Equality Bill 2004: Report and Final Stages.

Before we commence, I remind Senators that they may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on it. On Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, lines 23 and 24, to delete "IN PART".

This is a technical amendment. When I raised the matter last time, the Minister explained the situation, but the Labour Party's legal adviser still thinks there is a problem with the wording. Perhaps the Minister has re-examined it.

I second the amendment.

I really do not know what the problem is and I still cannot see how I can accept the amendment. As I explained on Committee Stage, the European Communities (Burden of Proof in Gender Discrimination Cases) Regulations 2001 give effect to Council Directive 97/80/EC on the burden of proof in cases of discrimination based on sex. The regulation applies to gender discrimination cases taken under both the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Maternity Protection Act 1994. The Maternity Protection (Amendment) Bill 2003 revokes part of the regulations regarding maternity discrimination cases and will re-enact the relevant provisions. The Equality Bill 2004 revokes and re-enacts the relevant provisions of the regulations regarding the Employment Equality Act 1998. The inclusion of the phrase "IN PART" is therefore currently required while both Bills are still before the Oireachtas.

Perhaps I could seek clarification. I could not find the relevant place, but apparently another part of the Bill refers to policing the regulations in full. If that is stated somewhere else in the Bill, there is a contradiction. Perhaps the Minister might examine the question when the Bill comes before the Dáil. That is what I have been told, although I could not find the reference.

I will have a look at it.

I thank the Minister of State.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 9, to delete lines 3 to 8 and substitute the following:

"(c) it shall not be lawful for an employer to require an employee compulsorily to retire from his or her employment on reaching a particular age if on reaching that age the employee is able and willing to continue in employment.”

We had a very long discussion about this on Committee Stage and I will not go into all the arguments again. However, I feel that it is very important. If I had to pick out one amendment, this is the one I would have tabled. I feel very strongly that this is the next area of discrimination that must be tackled, both in the workplace and in other venues. We should not discriminate against people on the basis of age.

I was discussing the issue afterwards with someone, who asked what would happen if one had a 90 year old pilot. That response shows the level of discrimination, since one could have a 30 year old pilot with problems. There is an idea that, just because one is older, one is past it, and the reality is very different. As I said, we are losing out on people's contributions to the workplace and society in general. People are living long and healthy lives, and we must address that sooner rather than later. I would like the Minister to take on board the point made in the amendment as soon as possible.

I second the amendment.

I have a great deal of sympathy with Senator Tuffy's point of view, as I indicated on Committee Stage. For the record, section 34(4) of the Employment Equality Act 1998, which represents the current law, provides that:

Without prejudice to subsection (3), it shall not constitute discrimination on the age ground to fix different ages for the retirement (whether voluntarily or compulsorily) of employees or any class or description of employees.

The framework employment directive does not require the removal of this provision and a consensus emerged during consultations that the issue goes beyond employment equality policy and has broad socio-economic and industrial relations implications, which is the difficulty we face in terms of taking action on the matter today.

Compulsory retirement ages are a feature of many types of employment set over time. In many cases, they have been arrived at after negotiation and collective bargaining. In the case of private sector employment, the removal of existing agreements or arrangements with respect to compulsory retirement age is a matter in the first instance for agreement among the social partners. With respect to public service employees, however, in line with his recent Budget Statement, the Minister for Finance recently published the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004, which includes provision to remove the compulsory retirement age for new entrants to the public service and will, I understand, be debated in the Seanad tonight.

The purpose of the new subsection 3(c), which this amendment would remove, is to allow an employee who wishes to continue in employment after normal retirement age to do so, in the event that the employer agrees, by allowing the employer to offer a fixed-term contract without fear of a case of discrimination on the age ground being taken by other employees. By replacing section 6(3) of the 1998 Act, the upper age limit of 65 years is removed in order that employees over the age of 65 years will have all the other protections from discrimination offered by this legislation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 9, between lines 15 and 16. to insert the following:

5.—The Act of 1998 is amended by inserting the following section after section 7:

‘7A.—The Minister is committed to ensuring the adherence to, the application and enforcement of the principle of equal pay for equal work in all circumstances.',".

