Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 17 Jun 2015

Vol. 883 No. 1

Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members]

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

We will be supporting this legislation. It is long overdue to say the least. It has been debated ever since I was elected here in 2011. I published a Bill in respect of repealing the discriminatory nature of that legislation. The Labour Party and Fianna Fáil published Bills relating to it. Members of the Technical Group have also published a Bill on it. I do not know if it was in the programme for Government but various Ministers definitely gave a commitment that this legislation would be dealt with once and for all before the end of this Government's term of office. This leaves us with a very short window in which to deal with it so I hope this is one commitment that can be kept.

To be honest, the fact that people can be discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual orientation is gross. It has no place in Irish society and needs to be dealt with quickly and in a very open and transparent manner within this Chamber because there is widespread support across all parties and none for the repeal of section 37. We just need to get on with the business of doing it. I remember how thejournal.ie ran a series on the impact of this section on teachers in particular either last year or early this year. One teacher who spoke to thejournal.ie said that when it was found out that he had spoken to the website and had openly announced that he was gay, he came under considerable pressure within his school, not just from the principal and the board of management but also from fellow teachers. He felt that he was not being listened to at meetings and he could feel that change in attitude towards him. To think that this can happen in this day and age is hard to get one's head around. We have just come out of a long campaign on marriage equality. This shows where our society is at. There is no doubt that there are people out there who are homophobic and that no matter what we say in here or what legislation we pass, we will not change their views on that but this Chamber can make a statement by passing this legislation. I note that the Government is supporting this and it will go to Committee Stage. I suspect that the Government will bring forward its own legislation in time and this will be the legislation we will ultimately end up voting on. Even the fact that it is being allowed to proceed to Committee Stage sends out the message that we are all united in respect of that, which I welcome.

It is not just schools. It also affects hospitals and other institutions that are run with a religious ethos. I consider myself to be religious. I go to Mass regularly. I bring my children up in a religious ethos but just because I am religious and attend Mass does not mean to say that people do not have rights and that I would not stand up for them. People's sexual orientation has nothing to do with religion. This is about equality. Much has been done over the past number of weeks to enhance equality within Irish society. I know the Minister of State is doing a lot of work in respect of direct provision. This section in the legislation is draconian and needs to be taken off the Statute Book very quickly.

This section in the legislation could technically discriminate against somebody who is divorced or a single mother so it is not just about the LGBT community. It goes beyond that even though the main focus is on the LGBT community. We should not lose sight of the fact that it also affects other people - single mothers, people who may be divorced or people with a different religious background. Due to the fact that we have not grasped the idea of separating Church and education, many schools have a Catholic ethos. Ireland is becoming very multicultural. The Education (Admission to Schools) Bill will also help break down some of those barriers when it comes to schools of a particular religious ethos. We are hearing stories of parents who only have the option of the local Catholic school when they want to enrol children in school. Due to the fact that they may not be bringing up their children in that religious ethos, they feel forced to get their child christened so that they have an opportunity to enrol their child in that school.

We fully support the Government in bringing forward its own legislation. I hope it will happen before the end of this Government's term of office because we cannot afford to allow it to slip into the next Dáil. That would be grossly unfair on teachers, nurses or anyone else who could be discriminated against by this section of the legislation. It has to go.

I welcome the opportunity to address this issue and I thank the Deputies opposite for raising it. The issue of LGBT rights in this country has consumed Ireland in the past few years and with good reason. It is all very well to say that we have equality in our hearts but we must have it in our laws if we are to be a progressive and compassionate society. For too long, people felt like they had to hide a part of who they are. I am sure most people would agree with me. Stories like that of TV3's Ursula Halligan and former Minister, Pat Carey, struck a nerve with all of us. It was heart-breaking to listen to the stories of isolation and fear. They lived incomplete lives and were denied what most of us take for granted - an open and loving relationship and being able to talk about that relationship. Their stories about being unable to form everyday relationships for fear of discrimination in their community and places of work really pulled at the nation's heartstrings.

They were not the only ones and many thousands of Irish people still live in isolation, afraid to reveal their sexuality. In 2015 this is just wrong. That is why we as legislators must act. This issue is not just a worry for the LGBT community, as I found out on the canvass for the recent referendum. As a mother it concerns me too. How can we expect LGBT teachers to give everything to the development of their pupils if they live in constant fear of being fired simply for being who they are? How can health care professionals deliver professional and compassionate care if they have to worry constantly about their employer finding out who they are? In April of this year I held a public meeting on the marriage equality referendum in Ballincollig in Cork and was surprised at the number of people who turned up. Both sides were represented in the audience but the personal stories I heard during the meeting and afterwards were very moving. To listen to young teachers who have secured a job in the vocation they love talk about hiding who they are at work brought me to tears. As someone with a business background who has employed people, I found it shocking that a business would face the full rigours of the law if it discriminated against gay people but a religious institution would not. Tears and shock are not enough, however. One of the reasons I voted for the programme for Government in spring 2011 was because of the equality agenda it contained. Not only did we agree to deliver on marriage equality but we also promised to end this discrimination.

