Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am sharing time with Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin.

I welcome the opportunity to introduce the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 and will discuss the provisions of the Bill in detail in due course. However, it is important to note that equality is a contentious political issue. All politicians in this House purport to pursue the objective of equality, but they do so in different ways. Neither I nor Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin believes we have a monopoly of wisdom when trying to pursue the principle of equality, but we believe what we have put forward in this legislation would have a significant impact in seeking to diminish a particular type of discrimination and inequality in Ireland.

Politically, the pursuit of equality has become pronounced in recent years. When one looks at the Official Report of Dáil debates, one sees that in the past 20 years the term "in pursuit of equality" was used frequently in the House and outside it by politicians. The objectives they seek to achieve in using the word "equality" are broad ranging. Of course, equality does not mean uniformity. It does not mean that we must live in a North Korean environment in which we all live in the same type of house, all earn the same money and all must do the same job. Sometimes it is important to distinguish equality from the principles of other political doctrines which sometimes use equality to advance their political theories.

As legislators, we have a significant responsibility to ensure there is equality before the law. We must also understand the limitations on politicians. All we can do is try to change the law in order that the change we make will have an impact on society. It is not always the case that changes in the law can have the effect of changing society, but in this area it would send a significant message. As the Ceann Comhairle and the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, know, equality is not a modern principle, although it is invoked frequently in modern political parlance. It is an ancient philosophy that dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. In addition, there are references in some Christian writings to what was regarded as equality. Looking back at those ancient times we probably would not regard those societies as equal, but it is important to note that at the time they emphasised that because of a man's or a woman's ability to reason, there was an inherent equality between men. Although they did not emphasise women as much, that can be read into it.

We also must consider the impact of the principle of equality on modern political philosophy. In the 18th century the American war of independence and the United States Declaration of Independence referred to how all men were created equal. The same principle was present in the French Revolution later in the 18th century. We can also consider our historical development. The Proclamation expressly states the Republic guarantees the equal rights and equal opportunities of all of its citizens. No doubt that was one of the reasons the Constitution, which was drafted in 1937 and came into force thereafter, included the specific provisions of Article 40.1, which states all citizens shall as human persons be held equal before the law. Even though we have that principle and constitutional right in the Constitution, it is important that the Legislature take steps to ensure equality is not simply an academic reference but is given life through statutory import. That has not happened with sufficient clarity to date.

We note that after the Constitution was enacted, it was left to the courts to interpret how and whether the right to equality under the Constitution had been violated and how it should be remedied. That has been done by the courts on many occasions. It was done for the benefit of women who did not receive equality, for example, in the case involving their inability to serve on juries. That only arose as a result of a case taken before the High Court. The High Court declared that it was a violation of the principle of equality under the Constitution that women could not serve on juries. Sometimes it also happened in the case of men. The Adoption Act 1974 precluded widowers from adopting but allowed widows to adopt. That provision was struck down by the courts. Sometimes, however, they courts failed to recognise the principle of equality. The case taken in the 1980s by Senator David Norris was rejected by the courts. The law was subsequently changed by this House.

In the 1990s a Fianna Fáil-led Government put some flesh onto the bones of the principle of equality in the Constitution. In 1998 there was a significant statutory development in the area of equality when the Employment Equality Act was passed by the Oireachtas. Shortly afterwards, in 2000, the Equal Status Act was passed. It is important to note what these Acts provided for because in this legislation we are seeking to amend them slightly by adding a further ground. Under the Employment Equality Act 1998, employers were prohibited from discriminating against employees or potential employees on nine specific grounds set out in the legislation. One cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of their gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or being a member of the Traveller community. Each of the provisions in the Employment Equality Act has been a welcome addition to our legislation. Shortly after the enactment of the Employment Equality Bill, the Equal Status Act 2000 was passed. Similarly, it provided for the nine grounds I have just mentioned, whereby one was precluded from discriminating against individuals when providing services for them. All of that legislation is of benefit.

I am sure the Minister of State appreciates that equality legislation is extremely difficult to police. Sometimes it is difficult to decipher whether an employer or service provider is discriminating against an individual on the basis of any of the nine grounds listed. However, the benefit of having them in our law goes beyond the fact that people can be legally held to account. The greatest benefit is that it conveys a message that the State does not consider discrimination on any of the grounds as acceptable. With this legislation we are seeking to add a further ground to the nine grounds listed in the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act.

We propose to add a further ground, the disadvantaged socioeconomic ground, making it ten grounds in all. Disadvantaged socioeconomic status would mean a socially identifiable status of social or economic disadvantage resulting from poverty, level or source of income, homelessness, place of residence or family background. Like every piece of legislation there is a political reason we are introducing it. I will explain it by recounting to the House stories told to me about things that happened to people in my constituency, which I believe are unacceptable.

First, at a clinic, a woman asked for my assistance in her job application to a large employer - I will not identify it or where she came from - and I was happy to do so. She told me she would not put the address where she resides on the job application. She lived in a local authority estate and told me that she was not putting her address on the form because she believed that she would be discriminated against because people from that estate did not get jobs. Certain employers discriminated against people from the estate because it had an association with antisocial behaviour or minor criminal activity. I was surprised by this and asked others in the area if they had a similar experience. I was astonished by the extent to which people who live in this local authority estate told me that when they applied for certain jobs, and to certain employers, people who live there do not put down their address because they believe they are discriminated against because of where they live. As so many of them believe this, I think it is sufficient evidence to advance the idea. That is part of the reason we are advancing this ground to change the Employment Equality Act, as it stands.

I will tell a second story, which is similar but relates to the Equal Status Act. I was speaking to a woman in a local authority flat complex where she lived, who told me about her children. I was very surprised when she told me that she did not send her young son to a local national school, but to a private school in the area. I was astonished at the efforts to which this woman went to ensure that her son got the best from his early life. She made valiant efforts on his behalf, and one can imagine the amount of work she had to undertake to put him through a private primary school. She told me that she had applied on her son's behalf to the closest national school but that it would not accept her son. She said none of the people in the local authority flats who had applied to this school had had his or her son accepted there and as a result all the children from the flats had to go to another national school which was further away. She said it was very rough and she did not want her son to go there. It is unacceptable for national schools, our schools, to discriminate and say they will not take children from the flats. For this reason we are bringing forward this small piece of amending legislation to change the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act. I am hopeful that there will be support for it in the House.

The legislation is of a type that is extremely difficult to police but when one looks at the law at present, one is not allowed to discriminate against people because of their sex or their sexual orientation, but there is no law prohibiting discrimination against a person because, as in the examples I just gave, someone comes from a block of flats about which an employer may have a negative view or someone wants to send his or her child to a local national school and the child does not get in because it does not take people from those flats. That behaviour is unacceptable. I do not believe that it is widespread in Irish society but we should change the equality legislation nonetheless so that type of discrimination it is not permissible. Neither is the type of discrimination outlined in the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act particularly widespread but it is extremely important that our legislation sets out that one cannot discriminate against people because they are women, because they are gay, because of their age or because of their religion. Religious discrimination was the most significant type of discrimination since it affected so many people up to 1828 under the Penal Laws. In modern times, we should similarly say that one should not discriminate against people because they come from a poorer background. I believe this to be the most common form of discrimination in this society rather than the other types which are already outlined in the legislation. It is not a competition between the different grounds. Each is commendable and should be there but I see no reason that we should not keep trying to evolve and promote our laws on equality. They continually change along with the society in which we live and it is important that we send out a message that it is unacceptable for people to discriminate against individuals on the basis that those people come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background.

I apologise for going on for too long, and will hand over to my colleague, Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin.

I am happy to speak to this Bill which seeks to extend the scope of current employment equality legislation by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disadvantaged socioeconomic or social backgrounds. Put simply, this Bill seeks to enhance equality. As my colleague, Deputy O’Callaghan, said, even though there is much talk about equality both inside and outside this Chamber, we do not do much by way of legislation to protect or improve it. It is easy to say we believe in equality but what does that mean? According to one dictionary definition, it is "the state of being equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities". It is the area of status and opportunities that we hope to address with this Bill.