I welcome the Minister of State. While I was not present to contribute during the debates on Second and Committee Stages, I recall that a similar amendment was proposed by my colleague, Senator Terry, on Committee Stage. Having read the discussion of the amendment between the Senator and the Minister of State, it is clear that our concerns have still not been addressed.

A well established, straightforward principle of equal pay for equal work applies across the EU without provisos. Some of the provisions in the Bill give reason to query whether the Minister is fully committed to this principle. The statutory based discrimination provided for in section 24, to which I will refer later, is one such provision.

The purpose of the amendment is to state in black and white that the Minister is committed to the well established principle. During the debate on Committee Stage last week, the Minister of State stated that Senator Terry's view on the matter was aspirational. A clear statement of our view on equal pay for equal work should not be aspirational — nor would it fit under an aspirational heading — and should be applied in practice. The Minister of State's reply on Committee Stage left much to be desired. I look forward to his reply in this debate.

I second the amendment.

Senator Phelan wants my support for the principle of equal pay to be stitched into the legislation. On this occasion, he will have to be satisfied with it being placed on the record because I am advised that it is not appropriate to write the principle into primary legislation, nor has it been, to the best of my knowledge, anywhere else.

As I stated on Committee Stage, the proposal is aspirational in character and, therefore, not appropriate to primary legislation. However, the provisions of the gender equality legislation introduced in the 1970s were enhanced and extended by the 1998 Act to include eight additional discriminatory grounds. Specific provision was made to enshrine the entitlement to equal remuneration across all nine grounds. Moreover, strong equality promotion and enforcement structures were established in the form of the Equality Authority and the Equality Tribunal. Both of these statutory bodies are now fully functioning and are having a real impact in terms of implementing the principles laid down in the legislation.

The Senator referred to section 24. I do not accept that this section represents any sort of statutory underpinning of any form of discrimination. It is, as I will argue when we reach it, merely an enabling provision to encourage employers to employ people with disabilities.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 4:
In page 12, to delete lines 12 to 14 and substitute "capable on reasonable accommodation (in this subsection referred to as ‘appropriate measures') being provided by the person's employer".

The new section replaces the provision under section 16(3) of the Act of 1998 as regards the duty of employers and persons engaged in vocational training to do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities to enable them to access and participate in employment or training, as applicable. At present, the requirement on employers is limited to the provision of special treatment or facilities where this gives rise to no more than a nominal cost.

Arising from article 5 of the framework employment directive, it is proposed to extend this requirement on employers to the taking of a range of appropriate measures, except where they would impose a "disproportionate burden". The criteria against which "disproportionate burden" is to be determined are set out in the new section 16(3)AC. For the purposes of this provision, appropriate measures are defined in paragraph(b). As I stated, we agreed to take the matter on board on Committee Stage and I am doing so now in the appropriate format.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 13, between line 10 and 11, to insert the following:

10.—Section 16 of the Act of 1998 is amended by inserting the following subsection:

‘(7) Nothing in this section shall operate to discharge an employer from his or her obligations to provide full and equal access of employment to persons with disability.'.".

This amendment inserts a new subsection in section 16 of the Employment Equality Act 1998, section 9 of which goes some distance towards relieving employers from their duty to adapt their premises for disabled people. The section goes too far in this regard and the amendment proposes to ensure that section 16 of the 1998 Act cannot be used to justify inaction by employers. It is essential that employers' premises and other public buildings and premises be adapted to facilitate people who have disabilities.

I second the amendment.

While I have a certain sympathy for the sentiments expressed by the Senator, the position is that, under the Constitution and in accordance with a decision of the Supreme Court, one cannot oblige an employer to take any measures to accommodate people with disabilities if they would impose more than a nominal cost. In this legislation, we have been able to move away from the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution with regard to employment legislation because of the EU framework employment directive, which allows us to shift from "nominal cost" to "disproportionate burden", but no further.