The recent referendum reminded me that the vast majority of people want to see equality for their fellow LGBT citizens. It also reminded me that our Constitution remains a deeply personal part of Irish life. Constitutional debate in Ireland engages people in a way not seen in any other country. We are very attached to our Constitution. The question of religious ethos and employment law involves a considerable number of constitutional rights, all of which we must talk about and some of which we must change. Everyone is entitled to the freedom to practice their own religion but we must bear in mind those of other beliefs and none. We must be open to people expressing their opinion but people must also be allowed to be open about their relationships. Freedom of religion and assembly, the right to privacy and to earn a living, freedom of expression and conscience and the right to freedom from harassment and discrimination are all fundamental to our society. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue and am delighted that the House is in agreement on the matter.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which is very welcome. Indeed, there is unanimity in the House on its merits. The principle of the Bill has been accepted by the Government although the Minister of State has argued that it must be amended to ensure its constitutionality. That is not a criticism of the Bill because almost all Bills are amended. Very few if any Bills go through the Houses without amendment. Debate on Bills is about strengthening and improving them. That is the purpose of what we are doing in debating the Bill itself.

There is evidence that many teachers who are gay, bisexual, lesbian or transsexual experience isolation and a level of disempowerment in their work. They feel constrained in what they can disclose about their sexuality or their personal lives if they are in a relationship. That is just not good enough in this day and age, in a society which purports to be equal. The people will back the equality principle fully because they have already shown their support for it in the referendum on gay marriage. The people have expressed their view strongly and shown that we live in a changed society, a more tolerant and understanding society. We must develop that tolerance and understanding in many other areas, not just with regard to the gay community. There is still a lot of discrimination in other areas which we must tackle in the future.

The Bill seeks to remove the existing exemption by imposing a stricter test for discrimination on educational or medical institutions which are in receipt of public funding compared with those which are privately funded. In the case of more favourable treatment on religious grounds, the Bill prohibits this from giving rise to discrimination on any other ground and requires that a person's religious belief be a genuine occupational requirement. In the case of action taken by an institution to prevent its ethos from being undermined, the Bill requires any such action to be objectively justifiable, having regard to the nature of the employment itself.

The Bill will require amendment because it appears to conflict with the constitutional protection for freedom of religion and of religious groups to establish their own institutions of the type at issue here. Furthermore, it does not provide any guidance on how to resolve disputes between employees and employers. It would remain the case that an employer has the right to take action against employees who act against the employer's best interests and disputes would, following the deletion of the existing provision, fall to be resolved under generally applicable labour relations law. The Bill requires some tweaking but that is understandable, if not to be expected because every Act that is passed by the Houses of Parliament is amended. The Bill is a genuine effort to ensure that the discrimination that we saw in the past against teachers - I will not refer to any particular case but Deputies will know what I am talking about - because of their sexuality will be prohibited in legislation. I sincerely welcome the Bill and look forward to the Committee Stage debate and the Bill's eventual passage into law.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this issue which is one that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. I genuinely thank the Opposition Members who tabled this Private Member's Bill which gives us the opportunity to speak about the issue in the House. Lots of work is being done to advance this issue outside of this Chamber by the Minister of State and others. In 2013 when Deputy Ó Ríordáin was still a backbencher he worked with me and other colleagues to put together a Private Member's Bill which has been advanced to Second Stage in the Seanad. The Government's preferred option to address the issues raised by section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act is to do so through the Bill that myself and a number of my Labour Party colleagues put forward and to make a number of amendments thereto which will ensure that it is robust and correct.

Clearly, the Act was originally drafted with the best of intentions and the aim was to strike a balance but as we found out, the protection of rights was not really working. I saw this at first hand.

Deputy Coppinger and I trained as teachers at the same time and place. Little did we both know that we would end up here and little did she know that I would be complimenting her tonight.

One of the stories that came to my mind to do with real people who feel the real life effect of what we are discussing is that of Margaret and Róisín, who are two married primary school teachers. They are civil partners under Irish law and will remain so until that legislation advances later in the year. They were married in Canada. The Minister of State and I were with them at the launch of Teachers for Marriage. They have two lovely children, a boy aged about five and a girl aged about three, whose names I cannot remember. It was very brave of them to come to the launch of Teachers for Marriage.

They told a lovely story. While one of the mothers was upstairs washing one child, she overheard the three-year old playing with her friend and talking. Her friend said to the daughter, "You have two mammies". The daughter said, "I don't have two mammies". No more than anybody else who was sitting in the room, I was wondering what on earth the next part of the story was. She said something lovely. She said, "I have a mammy and I have a momma". I thought it was lovely and it said something about where society is at for most of us.

I bumped into Margaret and Róisín later that day after the event in Dublin Castle and I also bumped into them at the count. The resounding thing I remembered from the conversation was that they were delighted with the result of the referendum. They said that it allowed them to go home and tell their children that they are a real family. It is a shame as I do not know if Margaret and Róisín feel comfortable talking about their real family when they are in the staffroom. I definitely know of many people, including close friends, who feel they cannot talk about their own life in the staffroom. It is not because they work in a bad school which might do something. It is the unknown fear because of the existing legislation which creates a what-if situation. It is a shame that things are that way.