Discrimination based on socioeconomic or social backgrounds has been a growing problem in recent years. It is chilling to listen to Deputy O’Callaghan speak on the school situation in particular, where some schools did not take children from certain addresses and estates. Many people living in disadvantaged areas have found it difficult to secure jobs simply because they live in a certain area or estate. Their applications are not being considered on merit and they face arbitrary barriers which have a detrimental impact on their lives. This form of inequality needs to be tackled.

The Bill Deputy O’Callaghan and I have brought forward aims to address this growing problem by explicitly banning discrimination on the basis of disadvantaged socioeconomic or social background. This should help ensure that people living in disadvantaged areas are protected from discrimination alongside those who are unemployed or are relying on social protection supports. This should help break the vicious poverty trap that many people fall into.

Fianna Fáil recognises that enhancing social conditions and creating better opportunities for people is the fundamental method of supporting disadvantaged communities. This Bill is just one proposal for tackling inequality and breaking down the barriers which exist for those living in disadvantaged areas. Unfortunately, we live in a world where assumptions based on socioeconomic status or address can often restrict opportunities for minorities or disadvantaged groups, mainly in job opportunities but also, as we heard, in education. Some progress has been made in diversity but many other areas need work to minimise or reduce prejudice.

Studies have shown that individuals sometimes make drastic changes in their personal information in order to achieve better results in the business and-or academic fields, where a surname or location can be life changing.

It is likely that those from eastern parts of the world will anglicise their names. We have seen that happen among people from other countries who have chosen to live in Ireland and to apply for jobs here. It is done prior to applying for positions offered by companies. Again, there are many people living in certain estates who say that they have to change their addresses for job opportunities because the areas in which they live are associated with deprivation, anti-social behaviour or other elements of criminality.

Socially identifiable status or socioeconomic disadvantages resulting from poverty level, source of income, place of residence or familial background should not be a measure, or used as a measure, to treat one person less favourably than another. We have to have a developed, fair and united society where true equality of status, rights and opportunities is not fictional. That can only be the product of a joint, cohesive process being developed for each and every one of our citizens. As a republican party, Fianna Fáil is committed to fighting discrimination and inequality. As my colleague said, we have a proven record in providing leadership in the field of equality legislation, particularly in respect of the two major parts of Irish equality legislation, which we certainly want to enhance at this point. It is fair to say that there is evidence of significant discrimination on the grounds of socioeconomic status in key areas. We must do our best to ensure that there is equality wherever there can be.

As my colleague said, it is sometimes difficult to police the prohibitions which we have in the nine areas of discrimination, and in respect of the tenth area which we are proposing in this Bill. Nonetheless, it is very important to state that there is a significant benefit in setting out the grounds on which discrimination is unacceptable in law. It would certainly help to send a strong message that any level of discrimination in any of these areas is totally unacceptable.

We all share the common objective of wanting to protect all persons living in Ireland from discrimination in their daily lives. As the House is aware, we have robust protections in place in the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 and the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2015 to protect equality and to combat discrimination in employment and in access to goods and services. If we are to amend these important pieces of legislation, we need to ensure that the amendments are precise, appropriate and targeted at addressing a particular need.

This Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, tabled by Deputy O’Callaghan, proposes to extend the discrimination grounds to include a new ground, that of disadvantaged socioeconomic status. The Government agrees with the principle of what the Deputy is attempting to achieve with this Bill. Let us be clear on that. We agree with the principle. Like the Deputy, we do not wish to see anybody denied access to employment or to goods and services because that person lives at a particular address or belongs to a particular type of family. The Government is also conscious of its international obligations in this area. There are, however, flaws in this Bill which are so serious as to prevent Government from supporting it.

It is a shame that the Deputy did not choose to submit this Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny prior to publication, as all Government Bills must be submitted. Committees have done fantastic work in this area. I would have been delighted had that happened because we all would have been advised by the committee's deliberations and all Deputies could have looked at the Bill in light of them. Government legislation has to go through this process but Private Members' Bills do not. That is a flaw in our system. I have said it before and I am saying it again. It is a weakness in our system. If Private Members' Bills are to be treated seriously, they should also go through pre-legislative scrutiny. Many of the flaws that I will identify could have been addressed through that process and a more nuanced Bill presented to this House as a consequence.

A general principle is that statute law should be certain, clear and precise. In a Bill such as this, one can clearly see that certainty and precision are essential so that the law can be easily interpreted by the person experiencing discrimination, by the courts and by employers, service providers and businesses. Unfortunately, this Bill is characterised by ambiguities and subjectivity. The Deputies who have already spoken have said that this is an area in which it is very difficult to work. Unless the legislation is very clear, it will be almost impossible to work. This Bill, if enacted, would introduce an ambiguous and wide-ranging definition of disadvantaged socioeconomic status into the Equality Acts. The definition would encompass six separate elements - poverty, level or source of income, homelessness, place of residence and family background.

As proposed, the definition of disadvantaged socioeconomic status could give rise to differing interpretations depending on the context. As such, it differs from the existing equality grounds which set out clear characteristics that a person either fulfils or does not fulfil. On the civil status ground, for instance, a person will immediately know if she or he is single, married, divorced, separated, widowed, a civil partner or a former civil partner. Equally, on the Traveller community ground, a person is either a Traveller or she or he is not. That is not subject to interpretation. It is clear. The strength of the current clear definitions in the equality legislation is two-fold. A person at risk of discrimination can immediately know whether or not the protected grounds apply to his or her situation. Equally, and just as importantly, employers or providers of goods and services can know the precise situations which constitute prohibited discrimination. They have to be able to know clearly what differences of treatment are permitted and what are not. Employers or providers of goods and services can then put systems and policies in place to guard against discrimination by themselves or by their staff.

However, the elements included in the proposed definition of disadvantaged socioeconomic status generate more questions than answers. I propose to go through some of the questions which, in my view, arise from the definition proposed in this Bill. Taking the first element of the definition, namely, poverty, how would a person be defined as being in poverty? Would it be a person in consistent poverty or someone in relative poverty? The Bill is not clear on that. That is very serious. Turning to the second element, that of level of income, how would disadvantaged income levels be defined? Would it be relative to a specific income threshold? What about someone who is asset rich but income poor? Would it be relative to the income of others? Would it extend to include any person denied a means-tested benefit because he or she was above a specific income threshold? Where is the line drawn? It is not clear at all from the legislation.

Similar questions arise in respect of source of income. What constitutes disadvantage in this context? Will everyone on a social welfare payment be termed disadvantaged? Will someone working in a specific type of work be considered disadvantaged? Could the definition include a criminal who gained income through criminality and whose source of income was dubious? We have had those debates here before. The place of residence aspect of the definition also raises questions. Would it be restricted to someone from an area of high income disadvantage? Could a poor person living in a wealthy area also qualify? Would it extend to someone living in a particular type of residence, such as an institution? Could a prisoner be eligible to take a case for discrimination arising from his or her "place of residence"? Could the definition encompass someone living in a rural area who was not poor but who had more limited access to employment opportunities? Could a person living in a rural area take a claim if he or she had poorer access to postal or broadband services, for instance, than an equivalent person living in Dublin? Turning to family background, this element seems particularly ambiguous. Who is this element intended to encompass? Would it include a person in a lone parent household, a person from a Traveller family, a person from an ethnic minority family, a person whose parent was not an Irish national, or an adopted person? What does it mean?

These questions need to be answered so that we can be clear as to the situations likely to be encompassed by this equality ground. As it stands, the definition's ambiguity could expand the number of potential cases that might be taken under the equality legislation exponentially, particularly as the Equality Acts encompass indirect as well as direct discrimination.

The ambiguous definition proposed in this Bill could lead to unintended consequences. We could see a situation in which individuals with a good education or training and easy access to finances could take claims based on the level of income or place of residence elements of the definition. Wealthier individuals could challenge their exclusion from means-tested benefits citing disadvantage on the basis of level of income.

Such individuals could potentially force State resources to be redirected towards addressing their circumstances rather than targeting those resources at persons in greatest need. It might be difficult, in this context, for public service providers to set criteria restricting the provision of non-statutory services where resources were limited and certain groups needed to be prioritised. The provisions in this Bill also carry the risk of interfering with ministerial discretion in allocating funding to specific areas.