Unfortunately, the amendment goes further and, as such, is impossible to accept. In the first instance, I do not believe the Attorney General would agree to it and it would also be unconstitutional. As I stated, the EU framework employment directive enables us to go further than the interpretation of the Supreme Court in this context. Legally, however, we cannot go further than provided for in the legislation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 15, to delete lines 19 to 32.

The Labour Party has resubmitted this amendment because the original legislation allowed section 25 to apply only in certain limited circumstances, which are listed, whereas this legislation encompasses circumstances other than those prescribed. The Minister of State argued on Committee Stage that the section, as amended in accordance with his proposals, would narrow the circumstances in which section 25 will apply. I fail to see how this could be the case, given that it does not remove the circumstances under which it is permitted to discriminate for reasons of gender. Surely, therefore, the legislation will broaden the section by shifting from the particular to the general. Logically it must broaden it. I see the reason for this section, but it leaves openings. People looking at that will see that there are many other possibilities that could be covered by it. Previously it was quite clearcut in that only certain categories were listed and if one was outside those one would not have a case to make. I would like to hear the Minister's response.

I second the amendment.

I still argue that we are narrowing it. The original legislation was section 25 of the Employment Equality Act 1998. This was an excluding section. It excluded certain activity from the scope of the legislation. What we are doing here is replacing section 25 in its entirety with a section which excludes certain activity, in effect, the same activity, from the operation of the legislation. It is our intention, and I hope we have carried it into reality in the wording, to exclude it in a much narrower way. Section 16 of the Bill replaces in its entirety section 25 of the Employment Equality Act, permitting discrimination on the gender ground where a person's gender is an occupational qualification. Article 2.6 of the gender equal treatment in employment directive provides:

Member States may provide, as regards access to employment including the training leading thereto, that a difference of treatment which is based on a characteristic related to sex shall not constitute discrimination where, by reason of the nature of the particular occupational activities concerned or of the context in which they are carried out, such a characteristic constitutes a genuine and determining occupational requirement, provided that the objective is legitimate and the requirement is proportionate.

Member states, then, may provide that in relation to access to employment or to training leading to employment, a difference in treatment based on a characteristic related to sex shall not constitute discrimination where, by reason of the nature of the particular occupational activities concerned or of the context in which they are carried out, such a characteristic constitutes a genuine and determining occupational requirement, provided that the objective is legitimate and provided also that the requirement is proportionate. The gender provisions of the Employment Equality Act do not contain an exclusion of this nature restricted to legitimate occupational activities necessitating the employment of a person of a particular sex. In other words, to overcome the hurdle of getting within the exclusion there are new tests to be met.

Section 16 of the Bill remedies this by replicating Article 2.6 of the directive. The directive does not permit national legislation providing for the exclusion of posts of a certain nature in the manner provided for in section 25 of the 1998 Act. Instead, the directive permits only an exclusion restricted to selection for employment by reference to gender in certain circumstances, i.e. the nature of the particular post or the context in which it is carried out, and in certain conditions, i.e. that the requirement for a person of a particular gender is genuine and that the objective is legitimate and the requirement is proportionate.

The Bill will provide a higher level of protection from discrimination on the gender ground than heretofore by imposing strict tests on employers in each case where it is proposed to restrict recruitment to one or other gender.

Is the amendment being pressed?

It is being withdrawn, but I ask the Minister to look at it again.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 7:
In page 17, to delete lines 23 to 33 and substitute the following:
24.—Section 35 (special provisions related to persons with disabilities) of the Act of 1998 is amended——
(a) by substituting the following subsection for subsection (1):
‘(1) Nothing in this Part or Part II shall make it unlawful for an employer to provide, for an employee with a disability, a particular rate of remuneration for work of a particular description if, by reason of the disability, the amount of that work done by the employee during a particular period is less than the amount of similar work done, or which could reasonably be expected to be done, during that period by an employee without the disability.',
(b) by adding the following subsection:
‘(4) References in this section to a particular rate of remuneration are to a rate of remuneration which is not below the minimum rate to which the employee concerned is entitled under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000.',".

