permits. There is also the very welcome group of Kosovans who arrived recently. In some instances society has not reacted well to this influx and one can easily detect the emergence of sentiments such as those which fuelled the growth of the National Front in France and other far right groups in Europe. I hope this legislation will become one of the State's most effective tools in combatting this nascent racism. As a country with a long history of emigration we should be to the forefront in the campaign against racism and intolerance. We need only look at the experience of our previous generations of emigrants to see how soul destroying exclusion and intolerance can be. The ignorance and, in many cases, brutality visited on so many Irish emigrants is known to every Member.

It is important that we use language sensitively to develop a society where racism cannot take root. We must talk sensitively about refugees and asylum seekers. I believe we need to grant the right to work, to education and to legal representation, though I recognise that there has been progress on this front. These people are entitled to a fair hearing and, above all, to respect. We have an important role as public representatives in leading public perception by using inclusive language and by reducing the tendency to set the needs of locals against the needs of asylum seekers or travellers, which often happens.

What progress has been made in finding suitable premises for the Equality Authority? When can we expect to see the full implementation of the Employment Equality Act and this Bill, when it passes? It is also important to have an information campaign for the public and for the targeted groups. It is important to convey the provisions and protections in the Bill to those at whom it is aimed.

I welcome the progress made by the Garda in embracing different cultures and in setting up training programmes to deal with this matter. Last week I put down a Parliamentary Question on the relationship between the Garda and the gay and lesbian community and the response was very positive. There is now co-operation between representatives of gays and lesbians and the Garda. There are also education and training programmes to enable the Garda use new technology and a code of practice is also being introduced. Those are the kinds of measures we need to introduce.

I hope the recommendations of the Commission on Travelling People will be implemented as soon as possible. There is still a lot of subtle discrimination against women. I refer to the matter of registered clubs. I am disappointed that the Minister said he has altered the relevant section in the Bill so that, while clubs found to be discriminatory will forfeit their registration, they will not be denied public funds or the use of publicly owned recreation facilities. The Minister said the changes follow legal advice on the matter.

I ask the Minister to look at this again. I have met representatives of the Irish Ladies' Golfing Union and they have specific problems in that there are loopholes in the law. For example, different categories of members of golf clubs do not have full voting rights in relation to some issues such as how money is to be spent and how membership is to be organised. Such loopholes mean women can still be discriminated against even under this legislation. Also, members were not permitted to become full members of such clubs for many years, even though they were, in effect, full members. They are now being charged the full amount for new membership fees as if they were coming to the club for the first time.

The Bill restricts rather than enhances the rights of people with disabilities. While referring to the Employment Equality Bill, I quoted dictionary definitions of "nominal". These include "token", "small", "minimal in comparison with real worth or what is expected", "in name only". If this is the best wording that can be produced, the balance between social justice and constitutional property rights is badly skewed in favour of property rights. If the Minister is constrained to this extent we should acknowledge the Constitution's inadequacy to construct the society we wish to have in the next century and propose that the people amend it. I hope the necessary amendments will be passed on Committee Stage. If they are not, I cannot see how the promised disability Bill will be any more constitutional than this legislation or its forerunner. Given the consti tutional restraints and the Minister's interpretation of them, a constitutional amendment will be necessary in order to restore a balance between social and property rights. If the Minister cannot accept amendments to this Bill, I hope he will consider a constitutional amendment.

When equality legislation is qualified it is very easy to cross the boundary line between protecting against discrimination and providing for it. That boundary is crossed in section 4 of the Bill. I urge the Minister to re-examine this section.

I agree with what Deputy Theresa Ahearn said about sensory disabilities, particularly Irish sign language, and the need for people to have comprehensible information and access. The inaccessibility of, for example, ATM machines and public telephones has been highlighted. The lack of access to these facilities is often unnoticed by those of us who do not use wheelchairs. Deputy Ahearn referred to demonstrations about the transport issue by people with disabilities. While there is a number of wheelchair accessible taxis they do not seem to be available for wheelchair-using passengers. I realise that taxis are owned by private companies and individuals, but this issue must be dealt with and the rights people with disabilities must be protected. The question of accessibility to all forms of public transport must be addressed.

The country has a great deal of wealth at present. Spending on important infrastructrure has been growing steadily while spending on facilities for people with disabilities has grown only very slowly. We must adopt a rights based attitude to the provision of these facilities rather than be constrained by lack of funds. People must have access, by right, to what they need. People with disabilities should not be forced to take part in ongoing pressure groups progressing from one issue to the next.

