Equality (Amendment) Bill 2014: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000.

I and many other Deputies have over the past two years brought to the Taoiseach's attention the growing housing crisis and what is rapidly becoming a housing emergency.

Emergency action is necessary to deal with it. There are many aspects to that, including the need for social housing and rent allowance caps but one particularly obnoxious element of the housing crisis that is pushing people into homelessness is the outrageous practice of landlords saying rent allowance is not accepted. It is discriminatory and it is naked prejudice that should not be tolerated in a civilised society. It is contributing directly to homelessness.

On 3 March, in all of Dublin there were 1,394 family sized properties available to rent. Of those, only 22 accept rent allowance and, of those, only nine were under the rent caps. That is completely unacceptable and a recipe for homelessness. In Dún Laoghaire, in 2013 there were 75 studio apartments for single people available in the entire year. Of those, 55 refused to accept rent allowance and none of those left over were under the rental cap. There was nothing available for single people looking for accommodation.

It is often suggested that landlords say rental allowance is not accepted because they want to dodge tax. The deliberate intention of the PRTB rental registration process and the inadvertent consequence of registration for the local property tax means that almost all landlords are now compliant. Why do they refuse to accept rent allowance? It is just prejudice. Not accepting rent allowance is a euphemism for saying there will be no poor people, no disabled people, no elderly people and no single parents or people with mental health difficulties. It is the modern equivalent of the terrible historical practice Irish people suffered in Britain, where signs said "No dogs, no blacks, no Irish". It is unacceptable.

The Bill simply proposes to insert into the list of grounds on which people cannot discriminate someone's social, economic, income or employment status, including their status as a recipient of State financial assistance. It will become a new socio-economic ground along with the other grounds covering disability, gender, race, religion and so on in the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act. It is a simple measure and although it will not resolve the housing crisis, it will have an impact on this disgraceful practice and free up some of the available rental properties for people who are desperate and are being driven into emergency accommodation, shelters, sleeping on the street and dire situations because of the obnoxious practice of disbarring people simply because they are in receipt of social welfare.

I urge the Government to support the Bill. I am limited in that my request for time to debate the Bill will go into a lottery but I would be happy to co-operate with the Government on using some of its time in the Chamber to bring forward a response to an emergency. It is about ending a practice of discrimination that leads to gross suffering for many citizens. Other positive spin-off effects include discrimination against people in employment because they happen to be from a particular area. Hopefully we will get a chance to debate the Bill in the Dáil.

Is the Bill being opposed?

I am sure Deputy Boyd Barrett is aware of the changes made to allow him and other Deputies to move Bills like this. The Bill is not being opposed.

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.