I am sure my partner will strangle me for saying this. I will be appearing on television in the next couple of days. The producers asked if I minded sending in a photograph of me and Darragh. I knew he would not be up for it, but I checked just in case he changed his mind since the last time I spoke to him about such issues because he is a secondary school teacher. Although he is in quite a progressive school, that chill factor exists for him and it is a shame. We know society has moved on. The Irish people came out in gigantic numbers to endorse the type of Ireland that I think we actually have, but it got endorsed in a massive public vote on 22 May.

I want to keep it simple and do not want to go on longer than I should. I genuinely believe that no person should ever live their life in the shadow of society, whether that be at home, in their community as they walk about or in the workplace, including in the staffroom for many of the people we are talking about tonight, at the nurses' station in the Mater Hospital, in a nursing home or anywhere else. That fear of being oneself should never be there. Most people are brave enough to overcome that.

In my case in the staffroom I worked at St. Vincent's school in Glasnevin I revealed myself little by little over 11 years. That is the type of person I am. I realised the world did not fall in and I was not sacked. I know that not everybody feels like that. Nobody should feel that they should step out of their comfort zone in order to be the maverick. We do not need to be mavericks, we just need legislation that protects people and allows them to be themselves.

I appreciate the opportunity to say what I did and to have the conversation. While we all differ on certain things, we all agree on one thing here, which is that everyone should have the right to be themselves and be protected under the law. Nobody should be discriminated against.

My own Bill addressed the issue slightly differently than this Bill. It looked at respecting the balance between the constitutional protection of the freedom of religion - regardless of whether we like it, many schools are run by religious groups - and at the same time allowing the individual to be completely protected in those situations. I will support whatever solution gets us to that. I appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight. Most importantly we need to get this done as fast as possible. We have waited far too long. I know amendments may need to be made and I understand that things take time. Having been a Deputy for the past four years I have seen that the wheels of power move slowly, but things change, as we have seen. We saw a dramatic change in May. It is always for the better when it happens. I am sure we will get it right and I look forward to the amendments being made soon. I thank the Opposition Members for creating the opportunity to have this conversation. The people outside, who are affected by it, will greatly appreciate that light is being shone on this issue.

I am glad the Government is not opposing the Second Stage of the Bill introduced by Opposition Members tonight. That is a positive move on behalf of the Government and reflects that we have been pushing to have changes to this issue for some time. There is a Bill in the Seanad, the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2013, prepared by the previous speaker, the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, Deputy Conway and me - all Labour Party Deputies - and by Senator Bacik. That is working its slow and arduous way through the House.

The Government is drafting amendments to improve the proposed legislation. From speaking to the Minister of State, I know he intends to push those amendments through as soon as possible so that the Seanad Committee Stage can be taken, hopefully before the summer recess. We are very hopeful that we will see changes to section 37 of the Employment Equality Act within the next six weeks.

We introduced that Bill in 2013 because of the so-called chill factor in employment laws. The current situation allows for discrimination against people by religious-run organisations. For certain sections of society, not just members of the LGBT community but also potentially people who might be divorced or unmarried parents, if it is felt that their lifestyle does not fit in with the ethos of the religious organisation running a particular institution, they run the risk of being removed and fired from that job legally. That such discrimination still exists in our society at this stage suggests that previous Governments were remiss in not changing the laws to reflect the changing nature of Irish society.

It is very positive that there seems to be a groundswell of opinion from Members on all sides of the House to try to make changes to this legislation. The Government has been very progressive on issues such as this. The repeal of section 37 was contained in our manifesto in 2011. We managed to get it into the programme for Government and the Government will push forward with the Bill we introduced in 2013 to address the issue.

It is one area in which we will see improvements. Our manifesto proposal to introduce marriage equality has moved through the House and the people voted for it in the referendum by a majority of 62% to 38% last month. That is a very positive result from our time in government. When I look back at my career in here, I will look back with fondness at having been involved in the debate and the subsequent success of the referendum.

We have also introduced changes to how the school curriculum addresses issues regarding LGBT students.

I have already seen the benefits of this in my own and other constituencies where, in an effort to raise awareness of LGBT issues, teachers are inviting members of the LGBT community to schools to speak to fifth and sixth year students about what life as an LGBT person is like. This a direct result, I believe, of the inclusion in the Labour Party manifesto of a proposal aimed at tackling homophobic bullying in schools. There have been big changes in the way the LGBT community is addressed and looked after by this Government. The legislation I referred to earlier, to which the Minister proposes to make amendments, will bring about further improvements. This is a reflection of the changing nature of Irish society.

I compliment the Opposition and all parties in this House on the mature manner in which we are now dealing with issues relating to the LGBT community. Things have changed dramatically in the past two or three decades since homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993. It is great to see the support that exists throughout this House for measures that seek to ensure the lives of all of our citizens are respected and that the right of our all of our citizens to enjoy the freedom to be who they are at home and at work is reflected in our laws.

I look forward to the enactment of legislation on this issue, although I am not sure it will be this particular legislation. I suspect it is more likely that the legislation to which I and others have put our names will be enacted. However, I compliment the members of the Opposition who tabled this legislation to ensure this issue is better understood by the people and that support for the removal of the odious section 37 is increased throughout the country.