Ensuring that buildings and services throughout the country are accessible in time for the forthcoming Special Olympics will present a challenge. I hope we rise to that challenge and see the event as an opportunity to put such facilities in place. The Franklin D. Roosevelt prize was won largely on the basis of the recommendations in the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. These recommendations must be fully implemented.

Local authorities and particularly vocational education committees have an important role in protecting the rights of people with disabilities. The local authority of which I am a member recently adopted a motion encouraging our council to implement the UN standard rules to which I referred earlier. Section M of the building regulations referred to by Deputy Ahearn is extremely important in terms of access. Progress will be made in providing accessibility only if designated staff are appointed in each local authority to ensure that regulations are properly implemented. Things which are no one's particular responsibility tend not to be done.

Local authorities and vocational education committees play an important role in providing access to sporting facilities for females. In my area we have great difficulty ensuring that soccer pitches are provided for girls. On soccer pitches all over the country male teams of all ages and standards are given priority and girls play only when they are not being used by boys or men. I hope this legislation will force local authorities to give equality to girls and women in sport. The family and marital status aspects of the legislation should give rights to single people who often find it difficult to get public housing.

The Minister referred to the need to dovetail this legislation with previous legislation, including the Employment Equality Act, the Amsterdam Treaty, the UN standard rules, various international conventions and human rights, immigration, refugee and consumer protection legislation. If this can be done and if we can overcome the constitutional obstacles, we can develop the kind of society we want. We must also show leadership and propagate tolerance. We must sow the seeds of tolerance and nourish and enrich the ground in which they grow. Public representatives, teachers, gardaí and members of public authorities play a role in this. When the legislative framework is in place we must promote the societal attitudes which go with it. This is not simply a matter of making speeches and preaching to people. We must also co-operate with people, persuade and advocate and confront issues such as the placing of halting sites and the allocation of scarce resources to the needs of minority groups. This takes leadership and patient negotiation. My last conversation with the late Deputy Pat Upton was on this issue. We spoke of how it was not sufficient to make speeches in the Oireachtas and of how one must also work with people and gradually persuade those who have negative attitudes towards equality. Local partnerships have done much work in this area. My own partnership, the Paul partnership in Limerick, includes a traveller development group.

We live in a highly competitive world which, while encouraging people to do their best, often leaves people behind. We have an obligation to build a framework which ensures inclusion. If that entails extra costs and extra trouble to service providers, so be it. If it is impeded by clauses in the Constitution, that question must be addressed. If this legislation cannot be improved, it will not do what we want it to do. We need a rights based legislative framework and if we must change the Constitution to provide it, we must propose that to the people. I welcome the legislation and look forward to debating its further Stages.

I fully support the provisions of this ground-breaking measure which has the potential to affect many areas of Irish life. It replaces the Equal Status Bill, 1997, which the Supreme Court found unconstitutional. The thrust of this measure is the same as the 1997 Bill but it has been appropriately amended to meet the requirements of the Supreme Court. The Bill represents a commitment to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is necessary to enable Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination and to lift our reserve on the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

The Bill provides for the promotion of equality and the prohibition of discrimination, harassment and related behaviour in non-employment areas and for remedies and enforcement measures. It complements the Employment Equality Act, 1998, which outlaws discrimination in all areas relevant to employment. The specific grounds on which it prohibits discrimination are gender, marital and family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race, including colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin, and membership of the travelling community. The Bill outlaws direct and indirect discrimination on these grounds with regard to the provision of goods and services, accommodation, disposal of premises and education. All services generally available to the public are covered, including facilities for refreshments and entertainment, credit facilities and transport services.

Complaints of discrimination, other than discrimination by registered clubs, may be referred to the office of the Director of Equality Investigations established under the Employment Equality Act, 1998. The director, having investigated a case, can award compensation of up to £5,000 or require the taking of a specific course of action. Decisions of the director in equal status cases may be appealed to the Circuit Court. Cases involving registered clubs will be heard by the District Court with an appeal to the Circuit Court. Under the Bill the remit of the Equality Authority will also include equal status measures.

Section 3 defines discrimination for the purpose of the Bill. Discrimination shall be taken to occur where on one or other of the discriminatory grounds that exist at present, which previously existed but no longer exists or which may exist in the future, or which is imputed to a person, a person is treated less favourably than another person is, has been or would be treated. Discrimination also takes place where the requirement to comply with a condition has a substantially more adverse effect on a category of persons than on others and the obligation to comply with that condition cannot be justified as being reasonable in all the circumstances of the case.