The Government has taken action in a more targeted manner to address instances of discrimination where it believed there was a clear need to do so. The Government took action to prohibit discrimination in the letting of residential accommodation on the basis that a person is or is not in receipt of rent supplement or a housing assistance payment. The Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 amended sections 2 and 6 of the Equal Status Act 2000 so a person could not be discriminated against when renting because he or she is getting rent supplement, the housing assistance payment or any other social welfare payment. This means landlords can no longer state, when advertising accommodation, that rent supplement or the housing assistance payment is not accepted, and they cannot refuse to rent accommodation to a person because he or she is in receipt of a social welfare payment.

The Government's view is that the case for the amendment of the equality legislation must be based on clear evidence. At present, we do not have objective evidence that individuals are actually experiencing discrimination because of their address or background. We are relying on anecdotal evidence, which may provide a very partial picture. In this regard, Deputy O'Callaghan told us two stories of people he met. That is fair enough but we need to know the exact extent of any such discrimination. We also need to isolate the potential discrimination from any other factors that might affect the person's employment status. A person might find it difficult to get employment because she or he has poorer educational qualifications. An individual might find it harder to get employment in a rural area with more limited job opportunities. If we are to amend the equality legislation, we need to be sure that discrimination is what we need to tackle rather than other factors, such as training needs or educational disadvantage.

I recognise that this issue is inherently complex, as the Deputies have said, and that it is very difficult to arrive at a precise definition. As Deputies will be aware, a report on this question was undertaken by UCC in 2004. The report, Extending the Scope of Employment Equality Legislation: Comparative Perspectives on the Prohibited Grounds of Discrimination, which I read recently, found that discrimination on the basis of socio-economic status is not necessarily revealed by distinctive external features. It also found that there is extreme difficulty in providing proof of discrimination, particularly where the burden of proof lies with the victim of discrimination.

Before proceeding with a flawed Bill, we need to examine this issue in more detail so we can proceed on the basis of a solid evidence base and a targeted definition of need. Accordingly, the Government proposes to commission research to establish the extent and prevalence of discrimination on the basis of place of residence or related factors. Such research would also have the purpose of establishing whether such discrimination was occurring in regard to employment or access to goods and services, or both. It would establish whether a legislative response was needed and, if so, which Acts needed to be amended. The researchers would be also asked to devise a more precise formulation for the additional equality ground if it were decided that this were needed. In taking this process forward, the Government would seek to work with appropriate State bodies and agencies, such as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The Equality & Rights Alliance has also done some useful preliminary research in this area, as outlined in its report, An Analysis of the Introduction of Socio-Economic Status as a Discrimination Ground. I am sure most Deputies present have read it. My objective is to set the research process in motion imminently. The immediate priority will be to draft appropriate terms of reference.

As I said at the outset, I share the concern that we should seek to address barriers that create disadvantage for individuals in our society and prevent them from realising their potential. We can work together to devise appropriate solutions to this challenge but this Bill's ambiguity is such that, however laudable its intentions, it does not provide an appropriate way forward. Accordingly, the Government cannot support it. We want to carry out research on this and share and debate it with colleagues in the House, and we then want to proceed with a fact-based agenda. I recommend against accepting this Bill.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo, ach freisin na leasuithe atá ceangailte leis. I welcome this Bill and the proposed amendments.

Up to this point, the Irish Government has failed to introduce a new socio-economic status ground in equality legislation. This Bill will go some way towards ensuring Ireland meets its obligations under both EU and international law. It will, in effect, bring us into line with most progressive case law across Europe. The amendments the Bill proposes will prohibit discrimination on the basis of socio-economic status. We are all aware that people from areas regarded as being deprived, or areas with high rates of anti-social behaviour or crime, face significant discrimination, for example, in gaining employment or promotion.

It is a sad fact of life that, even in this age, people often have to disguise their home addresses for fear of being discriminated against when applying for a job or going for a job interview. Many people from my constituency, Dublin North-West, have come to me and told me about such discrimination. It has probably got worse during the long years of austerity. In fact, it has almost certainly increased the amount of inequality. This Bill, which amends the equality legislation, will help to break down the barriers to opportunity for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Discrimination also occurs in housing and education. This is often based on socio-economic status. To their credit, many colleges and universities are increasingly recognising that people from certain deprived areas, or from more disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, are less likely to attend third level institutions or opt for further education. Many third level institutions have, and are putting in place, positive initiatives that both open and widen access to third level courses for students, regardless of their socio-economic background. The reality, however, is that students from certain areas regarded as being deprived or with high rates of anti-social behaviour are greatly under-represented at third level.

Today, many third level institutions are taking the initiative and, without the benefit of legislation, are helping to tackle social exclusion through innovative and targeted initiatives, often in partnership with businesses, local communities and various organisations across the education sector. Such positive moves by universities and colleges allow students from more deprived socio-economic backgrounds to realise their full academic potential.

As a society, we have made progress on equality and rights. The marriage equality referendum is an example. Discrimination against any person, on grounds of religion, ethnic background, disability, mental illness or gender, is anathema to the objectives of a progressive, modern society.

Over the years, I have met constituents who have been afraid to give their address for fear of discrimination or bias in the consideration of qualifications or even looking for a job. Equality should mean equality but that is not always the experience, particularly among those with working-class backgrounds. This is even more the case if they have a disability or suffer from mental illness. A measure of any society is how it treats citizens, especially the young and old, irrespective of their socio-economic background.

The amendment of section 2 of the Equal Status Act 2000 in subsection 1 is extremely important and should send out a strong signal that, irrespective of where one comes from or one's background, one should be treated on a par with others. It is one thing legislating for issues of equality but the only real judge is action. As we have seen regarding issues pertaining to Traveller and minority rights, the State has failed. Changing the mindset requires education and long-term initiatives. This Bill should send out a strong message. While it is not perfect and there are many issues arising, everyone should be supporting its thrust.

On behalf of my party, I welcome and support this Bill. I have long believed there should be prohibition of discrimination on socio-economic grounds in the two Acts to be amended. I commend the Fianna Fáil Deputies and the Equality Rights Alliance on their work in this area.

Some of the discussion so far has focused on addressing disadvantage. I wish to make two points on this, the first being that disadvantage is a lot more complicated than merely having a certain address or living in local authority housing. Increasingly, it is a lot more dispersed in our communities. In some respects, it may be less visible, which makes it more difficult to tackle. For all that, tackling it is no less important.

A word that has been absent from the debate so far is "class". Essentially, we are talking about class. Sometimes "working class" and "disadvantaged" are used as synonyms but I do not believe that necessarily should be the case. Acute disadvantage is a very specific issue whereas the working class in Ireland is a much more substantial category, although there is a substantial cross-over. That is a slight digression but it is an important point nonetheless in terms of understanding disadvantage.

I accept the comments and the intention of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, as bona fide but I am disappointed with his response, which is a very technical one. It is entirely within the scope of these institutions that the Bill could proceed even to pre-legislative scrutiny after Second Stage, which is facilitated in certain committees. There is international precedent for such legislation. The European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination shows that legislation in 20 of the 35 European countries provides protection against discrimination on a ground related to socio-economic status. We are behind the curve in that regard. Among other things, Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination on the grounds of social origin and poverty, among others.

I will now turn to the substance of the Bill. As a people, we often delude ourselves into believing that Ireland is a classless society. Perhaps that is changing now. Some of that is underpinned by the fiction that the party system in Ireland, the two big parties of the supposed middle, was a function of that society. However, I very much believe that class is real and always has been real. We have all heard stories of people being refused employment on the basis of their address or using a different address for employment. In Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt uses a different address to try to disguise the fact that he came from a lane in Limerick. Class difference and discrimination on that basis always has been a fact of life in Ireland.

In the context of this debate I am reminded of the English writer, Owen Jones, who wrote the very excellent book Chavs, which documented very clearly how words such as "chav" and stereotypes of working class people were deemed largely acceptable by the media and treated as mere banter, whereas in reality they were enforcing structural and very real inequality and discrimination. The reality is that the opportunities afforded to working class people in this country are substantially less than people who are better off. In this city the obvious example is access to higher education. In Dublin 6 access is in excess of 90%, in Dublin 17 it is 15% and in Dublin 10 it is 16%.