The last comma before the quotation marks should be a full stop.

Paragraph (b) of this section inserts a new subsection (4) in section 35 of the Act of 1998 in response to Senator Terry's proposed amendment on Committee Stage, which I agreed to examine. The Senator's proposal sought the inclusion in the section of a provision prohibiting "a different rate of remuneration paid pursuant to subsection (1) below the level of the National Minimum Wage in force at that time". Having considered the matter, I am satisfied that there is a need to ensure clarity of intention and, accordingly, it is appropriate to insert a provision which sets out the principles sought by the Senator. I sincerely thank Senator Terry for bringing this matter to my attention.

It is good to see how the Minister took this on. I could see that he and his officials had not thought of this. The bones of Senator Terry's amendment are here. It makes a very big difference to the situation regarding the employment of disabled people. The worst thing that could happen is that people would be employed as cheap labour.

I speak on behalf of Senator Terry, who cannot be here today. When she found out what was included she told me she was grateful to the Minister for having examined the amendment she put forward on Committee Stage.

I too thank the Minister for having a look at this. Senator Terry put much work into it. She sought it in an earlier amendment and, two or three amendments on, lest the Minister did not give in, she intended to get him on this one. The Minister has done well. We are all in agreement with a good amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 not moved.
Government amendment No. 10:
In page 18, line 20, after "Authority)" to insert "of the".

This amendment arises from a clerical error in the text of the Bill as passed on Committee Stage. This provision was agreed on Committee Stage and enables the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to remunerate the board of the Equality Authority. In recent years social type boards, such as the authority, have been brought within the sphere of such payments. That is what we are moving on now.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 19, before line 1, to insert the following:

26.—Section 69 of the Act of 1998 is amended by the addition of the following subsection after subsection (6)—

‘(6A) Where an employer fails to have an equality action plan (irrespective of whether he or she had been required pursuant to this section to have such a plan) it shall be presumed until the contrary is shown in any proceedings under this Act that the employer has failed to take such steps as are reasonable to protect the employees of such an employer from discrimination." '.

This amendment is a repeat of an amendment tabled on Committee Stage. Its purpose is to try to get employers to take proactive measures to ensure there is no discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race or on other grounds. I mentioned that the Equality Authority said something about the need for some kind of measure to compel employers to do something to prevent racism in the workplace or discrimination against non-Irish nationals working there. Has the Minister considered introducing measures along the lines proposed here, or different measures with a similar intent? Has the Equality Authority raised it with the Minister?

I second the amendment.

Before I respond to Senator Tuffy I want to ask the Chair to direct the Clerk of the Seanad, under Standing Order 121, to make a minor correction. The word "Office" in page 19, line 45, should not have a capital "O".

Is that agreed? Agreed.

In response to Senator Tuffy's amendment, this is dealt with essentially in section 69 of the 1998 legislation. To the best of my knowledge — I am open to correction — we have received no representations on it from any quarter. I will make further inquiries about it.

The purpose of Part 6 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 is to provide guidance to employers, particularly large enterprises, in taking a proactive approach to implementing equality in the workplace. Section 69 gives the Equality Authority particular powers, at its discretion, to invite a particular business, business group or sector to carry out an equality review or to prepare and implement an equality action plan. The Equality Authority may if it deems it appropriate, carry out an equality review and prepare an equality action plan in respect of large employers, those with more than 50 employees, or in respect of a particular business or a particular sector. The authority has specific enforcement powers with respect to such equality reviews and action plans which are set out in section 69 of the 1998 Act. The EU directives do not require the imposition of a duty on employers to prepare equality action plans. There is no intention in section 69 to coerce all employers to prepare equality action plans. This amendment would have such an effect and would also remove any legitimate defence an employer might have in answering employment discrimination claims before the equality tribunal and those are the reasons why I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 21, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(a) by the deletion of subsection (2),”.

