Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Questions (170)

Seán Kyne

Question:

170. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when it is envisaged that the newly constituted Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will be in a position to examine and report on the effects of section 37 of the 1998 Employment Equality Act; and if he will indicate a timeframe for implementing the recommendations, if any, on legislative changes. [21876/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 194 of 1 May 2013, below. The position is unchanged since then.

I refer the Deputy to my replies to Parliamentary Questions No. 54456 of 4 December 2012, No. 2999 of 22 January 2013, No. 4077 of 5 February 2013 and No. 10664 of 27 February 2013. As I explained in response to these previous questions, the Government has undertaken in its Programme for Government to ensure that people of non-faith or minority religious backgrounds and publically identified lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender 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. On 16 April, I announced the names of 14 new members designate of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. In advance of legislation to establish the new Commission, the members designate will take up their positions on the two existing bodies that are being merged, the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission. I will be meeting the Commissioners shortly. As I have previously explained, I intend to ask them to examine this issue as a priority. I hope they will complete this consultation process quickly and 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, once this necessary consultation process is completed, to bringing forward Government proposals for any necessary anti-discrimination amendment to this provision. In this context, the Government has welcomed the Private Members' Employment Equality (Amendment) (No.2) Bill which has passed Second Stage in the Seanad. During the Second Stage reading of the Bill, my colleague Minister of State Kathleen Lynch signalled to the House the Government's intention to take forward this Bill, with any amendments that might be needed, with Government support for enactment.