I will provide another example of discrimination. I read an excellent article by Patrick Freyne in The Irish Times on 22 July last. I would recommend it to the Minister of State. It detailed the use of stop and search powers on young people, particularly from the inner city and other working class areas. It provides testimony of the impact that has on young people from those areas. Experts in the area include Gareth Noble and Dermot Walsh. They agree that such discrimination has an effect. It is in such areas that discrimination is experienced on an everyday basis and currently there is very little remedy for it. If enacted, the Bill would provide a remedy and a ground for taking action.

I am disappointed with the Minister of State's response. It is possible to tighten up the definition. I find it very difficult to accept that some of the examples given would be entertained by a court, but if the Minister of State is of the view that it is merely a problem of definition then surely the issue could be addressed on Committee Stage. If the principle and the pieces of legislation that are intended to be amended are clear then I do not see any reason the situation could not be rectified given that we are, apparently, all united on the principle that socio-economic discrimination should not be allowed.

Two very clear and precise areas of discrimination that could be addressed by the Department, which are not included in either of those Acts, are discrimination on the basis of political belief or on the basis of trade union membership. If the Minister of State is interested in precise definitions, they are two perfectly precise areas that are within the gift of the Minister of State to deal with in the legislation.

Like other speakers I support the thrust of the Bill. The Minister of State has raised a number of issues such as pre-legislative scrutiny. I am conscious that we have identified areas of high socio-economic deprivation in the past and we introduced programmes such as RAPID to tackle them. As a society we have identified that particular areas needed to be addressed and supported.

I am also conscious of the effect on people who live in areas that have a high level of crime or gangland killings of the coverage by newspapers and television. Someone in such an area can be impacted if he or she goes for a job interview on a day following a news story. Regardless of what is said, it is in the back of an interviewer's mind that he or she is from a particular area. We have all heard stories in our constituencies about people who held the strong view that the interview was over as soon as the interviewers heard where they lived. We all accept that is wrong.

We are all aware from history of what happened in the neighbouring jurisdiction where people were discriminated against in the past because of the area in which they lived, the school they attended or their perceived political allegiance if they considered themselves as Irish. They suffered discrimination in the areas of jobs and housing. Thankfully, we have moved on in that regard.

The intention of the Bill is to identify those areas that need to be examined in terms of discrimination. Other speakers referred to the fact that it is illegal to discriminate against people because of gender, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or because they have a disability or are a member of the Traveller community. We have been successful in addressing discrimination in those areas. We do need to examine how discrimination affects people. We need to do a lot more to tackle racism, sexism and homophobia in society. The intention behind the Bill is a positive start. Hopefully, it will give people a firm legal avenue to challenge such discrimination.

I am sure we would all accept that we need a renewed focus on tackling poverty and inequality in society. We must devise a suite of social and economic measures to tackle this man-made inequality. I do not believe enacting legislation will solve those problems but it will go some of the way towards resolving them. Legislation would also empower and encourage people to take cases where they feel there is discrimination. That is what has happened where such legislation has been introduced.

There are other areas we could examine in terms of discrimination. Reference was made to trade unions, for example. Some CEOs regularly boast about not hiring anyone who is a member of a trade union. We are still waiting on robust collective bargaining legislation.

We also need to introduce legislation on discrimination against ex-prisoners, in particular those who qualified under the Good Friday Agreement. All sorts of promises were made about those prisoners but they are still discriminated against when it comes to travel and adoption. The situation affects men and women and it must be addressed. Ex-prisoners are discriminated against when they try to get taxi plates because of their former political status. Such discrimination is wrong and goes against the Good Friday Agreement and it should be outlawed in future equality legislation.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill. It gives us an opportunity to start thinking about what is wrong with society. Clearly, discrimination on the basis of where people live, a poor background or because they are not wealthy would go against the ethos of everyone here.

There is clearly a need to change. I welcome the fact the Fianna Fáil legislation gives us that opportunity.

We are supporting the Bill without equivocation. We have had sight of the Equality and Rights Alliance publication by Tamas Kadar - forgive me if I am mispronouncing his surname. The analysis includes a recommendation for the introduction of socioeconomic status as a discrimination ground. The document refers to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Ireland ratified in 1989. It also refers to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was also ratified in 1989 but, as of yet, Ireland has not adopted the optional protocol. Those covenants speak specifically to the issue of this legislation. The Equality and Rights Alliance Publication states:

Property is seen as a broad concept including real property (e.g. land ownership or tenure) and personal property (e.g. intellectual property, goods and chattels, and income), or the lack of it. As a discrimination ground, birth is seen as covering descent and inherited status (e.g. caste) as well as those born out of wedlock...A person’s social and economic situation when living in poverty or being homeless may result in pervasive discrimination, stigmatization and negative stereotyping which can lead to the refusal of, or unequal access to, the same quality of education and health care as others, as well as the denial of or unequal access to public places.

We could extend this to the right to a job or the right to be deemed eligible to apply for a job and the need to prevent being discriminated against on the basis of one's location.

I was hopeful that the Government response would be such that we could facilitate a further teasing out of the difficulties that exist in respect of the definitions. If it is the case that we have adopted and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, then I am at pains to understand why the provisions have not been transposed. I stand open to correction on this point and the Minister of State might clarify in his response why the issue at hand as it relates to this legislation has not been dealt with. This is the basis on which we will support the legislation.

The culture that exists in the House now is such that individual Members propose legislation and it then goes through a process of legislative scrutiny. In this way we can at least facilitate Committee Stage interaction so as to tease out the issues at hand and any difficulties that the Government might have.

It has come to our attention today that a Minister of State of the Government has been found by the Workplace Relations Commission to have discriminated against a woman under the Employment Equality Act 1998. An article appeared today on the independent.ie website. It speaks to the WRC ruling in which the adjudication officer found the comments of the Minister of State to be outmoded. She stated, "It was ill-advised of the Minister of State to have so pointedly obtained information that had nothing to do with this candidate’s suitability for a position, and a position for which she had determined she was eligible to compete." The adjudication officer found that "the woman was put in a difficult situation in a job interview by reason of probing questions which went to the heart of her married and family life which historically could not be considered gender neutral questions". We are talking about equality.

If it is the case that a Minister of State of the Government or his Department has been ordered to pay €7,500 in compensation, then it is incumbent on the Minister of State to come before the House forthwith. It seems clear to me that he is absolutely and utterly in breach of the law. The Minister of State must now consider his position as a result. I find it an absolutely shocking situation that a member of the Government is in breach of such fundamental legislation. The decision and finding against him was unambiguous. I believe it puts his position as a Minister of State in jeopardy, having been in breach of and having broken the law. He needs to consider his position as a result of that breach.

I think I might be sharing time, but we will see.

I will take up where Deputy Sherlock left off. What the Minister of State said was incredible. His explanation that he was trying to put the prospective employee at ease beggars belief. Indeed, it beggars belief that a person would ask such questions of an interviewee, prefaced by "I should not be asking you this but...". He then went on to ask whether she was a married woman, whether she had children and how old they were. The idea that these questions would put an interviewee at ease is not really credible. These are precisely the types of questions that do not put someone at ease. I am not saying that the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, was going to discriminate against the woman in question, but women know that they experience discrimination on the basis of having children and domestic responsibilities. This is done by employers, who, obviously, are not open about it. At the very least, it was a poor lapse of judgment by the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan. The Dáil deserves an explanation for it.

We support the Bill. We support the adding to the grounds of discrimination a person's social and economic background and disadvantaged socioeconomic status. I agree with the previous Deputy that part of what we are talking about is class discrimination, to put an accurate term on it. This is simply a reality. Class discrimination exists all around us from an individual level to societal level. At individual level the examples are numerous and include feeling unable to put one's actual address on job applications or feeling discriminated against on the basis of a person's job, address, accent, clothing or whatever. Class discrimination happens on a daily basis for individuals from working class backgrounds in this country.