Section 5 prohibits discrimination in the disposal of goods or the provision of a service. It is irrelevant that the goods or service are provided for payment or only to a section of the public. There are exemptions for the disposal of goods by will or gift and for differences of treatment in certain circumstances in particular areas such as insurance, adopting-fostering, sporting events and entertainment and where privacy is a factor.

Section 6 prohibits discrimination in land dis positions, provision of accommodation and services and amenities related to accommodation. Section 7 prohibits discrimination by educational establishments against students in relation to admission, access to courses and facilities. Primary and post-primary schools will not be regarded as discriminatory just because they are single gender and a seminary may restrict admission to students of only one gender or religious belief. Differences of treatment by third level institutions as between EU nationals and students from third countries are exempt. An educational establishment may limit the access of a student with a disability if the student's disability is such that it would make it impossible or be seriously detrimental to the education of other students.

Section 8 outlines the criteria and process by which a club is determined to be a discriminating club. A club is considered to be a discriminating club if it discriminates against a member or applicant for membership. Any person, including the Equality Authority, may seek a determination of the District Court that the club is a discriminating club. Such an application may be dismissed by the District Court if it is brought in bad faith or is frivolous, vexatious or trivial. The determination may be appealed to the Circuit Court within 42 days.

Section 9 provides that in certain circumstances a club is not considered to be a discriminating club. A club whose principal purpose is to cater for persons of a particular religion, age, nationality or ethnic or national origin and which refuses membership to a person who does not belong to the relevant category is not considered discriminating. A club is not considered discriminating if it confines access to a membership benefit or privilege to persons of a particular gender or age group provided that it would not be practicable to do otherwise and provided that the same or equivalent benefit is provided separately to those excluded.

I agree with the provisions of section 10 which provides that a certificate of registration under the Registration of Clubs Acts, 1904 to 1995, which would permit the sale of intoxicating liquor will not be granted or renewed for a discriminating club.

Sexual harassment is covered by section 11. A person in authority in an educational establishment, a person providing services or accommodation, or disposing of goods or premises is prohibited from sexually harassing or harassing a student or customer as the case may be. Sexual harassment is defined as an unwelcome act of physical intimacy, an unwelcome request for sexual favours or an unwelcome act or conduct with sexual connotations.

Section 12 makes it an offence to publish or display an advertisement which indicates an intention to engage in prohibited conduct. Section 16 specifies that certain actions are not discriminatory. A reasonable preferential charge for persons together with their children, married couples, persons in a specific age group, or persons with a disability is permissible.

Part III of the Bill deals with enforcement. The Employment Equality Act, 1998, provides for the establishment of the Equality Authority and the office of the Director of Equality Investigations and for their respective functions in the employment equality area. Under section 21 a person who claims that prohibited conduct under the Bill has been directed against any person may refer the case to the director. No claim will be investigated unless the complainant gives the respondent an initial notification in writing within two months of the alleged act of discrimination and the respondent fails to reply to the satisfaction of the complainant. The director may dismiss the claim if the complainant does not have sufficient interest in the claim or the claim has been made in bad faith, is frivolous, vexatious or trivial.

Sections 26 to 31 deal with investigations by the director. The types of redress which the director may order are one or both of the following: an order for compensation or an order that the persons as specified in the order shall take a specific course of action. The director may go to the Circuit Court to seek information to take specific courses of action. Part IV of the Bill outlines the additional functions conferred on the Equality Authority.

I fully support the legislation which is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement and the principles of common sense. We want to build a society that respects the differences of others. Discrimination is the key element which must be eliminated at all times. The Amsterdam Treaty which came into effect on 1 May gives the European Union greater powers in combating discrimination in society. The European Union should take the necessary measures to achieve these important policy objectives.

I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister for bringing it forward and moving, at long last, on the equality agenda, the impetus for which was provided by my former colleague and Minister, Mervyn Taylor, who introduced a large tranche of reforming legislation. During the term of office of the partnership Government there was a separate Department of Equality and Law Reform. It is to be regretted that the Fianna Fáil Party, for whatever reason, took it upon itself following the 1997 general election to dismantle that Department and place it under the wing, as a small division, of the Department of Justice.

Day in, day out the Department must deal with the myriad of problems relating to the Justice portfolio, including the gardaí, prisons and the crime wave. While this point is slightly off the subject under debate, I repeat my call for an independent audit of current crime statistics because serious crime is on the increase as we have seen over the past 18 months and it is incumbent on us to deal with it.

The former Department of Equality and Law Reform was subsumed and submerged by the Minister's massive Department. The pioneering drive which Mervyn Taylor brought to that Department during the partnership and Rainbow Governments has sadly been lost as a result of not having an independent Department. We find ourselves here some years after the Supreme Court decision again addressing equality legislation. It was regrettable that the Employment Equality Bill was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, that we have had to revisit this Bill and that we did not have this necessary legislation on the Statute Book for the past number of years.