This is a resubmission of an amendment tabled on Committee Stage. The amendment seeks to delete the provision that a discriminatory dismissal should go to the Labour Court rather than the equality tribunal.

There is a large body of opinion that the equality tribunal should have jurisdiction and I ask if the Minister of State has discussed this option with the stakeholders and the outcome of any discussion.

I second the amendment.

With respect to amendment No. 12, there has been discussion on this issue during the preparation of the legislation. The effect of the amendment would be to remove jurisdiction for discriminatory dismissals from the Labour Court. In view of the discussions which took place, the conclusion was that the redress structure provided for in section 77 of the Employment Equality Act, places such jurisdiction with the Labour Court for a very good reason, which is that the Labour Court has extensive statutory powers and long experience of unfair dismissal cases. In terms of equality legislation, this jurisdiction dates back to the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act 1974 and the Employment Equality Act 1977. It is accepted by both sides in social partnership that the Labour Court remains the proper forum for resolution of cases of alleged unfair dismissals. It would also be irrational to makead hoc adjustments to the respective jurisdictions of the equality tribunal and the Labour Court in the absence of a comprehensive review of the employment rights redress system as a whole. The Senator will be interested to learn that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is chairing a review group on this issue and is expected to report to Government later this year.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 21, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(b) by the insertion in subsection (3) after ‘Equal Treatment Directive’ of ’or any other Directive referred to in the Title to the Equality Act 2004, ’.

This amendment was tabled on Committee Stage. It is our contention that the Bill as phrased is contrary to EU law and does not take into account the Marshall No. 2 case. I ask if the Minister of State has examined this amendment.

I second the amendment.

When I addressed this amendment on Committee Stage, I explained there was no requirement on the non-gender grounds in either the framework employment directive or the race directive for access to unlimited awards. The amendments would allow access to the Circuit Court for all employment discrimination cases. In the event that the EU Council of Ministers had intended to make available equal levels of redress between the gender and non-gender grounds, it was open to the Council to make such provision in the directives, however, the Council did not provide for this.

Section 77(3) of the Employment Equality Act 1998 provides that the option for a claimant in a general discrimination case to refer the case to the Circuit Court is available in order to allow access to an unlimited award of compensation. This is a requirement of the gender equal treatment directive following the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the Marshall case of 1993. It is our understanding that the Marshall case only compelled this procedure in gender-related cases and not in other cases. The directives provide that sanctions must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. We are satisfied that the existing level of awards open to the equality tribunal and the Labour Court meet the requirements of the directives. The sanctions available in gender and non-gender cases are sufficiently high to deter unscrupulous employers and to fully compensate employees who suffer the effects of discrimination in the workplace.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 29, lines 26 and 27, to delete "(other than a separate and self-contained part)".

This amendment was tabled on Committee Stage. I argue that the Minister of State should agree to delete the phrase because it does not do what he intends it to do. It is an illogical part of the paragraph and does not need to be included. There are other ways of addressing the issue he is trying to address.

Amendment No. 15 is slightly different to when it was tabled on Committee Stage. We concede that perhaps it needed to be clarified. It is an alternative amendment to amendment No. 14. It would allow for the situation of a separate part of the home and the case of a person providing personal services to the householder. I raised the situation of an au pair in a household who lives in the granny flat. In that situation, the person should be exempted because it obviously relates to the employers who are employing the person in their private home. I await the Minister of State's response to amendment No. 15 in particular.

I second the amendment.

