On Friday June 30th Mercy Law were delighted to attend the Equality and Rights Alliance’s (ERA) seminar ‘A New Roadmap for our Equality and Human Rights Infrastructure’. The seminar provided ERA’s members an opportunity to come together and examine the progress of the law in Ireland since the publication of ERA’s Roadmap to a Strengthened Equality and Human Rights Infrastructure in 2011. Speakers on the day included Eilis Barry, CEO of FLAC; Niall Crowley, ERA Chair and Damien Walshe, ERA Coordinator.
Among the issues discussed was the public sector duty introduced by s. 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. This section places a positive duty on public sector bodies to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and treatment and protect human rights. To give effect to this duty, a public body is required to set out in its strategic plan:
- An assessment of human rights and equality issues relevant to the functions and purpose of that body
- Any policies, plans or actions to address those issues.
The public body must then report on its developments and achievements in that regard in its annual report. All of this information must be accessible to the public.
Niall Crowley, ERA Chair, addressed the seminar on developing a values-based approach to the public sector duty. This involves inviting a public body to develop a statement on their values and identify aims and objectives flowing from those values. Niall noted that public bodies have an appetite to define their values but there is still a challenge in ensuring systems are developed to give reality to them. There was debate over the value of having public bodies define their values if in practice they are not acting in a way that respects human rights and equality. However, all were in agreement that the principle of placing a positive duty on public bodies is valuable and work should be done to identify the full and precise extent of this duty.
Overall, the event highlighted the need for a commitment to equality and human rights from the government. This would include an increase in resourcing for these sectors, and utilising the budget to achieve economic and social equality. The event unfortunately marked a pause in ERA’s work due to funding cuts. Without a dedicated organisation to fight for equality in Ireland, there is an even greater burden on other civil society organisations to put equality at the forefront of their work and fill the gap left by ERA. To view the work achieved by ERA to date and all of their publications, you can visit their website here.
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