One of the key objectives of my Department is to promote a fair, tolerant and caring society. This includes the development of a broad framework of policies and measures to create and promote an inclusive society and to combat discrimination including racism.
In point of fact, Ireland is already to the fore in its promotion and protection of the principles of equality and freedom from discrimination as a result of the ground-breaking legislation which was enacted in this regard with the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000. This legislation prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination in the areas of employment and access to goods and services on nine grounds; gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller community.
Amendments to both these Acts were made in the Equality Act 2004 which gives effect in domestic law to Ireland's obligations as a member of the European Union to implement Community initiatives provided for under Council Directives 2000/43/EC and 2000/78/EC, adopted under Article 13 of the EC Treaty, and Council Directive 2002/73/EC adopted under Article 141 of the treaty. These Directives, commonly known as the Equality Directives, provide for equal treatment on the grounds of gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. There is, therefore, a broad legislative infrastructure in place under which discrimination can be dealt with.
There are also in place effective institutional structures, in the shape of the Equality Authority and the Equality Tribunal, to ensure effective implementation of the statutes. At a general level within society, it is the role of the Equality Authority to promote the awareness of the overall equality framework, of which anti-racism measures are a constituent part. The Authority works at many levels and with many bodies towards the elimination of racial discrimination within society. Furthermore, the Equality Tribunal is the main body for investigating and mediating on cases of discrimination and harassment.
Developing reasonable and common sense measures to accommodate cultural diversity in society and to combat racism are key ongoing priorities for the Government. Among the measures taken by the Government was the very successful "Know Racism" campaign which brought together representatives of Government, the Social Partners, Community, Voluntary and Farming sectors and key bodies such as the Equality Authority and the NCCRI and the Garda Síochana to raise awareness of racism and promote respect for diversity. This work continues, for example, in campaigns like the Anti-Racism Workplace Week which runs every November and is organised by the Equality Authority.
Arising from commitments given by the Government at the 2001 UN Conference Against Racism in Durban and reaffirmed in Sustaining Progress, the Taoiseach and I launched the National Action Plan Against Racism (NPAR) in January, 2005. The Plan provides strategic direction to combat racism and to develop a more inclusive, intercultural society in Ireland. The development of the Plan was preceded by a 12 month consultation process involving a wide range of stakeholders, including Government, the social partners, NGO's including representatives of minority ethnic groups and the travelling community. There are five primary objectives underpinning the NPAR:
Effective protection and redress against racism, including a focus on discrimination, threatening behaviour and incitement to hatred
Economic inclusion and equality of opportunity, Including focus on employment, the workplace and poverty
Accommodating diversity in service provision, including a focus on common outcomes, education, health, social services and childcare, accommodation and the administration of justice
Recognition and awareness of diversity, including a focus on awareness raising, the media and the arts, sport and tourism
Full participation in Irish society, including a focus on the political level, the policy level and the community level.
In relation to specific measures taken under the NPAR, I would refer the Deputy to my replies to Question No. 79 of 7 December, 2006 and Question No. 34 of 22 February, 2007.
The NPAR has received international recognition drawing praise from the United Nations Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) in its Concluding Observations on Ireland's national report on the implementation of the UNCERD.
The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) was established in July 1998. The NCCRI is an independent body and is funded by my Department. The Committee provides a forum for Government departments, agencies and non-governmental organisations to develop a constructive dialogue on issues which arise in relation to opposing discrimination in our society. Its overall aim is to provide an ongoing structure to develop programmes and actions aimed at developing an integrated approach to anti-discrimination issues, particularly racism and to act in a policy advisory role to the Government. The NCCRI works proactively with Government in this area and has been a key partner in the development of the National Action Plan against Racism.
The Director of the NCCRI and Chief Executive of the Equality Authority are both members of the Strategic Monitoring Group for the NPAR.
I am satisfied that the policies and strategies in place are effective and take into account the considerable economic, social and cultural change that we have undergone and will continue to experience in the future.