While locations such as Busáras and Heuston and Connolly railway stations would be clearly within the definition of a station, there is no need for section 18 to be so wide that, for example, a bus carriage at these locations or elsewhere, which is merely used for parking or servicing of vehicles, should come within the regulations envisaged under the amendment proposed by Deputies O'Sullivan and Barnes. There would not be any point in requesting people to make areas accessible when nobody requires access to them. It would not make any sense. There is no point in putting people to the expense of doing that when nobody would be seeking access to the places concerned. It is a matter of logic. It would not be advisable to proceed with the amendment for that simple reason.
Equal Status Bill, 1999 Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.
I accept that difficulties might arise in so far as there might be certain areas which would not be required to be accessible. However, perhaps the Minister could accept the spirit behind our seeking to delete the subsection. We want to ensure that the rights of people who are employed in these areas or who might have reason to enter areas which are not normally open to the public should be protected. I accept that it might be stated that such rights are protected under the Employment Equality Act.
The amendment is designed to ensure that these areas are as accessible as possible to people with disabilities. I take the point that there may be difficulties in making all areas accessible but perhaps the Minister could come some way towards trying to understand what we are trying to achieve.
Does Deputy Barnes wish to comment before the Minister replies?
No, I merely wish to support Deputy O'Sullivan.
That the amendment high lights the question of access makes it commendable. It is vital that this question should be highlighted on every possible occasion in the House and elsewhere because it is of tremendous importance. To that extent, the amendment tabled by Deputies O'Sullivan and Fitzgerald is to be commended. However, from a practical point of view, my argument is that the people for whom it is meant will not actually be seeking access to the places concerned and the definition, therefore, would be too wide. I acknowledge the Deputies' anxiety to try to ensure that access is highlighted and provided where possible and where necessary.
Amendment No. 71 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.
Amendment No. 72 in the name of the Minister arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 77, 79 and 86 form a composite proposal, amendment No. 78 is an alternative to amendment No. 77, amendment No. 80 is an alternative to amendment No. 79, amendment No. 87 is an alternative to amendment No. 86 and amendments Nos. 81 and 85 are related. Therefore, amendments Nos. 72, 77 to 81, inclusive and 85 to 87, inclusive, may be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 72:
In page 20, to delete lines 37 and 38 and substitute the following:
‘complainant' means a person referred to insection 21(1);”.
Deputies will recall that an extensive discussion took place on Committee Stage in respect of the procedures to be followed when a person wishes to avail of the redress mechanism set out in Part lll of the Bill. At the close of that discussion, Deputy Fitzgerald asked if it would be possible to include a provision which would stipulate that the Director of Equality Investigations would have discretion as regards late applications in very exceptional circumstances. The discussion focused on cases where the complainant had failed to comply with the two month deadline specified in section 21(2)(a) for a notification to be sent to the respondent.
My amendment addresses the situation adverted to on Committee Stage and gives the requisite flexibility. An extension from two months up to four months may now be afforded by the director. The director's decision to give such an extension may be exercised subject to two conditions, namely, that there were exceptional circumstances preventing the notification to the respondent within the two month time frame and that it is just as inequitable, having regard to the nature of the alleged conduct and other relevant circumstances, to allow the extension beyond two months. The second requirement places an obligation on the director, before reaching any decision to allow an extension, to assess factors such as the burden under which a respondent might be placed were a late application or notification to be received, the seriousness of the alleged complaint, the context of the complaint, etc. The formula in this amendment was framed having regard to section 5 of the Ombudsman's Act, 1980, and also to UK and Queensland legislation with similar provisions.