Deputy Clare Daly is sharing time with Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Joan Collins.

The fact that fewer people are offering on this debate and that others are not taking their allocated time is a reflection not of the fact that this is not an important issue or that it is a controversial issue but that it is an absolute no-brainer. There is nobody who could oppose, on principle, a Bill that seeks to ensure that no person, regardless of where they work, is discriminated against on the basis of any of the nine grounds contained in the existing employment equality legislation. That is all that this Bill is about. It is entirely in keeping with the overwhelming and resounding result on the same-sex marriage issue earlier this year.

The exemption in section 37(1) of the existing Employment Equality Act has been described by the INTO and Deputies here as a threat to LGBT teachers and as having a silencing affect on them in terms of preventing them from talking openly about their lives, partners, sexual orientation and so on. This is not only about LGBT people. It is also not a million miles from the Eileen Flynn case in terms of that woman having been dismissed from her employment in a school because she was not married to the parent of her child. This section most definitely needs to be amended and this needs to be done before September next in order that the rights of teachers, doctors, nurses and others working in our services sector are protected.

As I said, this is not just an LGBT issue. Teachers who, like me, are atheists similarly believe that the existing legislation prevents them from speaking out about their beliefs. While the provision might not ever have been officially invoked to fire a teacher or deny a promotion, as stated by other Deputies, it has, undoubtedly, had a chilling effect and it needs to be changed. For that reason, I am very happy to support this Bill.

I note that the Socialist Party has said in correspondence that it is open to amendments on Committee Stage in terms of any potential conflicts with the Constitution and so on, which is important. I welcome that. What goes on within a private organisation is one matter but how that translates into the functioning of essential public services and access to facilities that everybody needs is an entirely different matter. I am not bothered by what any religious organisation does within its own ranks, no more than I would be bothered if, for example, the Socialist Party had an accountant who was a member of Fine Gael and that caused problems inside its ranks. I believe that would be a matter for the particular organisation to deal with.

This legislation deals with the removal of instances where it is lawful to discriminate against people. Sometimes it is lawful to discriminate against people. I am probably the only person in this House who is currently being investigated by the Equality Tribunal. I am being investigated because when a member of the public contacted me to make a complaint against an alleged paedophile, in his opinion, who was working on a gay pride campaign I told him that if he was aware of any criminal activity he should take it up with the Garda Síochána. He then followed this up with what I considered to be - I am sure most people would agree - homophobic commentary. In his opinion, I failed to represent his views and he took a complaint against me to the Equality Tribunal on the grounds that I discriminated against him for his religious beliefs. I have no idea what his religious beliefs are. I told him that I had been elected on a platform of fully supporting equality for gay people and I had no intention of promoting any views that are against that and that if he was not happy with that democracy then he did not have to vote for me. Believe it or not, that matter is currently being investigated by the Equality Tribunal. It is la-la stuff as far as I am concerned.

The reason we are discussing this issue and the reason this Bill is necessary is rooted in the fact that the State abdicated its responsibility to provide access for citizens to essential public services and handed over the running of hospitals, schools, the welfare of citizens and so on to the Catholic church at the time the State was founded. That is the root of this scenario. That abdication has left us in a situation whereby 90% of primary schools have a Catholic ethos. It also gave rise to the imprisonment and abuse of women in the Magdalen laundries and of children in residential institutions, symphysiotomy and our hypocrisy towards abortion and so on. That is the legacy of this State having farmed out its responsibilities to a private organisation with its own rules, its own laws and its own ways of doing things, which are at variance with the viewpoint of many citizens of this State. While I would do time to defend the rights of any citizen to advocate and promote their own religious beliefs, similarly, I would expect those people to not have that imposed on the State welfare system. It is this dysfunctional relationship between the Church and State in Ireland, which has been toxic, that is at the root of this issue.

I echo the point made on a number of occasions by my colleague Deputy Joan Collins that what we need to do is radically change the Constitution rather than tinker around with a lot of these measures. I am not putting the blame solely at the door of the Church because it benefitted the State to abdicate many of these responsibilities to the Church. We have seen this where Church and State combined, including in the attempts to stifle at birth Noel Browne's mother and baby scheme and so on. The power of the Church has waned but we are still dealing with that legacy. As I said, that is what is at the root of this issue.

The Labour Party Deputies are all patting themselves on the back for their achievements in terms of the delivery of social progress but this measure has not yet been delivered. In regard to schools, in 2012, Deputy Ruairí Quinn when Minister for Education and Skills told us that the process of divesting schools from Catholic patronage was to begin immediately. At one stage he talked about divesting 50% of all primary schools but for all the fire and brimstone the Church has not to date handed over a single school to another patron. Although it did merge two schools in Basin Lane in Dublin in 2014 to allow Educate Together to move into a vacant building and it also handed over another building in Castlebar that had been closed for 20 years, that is hardly much progress.

We must be honest about this and must go much further. If the Government was serious about equality, we would be tackling that issue in a much more serious way. We would also be tackling issues with our health service and the ridiculous scenario whereby the Mater hospital could threaten not to comply with the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act because performing abortions goes against its ethos. That threat was never followed through, but the fact the hospital administrators could even say that is ridiculous and demonstrates there is no place for religion in any of these public services.

