I am proud to be a sponsor of this important Bill along with my colleague, Deputy Andrews. We know that any true measure of a society is how it treats its citizens, especially the most vulnerable, the young and the old, regardless of their socio-economic background. We must ensure that discrimination of any kind is called out and that those who experience it have somewhere they can go to make a complaint and have their rights defended.
Current legislation provides for discrimination on the grounds of gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability and race, and against members of the Traveller community. What is missing is the same kind of protection against discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic status. The need for this legislation has been well-documented in various reports from human rights and equality groups, particularly in the past decade as we see poverty increase. Ireland now falls behind other EU member states on this issue, and this legislation is long overdue. An ESRI report a few years ago highlighted that this form of discrimination is likely to be unreported, which suggests we also need to have an awareness campaign, particularly for employers and for the workplace, and to really put out the message that discriminating against someone’s social class or economic background will no longer be tolerated.
Where people are from, their address, their accent, their economic situation or their social position should not be a barrier to employment, education, housing or any other services. This is about class discrimination, which is systemic, and it will need more than this legal remedy to stamp it out. Right-wing social policies are part of the problem that makes it difficult to break the cycle of poverty and much more needs to change. We need a Sinn Féin-led Government to effect this change but, for now, recognising that this kind of discrimination exists and adding socio-economic status as a form of discrimination to the legislation is an important step.
Fianna Fáil’s well-intended Bill back in 2017 was unnecessarily blocked by the Fine Gael Government on Committee Stage. Claims that the definitions were problematic were not credible. International examples of how this is done are readily available. It was a poor excuse by Fine Gael then and it is a poor excuse now. It is time to get on with it. I hope others will support the passage of this Bill and that, today, we take this important step towards breaking the cycle of systemic discrimination against people with a socio-economic disadvantage or a particular accent, or because they come from a certain area.