Since amendment No. 86 addresses the points raised on Committee Stage, it is unnecessary that I should accept the six month time frame proposed by Deputies O'Sullivan and Fitzgerald in amendments Nos. 78 and 80, for the notification of the complaint to the respondent. I also cannot accept Deputy Fitzgerald's other amendments, namely, Nos. 81 and 85, which would confer a role on the director in contacting the respondent, and No. 87 which would allow a period of 12 months in which to lodge a complaint in exceptional circumstances. However, I have gone a reasonable way towards addressing the concerns which were raised by the Deputies and I hope they will be in a position to accept that.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has come a certain distance to meet our concerns and is allowing that a period of up to four months can be granted at the discretion of the director, assuming the director has decided that this is appropriate. We were seeking a slightly longer period but, in the circumstances, we should welcome the progress that has been made. I thank the Minister for taking the point on board. I hope four months will be adequate for people to comply with the provisions of the legislation. Given that the Bill makes provision for a review after two years, I presume this matter can be reconsidered if the four month period does not prove to be appropriate.
I also welcome the extension of the period to four months. Even if the Minister has not extended the period to the six months we were seeking, it is a great improvement on two months. As Deputy O'Sullivan stated, Members, the director and the relevant agencies will be keeping this matter under review to ensure that the legislation is working.
Do I take it that, in his comments on amendment No. 85 which states "paragraph (a) will not apply where the complainant has reasonable grounds for making an application directly to the Director where in such cases the director shall contact the respondent.”, the Minister was indicating that it was not within the discretion of the director to do that?
That is correct.
Does that leave a gap or have we ensured within the legislation that initiatives from the director's office and those of complainants will not be hindered?
As already stated, on Committee Stage Deputy Fitzgerald asked whether it would be possible to introduce a provision similar to that which has been brought in. That provision clearly allows a discretion subject to the conditions I have stipulated, which are fair and reasonable. To that extent, any person who is late in making an application will receive fair and favourable consideration provided the conditions have been fulfilled. We could not be expected to have an open door policy and not attach any conditions because, effectively, that would mean we were extending the period beyond what I would consider a reasonable limit in the first instance. The amendment we have put forward is reasonable and it should work very well.
I move amendment No. 74:
In page 21, line 2, to delete "him or her" and substitute "any person (where the first-mentioned person has a sufficient interest in the matter)".
The ICTU requested that we table this amendment and Pavee Point also has an interest in it. The amendment involves allowing someone else to give notice where a person with a disability is not in a position to give notice in writing to the director. It is basically designed to facilitate people who might experience such difficulties. I hope the Minister will look positively on this amendment which seeks to facilitate people who might have a difficulty.
I accept that the 1997 Bill and my Bill, as initiated, allowed a person to refer a claim of prohibited conduct to the director, even though that claim concerned another person. My Committee Stage amendment confined the right to complain to the person claiming discrimination and the position was fully outlined at that stage. Even though Deputy O'Sullivan's amendment has a balancing sufficient interest requirement, the damage could be done by the time the director establishes that the complainant does not have a sufficient interest. It could also impose an undue burden on the director if persons without a sufficient interest could lodge multiple complaints and the director would have to establish in each case that a sufficient interest did not exist. It would also be outside legislative norms to allow a person to bring a case about something which does not affect them.
The amendment includes the provision that the person must have a sufficient interest in the matter and I would have thought this would be a sufficient safeguard. This amendment is tabled in response to a genuine concern that an individual might not be able to bring forward the appropriate written notice.
I do not understand the Minister's first point that this would over-burden the director or that it might be too much trouble to figure out the nature of the sufficient interest. I would have thought this kind of clause exists in many other situations and does not normally prove too burdensome.
I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan. The concerns are covered by the phrase "a sufficient interest in the matter" which should exclude someone who has no interest, or a hostile or vexatious interest in the matter. Almost all legislation provides for complaints to be treated legally or within an authority. There is always a risk that the policy will be too open but, in the circumstances of this Bill and the disabilities from which some complainants might suffer, representations should be accepted from people with sufficient interest acting on behalf of these complainants.
The difficulty is that the director would still have to establish whether the person had a sufficient interest. The amendment would not prevent an individual from lodging multiple vexatious or frivolous claims. Much time and effort would have been expended by the time the director established that the person did not have a sufficient interest. I am trying to prevent the director from examining claims which have no basis in fact. If I accepted this amendment I would expose the director to the threat and the real possibility of multiple claims being lodged, and he or she wasting his or her valuable time. Members would not wish to see such an outcome.