It is important we are discussing this issue. The ball is firmly in the Government's court to deliver on this, to end the chilling effect and give a voice to what is clearly the wish of the people. I say this firmly in the belief that if the church wants to run a school, a hospital or whatever for itself and its followers, and it funds that, that is entirely up to it. The State should provide on a secular, non-denominational basis for all essential public services needed by all citizens, from the cradle to the grave. That is a much more acceptable model and is one that is in keeping with the wishes of Irish citizens.

I thank the Socialist Party and the Anti-Austerity Alliance for putting forward this Bill. There is no doubt that the "Yes" vote in the marriage equality referendum was a watershed in Irish life and is hugely welcome. Much of the time, we in this House debate issues that are not so positive or fight over what is good or bad, so it was nice to see the political parties in this House united and to see the overwhelming body of opinion in the country demand and succeed in achieving a significant and progressive change.

The Yes Equality slogan brilliantly captured the mood. There is no doubt that the resonance Yes Equality went way beyond the issue of LGBT rights. It is phenomenal that we got to a point where the overwhelming majority of people, young and old, supported marriage equality. There may have been a generational aspect to the issue, but I was inspired by the fact that right across the generations people embraced the "Yes" vote and the need to see people as human beings, regardless of their sexual orientation. The victory for the "Yes" campaign was mammoth, but the point is that the notion of equality resonated far further than LGBT rights.

It is a logical follow-on from the sentiment that drove the "Yes" vote that the desire and demand for equality should now run through every aspect of life and endeavour in society. This Bill is part of following through on that sentiment and demand for a society where equality is a reality and where discrimination on grounds of religion, sexual orientation, race, Traveller status, disability or any sort of discrimination or prejudice is anathema. It is part of the demand to sweep out any discrimination and to legislate for that. In this case it is in the area of employment and the right for all citizens to be treated without prejudice, regardless of their status.

As some Members have mentioned, this Bill speaks to the insistence that a demand or slogan that has been around a long time - the separation of church and State - must be translated by this House into reality. This is what people want and it must happen. It is unacceptable that this policy would persist in any shape or form. I was talking to a teacher earlier and asked to what extent he believed discrimination in this regard persists. He told me that because of the change in sentiment and in the views of people generally, he could not think of many instances of discrimination being persistent, because such is the tide of popular opinion and sentiment that discrimination is being swept aside. That is great but our laws must now reflect that change.

It is telling that the political system is always behind and always catching up with the progress that is being made by ordinary people demanding change. The conservative mentality of looking over the shoulder that often persists in conventional political life is slow to make change, even when the tide of public opinion and sentiment has long since decided such changes are necessary. This Bill is a catching up exercise as much as anything else in seeking to pass legislation and demanding that our laws reflect the wishes, views and sentiments of the people for equality.

It is important to reflect the left wing point of view, that in demanding this equality and in demanding an end to any discrimination in this regard, we are not - as we are often portrayed - anti-religion and seeking to snuff out people's right to their religious beliefs and ethos. On the contrary, it has never been true of the genuine left tradition that it has sought to deny people the right to express their religious views.

I will divert slightly, but since we are all in agreement on this, it is worth making the historical point that the Bolsheviks in Russia had a surprising view, but perhaps not so surprising if one understands their politics. One of the key arguments made by Lenin in his famous pamphlet - What is To Be Done? - was that the job of revolutionary socialists was to defend the rights of religious minorities in Russia against, at the time, the vicious persecution by the tsarist regime which had orthodox Christianity as the dominant religion. Lenin was at pains to defend a religious sect, called the old believers. Similarly, the Bolsheviks defended the rights of Jews who suffered horrendously from pogroms under that regime. This was not because they had any belief or commitment. By and large, they supported a secular society, where there would be separation of church and state, but they were adamant that people should have the right to freedom of religious expression.

On the one hand, the Bill demands an end to discrimination on religious or any other grounds but, on the other hand, it demands that people have the right to preserve their own ethos and develop organisations or institutions which promote that ethos. They should be allowed to discriminate in favour of that ethos only where it is absolutely necessary for the specific promotion of that ethos and it should not cross over into other areas in terms of the delivery of services. The obvious examples that have been mentioned include schools and hospitals, for example, where it is utterly unacceptable that preserving a particular religious ethos, or any other ethos, should cross over into the preservation of the ethos becoming an excuse to discriminate against people or to deny them vital services to which they have a right, for example, a woman’s right to choose or whatever else it might be. The Bill strikes a vital balance in that regard.

I am pleased the Government has welcomed the Bill. It is entirely in line with the sentiment that came from the referendum. I hope the Government will progress the Bill beyond Second Stage to ensure the legislative changes being sought become law as soon as possible. The demand for equality is not just in regard to social issues but at every level of society, including economic equality. On that front, we have a hell of a long way to go. In fact, economic inequality has got worse not better under the Government. That is the next big crusade.

Deputy Boyd Barrett should be mindful of equality with his colleague with whom he is sharing time.

I will. We need economic equality too.