Senator Tuffy made a compelling case on Committee Stage and I agreed to examine this amendment. Having done so, my view has not changed. I was delighted at the terms of the directive because I knew it would compel national governments, including this Government, to extend the ambit of these protections to people in what is loosely termed "domestic service". We have agreed to exclude that protection in certain cases but it is of paramount importance that the exclusion is as narrow as possible. For too long those people have remained unprotected. I understand Senator Tuffy's point of view but we must agree to differ. As indicated on Committee Stage the removal in amendment No. 14 of the section in brackets in lines 26 and 27, "(other than a separate and self-contained part)", which is the basis of the amendment, would make the proposed exemption too broad and exclude from the provisions of the Equal Status Act the letting of separate or self-contained accommodation in the owner's home, such as bed and breakfast accommodation or a self-contained apartment in a house. The race directive does not provide for any exemptions in the accommodation area. In particular, it does not as such exempt the letting of accommodation in the provider's home. The race directive provides in recital four that it is important in the context of the access to and provision of goods and services, to respect the protection of private and family life and transactions carried out in that context.

The protection of private and family life is a fundamental right covered by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is important that the rights to non-discrimination be applied with due respect to the protection of private and family life. The Government proposal is therefore to provide a very narrow exemption excluding the provision of accommodation by a person in a part other than a separate and self-contained part of the person's home where the provision of the accommodation affects the person's private life or that of any other person residing in the home. As already indicated, the aim is to protect the privacy of persons in accommodation-sharing arrangements. It is not the intention to exclude from the Equal Status Act the letting of, for example, a self-contained apartment in the owner's home or bed and breakfast accommodation. To do so would be contrary to the race directive. If amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are taken together, the relevant subsection would state:

. . .the provision of accommodation by a person in a part (other than a separate and self-contained part) of the person's home, where the provision of the accommodation affects the person's private or family life or that of any other person residing in the home, or in a part of the person's home to a person providing personal services (within the meaning of the Employment Equality Act 1998) to the first-mentioned person.

The effect of the addition of the phrase "or in a part of the person's home to a person providing personal services (within the meaning of the Employment Equality Act 1998) to the first-mentioned person" would mean that persons would not be protected by the Equal Status Act who were employed in a private home with provided living accommodation. I know this was not the intention of Senator Tuffy's amendment. However, I am advised that would be its effect.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 15 not moved.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 29, lines 41 to 44, to delete all words from and including "she" in line 41 down to and including "or" in line 44 and in page 30, to delete lines 1 to 3 and substitute the following:

"she requires persons who are not EU nationals or refugees to fulfil reasonable requirements in respect of length of residency in the State.'.".

The Minister of State said Senator Tuffy made a compelling case for amendment No. 14. I hope I did the same when I tabled this amendment on Committee Stage. I pointed out that there are people who are neither EU nationals nor refugees, but who could be living here with taxpayers and who should be considered for grants on the length of their residency in the State. I do not think a large number of them would apply. However, I gave a few instances where people from abroad had found themselves no longer with the finances to continue their education here and where money had been found for them. I asked that this amendment be accepted to ensure that these issues would not be considered on a case by case basis. I hope the Minister of State did not tell me he would look at it simply to get rid of me and that he has a favourable response. I am always nervous when there is no asterisk before the amendment.

I second the amendment.

My practice, either in this or the Lower House, is that when I say I will look at an amendment, I do so. It is not for the sake of getting rid of Members. Senator Henry made an excellent case for this amendment on Committee Stage.

I have discussed this in the interim with the Minister for Education and Science. We looked again at the issue of higher education grants and the proposed section 45 amendment in the name of Senator Henry. There is nothing in section 45 that prohibits the Minister for Education and Science from giving grants to non-nationals. Section 45 simply gives the Minister for Education and Science discretion as to whether the conditions should be restricted to EU nationals or varied between EU nationals and non-EU nationals.

The Minister for Education and Science informed me that the nationality clause in the higher education maintenance grants schemes has recently been widened. It now covers, in addition to EU nationals, refugees, those with humanitarian leave to remain in the State, the spouse of an Irish national residing in the State, the child of such a person not having EU nationality, spouses of EU nationals working here who are not EU nationals and nationals of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The Minister for Education and Science has shown flexibility on the question of nationality and the Senator's proposal would unfortunately remove such a discretion from the Minister, which he has exercised flexibly in the past. It would oblige the Minister to pay grants to non-EU nationals on the same basis as EU nationals subject only to a residency qualification.