The Minister has an overly-suspicious mind at times. I do not know why anyone would waste time lodging vexatious or annoying claims. If one is going to go to the trouble of doing something like this, presumably one would do so because one feels strongly about it. I am not withdrawing this amendment as it would strengthen the legislation.
Amendment No. 75 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.
I move amendment No. 76:
In page 21, line 4, after "complainant" to insert "or some other person (including the Authority) on his or her behalf".
This amendment relates to the Committee Stage debate and has been part of some Report Stage amendments. It refers to a respondent, or some other person, including the authority, acting on his or her behalf. On Committee Stage it was not considered appropriate that the authority would act on someone's behalf. However, this is part of the argument that we want to make this procedure as positive, accessible and supportive as possible to people who may have a disadvantage or disability which prevents them from having the same access as most citizens.
Section 21(2) makes it clear that it is the complainant, that is the person at the heart of the alleged prohibited conduct, who must issue the notification to the respondent. It would not be appropriate for a third party to take on this core task. It would be open to the complainant to have sought the assistance of the Equality Authority beforehand with a view to determining what particular contravention of the equal status legislation has arisen and how best to approach the respondent. The authority will be there as first port of call for most equal status cases and it has the function of assisting complainants by providing forms, advice and so on.
The authority would facilitate persons with disabilities, language or literacy problems, or who otherwise require special help in notifying the respondent. Against this background I cannot agree to give the complainant an opt-out by permitting some other person to initiate the notification process.
Is the amendment being pressed?
No, I accept the Minister's assurance that all the resources will make it possible for the complainant to be helped in every way.
I move amendment No. 77:
In page 21, line 5, to delete "two" and substitute "2".
Amendment No. 78 cannot be moved as amendment No. 77 has been agreed to.
I move amendment No. 79:
In page 21, line 8, to delete "two" and substitute "2".
Amendment No. 80 cannot be moved as it has been discussed with amendment No. 72.
Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 are related and may to taken together be agreement.
I move amendment No. 82:
In page 21, line 15, after "notification" to insert "or subsequently".
These are amendments to the Government's Committee Stage amendment which seek to facilitate the complainant more than is the case in the Bill at present. Amendment No. 82 proposes the insertion of the words "or subsequently" so that complainants would be free to question the respondent in writing to obtain information in, and subsequent to, the notification.
Amendment No. 83 seeks to allow a similar situation during the prosecution of the case, and not just at the initial stage of deciding whether to refer the case to the director. The amendments aim to facilitate the complainant seeking information from the respondent on an ongoing basis rather than just at the initial stage when deciding whether to refer the case to the director.
The Deputy's proposed amendment would not be in line with the procedures I propose to be followed when a complainant initiates the redress procedures by sending a notification to the respondent. There is a balance to be struck and I must also have regard to the perspective of the service provider who would be the recipient of such notification. Following the initial notification and depending on the response, the complainant can then take the matter to the director.
On the matter being referred to the director her office will take over the case and will avail of the investigation procedures specified in section 25. Section 33 gives the director extensive powers to obtain information. Moreover, section 26 allows appropriate inferences to be drawn from either the failure by a respondent to respond to the complainant's notification or where the respondent gave false or misleading information. Rather than there being repeated requests for information from the complainant to the respondent, as envisaged in Deputy O'Sullivan's amendments, it is more appropriate that such a matter be handled by the director.
Is the Minister saying that the director can contact the respondent for any relevant information, which the complainant believes might be available, as part of the investigation of the case?
Section 33 gives the director extensive powers to obtain information.
I accept the Minister's response.
I move amendment No. 84:
In page 21, lines 18 and 19, to delete "may, if the respondent so wishes," and substitute "shall".
The legislation allows the respondent not to reply because it states "may, if the respondent so wishes". The respondent should have to reply when information is sought by the complainant for their case with the director. It should not be left to their discretion.
I support this amendment because it will strengthen section 21, the Bill and the powers of the director and the agency. The phrase, "may, if the respondent so wishes", is a let-off for the respondent and should be changed to "shall". The respondent should not be given the option to respond.