I support the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill introduced by the Socialist Party and the Anti-Austerity Alliance. I wish to follow the trend of what has been said by the previous two speakers. The “Yes” vote in favour of gay marriage is a significant step forward on the way to a more equal society. The “Yes” vote was not just strongest among young people but was also strongest in working class areas. In one ballot box in Cherry Orchard in Ballyfermot there was a 96% “Yes” vote in favour of marriage equality, the reason being that for working people equality is not just some fancy notion, it is more fundamental. The desire for a more equal society is real and important for people who do not experience equality in their day-to-day existence. The Minister does not have to take my word for it; she can ask the workers in Clerys or Dunnes Stores whether they feel equal. The “Yes” vote was an important step forward but there is a long way to go. The Bill is being accepted by the Government and there will not be a vote on it tonight.

I wish to raise another issue that is important in the context of the education system. Atheist Ireland recently brought to my attention an issue that relates to public funding for chaplains in third level colleges. The issue first arose in the Dundalk Institute of Technology. Following research, it appears that Roman Catholic chaplains are being funded in a number of ITs, but not all of them, at an estimated cost to the State of €1 million per annum. Article 44.2.2° of the Constitution states: “The State guarantees not to endow any religion.” There are of course schools with a religious ethos and patron and the Supreme Court has ruled that in such schools the State can fund chaplains, but institutes of technology are non-denominational. They do not by law have a religious ethos. They do not have a religious patron. Funding by the State of chaplains in ITs is clearly in breach of Article 44.2.2°. It is also in breach of the procurement guidelines for public bodies. The contracting of a service must be put out to tender and a minimum of three quotes is required. If the employment of a chaplain is a direct employment, it should be filled using the Public Appointments Service. In reality, what happens is that the head of the college pays a sum to the church and the bishop makes the appointment. That has happened in ITs other than in Dundalk. There is no evaluation as to the qualifications, experience, training or background of the priest appointed. These chaplains have to deal with very sensitive issues for teenage college students, such as crisis pregnancies, LGBT issues or any of the other issues faced by young people. The €1 million would be far better spent on the provision of qualified counsellors.

This shows there is a long way to go, both in law and in practice, before we have a proper separation of church and State. Surely it is a fundamental principle that any society which aspires to equality does not give preference to a particular religion or to a religious ethos over secular views. Colleagues have referred to the chilling effect of the legislation as it now applies. It says it all that when delegates from Atheist Ireland had a meeting with the Taoiseach, two of them could not be included in the photographs because they were afraid of being identified. That shows the degree of vulnerability felt by some public sector employees.

I recall the remark by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin following the marriage equality referendum in which he questioned how the church had produced so many young people who went out to vote for equality. He said the language used in church schools would have to change, in terms of how religion was practised and the ideas to which students were exposed.

While acknowledging the step forward that was the "Yes" vote in the marriage equality referendum, it would be naive not to recognise, especially in socio-economic terms, that our society is becoming less and not more equal. There has been a huge growth in inequality in the past 30 years, as Governments have pursued a neoliberal agenda dictated by powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations. Some might say this is the acceptable face of capitalism. I say there is no face of a system based on inequality that is acceptable. While capitalism prevails, inequality will be the daily lot of the majority of people. We will have to introduce a lot more legislation and equality measures if we are to have a society in which everybody, and not just the chosen few, benefits.

On behalf of the Government, I thank Deputies from all sides of the House for their contribution to the debate in the past two days. It has been a very positive debate and broad support was expressed for delivering equality to all workers, in particular the teachers who feel oppressed by the current legislation.

Deputy Catherine Murphy referred to the devastating effects of discrimination and homophobia. Studies highlighting higher rates of depression and self-harm among the LGBT community have underlined these effects all too clearly. Deputy Buttimer mentioned his experience as a gay secondary schoolteacher and Deputy Lyons also spoke about his experience and the need to have in place effective policies and strategies to combat homophobic bullying in schools. Those and other examples mentioned by Deputies show the extent of the problem and the need to have in place amending legislation as soon as possible. For that reason, in the programme for Government we committed to amending section 37(1) to provide for a more equitable balance between the rights of freedom of religion on the one hand and the right to be free from discrimination on the other. The Government supports the sentiments and principles behind the Bill before the House tonight, which is why we will not oppose the legislation on Second Stage.

However, we are convinced that the detail of the approach proposed is somewhat flawed. As noted by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, last night, it is doubtful whether the Bill adequately meets the constitutional protection afforded to freedom of religion and to religious bodies to establish and maintain their own institutions. It does not provide any guidance on resolving disputes between employees and employers. It would remain the case that an employer has the right to take action against employees who act against the employer’s best interests or undermine the institution’s ethos. The Bill fails to distinguish between religious institutions run wholly for private purposes with those providing a social, educational or medical service to the public financed by State funding. This is an important distinguishing feature that must be recognised in any amending legislation to ensure its constitutionality. The attempt at reform in the Private Members’ Bill introduced by the Labour Party in the Seanad in 2013, which was signed by a number of Members of this House, along with the Government’s proposed amendments to it, represents a better approach. That legislation insists that employers who are providing publicly funded services would have to meet a higher standard of justification for any action taken against an employee on grounds of undermining the institution’s religious ethos.

