Equal Status Bill, 1999: Report Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No. 18:
In page 8, line 35, after "origins" to insert "or they are of a different linguistic group".
–(Deputy O'Sullivan.)

Amendments Nos. 18, 22 to 26, inclusive, and 102 are related and are to be taken together.

Regarding amendments Nos. 24 and 26, I reiterate what has been said by Deputies Fitzgerald, O'Sullivan and Ahearn. These matters were the subject of a lengthy debate on Commit tee Stage and I hope the Minister will respond positively to these amendments.

We had a substantial debate on Committee Stage regarding proposals for additional grounds and my position remains the same. The nine grounds are in line with those of the Employment Equality Act and there is much to be done in eliminating discrimination in Irish society on the nine existing grounds. I am not ruling out the possibility of additional grounds in the future. Section 2(4) of the Bill provides for a review of the measure within two years after the provisions of the Act have been brought into operation to assess whether there is a need to add to the nine specified discriminatory grounds. The same provision is in the Employment Equality Act, 1998.

Given the complexity and broad scope of this Bill, additional grounds cannot be added simply by way of change to section 3 without assessing their detailed implications and their relationship with the rest of the Bill, including possible exemptions. This can be done in the context of the review, by which time there will be substantial experience of the operation of the Act.

I note Deputies O'Sullivan and Fitzgerald no longer treat asylum seekers and refugees as one discriminatory ground and I welcome their recognition that these are not the same. However, even when the two categories are treated separately, the proposed amendments relating to refugees and asylum seekers are not workable. If an asylum seeker is to be given the same rights to services as everybody else, the State could not make any distinction in its services between asylum seekers and everyone else, including citizens and refugees. I understand the Deputies' intention in tabling these amendments, but they are not workable. I emphasise that asylum seekers and refugees will be able to bring cases based on the race ground.

We, therefore, have already in the legislation a ground for discrimination that relates to a person's race. Deputy Fitzgerald used the example of a person going into a shop and being refused on the basis of colour or being badly treated while on the street and that is something I would greatly deplore. We must ensure that that is eradicated, but if a person is refused service on the basis of race, that clearly comes within the scope of the legislation. That applies whether the person is an asylum seeker, a refugee or a visitor. The point is that the race ground is still there.

It is being argued that I should extend the scope of the legislation to include asylum seekers as opposed to refugees, but that is not possible. I am being asked to extend the same rights to services to asylum seekers that I would to citizens and refugees, but I simply cannot do that. It would be tantamount to conferring citizenship on people whose status might be deemed to be illegal. I am unaware of any other jurisdiction where this would happen.

It is very necessary to guard against emerging racism as there is no more vile attitude to have. The race ground as set out in the Bill covers many of the circumstances Deputies have in mind, but it is far different to have the race ground and to extend the rights of Irish citizens to all persons, irrespective of their legal status in the State. That is not desirable or workable. If I were to ground a claim or discrimination on the basis that someone was an asylum seeker, it stands that I would have to ensure that the same services were given to an asylum seeker that would be given to a citizen or refugee. That in turn would have implications for persons with a different status. It would mean that the individual concerned, who might be deemed an illegal immigrant, would be entitled to the same services as a citizen of the State. The amendment is not thought out. A person who might be found to be an illegal immigrant would have the same right to a third level education grant as an Irish citizen or a refugee. I cannot think of circumstances where this would be possible or logical. That is not to say I am advocating that asylum seekers should be treated with less dignity than anyone else, certainly not. Throughout my Ministry I have tried to ensure that asylum seekers are treated with the dignity which is to be expected of any civilised society. There may have been times when this did not happen when queues formed but, if so, it was not intentional. We are doing our best to make absolutely sure people are treated with dignity. That is different from inserting a ground of discrimination in this legislation on the basis that an individual is an asylum seeker for the reasons I outlined, but I again stress that discrimination targeted at asylum seekers could be the subject of racial discrimination since, by definition, asylum seekers are non-nationals.

We have covered this ground before. While I accept there will be a review, there is discrimination on some of these grounds at present. There is discrimination in the area of welfare benefits in the case of people on rent allowances. The is also discrimination on the ground of race against refugees and asylum seekers, which has been highlighted in the newspapers. While there is discrimination on the grounds of race, refugees and asylum seekers are specifically discriminated against. We will press these amendments.

I am disappointed the Minister has not accepted any of the grounds in these amendments. I do not accept his analysis of the amendment on refugees and asylum seekers. These amendments do not seek to grant these people the same citizenship rights as citizens of the State. In reply to an earlier amendment, the Minister clarified the point about where the State has a duty as opposed to providing a service. The thinking behind these amendments is to ensure that if there is discrimination against refugees within the circumscribed rights to which asylum seekers and refugees are entitled at present, they should be entitled to take a case under this legislation.

There is a good deal of discrimination against these people at present. We are seeking to ensure the Bill copperfastens people's rights, particularly those of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrant workers, in this and other legislation. We are seeking to ensure in this legislation that a person who fears he or she is being discriminated against under this legislation or other legislation would have a means of redress. This legislation may be more user friendly and accessible because of its content and direction.

I made the position clear over the number of debates. Deputies may not agree, but it is clear that it is not possible to extend to asylum seekers the same rights to services as those enjoyed by our citizens or people who are deemed to be refugees for the simple reason that the categories are different. I outlined that an Irish citizen is entitled to a third level education at the taxpayer's expense, but until a person's application is determined it would not be proper or economically viable for me to extend those rights to asylum seekers. People deemed to be refugees are in a different category because they have rights arising out of their status. Those rights are set out in great detail in section 3 of the 1996 Act.

This is not a question of prejudice on my part but one of common sense and logic. It is a question of knowing that if one confers a right on an individual that is not merited by his or her status in the State, it will give rise to several difficulties that have not been thought out. If a person is deemed to be a refugee, that is different. I outlined ad nauseum that any person in the State who is discriminated again on the grounds of race can bring forward his or her claim and, if it is well founded, it will be dealt with in good faith in the context of the legislation.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 8, line 36, to delete "traveller" and substitute "Traveller".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 8, line 37, to delete "traveller" and substitute "Traveller".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 21 not moved.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 9, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

"(k) that one is a member of a trade union and the other is not (in this Act referred to as the 'trade union membership ground').".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 9, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

"(k) that one is a recipient of a social welfare payment or other social benefit or is homeless and the other is not (in this Act referred to as the ‘welfare ground').".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 24.

In page 9, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

"(k) that one is a refugee and the other is not (in this Act referred to as the 'refugee ground').".

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.

Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.

Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Ferris, Michael.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gregory, Tony.Hayes, Brian. Tá–continued

Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Keeffe, Jim.

O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.


Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.

Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Reynolds, Albert.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Stagg; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power.
Amendment declared lost.
Debate adjourned.