I am advised it would not be appropriate to require the respondent to reply to the complainant's request for information. To do so would be legally questionable and it is difficult to see what it would achieve. Furthermore, it creates an inconsistency with the comparable provisions of section 76 of the Employment Equality Act. The respondent may reply within the one month period specified or may reply later or may not reply at all. There may be circumstances where although the respondent has good reasons for his action, he or she is not prepared to disclose them at the initial stage of the process. This has to be allowed for and the imposition of a duty on the respondent would not do this. I also point to section 26 which allows the director to draw inferences from the respondent's response or failure to respond. This amendment, if accepted, would be legally questionable. In those circumstances, I am sure the Deputies understand why I cannot accept the amendment.
We got that explanation on Committee Stage. I accept the point that inferences can be drawn from the person's failure to reply. I do not know what legal challenges could be taken, but it would be better if the respondent had to reply. The fact that inferences can be drawn is important. I presume whatever is said in this debate forms part of the interpretation of the legislation. Perhaps the Minister could clarify why a legal challenge could be taken.
We would be asking the respondent to outline his or her case prior to the procedures having been put in place to hear the relevant complaint. It would not be appropriate for someone who was sued, for example, to put forward all of his or her case if there was a court action before the case takes place. I am sure Deputy O'Sullivan realises that would be questionable.
I am not as familiar with the law as the Minister. My understanding from television programmes rather than the practise of law is that factual information relevant to a case is usually given to both sides in advance. Perhaps I should not challenge the legal interpretations of the Minister.
Deputy O'Sullivan is suggesting that we ask the respondent to give a reply prior to the hearing.
A person could say, for example, that they will not give that information. There is nothing one can do about that because legally the case is not being held at that point. There is no obligation on a respondent to give replies to questions, whether they are in questionnaire form or otherwise, when the hearing has not commenced. There would be serious difficulties with it.
Would a respondent be obliged to give it during the hearing?
My view is that they would but one cannot force anyone to say anything.
I will withdraw my amendment in the hope that my colleagues in the Seanad will be able to take it a little further.
I move amendment No. 86:
In page 21, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
"(3) If, on application by the complainant, the Director is satisfied—
(a) that exceptional circumstances prevented the complainant from notifying the respondent in accordance with subsection (2), and
(b) that it is just and equitable, having regard to the nature of the alleged conduct and to any other relevant circumstances, that the period for doing so should be extended beyond the period of 2 months provided for in that subsection,
the Director may direct that, in relation to that case,subsection (2) shall have effect as if for the reference to 2 months there were substituted a reference to such period not exceeding 4 months as is specified in the direction; and where such a direction is given, this Part shall have effect accordingly.”.
I move amendment No. 88:
In page 21, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
"(5) Where prohibited conduct undersection 8 has been directed against a person in circumstances to which Council Directive 86/613/EECf7>1, on the application of the principle of equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity, including agriculture, in a self-employed capacity, and on the protection of self-employed women during pregnancy and motherhood, is relevant, and no complaint in relation to the prohibited conduct has been referred to the Director under this section, the prohibited conduct may be made the subject to civil proceedings for damages, injunctive relief or other remedy in a court but where any such proceedings are commenced no investigation or decision in respect of the prohibited conduct shall be made by the Director under this Act.”.
f7>1O.J. 1986 L359, 381, 382.
Amendment No. 89 has already been discussed with amendment No. 64. One decision should suffice for amendments Nos. 89 and 90 but if Deputy O'Sullivan wishes, she can move each amendment separately. Is the Deputy pressing the amendments?
Amendment No. 92 is an alternative to amendment No. 91 and they may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 91:
In page 24, line 4, after "heard" to insert "by themselves or their representatives".
This amendment relates to claims being made on behalf of organisations. This provision was included in the 1997 Bill and we should include it in this legislation. On Committee Stage, there was much discussion about organisations, as opposed to individuals, being discriminated against.
Amendment No. 92 also seeks provision for representation to be made to the director on behalf of the complainant. It is crucial that there should be such a right; it existed in the previous Bill. It would give powers to organisations and individuals within them that do not exist in the Bill at present.