I hope the House can understand our reasons for being cautious, given what is at stake. While the intentions of the Bill before the House are praiseworthy, a flawed attempt that is struck down by the courts would have a seriously detrimental effect on the very people it is meant to help. When legislating on this matter, the Oireachtas must meet the test of maintaining a proportionate balance between the constitutional rights of religious denominations to manage their own affairs and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes and the rights of other citizens to equality before the law and to earn their livelihoods. Although there were some suggestions that we should amend the Constitution, we are working within the Constitution as it is written.

The Government proposals for improving the 2013 Private Members’ Bill will be finalised very shortly and, once approved by the Government, will be published as amendments to the Seanad Bill with a view to its early passage through both Houses. I can understand Deputies’ frustration at the apparent slow progress of reform, however I repeat the assurance of the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, last night that the Government is fully committed to bringing the matter to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible in a way that is constitutionally robust.

During the lifetime of this Government we have achieved a great deal for LGBT people, and much needed to be done. We have introduced compulsory anti-bullying procedures in all schools explicitly referring to homophobic and transphobic bullying for the first time. We are enacting what has been described as the most progressive gender recognition legislation in the world. Last month, all of us together attained a remarkable achievement by becoming the first nation in the world to vote to recognise civil marriages between same-sex couples. Many people here have referred to it as one of the most positive expressions of the Irish people in our lifetimes. Putting an end to discrimination in our schools and hospitals will be the next important step for us to achieve.

Tá sé stairiúil go bhfuil Dáil Éireann ag glacadh inniu le Bille a ordaíonn nach féidir le heagraíocht chreidimh nó eagraíocht faoi stiúradh nó faoi smacht eagraíochta creidimh leatrom a dhéanamh ar aon duine atá nó a d'fhéadfadh a bheith fostaithe i seirbhísí a eagraíonn na heagraíochtaí seo, ina measc institiúidí oideachais nó institiúidí liachta, mar shampla, agus an leatrom seo ar bhonn inscne, stádais pósta, stádais clainne, chlaonta gnéis, chreidimh, aoise, ballraíochta sa Lucht Siúil, chumais nó chine. Is é seo atá i gceist sa Bhille um Chomhionannas Fostaíochta (Leasú) 2015 in ainmneacha na dTeachtaí Ruth Coppinger, Pól Ó Murchú agus i m'ainm féin.

Ba mhór an faoiseamh ar fad é do dhaoine aeracha, leispiacha, déghnéasacha, trasghnéasacha agus aitigh, lucht ALDTA, nuair a d'éirigh leis an reifreann um chomhionannas pósta ar 22 Bealtaine agus ba mhór an cás ceiliúrtha don tsochaí i gcoitinne é gur chuir tromlach mór na ndaoine deireadh leis an idirdheighilt idir dhaoine ó thaobh cearta pósta de ach téann an turas seo i bhfad níos sia fós agus i bhfad thar bhruacha na ceiste féin. D'eisigh muintir na tíre seo ráiteas fíorchumhachtach a fuair macalla ar fud an domhain mhór agus beidh an macalla sin le cloisint i bhfad ón lá inniu. Gheal toradh an reifrinn croíthe mhionlaigh a bhí ag fulaingt leatroim agus gheal sé spiorad an-chuid daoine tharis sin sa tír seo chomh maith. Ach fágtar fós iarsmaí láidre den leatrom ar mhionlaigh ar bhonn chlaonadh gnéis, chreidimh, stíl maireachtála agus ar chúpla bonn eile. Is é sin le rá gur féidir, de réir dlí, daoine aeracha nó andiachaithe a bhriseadh óna bpostanna, rud atá ceadaithe ag An tAcht um Chomhionannas Fostaíochta, 1998. Ciallaíonn sé seo go bhfuil daoine ag maireachtaint faoi scáth, faoi scanradh agus faoi strus má oibríonn siad d'eagraíochtaí chreidimh, mar shampla, i scoileanna nó in ospidéil atá faoi úinéireacht eaglaise, agus faoi úinéireacht na heaglaise Caitlicigh go speisialta.

Teastaíonn uainne muinín agus síocháin aigne a bhronnadh ar na daoine seo agus dá bhrí sin táimid ag éileamh ar an Rialtas go dtógfaí an Bille seo agus go gcuirfí trí na céimeanna cuí é, i dtreo is go mbeadh sé i bhfeidhm san fhómhar, gan a thuilleadh ama a chailliúint. Rud eile a théann go croí na faidbhe seo ná scaradh eaglaise agus Stáit agus an ceart atá ag gach duine do shaoirse chreidimh. Tá sé sin thar a bheith tábhachtach, ach é sin a deighilte agus creideamh dighilte ó sholáthar seirbhísí poiblí cosúil le hoideachais agus seirbhísí sláinte. I ndáiríre, teastaíonn leasú Bunreachta uainn chomh maith. Ba cheart go mbeadh Bunreacht ar bhonn sóisialach againn a thabharfadh comhionnanas amach is amach i gcúrsaí sóisialta agus i gcúrsaí eacnamaíochta chomh maith. Ach is tosú tábhachtach é seo anocht.

