Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Questions (227)

Seán Kenny


227. Deputy Seán Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views regarding section 37 of the Employment Equality Act and section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000, as to whether they are the cause of inequality of access within the education system here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10664/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 is not relevant to access to education. However, I refer the Deputy to my reply below to Parliamentary Questions No. 54456 of 4 December 2012, No. 2999 of 22 January 2013 and No. 4077 of 5 February 2013. The position is unchanged since then.

"The Government has undertaken in its Programme for Government to ensure that people of non-faith or minority religious backgrounds and publically identified LGBT people should not be deterred from training or taking up employment as teachers in the State.

I have previously expressed concern about the potential impact of section 37 of the Employment Equality Acts on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. This section is designed to allow schools and other institutions to maintain their religious ethos. It was examined by the Supreme Court in 1996 when the Employment Equality Bill of 1996 was referred to it under Article 26 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court found that it is a reasonable balancing in legislation of the different rights involved, including chiefly the right to earn a living and the rights to freedom of religion and association. I am concerned however that, in practice, the balance is not a fair one and that in practice this provision can operate in a way that is unfair to LGBT persons. I consider that an extensive consultative process and formal assessment of the options should be undertaken. It is therefore my intention to ask the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commissioners to examine the issue as a priority and to report on their views and recommendations to the two Ministers centrally concerned, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn and myself as the Minister for Justice and Equality and to the House. I am committed to bringing forward Government proposals for any necessary anti-discrimination amendment to this provision once this consultation process is completed ."

Concerning Section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000, I refer the Deputy to my reply below to Parliamentary Question No. 53036 of 27 November 2012. My position remains unchanged.

"Equal status legislation aims to strike a necessary and appropriate balance between the right to the free profession and practice of religion, recognised by the Constitution and the principle of equality and has done so by providing a qualified exception, of limited scope, in Section 7(3) of the Equal Status Act 2000. A denominational primary or post-primary school may, under this provision, admit pupils of one religious denomination in preference to others and may refuse to take someone who is not of that denomination if this is essential to protect its religious ethos. Application of this provision is, moreover, subject to review by a court or tribunal, such review being on an objective basis and having regard to the need to reconcile the various constitutional rights involved. I have no plans at present to amend these provisions of the Equal Status Act. "