Representation is at issue here. It goes without saying that people will be entitled to be represented by a friend, trade union or some other organisation. My office has been in touch with the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations and it has been confirmed that this practice will continue. There is no need to insert it in the legislation. As a matter of natural justice, people are entitled to representation. In those circumstances the objectives of the amendments have been realised.
If people have disabilities which make it difficult for them to represent themselves, can someone speak on their behalf?
I move amendment No. 93:
In page 24, after line 43, to insert the following:
"(3) Where a claim is made by a person on behalf of an organisation in respect of prohibited conduct directed against the organisation any award of compensation shall be paid to the benefit of the organisation.".
I move amendment No. 94:
In page 25, to delete lines 13 and 14.
Lines 13 and 14 state that every decision of the director under this Part shall be in writing and, if the director thinks fit, or if any of the parties so request, shall include a statement of the reasons the director reached the decision. The amendment would ensure there would always be a full response to a case. On Committee Stage the Minister argued that it could lead to embarrassment or breach of confidentiality but it might leave too much to the discretion of the agency and authority and remove freedom of information. The deletion of these lines would ensure people receive full communication.
I support the amendment. We want as much information as possible made available in these decisions. It was stated that a decision might cause embarrassment but the public interest would be served by the information being made available.
The wording is identical to that in the Employment Equality Act and the effect of the amendment would be to remove an element of flexibility which is considered important. In a sexual harassment case it might not be considered appropriate or the parties to the case may prefer not to include information on the final decision or determination. Everyone accepts that. At the same time, the provision ensures that parties can obtain a reasoned decision from the director if they so wish.
There is no secretive motivation behind this. It merely enables the director to exercise discretion where it is called for. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valour and it can be the most sensible course to adopt. People might not want the detail set out in the manner the Deputies are requesting. A reasoned decision can be obtained if the parties wish; it is not as if anything is being kept from the parties to the proceedings. It need not be anyone else's business and if the parties want to keep it to themselves I do not see why they should not be allowed that latitude.
Will the Minister give an assurance that such information will be forthcoming unless discretion is the better part of valour and that there can be confidence about freedom of information and communication even with these provisions in the Bill?
If either of the parties made a request, the director would issue a statement of the reasons the relevant decision was reached. In those circumstances it is reasonable to allow the provisions as they stand because parties might not want a matter set out for reasons of privacy.
I move amendment No. 95:
In page 25, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(2) The Director shall give notice of a decision in a format accessible to a complainant with a disability, and shall in general adopt such procedures as will facilitate the participation of persons with disabilities including receiving submissions made through sign language or other formats.".
This amendment suggests the use of sign language and other aids when a person has difficulty with the usual means of access to information. When we debated this on Committee Stage, the Minister said he would consider it favourably. He did say, however, that the director has discretion under the section which deals with the powers of the director. While I accept that, it would be better if provision was made for it in the Bill.
Deputy O'Sullivan tabled a similar amendment on Committee Stage and the matter has been re-examined in consultation with the Director of Equality Investigations. I do not consider it wise to set out in primary legislation the type of formal procedure mentioned in the amendment.
The informal procedures which have been developed over the years by equality officers operating under the umbrella of the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Commission, which take due account of case law and rules of natural justice, have proved effective. The direc tor will build on these administrative procedures taking into account the new grounds of discrimination.
In drawing up operating procedures for the new office, the director examined the accessibility issues raised not only in relation to people with disabilities, but with language or other difficulties. Section 25(3) provides for the possibility of making regulations governing the procedures of the director's office. If it is shown that the less formal operating procedures are less than effective, we will have an opportunity to deal formally with accessibility issues by making regulations.
Can it be re-examined during the two year review if necessary?
Will the Minister also confirm that the cost of signing and such facilities will be borne by the Director of Equality Investigations and not the individual?
I move amendment No. 96:
In page 29, line 22, to delete "As" and substitute "Before and as".
It appears the Bill would allow cases to be struck out without prior notice being given to the complainant. The amendment seeks to ensure that the person would be informed beforehand, rather than at the time.