It also happens in a societal sense. We live in a society and system that is built on class discrimination. The health outcome disparity between better-off areas in Dublin and more disadvantaged areas of Dublin is striking. The gap is striking because people are three times more likely to have cancer coming from a working class community than from a relatively affluent community. This is because of a lack of a national health service that is free at the point of use. Lifestyles issues can come from the pressures of not having access to resources, unlike better-off people. This can make people far more likely to suffer from bad health.

Another recent example is the Stardust fire. Families of victims have been fighting for 36 years for justice for the 48 working class young people who were killed in the fire. Those responsible have never been held responsible for what took place. It was a by-product of the callous disregard for working class life. When we talk about wealth and inequality and the kind of things we are seeing in the Paradise Papers and so on, we can see that it is societal as well.

I expected the Government would allow Second Stage to pass and have the Bill discussed in committee given the international pressure and consensus on this issue among non-governmental organisations, activists, etc. It is poor form on its part that it is opposing the Bill in such a legalistic fashion. It appears the Government will lose the vote on Second Stage on Thursday. Will it then hide behind the money message and the issue of incidental expenses to prevent discussion of the Bill on Committee Stage? If so, its position will be absolutely disgraceful and Fianna Fáil should not stand for it.

I raise a broader but related point. Class discrimination is not a series of things that happen to individuals in capitalist society but a systemic issue. It is what the system itself is built on and it is highly relevant given that yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The constitution of the 1918 Russian Soviet Republic proclaims the need to abolish the exploitation of men by men and the division of the people into classes and to suppress exploiters, establish a socialist society and achieve the victory of socialism in all lands. Unfortunately, Fianna Fáil did not draw its inspiration for this Bill from that constitution, which was a by-product of a revolution of working people who overthrew the rule of exploiters and took wealth out of their hands to be productively used for the majority of people.

While we favour the Bill and the outlawing if discrimination, what is fundamentally needed is systemic change to remove the discrimination facing working class people. We should contrast the state founded in Russia 100 years ago with the State founded in Ireland a few years later following a brutal, repressive counterrevolution. In Russia, people worked an eight-hour day, there was housing and jobs for all and social gains were made, including in women's rights and LGBT rights. The Bolshevik government immediately separated church and state, whereas in this State, which was constructed by Fianna Fáil and the forerunners of Fine Gael, the combined establishment parties acted to entrench the influence of the church in society, with the result that women still do not have bodily autonomy and proper sex education remains absent.

Prior to Stalinist degeneration, elected representatives and officials in the new Soviet state lived on an average worker's wage. We should compare this with Charlie Haughey and his Charvet shirts and, to a lesser degree, Ministers and Deputies living in relative luxury while working people suffered badly in the 1980s. We hear people give out about class discrimination while wanting public representatives to live on salaries that are much greater than the average industrial wage. Instead of the rule of working people, the State created here was based initially on the rule of big farmers and, subsequently, property developers and bankers. Effectively, this State operates for the super-rich. The consequence of this has been housing provision being put out of the reach of working class people, with 500,000 young people now forced to live at home and 3,000 children who are homeless. This is acutely felt today.

Fianna Fáil, even more clearly than Fine Gael, continues to be the developers' party. It was in the Galway tent with the developers in the noughties, while young people had massive mortgages imposed on them in order that developers would profit. These developers are benefitting from the housing crisis for working class people and the discrimination they face in accessing housing.

The crisis in mental health has been caused by the capitalist crisis. Mental health problems have increased by 22% in the past five years. Incredibly, they increased by 122% among young women aged between 13 and 22 years in the same period. The most striking recent example of discrimination and inequality in society has been the publication of the Paradise Papers, which once again lift the lid on how the super-rich and big business, the parasites on society, steal, squander and hoard the wealth that working class people create. The Russian constitution of 1918 should give inspiration as to what should be done with the wealth of the 1%. It should be seized and taken into democratic public ownership so that the needs of all can be met.

We support the Bill but we have no illusion that it will fundamentally end the class discrimination on which the capitalist system is based. In the words of Jeremy Corbyn, it is a "rigged system", one which is based on making as much profit and amassing as much wealth as possible for the 1%. To do away with discrimination, we need a democratic socialist society in which everyone can develop to his or her full potential and we have real change and equality in a society built on solidarity.

I thank Deputy Murphy for observing the time limit.

While I do not have any hesitation in supporting the Bill, like the previous speaker, I am under no illusion that it will create equality. The two Acts to which previous speakers referred which prohibit discrimination on nine grounds are not adequate to prevent discrimination on socioeconomic grounds.

To respond to the Minister of State, having read the Bill, I also note problems with the text, specifically the general nature of the legislation. However, that is not a good reason to reject the Bill at this point. While the Minister of State set out many of the problems with the Bill, he ignored countries which have introduced this type of legislation. If he chooses to set out problems, it is incumbent on him to consider the countries which have successfully introduced legislation and to consider the issue of rights.

Deputy Ó Laoghaire referred to our obligations under Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I do not like repetition but as has been pointed out, the recent overview of equality legislation in Europe prepared by the European network of legal experts noted that 20 of 35 European countries have already introduced legislation to prevent discrimination on grounds related to socioeconomic status. As a member of the European Union - the Government repeatedly boasts that Ireland is the best in class when it comes to the EU - I would have expected the Government to have studied the best legislation in place on the Continent and at least placed it before the House. Belgium, Hungary, Croatia and other countries have legislation in place and France is working on similar legislation. I will not waste my time listing all the countries with this type of legislation in place.

Discrimination on any ground prevents full participation in society. There is an onus on a Government when a Bill of this nature comes before the House to set out its pluses and minuses. I believe the Government has set its mind fundamentally against giving rights on socioeconomic grounds at any level. I am pleased to note the Minister of State is shaking his head. My colleague, Deputy Thomas Pringle, who is unfortunately not present and would love to participate in this debate, used his Private Members' time to introduce legislation on socioeconomic rights, which was rejected out of hand by the Government. Deputy O'Callaghan may wish to correct me but I believe Fianna Fáil also opposed Deputy Pringle's legislation.

Coincidentally, one year ago, I asked the then Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to outline the steps she was taking to introduce socioeconomic status as a discrimination ground following legislative and case law trends across Europe. In her reply, the Tánaiste stated: "I do not have plans at this stage to introduce socio-economic status as a discrimination ground in equality legislation." She also noted that the Oireachtas did not support a Private Members' Bill which sought to insert into the Constitution a statement relating to socioeconomic grounds and clearly indicated that the Government had no intention of going down this route, either in the Constitution or in legislation, because she believed the best way to introduce equality was through policies. While I happen to agree with her on the issue of policies, the Government's policies have caused discrimination on the ground. Inequality is built into its housing strategy, the privatisation of health services and so on.

I am afraid I am left with no option but to agree with Fianna Fáil on this Bill. I do not believe we will solve any problem without considering the policies which the Tánaiste and then Minister for Justice and Equality honestly referred to in November 2016. Unfortunately, this Government and its predecessor have built discrimination into their policies.

I propose to address the comments made regarding local authority houses and estates. I cringe when I hear the much repeated mantra about deprivation, criminality and anti-social behaviour on local authority housing estates because it is not accurate. Criminality exists at every level of society.

We have had the bankers but we do not use the same language at all when it comes to people outside a local authority estate. I ask Members of the Dáil to be careful in their use of language in regard to local authority estates.

Many of the problems in local authority estates have been caused by the negligence of successive managers and staff at local authority level and by Government policy in failing to provide enough money and allowing problems get out of hand in a small number of estates rather than dealing with them. I have also seen local authority apartments knocked that were far superior to any of the private accommodation that has gone up in a middle-class area in Galway city.

I cringe and react when I hear this language used repeatedly in terms of deprivation. One has to ask the question, why did some areas have this label applied to them? What was the role of the local authority or of the Government? What was the reason for inaction?

While I welcome and support the legislation and look forward to detailed scrutiny of it and teasing out the problems, we certainly need to look at Government policies.

Bogfaimid ar aghaidh anois go dtí na Rural Independent Group. Glaoimse ar Deputy Mattie McGrath. There are seven minutes for his group.

We have 20 minutes between us.

Is it seven minutes?

Yes. There are two minutes going to Deputy Fitzmaurice. If Deputy Mattie McGrath starts, he might get the seven minutes, if nobody else comes in.