Like many Deputies who represent the Dublin area, I see the need to address the issue of equality on a daily basis, particularly in relation to people from different ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities and the traveller community. Yesterday, I represented one of the new Irish, one of the people who arrived in this country in recent years. He has married and is living with a young family in an inner city private flat and complains bitterly that he has been subjected to harassment and intimidation. He is from a North African country. As regards his ultimate status and that of family, it is clear he will remain in this country long-term. The catalogue of abuse he detailed to me makes it incumbent on this House to take a stern stand on this issue and to make it clear that that type of behaviour is intolerable. Certain areas of our city have changed with the arrival of newcomers and it is incumbent on the Minister to implement the significant refugee legislation which the Rainbow Government passed and which was worked on by the previous Government in the partnership era.

This legislation is crucial as regards the administration of the rights of citizens, and I referred to people from different ethnic backgrounds. My colleagues and I believe it is regrettable that the Minister has seen fit to water down some of the ground breaking aspects of the original Equal Status Bill banning discrimination. On Committee Stage we need to look at a number of aspects of this Bill as regards reform.

In recent years people suffering from disability have often complained bitterly to Members on all sides about the lack of will on the part of the House and the Government to take the fundamental action necessary to promote accessibility at all levels and to ensure the full integration into the workforce and community of people suffering from physical disabilities in particular. It was a disgrace that the expansion plans for Dublin Bus announced by the Minister's colleague did not originally provide for those with disability and also for accessibility.

I represent one of the constituencies in the capital city which is served by the DART. We, with the northside organisation for those with disability and for the improvement of accessibility in transport, which is based in my constituency, have had lengthy ongoing negotiations in this regard. We have come up against a rigid and what will be, following the enactment of this legislation, an illegal approach by Iarnród Éireann which refused to make the DART stations on the northside, in particular, accessible and to invest in necessary accessible carriages and platforms. It is impossible for members of that group in the Kilbarrack and Edenmore areas, in particular, to utilise the excellent public transport which the DART provides because no effort has been made by Iarnród Éireann. Until very recently, no effort was made by Bus Éireann either to promote full accessibility.

Over the years the public sector has attempted to engage in affirmative action in relation to people with disabilities. When I was a Member of the Committee of Public Accounts in the 27th Dáil, almost every year we asked the Accounting Officers of each Department about the 3 per cent rule in relation to people with disability. Although I am not sure if the position has improved much in recent years, we seemed to be far from enabling people with disability to take their rightful role in the public service.

I refer to the traveller community and the settlement of that community. My northside constituency and neighbouring constituencies have taken the lead through Dublin City Council and, to a much lesser extent, Fingal County Council, which is not yet properly off the blocks in relation to the provision of settled accommodation. The northside areas administered by Dublin City Council have begun to seriously address the housing and associated needs of the traveller community over the past ten or 15 years. The Housing Act, 1955, this legislation and the Constitution make it clear that this is something with which we must deal. I pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy McManus, and former Senator Mary Kelly who were very prominent in heading up the commission on the traveller community and their rights as regards, health, housing, education and so on.

I am proud that a number of parishes in my area have 30, 40 or 50 housing units for travellers but, in general, it is an area in which we need to take a tough and determined stand to ensure the right to housing for everybody, particularly for this small number whose ancestry and traditions go back to time immemorial. Very often they bear some of the greatest names in our country's history, such as Ward, McDonagh, Gavin and so on.

I commend this Minister to the extent that this legislation has been introduced and will make it illegal for people to discriminate in the provision of basic services and, indeed, social services for the traveller community. Housing and education programmes have helped to integrate the settled and traveller communities in my area in recent decades. There are many promising developments in that area. This legislation will strengthen communities and encourage them to realise their full potential.

Although this is the second time around for this Bill, I commend the Minister for introducing it. We will raise a number of issues on Committee Stage. We hope it will be law as soon as possible and that discrimination on the grounds of religion, ethnic background, sexuality, etc. will be left in the past as we move into the 21st century. I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Deputies who contributed to this debate. Deputy Theresa Ahearn referred to the lack of wheelchair accessible taxis, the fact the interdepartmental committee on transport has not met and that building regulations are being ignored. She acknowledged that many of the issues she mentioned are not relevant to my Department. I can only introduce this legislation in the best spirit possible.