I support the amendment, as without its acceptance the words "as soon as practicable" could result in a delay. Acceptance of the amendment, especially of the word "before" will ensure that the person concerned will be aware of the matter and will be able to take action if needed.
The amendment is aimed at preventing the striking out of cases without prior notice to the complainant. I am reluctant to accept it. The principle difficulty with regard to giving notice in writing to complainants about the striking out of a reference is that it is not always possible to locate them. Often the lapse in pursuing a case on the part of the complainant may be connected to a change in permanent address, perhaps because of travel abroad for study or work. Deputies can be assured that it is the current practice to notify a complainant, if connectable, of the intention to strike out and to provide every opportunity to reactivate the reference. I have no doubt this practice will continue in the office of the director. This is identical with section 88 of the Employment Equality Act, 1998. It is sometimes not feasible to contact the person concerned. Where the person can be contacted he or she will be if there is an intention to strike out. However, Deputies will appreciate the difficulty faced by the director where somebody has gone to a different address and cannot be located or has left the jurisdiction. It is unreasonable to expect him to act in such circumstances.
Perhaps the Minister might consider the inclusion of the words "if possible before" when the Bill is considered by the Seanad. That might meet our concerns halfway.
We will look at that.
I accept the Minister's point regarding the Employment Equality Act and I take it no difficulties are presented in the operation of such a provision in that Act.
Recommital is necessary in respect of amendments Nos. 97, 98 and 99 as they do not arise out of Committee proceedings.
Amendments Nos. 97, 98 and 99 form a composite proposal and may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 97:
In page 32, line 35, to delete "(except section 9)".
This is a technical amendment. The changes are being made on the advice of the parliamentary draftsman. I am informed that the text to be deleted is unnecessary and its removal does not affect the meaning of the section.
I move amendment No. 98:
In page 32, lines 36 and 37, to delete "(except section 19)".
I move amendment No 99:
In page 33, to delete lines 33 and 34 and substitute "a repealed enactment.".
Amendment No. 100 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.
I move amendment No. 101:
In page 33, to delete lines 43 to 48 and substitute the following:
"(a) in section 2(1) (interpretation), by the insertion—
(i) after definition of ‘disability,' of:
‘"discrimination", in Parts V and VI, includes prohibited conduct within the meaning of the Equal Status Act, 1999, and cognate words shall be construed accordingly;' and
(ii) after the definition of ‘trade union', of:
‘"Traveller community" means the community of people commonly so called who are identified (both by themselves and others) as people with a shared history, culture and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland;',
(b) in section 6 (discrimination), by the substitution in subsection (2)(i) of ‘Traveller' for ‘traveller' on both occasions where it occurs,
(c) in section 12 (vocational training), by the substitution in subsection (7) of ‘Without prejudice to section 3 of the Refugee Act, 1996, nothing in subsection (1)' for ‘Nothing in subsection (1)',
(d) in section 28 (comparators), by the substitution in subsection (1)(h) of ‘Traveller' for ‘traveller' on both occasions where it occurs,
(e) in section 33 (positive action permitted), by the substitution in subsection (1)(c) of ‘Traveller' for ‘traveller',
(f) in section 44 (ordinary members of the Authority), by the substitution in subsection (1)(c) of ‘Traveller' for ‘traveller',”.
I move amendment No. 102:
In page 33, after line 48, to insert the following:
"(b) in section 6(2) by the addition of the following paragraph—
‘(j) 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”).'.”
I move amendment No. 103:
In page 36, before line 1, to insert the following:
"(h) in section 69—
(i) in subsections (1)(a) and (2) by the deletion of ‘in employment',
(ii) in subsection (1)(b) by the substitution of ‘business' for ‘employment' in both places where it occurs,
(iii) in subsection (2) by the deletion of ‘in that employment'
(iv) in subsection (6) by the deletion of ‘in an employment',
(v) in subsection (7)(a) by the addition after ‘employment' of ‘or to activities to which the Equal Status Act, 1999, applies',
(i) in section 73 in subsection (1)—
(i) by the insertion after ‘enactments' of ‘which restrict theEqual Status Act, 1999, or which are',
(ii) by the deletion of ‘in relation to employment',
(j) in section 103, after a reference to the Employment Equality Act, 1998, by the insertion of a reference to the Equal Status Act, 1999.”.