Go raibh maith agat.

The Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts prohibit discrimination on nine specified grounds. As the explanatory memorandum for this Bill makes clear, statutory intervention to expand the protection of both Acts to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disadvantaged socioeconomic or social background would involve an amendment to the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000.

The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that persons can no longer be discriminated against on the basis that they come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic area or background. For instance, if this Bill was enacted, employers could not discriminate against a job applicant because he or she came from a disadvantaged local authority estate or an area that is associated with higher levels of criminality or anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, it would not be permissible for service providers to discriminate against people because of where they live. I welcome that. Surely this is something we can all support.

I have questions, however, around where the burden of proof lies in determining whether discrimination has actually occurred. There are also concerns around how we strike the appropriate balance in this area. That is delicate and difficult for employers. If we are forever expanding the grounds on which discrimination can be claimed, then it will become almost impossible for an employer to legitimately refuse to employ someone. I hope some of these issues can be teased out during this debate and when the Bill proceeds to Committee Stage and some amendments are tabled, and I hope to table some.

I support Deputy O'Callaghan in putting forward this legislation. In regard to the Acts of 1998 and 2000, respectively, one is talking about nearly 20 years ago. It is timely that we would have some movement here.

There is a cry, daily if not hourly, for all kinds of legislation on equality and we have had referendums and everything else. There has been significant emphasis put on such matters. Where is the fairness here in terms of the most basic human right - the right to have a job, to work and to self-determination? I believe people are entitled to a fair day's pay for a fair day's work but they have to get the work. I agree with the previous speaker, the Acting Cathaoirleach, Deputy Connolly, who is double jobbing. Like myself, she is able to go from the floor of the House to the Chair go tapaidh. Fair dues to her. I agree some people suffer discrimination. The best of people live on council estates in different parts of the country. It should not be because of where one comes from. We have to be fair. I am an employer. I suppose I should declare that. I have a staff. I normally do not have to conduct interviews because people come looking for work and I take them on if they are suitable. The question of where they come from never enters into it in my book because in south Tipperary we know most people.

As long as they are from Tipperary.

Not quite. I have gone over the border to Kilkenny an odd time and, indeed, to east Cork as well. Thankfully, we know the people.

The people give loyal service and I salute them. One retired recently after 25 years, so I must not have been that bad an employer. I am only making the point that businesses cannot work without good employees but one must have respect for employees as well. It is a two-way street. If we are discriminating just because of where people come from, where they were born, who their parents were or whatever, that is wrong at a time when we have such a plethora of calls for equality on this, that and the other. The latest one is in regard to bullying. One will be afraid to come in here and say anything in a couple of years in case we will be accused of bullying. It has gone over the top. That is why this Bill by Deputy O'Callaghan is timely.

I compliment Deputy O'Callaghan on bringing forward much legislation since he arrived here. I wish the Deputy well and I provide support where support is necessary, but I hope to table amendments to this Bill. In other areas there is too much legislation but with the 20-year gap here, this is a timely review. I hope that when it is teased out in committee, amendments have been tabled and it passes through the House, it will not languish somewhere as has happened with some legislation, where it gets forgotten about and never gets implemented. That is a serious issue in the system. We pass legislation with good intentions, and there might angst and upset about it. However, we must wait to see if it is implemented, or ask whether or when it will be implemented.

I commend Deputy O'Callaghan on bringing forward this Bill. I cannot understand why the Government does not agree to it. If there are parts of a Bill that the Minister does not agree with, let it be debated on Committee Stage where amendments can be tabled. If the Government was wise and if the Minister of State was listening, they would know the Bill is fairly sure to go through. In the interest of so-called new politics, it would be advisable to let it go to Committee Stage. If there are elements that are a problem, Deputy O'Callaghan is probably willing to listen.

Regardless of where a person comes from, it is a matter of whether he or she is able to do a job. Members come from different backgrounds. If one is able to do a job in any walk of life, no matter where one comes from, it should not make a difference. It is important that employers have that motto because at the end of the day it is about doing the job. It is not about where one comes from, where one lives, what one does, who one's father or mother was, or anything like that.

There is another matter that needs to be addressed. There are people, especially those with disabilities, trying to get work who, unfortunately, if they go one hour over this so-called threshold, are afraid they may lose their allowance. We need to address that. It is the same for those who are unemployed, especially in parts of rural Ireland, who might go to work for someone but it takes so long to get back on benefits if it does not work out, it is not enticing enough. We need to bring in a new system to ensure that we accommodate such persons, especially those with disabilities and the unemployed, so that they are not afraid to go to work.

In many rural areas, there may be summer work or seasonal work but the fear is that if one takes it up and it does not work out or it does not last the full year, two years or whatever, one is caught and is back to square one. We should have a system where at the end of the year, whatever one has earned should be able to be considered on a taxable basis.

The Government should not to be afraid to accept the Bill. The Minister of State will get a chance in committee where the teasing out can be done.

I wish to share time with Deputies Murphy O'Mahony and Niamh Smyth. If the Acting Chairman could tell me when I am at three and a third minutes, it would be great.

I support the Bill being put forward.

I have to express sincere regret at the tone and content of the Minister of State's contribution. I know that it is not personal and that a departmental official would have assisted in drafting the speech, but as always, it focused on the many reasons not to do something. The Minister of State reeled off a series of examples, some of which were extreme, and asked what we would do in this or that instance. The focus of the Government should be on finding reasons to do things rather than looking for ways to undermine or throw them under the bus. Sadly, the Minister of State's contribution was not in keeping with his normal commitment to the House and his normal contributions on various subjects which are always so thoughtful. I regret that whoever penned the particular response to this most thoughtful Bill got out on the wrong side of the bed. We should be seeking to embrace equality, rather than undermining it or kicking the can down the road. Clearly, it is going to be passed and we are putting it into purgatory for Bills. No doubt it will be put in the room that stores all of the reports on unbalanced regional development about which I have harped on in this House and Seanad Éireann for many years, but I would like to think this Bill will see the light of day.

Another point about more general equality issues is that we have a lot of equality legislation in place, to some of which Deputy Jim O'Callaghan alluded, but we do not follow or enforce it. I have come across instances where the State is inadvertently sponsoring discrimination against people. One example I would like to bring to the Minister of State's attention relates to protocols within the Department of Education and Skills governing the process under which teachers are transferred on particular grounds. When challenged, there are protocols to outline the procedure which is followed but, following court cases, they are at the discretion of education and training boards, ETBs, and other governing bodies. That is regrettable because it discriminates against people on the basis of mental health. There are legal cases that I can bring to the Minister of State's attention privately on this matter.

As I do not want to eat into the time available for my colleagues, I simply ask the Minister of State to take on board those few brief points.

As my colleagues have outlined, the Bill seeks to extend the remit of the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disadvantaged socioeconomic or social background. While both laws already protect against discrimination on nine grounds, including disability, and the European Union's equal treatment directives require member states to introduce equality legislation, it is my contention that persons with disabilities require extra protection. I have previously referenced in this Chamber the report of the Social Inclusion Forum, which shows that those in receipt of disability payments are at various stages of poverty and deprivation to the extent that their socioeconomic status is affected in almost all circumstances. This is certainly a contributing factor when they present for interviews or transfer from accommodation.

Goal No. 10 of the United Nations' sustainable development goals adopted in September 2015 aims to reduce inequality within and among countries. Its targets include empowering the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of economic or other status. Those availing of services likes the ones available under the Ability programme, in particular the younger generation, will find it easier to enter into the labour market. However, those who are already in the system find themselves lagging even further behind the general population and need the extra protection and security. I am conscious of the fact that I am focusing on one aspect of the Bill. However, as spokesperson for Fianna Fáil on disability issues and given the limited amount of time available, I decided to go down that route. It is important that persons with disabilities be afforded every protection, particularly in the light of the fact that we still await formal ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, something for which I have been calling since the Government took office. I was told this time last year that the convention would be ratified by the end of 2016. Now I am being told that it will be ratified before the end of this year, but in the meantime the Minister of State with responsibility who is a member of the Government is talking about heading off to North Korea to solve the world's problems. It must be noted that even though North Korea is a dictatorship, it has actually ratified the UN convention and that we are lagging very far behind. I ask the Minister of State to have a word with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and ask him to stay put and get on with completing his business here.

