Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person's social and economic disadvantaged background; for those purposes to amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000; and to provide for related matters.

I wish to share time with Deputy Wynne.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Equality is at the core of republicanism and a basic principle of any modern-day society. The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that people can no longer be discriminated against on the basis that they are from a disadvantaged socio-economic area, background or accent. For example, if this Bill is enacted, employers and service providers could not discriminate against a job applicant or current employee because of their accent or the socio-economic status of the area they come from.

Over the past 20 years, there have been countless reports and many recommendations have been made for this inclusion. In 2019, Paul McKeon, on behalf of the Institute of International and European Affairs, noted in his work that the continued exclusion of socio-economic status has created a hierarchy of equality in Ireland, where the State sends a message that it has protections against some forms of discrimination but allows others.

During the previous Dáil, Fianna Fáil looked to pass a similar Bill and got support from Sinn Féin and the Greens. I hope that support will be returned for this Bill, which will address the concerns Fianna Fáil and the Green Party had then.

On the topic of lived experience in parts of the Dublin South-East constituency which I serve, this is a systemic issue that dates back generations for people who live in local authority flat complexes and who report high levels of generational and present-day social exclusion and discrimination, which is directly and indirectly due to their social and economic background. In one example, a young constituent from a flat complex, who had a master’s degree and is a fluent Portuguese speaker, reported to me that after submitting a video application for a job in a multinational company, he was later contacted by a concerned employee of that large multinational company. This employee informed him that fellow employees had joked and mocked the young individual’s inner-city Dublin accent, with one questioning how and where "the knacker" picked up Portuguese while reviewing his video application.

On a final note, this Bill is an important step in sending out a message to society and to those who are affected by this type of discrimination that it is unacceptable. I believe the Government can, and will, support this Bill.

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.

Is the Bill 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.