The intention of the amendment is to ensure that the powers of the authority under the 1998 Act are properly carried through to this Act. Section 69 relates to action plans and in its present form does not apply to equal status type activities because it is limited to employment. The case is similar with section 73, which deals with review of enactments, and section 103, which relates to compensation. The purpose is to ensure that the Equal Status Bill and the Employment Equality Act are compliant with each other and have the same powers.
The amendment fails to take into account amendments I have already made on Committee Stage on the question of equality reviews. In those circumstances I assume the Deputy will wish to withdraw the amendments she proposes to the proposed paragraph (h) of section 69.
The proposed insertion of paragraph (i) to section 73 is an amendment to the Employment Equality Act, in that section 73 provides that the equality authority may undertake a review of certain items of legislation listed in section 17 of the 1998 Act. However, it is a different matter to give an open-ended function to the equality authority's review in respect of all possible legislation impinging on the Equal Status Bill.
The purpose of the proposed paragraph (j) is to insert after a reference to the Employment Equality Act in section 103 of that Act a reference to the Equal Status Bill. There are references to the Employment Equality Act, 1998, in subsections (5) and (6) of section 103. The sub sections are concerned with employees in the context of employer's insolvency. They amend the protection of employees in the Employer's Insolvency Act, 1984, and are not related to equal status matters. Consequently, it would not be appropriate to accept these proposed amendments.
I will not press the amendment. I take the Minister's point on the first part of it. We may resubmit amendments addressing the remaining aspects in the Seanad.
I thank the Minister and his staff. Much work has been put into the legislation, both on Committee and Report Stages. We sought to strengthen the Bill with the amendments we tabled. We made progress in some areas but there are others, especially where we called votes, where we are dissatisfied and where we consider the Bill is not as strong as it should be and not as strong as the previous Bill, which was subjected to constitutional examination.
With regard to people with disabilities, there is a need to produce more effective legislation. While a disabilities Bill has been promised, it will not be introduced until 2001. However, it will be necessary to propose changes to the Constitution before we are in a position to guarantee the rights of people with disabilities. Nevertheless, this Bill will considerably strengthen the equality legislation on the Statute Book. I thank the Minister and his staff for the work they have done.
I join with Deputy O'Sullivan in thanking the Minister and his staff who have spent many hours with skill and patience on the Bill. The Bill has had a very long and convoluted passage. I hope implementation of it will not present the same problems as were presented by the initial version. I am sorry Deputy Fitzgerald is not here as she was present for all the other Stages. We look forward to the Bill being sent to the other House and hope that what we did not achieve in this House may be achieved in the Seanad. I also join with Deputy O'Sullivan in urging that supporting legislation and resources in the area of disabilities be treated with urgency in both Houses and by the authority. We complete consideration of the Bill with optimism and hope it will be fully implemented.
I thank the Chair and the staff of the House and of my Department who worked so hard on this legislation over the past number of years. The Bill is a milestone in the legislative history of the country as it introduces the concept of equality in terms of the provision of services for the first time in a real and tangible way into our law. It complements the Employment Equality Act. Hopefully the House will be discussing the Human Rights Commission Bill, which is of fundamental importance in terms of the protection of human rights, in the not too distant future. These pieces of legislation will be of enormous significance in years to come. In terms of efficacy, I have no doubt that the staff who will be appointed to enforce and implement them will be up to the task.
I thank the Opposition spokespersons. We have had a very informative and constructive discussion from the outset. The amendments tabled have been very carefully considered and very well crafted. I am sorry we could not accept even more amendments, but I am certain the Opposition spokespersons – Deputies O'Sullivan, Fitzgerald and Barnes – have made very serious contributions towards the development of the Bill, something I wish to acknowledge. The passage of the Bill through the House was a very pleasant experience, far more so than I normally experience. I am trying to figure out if this is because I bring out the worst in men or women bring out the best in me.
The Bill will be sent to the Seanad.