Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill 2014: From the Seanad

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 8 form a composite proposal and will be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 1:
Section 10: In page 11, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
“(i) to be the body designated for the purposes of Directive 2014/54/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 on measures facilitating the exercise of rights conferred on workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers;”.

I want to inform the House about a small number of amendments to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill that were discussed and agreed in the Seanad. I propose to outline these amendments and the reasoning behind their acceptance. These are technical amendments which need to be made in two places – in section 10 and in the Long Title to the Bill - and to transpose into Irish law the EU Directive 2014/54/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 on measures facilitating the exercise of rights conferred on workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers.

The substantive EU directive that eliminates discrimination against migrant EU workers is contained in an earlier EU regulation dating to 2011, Regulation (EU) No. 492/2011, which we have already fully transposed in our employment equality legislation. There is one new provision for us in this new directive, which is that the designated national body should act as a contact point vis-à-vis other national bodies. The Equality Authority is the designated body for the purpose of the other EU equality related directives and is already part of the European network of equality bodies. This is not a new role in practice. However, it has not been referred to in legislation previously. Article 8 of the directive requires that the directive be referenced in national transposing legislation. All the other provisions of this directive have equivalents in our equality legislation and no new rights are created, so the opportunity is being taken to make this amendment to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill, which is all we need to do by way of legislation for the transposition to be complete. I recommend acceptance of the amendment.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2, and 4 to 7, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 2:
Section 28: In page 22, line 9, after “under” to insert “subsection (5) of”.

This deals with the duties of public bodies and the cross-referencing needed as a result of the changes agreed in the Seanad. Amendment No. 5 is based on a proposal originally introduced by Senators Zappone and van Turnhout in the Seanad and I wish to acknowledge their work. The other amendments are mainly consequential changes in cross-references. The proposed amendments add something valuable to section 42, which introduces a positive duty on public bodies to have due regard to human rights and equality and reflects a commitment in the Government’s programme for national recovery 2011-16, which states: "We will require all public bodies to take due note of equality and human rights in carrying out their functions."

The commission will assist public bodies to comply with the positive duty, including by producing guidelines and codes of practice as outlined in section 31. The Seanad amendment allows the commission, in situations where it is justified and reasonable to do so, to invite a public body to undertake a review or develop and implement an action plan in respect of a failure by that public body to comply with its statutory human rights or equal treatment obligations. This new provision has the potential to allow the commission and public bodies to work together in a positive way to solve problems before they become crisis situations. The assistance the commission can offer includes training and both the existing bodies, the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission, have been active and successful in the area of training. I pay tribute to the work of both bodies. This allows them to work with bodies where a problem has been identified. The organisation must have good reason to decide to do so but it offers potential for positive engagement to deal with an issue where it is identified by the body or the commission and put in place a proper equality plan.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 3:
Section 31: In page 25, to delete line 17 and substitute the following:
“(4) A code of practice under section 56 of the Act of 1998 in operation immediately before the commencement of this section shall—
(a) remain in operation after such commencement, and
(b) be deemed to be an approved code of practice for the purposes of this section, and may be amended or revoked by order of the Minister.
(5) A code of practice standing approved under this section (including a code of practice to which subsection (4) applies) shall be admissible in evidence—
(a) in proceedings before a court, or
(b) in the case of proceedings under Part VII of the Act of 1998 or Part III of the Act of 2000, before the Labour Court, the Labour Relations Commission, the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Director of the Equality Tribunal, or a rights commissioner.”.

This is also a technical amendment. It is being included for sake of consistency with the approach in the workplace relations Bill, which was approved by Government this week. The amendment does not make any substantive change in the text from a strict legal perspective, but it spells out in detail what the existing text - "judicial notice shall be taken" - means and, on that basis, it is useful in making the text more accessible to the reader and avoiding any doubt about the intention. Put briefly, the intention is that a code of practice, once signed into law by the Minister of the day, can be relied upon by employers, or employees, or any group of the public as a definitive guide to how to deal with particular issues or stay out of trouble and then can be relied upon in court if a dispute arises on that issue.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 4:
Section 42: In page 34, line 6, to delete “these” and substitute “those”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 5:
Section 42: In page 34, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
“(5) Where the Commission considers that there is evidence of a failure by a public body to perform its functions in a manner consistent with subsection (1) and that it is appropriate in all the circumstances to do so, the Commission may invite the public body to—
(a) carry out a review in relation to the performance by that body of its functions having regard to subsection (1), or
(b) prepare and implement an action plan in relation to the performance by that body of its functions having regard to subsection (1), or both.
(6) A review or an action plan under subsection (5)* may relate to—
(a) equality of opportunity or human rights generally, or
(b) a particular aspect of human rights or discrimination, in the public body concerned.”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 6:
Section 42: In page 34, line 22, to delete “this section” and substitute “subsection (5)”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 7:
Section 42: In page 34, line 24, to delete “this section” and substitute “subsection (5)”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 8:
Title: In page 5, line 10, after “body;” where it secondly occurs to insert the following:
“to provide that the said body is the body designated for the purposes of Directive 2014/54/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 on measures facilitating the exercise of rights conferred on workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers;”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendments reported.

