Enacting Equality Laws for Local Communities

by Jim O’Callaghan

Article 40.1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states that all citizens shall as human persons be held equal before the law. Even though that principle and constitutional right exists in our Constitution, it is important that the Oireachtas takes steps to ensure equality is not simply an academic reference but is given life through statute law.

Consequently, in 2017 I introduced in Dáil Éireann the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 in order to prohibit a particular type of discrimination and inequality in Ireland. This Bill seeks to prohibit discrimination against people because of their socioeconomic status. Put simply, people should not be denied services or equal opportunities because they come from a poorer part of town or country.

In 1998 a Fianna Fáil Government introduced the Employment Equality Act that was passed by the Oireachtas. Under that Act employers were prohibited from discriminating against employees or potential employees on nine specifific grounds set out in the legislation: gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or being a member of the Traveller community. Shortly after the enactment of the Employment Equality Bill, the Equal Status Act 2000 was passed. Similarly, it established that people could not be denied access to services – such as entry into pubs or restaurants – on any of the same nine grounds.

My Bill sought to add a further ground to these nine, namely the disadvantaged socioeconomic ground. Under the Bill people could not be discriminated against because of their disadvantaged socioeconomic status, namely their 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 was a political reason why I introduced the Bill. At a clinic, a woman asked for my assistance in her job application to a large employer. She told me she would not put the address where she resided on the job application. She lived in a local authority flat and told me that she was not putting her address on the form because she believed that certain employers discriminated against people from her flflats because they had an association with antisocial behaviour or minor criminal activity. I learned from others in the flats that they had a similar experience.

I also became aware that when new pubs or restaurants opened up in certain parts of the Inner City new owners, trying to attract a hipper and younger crowd, expressly excluded residents of the locality from frequenting the pub or restaurant which they had attended for many years previously.

The legislation I proposed may be diffificult to police but when one looks at the law at present there is no law prohibiting discrimination against a person because someone comes from a block of flats about which an employer may have a negative view or someone wants to go to a pub or restaurant but the new owner does not want to take in people from certain parts of the Inner City. That behaviour is unacceptable.

I believe this to be one of the most common forms of discrimination in our society and we need to keep evolving our laws on equality. Therefore, 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 or poorer socioeconomic background.

I have urged the Government to promote this legislation without further delay and I believe it is committed to its enactment through the Oireachtas.

Jim O’Callaghan is a Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin Bay South.