I draw the Deputy's attention to the power under sections 17 and 18 to make regulations to ensure that certain vehicles, including buses and trains, and bus and train stations are accessible to people with disabilities. I am sure she welcomes that provision. Building regulations do not come within my remit. I join the Deputy in encouraging everyone to be mindful of the need to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities. I assure her that regulations which can be made under the relevant sections will be considered carefully in the context of the implementation of this legislation.

Deputies Theresa Ahearn, O'Sullivan and Broughan expressed concern at the lapse of time since the previous legislation was introduced and suggested that it should not have taken two years to introduce this Bill. We were obliged to proceed extremely carefully to ensure the Bill was constitutional. The Employment Equality Bill was considered in great detail by the Supreme Court. This meant we were able to address the issues which were found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and introduce an Employment Equality Bill which was not unconstitutional and covered the points raised by the Supreme Court.

The difficulty is that the Supreme Court did not consider the Equal Status Bill in any detail. In those circumstances, we were operating without the benefit of the Supreme Court's judgment and had to proceed with great caution. The broad scope of the legislation and the many constitutional issues involved meant we would have been foolish not to take detailed legal advice and that is what we did. There was no point rushing through a Bill which might not stand the test of time. We had to introduce legislation which would stand up. We did that in so far as it was possible for us to introduce legislation which comes within the parameters of the Constitution, although nobody can be definitive about such things. I am sure everyone agrees it was more important to get it right than to rush through a Bill which might fail at the first hurdle.

Deputy Theresa Ahearn also referred to the Supreme Court judgment on disability and said it had been criticised by many people who advocate the rights of people with disabilities. I note what she said about what is seen as a setback for people with disabilities. She also said that section 4 was inserted only to comply with the judgment and not to reflect equality. Unfortunately, we had little room for manoeuvre because of the Supreme Court judgment and consequential upon it. It was my desire to preserve the concept of reasonable accommodation as far as I could. In doing that, I had to ensure the Bill was constitutional. This presented a difficulty and it would be churlish of me not to admit that. We tried to include the reasonable accommodation provision as far as we could, but I admit we were greatly constrained, as Deputy Theresa Ahearn pointed out, by the Supreme Court judgment.

We discussed the definition of disability in great detail during our deliberations on the Employment Equality Bill. It would not be fair to participants in this debate, who also engaged in that debate, to go over that ground again. I am sure everyone will be relieved to learn that I will not do that. The definition is the same as that in the Employment Equality Act, 1998.

Deputy Theresa Ahearn also referred to treaties, including the Amsterdam Treaty. Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty enables the EU to take action to combat discrimination based on a number of grounds, including sex, religion, race, age, disability or sexual orientation. Any action must be taken on the basis of anonymity. Action could include, for example, a directive or an awareness raising programme. My understanding is that no action has yet been taken under Article 13. There is no contradiction between this legislation and Article 13. Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which deals with equality provisions, states that the Council acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on the various grounds.

Deputy O'Sullivan asked about premises and the operative date of the legislation. As I announced in March, premises for the Equality Authority and the Director of Equality Investigations have been secured at Clonmel Place near Harcourt Street. I understand it is a very fine premises. The Employment Equality Act is due to come into operation on 1 September 1999. It is not possible to say when this legislation will come into effect. The legislation will be brought forward and will take effect at the earliest date practicable.

Deputy O'Sullivan referred also to the views of women golfers and the whole issue of registered clubs. There is only one sanction in this legislation against the discrimination of registered clubs. While some may say it would be desirable if there were more sanctions, the legislation reflects the legal advice I have received. However, the removal of a drinks licence from a registered club is a serious sanction. It would remove from the club a lucrative source of rev enue. We had to take legal advice in regard to other sanctions and the legislation reflects the legal advice obtained.

Deputy O'Sullivan referred to concerns expressed by women golfers about the voting rights of associate members. I do not consider it would be appropriate to include a detailed provision of that type in this Bill. I emphasise the Bill deals with discrimination not only in regard to membership but in regard to facilities offered to members of registered clubs.

The Deputy criticised section 4(4) and said it was targeted at people with disabilities. Section 18(3) of Deputy O'Sullivan's legislation is similar to section 4(4).

Is there a nominal cost?

The provision in the Deputy's Bill is quite similar. Deputy O'Sullivan may have a different view on the matter but that is my view.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. The debate has not been as controversial as the previous discussion which related to the Employment Equality Bill. I look forward to the debate on Committee and Report Stages. I recognise the work and research the Opposition have done for this debate. I acknowledge their bona fides in trying to improve the legislation. If there are amendments on Committee or Report Stages which are worthwhile and should be taken on board, I will not be found wanting in that respect.

Question put and agreed to.