If the amendment was accepted, the Minister would no longer be able to give priority to non-EU spouses of Irish and EU nationals over other non-EU nationals. The payment of higher education grants may not necessarily be a matter of the highest priority in current expenditure in the education sector. After detailed discussions with the Minister for Education and Science, eloquent though the case for the amendment was, I cannot accept it.

I thank the Minister of State for considering the amendment and pointing out how the categories for those to whom grants can now be given has been broadened. I am grateful for this information.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 17 is a Government amendment while amendment No. 18 is an alternate, and both may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 17:
In page 31, to delete lines 1 and 2 and substitute the following:
"(b) an immigration officer appointed or deemed to have been appointed under section 5 of the Immigration Act 2004,”.

As promised on Committee Stage, the Government has brought forward amendment No. 17, which I now propose to accept instead of amendment No. 18. I thank Senator Tuffy for identifying this necessary amendment which occurred by reason of the enactment of the Immigration Act 2004. I am delight to accept the substance of her Committee Stage amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 18 not moved.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank Senators from all sides of the political divide who contributed so constructively to the debate on this Bill. The debate helped to improve the Bill. I realise, in reply to Senator Henry in particular, that there were a number of matters that I undertook to examine between Committee and Report Stages. These were examined and I apologise to Senators who worked hard on their amendments that some of them could not be taken on board. I understand where Senators were coming from and they made good cases for them. Unfortunately, there is a slightly better case on the other side. This legislation must next go through the Lower House. It will be better legislation after being passed by the Seanad. There may be occasion to improve it again during the course of the debate in the Lower House.

It is important and necessary legislation that brings Ireland up to date and almost to the top of the European Union league of equality legislation, on both the employment and equal status front. That is where we want to be. During the course of the EU Presidency, at meetings I have attended in Brussels, I have found people to be impressed by the strength of Irish equality legislation, more so because some EU directives require enormous changes in the basic legislation of many of our EU partners. The changes made to Irish law have been minor and technical adjustments because the basic legislation has been in place since 1998 and 2000. I thank Senators for their valuable contributions which are much appreciated.

I thank the Minister of State for his comments. However, he is a little too harsh on us because he accepted some amendments. I thank him and his officials for the time and effort put in during the passage of the Bill.

I do not quite understand how the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform encompasses the area of equality. However, I know it is not specific to this Bill and not the time to raise this matter. It was obvious that the Minister of State looked at the amendments that were proposed and took some of them on board, which I welcome.

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for the way that they obviously considered what was said on Committee Stage. It is disappointing if one's amendments are not accepted on Report Stage, but not if they have been considered. We were not elected to loll around on the back row. All Members have a duty to the constituents of our panels and the public to make an effort to ensure that legislation is dealt with properly in this House. The Minister of State always succeeds in achieving this in a respectful manner.

I thank the Minister of State for his comments. I welcome this legislation and the Minister of State's explanations regarding why he would not accept the amendments tabled by the Labour Party Senators. I ask him to consider some of them again in the Dáil. I thank the Minister of State for accepting my party's technical amendment. The Labour Party feels very strongly about this important area and tabled several amendments on Committee Stage and again today. While the Government has played a role in this, we pioneered much of the work and would like to help the Government as much as possible in bringing it to completion. I will try to clarify the problem raised in our first amendment and communicate that to the Minister of State.

I too congratulate the Minister of State and his hardworking staff for their contribution to this Bill and the long hours they have spent here. It is a very progressive Bill which provoked hours of excellent debate, albeit difficult at times. All sides made fine contributions. Senator Tuffy should know that the Labour Party is not alone in feeling strongly about these issues; all sides share that feeling. I hope the Bill will have as safe a passage in the Lower House as it had here and proceed to become the enabling legislation it is intended to be.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 5.55 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.