The tabling of the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill 2015 last night and tonight is a declaration of the great step forward taken when a large majority voted for marriage equality for gay people. It is a declaration that it must be taken forward to end all discrimination against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or otherwise members of the queer community and against people who are atheists. We have a glaring anomaly that gay people have equality in marriage but not in employment, given that religious organisations or institutions such as schools or hospitals owned and managed by them can discriminate against people on the grounds that they might be deemed to be in breach of the ethos informing those organisations by virtue of being gay, atheist or having a lifestyle that might be deemed to be in breach. The Bill would end this situation.

We welcome the fact that the Government will not oppose the Bill and we exhort that it be put through the remaining Stages and be made into law. We urge that this be the Bill that is taken forward given that the Labour Party Bill in the Seanad would, unfortunately, allow a continuation of discrimination in some fields, as my colleague, Deputy Paul Murphy will explain.

Atheist teachers or non-believers could be discriminated against in some of the legislative measures that have been proposed over the past year.

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 would be irrelevant if religious organisations did not control important public services such as health and education in this State. Some 96% of primary schools and 52% of secondary schools are under religious control or direction. That has a major impact on workers' rights by virtue of this legislation. We are an increasingly diverse and secular society. In Dublin West, 23% of our constituents are not Irish citizens and 26% are not Catholics. People with no religion are a growing demographic. We fully respect the right of every human being to practise the religion of his or her choice and to have full freedom of religious belief but there must not be religious control over education, health and other crucial services. They should be democratically run and funded to cater for the needs of our people. Religion should be a matter of personal choice and conviction rather than something endorsed, assisted or hindered by the State.

We need fundamental changes if we are to deliver the fullest human rights to all our people irrespective of their gender, sexual orientation or other characteristics. We also need economic equality. This is at the root of many other inequalities in our society. While financial capitalism dominates our world, we will not have equality. The struggle for equality in the social, religious and other levels of life is linked to the struggle for a society where our economy and wealth are freed from the grasping hands of greedy minorities in corporate entities and financial markets. The democratisation and socialisation of wealth would provide real equality and allow every human being to develop to his or her full potential and live the happiest possible life.

I welcome that the Government is not opposing this Bill. That demonstrates the change that has taken place in these Houses. Three years ago, the Government voted down a Bill in the Seanad that was weaker and less far reaching. This change has come from below rather than above, through movements of tens of thousands of people who campaigned for an end to homophobia, discrimination and inequality. In particular, it reflects the movement that enabled the marriage equality referendum to pass. It is clear that the Government intends to pass the Bill on Second Stage and then leave it to gather dust while it proceeds with the Bill introduced in the Seanad by Senator Bacik. We are not precious about our Bill just because it was introduced by the Anti-Austerity Alliance but we will not accept a minimal approach which simply raises the bar on discrimination while allowing it to persist. Any legislation which maintains the right to discriminate against workers in health care, education and charities will also be opposed by those who campaigned for marriage equality.

The protest that took place this evening welcomed that our Bill will pass Second Stage but the protesters are now focusing on the weakness of Senator Bacik's Bill. The first flaw in that Bill is the distinction it draws between services which are publicly funded and those which are not. We do not see why workers in services run by religious orders without public funding should be discriminated against or entitled to fewer employment and equality rights than workers in publicly funded services. Nowhere else in employment law is such a distinction made between publicly funded and privately funded workers. Senator Bacik's Bill would mean that an educational or health care service run by the church could continue to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation, parenting status or religion as long as it is not publicly funded. For example, a lecturer in a privately run third level institution could be discriminated against because he or she is openly gay on the grounds that it is against the institution's religious ethos. It is wrong to make a distinction between publicly and privately funded services. The proper distinction is between the way in which a religious order runs its own affairs and way in which it runs a service, irrespective of whether that service is publicly funded. There should be no grounds for allowing discrimination in respect of a service run by a religious institution.

The second flaw is that religion is maintained as grounds for discrimination regardless of whether public funds are involved, albeit with a higher bar in terms of requiring that the occupational requirement be genuine and legitimate. Even if a school is publicly funded, a religious order could make the case that a teacher's religion is a justified reason for discrimination where he or she is teaching a religion class. This is a clear example of discrimination against atheists and those of a different religion to the institution which controls the school. It might also offer a back door for discrimination against LGBTQ people who, by being openly gay, are not conforming to the teachings of a certain church. There should be no discrimination of any form in church-run health or education services. The only place where we think discrimination can be permitted is within the religious institution itself. That would meet the Constitution's provisions on the right of religious denominations to run their own affairs. Those affairs do not extend to the operation of schools and hospitals but religious orders clearly have the right to discriminate in favour of people of their own religion when appointing priests or ministers.

The marriage equality referendum revealed to us the demand for equality. Those who mobilise for equality will not tolerate half measures. The "Yes" vote in the referendum was not for half equality. In its analysis of Senator Bacik's Bill, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties made the point that equality is a binary state. Either one is equal or one is not. The council urged the Oireachtas to seize this opportunity to eradicate all forms of discrimination. We need full employment equality rather than a higher bar for discrimination; and we need that equality before next September.

Question put and agreed to.