I commend my colleagues, Deputies Jim O’Callaghan and Fiona O’Loughlin, for their work on this Bill and their commitment to fighting discrimination. As a republican party, Fianna Fáil is committed to fighting discrimination and inequality. We have a proven track record in advancing equality proposals. The two major parts of equality legislation in Ireland were introduced by Fianna Fáil. However, we believe the current legislation needs to be strengthened to continue the fight against inequality.

A growing problem in recent years is discrimination based on socioeconomic or social background. Many people living in disadvantaged areas have found it difficult to secure jobs simply because of where they live. Their applications are not being considered on merit and instead they face arbitrary barriers which have a detrimental impact on their lives. This form of inequality needs to be tackled. Given the current housing crisis, many people are no longer able to live in their area of choice. It is now determined by cost and how much a person is earning. Someone's address should not determine whether he or she is suitable to be employed. Being rejected after a job interview can severely dent someone's confidence. Many people I have met during the years tortuously dwell on being turned down. Rejection is very unpleasant but to lose out on a job because of where one lives is a bitter pill to swallow. If someone is suitably qualified and able to perform a job, his or her address should not and must not be a determining factor.

If the Bill were to be enacted, employers would not be able to discriminate against a job applicant because he or she came from what would be perceived as a disadvantaged address or an area associated with higher levels of criminality or anti-social behaviour. Similarly, children applying for admission to schools could not face discrimination on the basis of their address. In the past few years, school boards of management have come under increasing pressure because schools are oversubscribed. I particularly welcome the Admission to Schools Bill, which explicitly bans discrimination in school admissions. Every school must be welcoming of every young person, regardless of his or her race, ability or disability and, now, address.

There is evidence of significant discrimination on the ground of socioeconomic status in key areas such as employment, education and housing. The economic crisis has exacerbated this discrimination and the ensuing inequality. The Bill aims to address this issue. The current legislation sets out nine grounds on which discrimination is prohibited, namely, gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community. Ireland is changing, as we saw clearly when the marriage equality referendum took place and a majority voted that marriage could be contracted by two persons without distinction as to their sex. The Marriage Act 2015 amended marriage law to give effect to the constitutional amendment.

Persons who are living in poverty or poor neighbourhoods and who are unemployed and relying on social protection payments experience discrimination based on their socioeconomic status. It creates a vicious circle from which it is difficult to escape. This perpetuates their disadvantaged status. Some of these instances of discrimination can only be tackled effectively by using a socioeconomic status ground. It is accepted that this ground would be more difficult to police than many of those mentioned in the legislation. Nonetheless, the very fact that it would be contained in legislation is important, as it would send a strong message to employers and service providers that discrimination of this nature was not permitted.

International and European human rights organisations have increasingly called for the introduction of a social origin ground in equality legislation. The Bill aims to act on these recommendations by formally forbidding discrimination based on socioeconomic and social background. Fianna Fáil recognises that enhancing social conditions and creating better opportunities for people are the fundamental methods of supporting disadvantaged communities. The Bill is just one proposal to tackle inequality and break down barriers for those living in disadvantaged areas.

The debate has confirmed the support across the House for ensuring individuals or groups in Irish society will not in any way be disadvantaged by virtue of their socioeconomic status when seeking employment or access to services. I can confirm that the Government strongly shares that view. However, I do not believe the Bill provides the answer to the challenge.

Adding a new ground of socioeconomic status to equality legislation would be inherently complex. It has been attempted on a number of occasions without success. I remind the Dáil that the question of including socioeconomic status as a ground of discrimination in equality legislation was examined and rejected by the Fianna Fáil Government of 2002-07, as well as by the recent Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. The reasons given for rejection by both Governments remain as valid today as they were then. In this context, the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, referred to the UCC report of 2004 which confirmed the extreme difficulty in providing proof of discrimination on this basis. The International Labour Organization Committee of Experts has also noted that the problem of discrimination based on “social origin” is “unquestionably one of the most difficult to define”.

The inclusion of such a ground in equality legislation is relatively new at European level and definitions vary between EU member states. Some such as Belgium and Denmark have introduced the concept of "social origin" in their equality legislation. Others such as Latvia are using the concepts of "property" and "place of residence" to address discrimination on socioeconomic grounds. Meanwhile, Lithuania uses the term "social status". The application of such concepts in case law at EU level is still in its infancy. Equinet, the network of equality bodies, has indicated that equality bodies are only now beginning to develop greater clarity on how the new ground could be operationalised. We should be careful about moving down a road where concepts, definitions and applicability are still very much in an area of uncertainty, lack clarity and are somewhat in flux.

As the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, indicated, Deputy Jim O’Callaghan’s Bill proposes a definition of "disadvantaged socioeconomic status"’ which, in essence, is ambiguous. That ambiguity creates the risk of exponentially increasing the number of potential claims under equality legislation. The potential impact on the public and private sectors could be significant. If the number of claims were to rise exponentially, it could impose an undue burden on business, employers and public service providers. Care must be taken to ensure measures do not go beyond what is reasonable, proportionate and, above all, necessary. Moreover, as the Minister of State pointed out, a general principle is that statute law should be certain, clear and precise in order that it can be easily interpreted by the person whom a law such as the one that has been proposed seeks to protect. It should also be easily interpreted by the courts in order that employers, service providers and businesses are clearly aware of their obligations under law.

The Government has taken a series of measures to strengthen the equality legislation and target specific economic areas such as access to housing. As the Minister of State said, the Government brought forward the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 which prohibits discrimination in the letting of residential accommodation on the basis that a person is or is not in receipt of rent supplement or the housing assistance payment. The Government considered that this was a clear instance where there was concrete evidence of discrimination and where amending the equality legislation would achieve the objective of ending such discrimination.

Similarly, the Government brought forward the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 which established the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and set it on a sound footing, independent of the Government, answerable to the Oireachtas and well funded. The Act also introduced the concept of a public sector equality and human rights duty. That duty imposes an obligation on public bodies to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and protect the human rights of staff and service users. It provides a means of addressing structural issues and developing the capacity within the public service to promote equality and human rights. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is working with public sector bodies to embed the duty into their work and realise the potential of this important provision in law.

Similarly, A Programme for a Partnership Government has committed the Government to developing the process of budget and policy proofing as a means of advancing equality, reducing poverty and strengthening economic and social rights. The Oireachtas is playing a key role in that process. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has been given a specific mandate to support this work. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is working actively with a range of Departments to develop their capacity in the area of gender budgeting. Such tools have the potential to target structural disadvantage in an effective manner. Their benefit is that they do not require an individual victim to go through the process of taking an equality claim and undergoing the difficult process of proving discrimination. Instead, they promote the process of structural change at organisational level.

Equally, the equality legislation may not be the most effective legislative instrument to combat exploitation or tackle disadvantage. The enactment of legislation focused on a specific problem issue may be more effective. Socioeconomic disadvantage may be caused by working conditions. One of the Government’s legislative priorities is to address the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious employment. This was a commitment in the programme for Government and the draft legislation which was approved by the Government earlier this year aims to fulfil it. The draft legislation aims to address a number of issues which have been identified as being areas where current employment rights legislation can be strengthened. Perhaps this would be a more appropriate way of enhancing the rights of people disadvantaged by socioeconomic status as there is a particular emphasis on low-paid, vulnerable persons in the workforce.

The legislative proposals will address the following key areas: ensuring employees are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements and, in particular, their core terms at an early stage of their employment; strengthening the provisions around minimum payments to lower paid or vulnerable workers who may be called in to work for a period but not provided with any work on their arrival; prohibiting zero hour contracts, except in cases of genuine casual work, emergency cover or short-term relief work for that employer; ensuring workers on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than provided for in their contracts of employment are entitled to be placed in a band of hours that reflects the reality of the hours they have worked over an extended period; and reinforcing the anti-victimisation provisions for employees who try to invoke a right under these proposals. The proposals are the result of extensive consultations which included a public consultation process following the University of Limerick study of zero hour and low-hour contracts. They were also informed by a detailed dialogue process with IBEC and ICTU over a period of several months.

