Written Answers. - Equality Issues.

Dan Boyle

Question:

61 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether the changes to the Equal Status Act 2000 proposed in the Intoxicating Liquor Bill are compatible with the Government's obligations under the EU Race Directive to be imposed in July 2003. [17231/03]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

62 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the way in which he proposes to respond to other providers of services or goods, who also seek special exemptions for their sector in setting a precedent by creating a special exemption from the jurisdiction of the Equality Tribunal for licensees and publicans. [17232/03]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

63 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has consulted with the Human Rights Commission, the Equality Authority or other groups representing the interests of people protected by the Equal Status Act 2000 before deciding to propose the removal of the jurisdiction of the Equality Tribunal in discrimination cases in licensed premises; if so, the persons with whom he consulted; and the views of those bodies in this regard. [17233/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 61, 62 and 63 together.

In my opinion the changes proposed in the Intoxicating Liquor Bill are necessary changes and are wholly compatible with the EU Race Directive.

Under the Race Directive member states are required to ensure that judicial procedures for enforcement of obligations under the directive are available to all persons who consider themselves wronged by failure to apply the principle of equal treatment to them.

Under the Intoxicating Liquor Bill any individual who considers him or herself to have been discriminated against by a licensee may seek redress through the District Court.

The Commission on Liquor Licensing submitted its "Report on Admission and Service in Licensed Premises" in December 2002. As regards equality matters, the report contained a number of suggestions for legislative changes, one of which was the transfer of jurisdiction from the Equality Tribunal to the District Court, but no formal recommendation.

In January 2003 my Department wrote to the social partners and advised them that a consultation process in relation to chapter 4 of the commission's report – Issues arising in relation to Equality Infrastructure – was to be held by means of submissions and a series of bilateral meetings. Consultation with the statutory quality bodies was also arranged at that time. The Departments of Health and Children, Social and Family Affairs and Environment and Local Government were also contacted for their observations in relation to chapter 4.
One submission was subsequently received from the employer pillar (IBEC), one from the trade union pillar (ICTU) and two submissions were received from the community and voluntary pillar (Irish Council for Civil Liberties's joint response from equality and human rights organisations and Pavee Point). Two submissions were received from the statutory bodies, the Equality Authority and the Equality Tribunal. Bilateral meetings were held where requested.
I am strongly of the view that the District Court should have jurisdiction in all matters related to access and service in licensed premises whether under the liquor licensing code or under equal status legislation.
On 17 June 2003 Government approved publication of the new Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2003, including a provision to transfer jurisdiction for cases of alleged prohibited conduct involving licensed premises, apart from accommodation related matters, from the Equality Tribunal to the District Court. The Equality Authority will be allocated a role in referring cases to the court and in providing assistance to those seeking redress.
Lest there be any misinterpretation as to why I am making this change, I wish to put on the record of the House that I have complete confidence in the professionalism and integrity of the Equality Tribunal. The proposed changes will free up resources in the tribunal, enabling it to tackle its serious backlog and concentrate on complaints of discrimination in other areas.
Transferring jurisdiction from the Equality Tribunal to the District Court is not an exemption from the requirements of the anti-discrimination legislation. The legislation will be fully enforceable through the courts.
In fact, the Government has extended the forms of redress under the Intoxicating Liquor Bill further than what is currently provided for under the Equal Status Act 2000. Under the Equal Status Act the redress mechanisms provides for either an order for compensation or an order that a person take a specified course of action, whereas under the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, apart from the redress available under the Equal Status Act, it also provides for an order for the temporary closure of a licensed premises. Also, where an order has been made against a licensed premises, any person may make an objection, related to the prohibited conduct concerned, to the renewal of the licence of the licensed premises.
The requirements on a complainant for lodging a case before the District Court are less onerous than under the Equal Status Act 2000. Under the Intoxicating Liquor Bill there will be no requirement on the complainant to notify the respondent in writing within two months of the alleged prohibited conduct of the complaint and the intention to seek redress by referring the case to the Director of the Equality Tribunal.
Apart from matters related to access and service in licensed premises, it is not my intention to transfer jurisdiction from the Equality Tribunal on any other matter.
Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 33.
Question No. 65 answered with Question No. 31.