A message will be sent to Seanad Éireann acquainting it accordingly.

Before leaving the Bill, I want to say a few words on its completion. This is an important item of legislation and substantial work was undertaken on the legislation during my time in the Department. Over two years of work went into it and I particularly thank Mr. Deaglán Ó Briain, who did enormous work in the Department liaising with international and local bodies to ensure the best possible item of legislation came before both Houses. I thank my former special adviser, Mr. Tom Cooney, who was a prominent member of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and who carried out substantial work. I particularly thank the review group that came together representing the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission.

This is an important day in human rights legislation. We now have an enhanced Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, with broader powers than the individual powers of the disparate bodies in the original form when the Government came into office. It is a day worth celebrating for those in non-governmental organisations and for the current members of the commission in that the legislative process is finally complete. I note the small number of amendments made in the Seanad and I particularly agree with the amendment tabled by Senators Katherine Zappone and Jillian van Turnhout, which improves the Bill. It is always important we take on board constructive proposals to improve and enhance legislation.

I will send out an invitation to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission on one particular matter. I do not want to labour the issue in the context of this Bill. In a speech I made in this House, which both the Government and the Opposition chose to ignore, I raised the failure to comply with basic fair procedures, constitutional justice and natural justice in the manner in which Mr. Sean Guerin, SC, did his work in the Guerin report.

I invite the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, which has prominent members, to examine from a human rights perspective-----

-----how that matter was dealt with.

On a point of order, if the Ceann Comhairle was in the Chair he would not tolerate a member of the Opposition using the concluding debate on a Bill to settle old scores. It would not be allowed. I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to rule on that. The Minister is present. It is the Minister's job to conclude the debate on a Bill, not the former Minister.

The Minister will do that. I will call the Deputy also.

The Deputy is discomforted by the knowledge that that matter should-----

Have a bit of humility for once in your life.

It is political point scoring.

The Deputy has no interest in human rights of any description.

Deputy Shatter, have you concluded?

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all Members of the Oireachtas who contributed to the informed debate on this important legislation. It is particularly appropriate in view of the fact that Ireland will present its case on human rights to the UN Committee on Human Rights on Monday in Geneva. As Deputy Shatter said, this is a critical part of the infrastructure of human rights. As I have done previously in this House and in the Seanad, I pay tribute to the former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, for the pivotal role he played in developing this legislation and his contribution to it.

I have emphasised the importance of the Bill in the context of our commitment to strengthening human rights and equality infrastructure. I was glad I was able to accept the amendments in the Seanad to strengthen it further and ensure there will be even more mechanisms for the new human rights commission to intervene where bodies and institutions are not meeting their obligations relating to equality. It is important those bodies have that extra opportunity to be able to intervene and work proactively with organisations.

The merger has been a long time in the making. I know the commissioners designate and the staff of both the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority are keen to have a reformed and solid legislative base in place for their work. I believe that both bodies coming together will give us a strengthened body. I wish it well in its work ahead and the important job it has to do.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the bodies when they were operating as the Equality Authority under Niall Crowley and the Human Rights Commission under Dr. Maurice Manning. I thank Deputies on all sides of the House for their contributions to the debates on the Bill in both Houses and I wish the new body the very best in terms of its workload and the difference it will make to human rights in this country.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I indicated that I wanted to speak.

I am sorry. I call Deputy Mac Lochlainn.

As I have said through the different Stages on this Bill, we had an Irish Human Rights Commission that did important work. The Equality Authority is doing important work also. A number of years ago the chairman of the Equality Authority had to resign because its budget was cut by 35% and he felt he was not in a position to fulfil his responsibilities on behalf of the citizens to hold Government to account. In recent weeks significant issues have arisen to do with the failure of the Government to meet its human rights responsibility. That will be raised with the Human Rights Council.

This is not a great day for human rights in Ireland. This is the amalgamation of two authorities that were doing excellent work. It is about a consolidation. It undermines the Good Friday Agreement. How can we lecture Unionists in the North about the need for a human rights Bill and strengthening human rights infrastructure when we undermine ours and amalgamate the two authorities? I cannot accept that, particularly the lectures from the former Minister on this issue. We will be calling a vote on it. This is not a good day for human rights. There has been an undermining of the excellent work done by people who were undermined and faced budgetary cuts and setbacks throughout that period.

I am advised by the Clerk that this legislation has been through the Seanad and that the Dáil will not vote on it.

That concludes the debate.