The challenge of addressing socioeconomic disadvantage requires policy solutions as the primary response. Greater socioeconomic equality can be achieved through greater participation in education, effective labour market activation measures and other social supports and the creation of increased employment opportunities.

Much progress has been made in the field of education in the past two decades. For example, only 68.2% of students in the 2001 DEIS cohort stayed in school up to and including leaving certificate. That number rose to 82.7% for the 2009 cohort, with more than 93% of those students completing the junior certificate. The DEIS plan has set ambitious goals for 2019 and expects to see a number of successes in higher education enrolments.

Similarly, progress has been made in creating employment opportunities for citizens and migrant workers. In March 2011, 441,000 persons were on the live register. That figure has essentially halved. The corresponding figure for October 2017 was 236,000, down more than 40,000 in one year. Just as importantly, the number of long-term claimants decreased by more than 23,000, or 18%, in the same period. These live register figures confirm that people in every field of employment, regardless of skill set and postcode and including those with professional and technical backgrounds, are getting employment. Employment opportunities are opening up for all. The reduction in numbers on the live register was greater for plant and machinery operatives - down 16.3% - than for those in professional and technical occupations, which figure decreased by 10%.

For many reasons, the Government believes it is premature to proceed with this ambiguous and flawed legislation. I must recommend against its acceptance while stating that my colleagues in government and I strongly share the view that no individual or group should be subjected to discrimination. I will keep the House updated on our extensive programme of work tackling disadvantage and providing opportunities for people.

Táimid ag dul ar ais arís go dtí Fianna Fáil. Níl a fhios agam cé hé an chéad chainteoir eile.

An Teachta Browne. Cúig nóiméad.

I thank Deputies O'Loughlin and O'Callaghan for their work on this important Bill, which aims to further ensure equality and fairness in our society. My party and I are committed to fighting discrimination and inequality at all levels in society. To that end, we introduced the Employment Equality Act and Equal Status Act in 1998 and 2000, respectively. With this Bill, these prove Fianna Fáil's commitment to making merit the only ground on which to assess someone's suitability for employment.

Current legislation exposes an area of inequality that needs to be resolved. With the introduction of this Bill, it will be established that an employer cannot discriminate based on disadvantaged socioeconomic status. Regardless of someone's socioeconomic disadvantage arising from poverty, level or source of income, homelessness, place of residence or family background, an employer will not, and should not, be able to put one person above another. If passed, the law will ensure that people are employed based on merit alone.

I am delighted to contribute on the Bill, as it tackles a problem that has been festering for many years. With this law in place, it will be a clear breach of the law to discriminate between job applicants based on, for example, the addresses on their CVs. A person's family background will not affect his or her job prospects. Someone who has lost a home will not face discrimination when applying for a job. When such cases arise in County Wexford, they are difficult to witness. Bright, hard working and determined people are losing out because the law does not protect them.

These arbitrary symbols will not affect people's employment if this legislation is passed. The Bill's strength is its ability to nip the problems facing those living in disadvantaged areas and those who are unemployed in the same manner. The Bill will help to stamp out the vicious cycle facing many people who, having been turned down for jobs for discriminatory reasons time and again, are often forced to stay in poverty traps. It gives young people hope that they will be able to press ahead, climb the ladder in the workforce and sketch out life's purpose.

It is a credit to my party colleagues, Deputies O'Loughlin and O'Callaghan, that the Bill has come to the floor of the Dáil. International human rights organisations have long called for the introduction of a social origin ground. This Bill is just one step on the long road to breaking down the barriers faced by those living in disadvantaged areas or from disadvantaged backgrounds. This Bill is about sending out a message to employers that discrimination in the workplace is illegal. Ultimately, the legislation's impact will be telling for those who feel the law and politics are not on their side. This Fianna Fáil Bill shows how that is changing bit by bit.

I will conclude by thanking all Members who contributed to this debate. I welcome the support from a wide range of Deputies. I also acknowledge the contributions of the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. I will reply to some of the Government's criticisms of the legislation. The Acting Chairman also raised one or two points to which, with her permission, I will respond.

At the outset, the Minister of State expressed his belief that the Bill should go to pre-legislative scrutiny. I agree. One of the unusual features of the current Oireachtas is that, when the Government introduces legislation, pre-legislative scrutiny is carried out before the Bill comes to the Chamber.

However, Private Members' Bills are debated on Second Stage and, if they pass that point, their pre-legislative scrutiny is carried out on Committee Stage. There are unusual reasons for the difference between Government and Opposition Bills, but that is the system.

It may be daft, but that is our system.

I assure the Minister of State that I recognise that some analysis of this Bill needs to be conducted, and my colleagues on the justice committee and I would be happy to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny in respect of it. I am not seeking to steamroll through our legislation just for the sake of getting it passed. Rather, it is an advancement of our equality laws. Care needs to be taken in that regard.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister of State asserted that the Bill was ambiguous and would be difficult to enforce. It must first be acknowledged that both seem to recognise that there is an issue, namely, that people are being discriminated against unfairly on the basis of what I have described as their disadvantaged socioeconomic background. I accept that this is a more difficult ground to police and enforce than is the case with the nine other grounds. Regarding the gender ground, for instance, it is clear if a person is male or female. The point being made by the Government is that it is more difficult to assess whether a person is from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background. I accept that, but a part of the responsibility of legislators is to try to develop and advance the law. Pay discrimination on the ground of gender was deemed unacceptable previously. We recognised that in the 1970s, but we need to keep developing our equality laws. All constitutional rights must be updated. They are dynamic. Deputies have a responsibility to ensure that constitutional rights are recognised in statutory frameworks to ensure they take into account ongoing difficult social circumstances.

There is a recognition in the House that people are being discriminated against because of where they come from and their backgrounds. I have tried in the Bill to give as best a definition as I can to describe "disadvantaged socioeconomic status", but let us be clear, it will be more difficult than describing gender. However, just because something is difficult does not mean it is something we should not attempt to do. The definition that Deputy O'Loughlin and I have set out refers to a particular identifiable status of social or economic disadvantage - this is not difficult to understand - resulting from poverty, level or source of income, homelessness, place of residence or family background. These are not difficult to decipher or interpret.

The most important aspect of equality legislation is that it is stated in statute that one cannot discriminate against people on grounds of race, gender or sexual orientation. It would be an addition to our equality legislation were we to include in that disadvantaged socioeconomic status. It is difficult to prove breaches of any of these equality grounds. If someone decides not to employ a person because she is a woman, it is difficult to prove, although some of the recent circumstances cited by the Ministers seem to have made that easier. In practice, it is difficult to prove any breach of these grounds, but that is not a reason for not doing this.

Deputy Connolly made a number of points to which I wish to reply. She stated that it is not appropriate to keep referring to local authority estates and areas as being areas of deprivation and areas where there is criminality or antisocial behaviour. I fully agree with her. What is being referred to for the purposes of this Bill is the fact that people are discriminating against individuals because they perceive, wrongly, that from where they come are areas of antisocial behaviour or where there are high levels of criminality. That is the reason we are mentioning it. It is the discriminator who is wrongly relying on those grounds.

We also must recognise the report recently prepared by Kieran Mulvey on foot of the Government's request into what was happening in north inner city Dublin. One of his findings was that there were high levels of unemployment and social deprivation in the area. We cannot hide away from the fact there are local authority areas which need significant State investment and the people there need some support. The Bill would give those people some support so that they could say that the State and its legislators are on their side and are trying to do something to deal with the discrimination which they accurately perceive exists.

Deputy Connolly referred to the fact that a number of months ago Deputy Pringle introduced a Bill which proposed to amend the Constitution by putting into it social and economic rights. She suggested that Fianna Fáil voted against the Bill. She is right, but that Bill was different from what is being put before the House today. This Bill would give effect to the principle of equality in Article 40.1 of our Constitution. Deputy Pringle was perfectly entitled to put forward a Bill. He wanted to put socioeconomic rights into the Constitution so that they could thereafter be interpreted and applied by the Judiciary. It is our responsibility to make laws for the people of this country, and I urge people to support the Bill.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 9 November 2017.