I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, line 7, to delete "AND THE EQUAL STATUS ACT 2000".
These amendments are to deal with the assault on the Equal Status Act by this Bill and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I propose to strike all references to the Equal Status Act 2000. This Bill is not the place to deal with amending the Equal Status Act. If it is to be amended, it should only happen after a proper consultation and review with its stake holders. At minimum, the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission must be satisfied that any amendment does not undermine the equality rights in this State. In the Bill we have sections 14, 15, 19 and 25 that all impact on the operation of the Equal Status Act and are considered a threat to the equality laws in this State.
This is not perceived just by Sinn Féin but by a broad coalition of the following reputable groups: the African Refugee Network, Age Action Ireland, Age and Opportunity in Ireland, Amnesty International, the Community Platform, a network of 27 non-governmental organisations, the Community Workers' Co-operative, the Forum for People with Disabilities, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Integrate Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, the Irish Traveller Movement, the National Traveller Women's Forum, the National Women's Council of Ireland, the National Youth Council of Ireland, the One Parent Exchange Network, Pavee Point, Threshold, Treoir, and The Wheel. I apologise if I inadvertently missed a group.
So concerned were those groups that they came together to form the Equality Coalition in an attempt to protect the integrity of the Equal Status Act. For this I congratulate them, but they should also be given the opportunity to be heard before any attempt is made to dismantle the Equal Status Act and its provisions. Despite the broad condemnation and the likely adverse impact of this Bill's proposals on the Equal Status Act, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform continues to fast track this pet Bill of his through the Dáil without proper debate. It is not an acceptable way to make legislation. Anything that potentially undermines the Equal Status Act is of public importance and has implications far beyond the limitations and intentions of this Bill. It sets a precedent that allows an exemption from the obligations of the law for one group and has broad implications for the rest of society as a whole and the direction we are taking as a nation.
I consider this another volley fired by the Minister in his self-declared war on a rights-based society. He is proud in his reports to the media that he will not tolerate a rights-based society. He will make sure that no such thing comes to fruition. The groups in the Equality Coalition and I intend to defend the integrity of the equality legislation which was fought for and hard-won. It was won, in principle, in the conclusions of the Good Friday Agreement. We should remember that the Agreement was endorsed by 94% of the people in this State and 86% on this island. The Minister should not under estimate the importance of this social gain to the majority of people on the island and in this State.
Section 19 removes the jurisdiction of the Equality Tribunal to hear discrimination claims by licensed premises to the already congested District Courts. I propose to delete the whole of this section. On Second and Committee Stages, I asked why are we giving an extra case load to the congested District Courts. Victims of discrimination by licensees will no longer have user-friendly, affordable access to an independent specialist body. This body was established a few years ago to specifically address such cases of discrimination. Victims will no longer be able to avail of the mediation services provided by the tribunal or its investigative functions. There will not be additional funds for the Equality Authority to take on this extra case load and assist in cases before the District Courts. Forms of representation such as the community advocacy will not be available to applicants before the District Court. People with disabilities are routinely excluded from licensed premises and are the largest potential group of applicants under the Equal Status Act. However, most District Courts are inaccessible, both physically and financially, for those people.
In the context of the European Convention on Human Rights and the case of the missing disabilities Bill, we are told that the District Courts are too congested to take on human and equality rights compliance cases. It, therefore, makes no sense to transfer jurisdiction away from the Equality Tribunal in the case of licensed premises.
There are other examples of mixed jurisdiction. I referred on Committee Stage to labour law adjudication as an example. If the political will is there, leaving the jurisdiction with the Equality Tribunal can work. It has only been established over a few years and was credited with working well, but we are now undoing it. The proposals in the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2003 have been unanimously condemned by human rights and equality groups, including the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority itself.
The proposal was not recommended by the Commission on Liquor Licensing nor by the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol. It will not, in fact, have any effect on curbing over-consumption of alcohol, enhancing public order or enforcement of laws to this effect, which is supposedly the reason underlying the legislation.
Exempting an industry or a sector from the jurisdiction of the Equality Tribunal sets a dangerous precedent and opens the door for other areas to demand similar exemptions.
Sections 14 and 25 are a licence to discriminate and my amendment proposes their deletion. Section 14 will exclude those under the age of 15 from licensed premises, even if accompanied by parents, if it is after 9 p.m., unless, of course, they are working in the bar. It will make it a criminal offence for a licensee, parent or guardian to allow this to happen.
Section 25 amends the Equal Status Act to allow licensee discretion as to whether to allow any person under the age of 18 into the premises. In effect, this is allowing for discrimination on an age ground. The two sections taken together are the equivalent of a blanket ban on children, which will result in discrimination against lawful and responsible families and parents. It will also have a disproportionate impact on women.
It will have the additional effect of overturning Equality Tribunal decisions such as that of Maughan v. The Glimmerman. The Minister should consult the list of decisions in the Equality Authority's submission to ensure that he understands exactly what he is doing. Perhaps he does and, as I said earlier, he wants to ensure that we do not have a rights-based society, that he will do everything in his power to undermine it and to dismantle it.
Greater enforcement of existing alcohol laws does not require us to implement legislation which will allow for discrimination. Even at this late stage, I ask that the Minister and Ministers of State consult properly with the stakeholders to see exactly what will be the implications of his Department's legislation in regard to them.
Will the Minister indicate if he intends accepting any of the 46 amendments before us today? There was an intimation that the Minister would consider changes in Garda identification among other things. I tried to address concerns in this regard in my amendments Nos. 36 and 37.