8th December 2021
IPRT welcomed the opportunity to make a submission to the Department’s consultation on the review of the Equality Acts.
In looking at the six areas on which the public’s views were particularly sought, our submission focuses primarily on item 3 (the scope of the existing equality grounds and whether new grounds should be added), but also briefly addresses item 2 (obstacles which prevent people from taking action against discrimination) and item 5 (whether exemptions in the legislation should be removed).
The main area of focus in the submission is on adding an additional equality ground, namely, discrimination on the basis of a criminal conviction.
IPRT proposes that the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (‘the EEA’) and Equal Status Acts 2000-2018 (‘the ESA’) are amended to add a new ground of discrimination on the basis of a criminal conviction. Discrimination against individuals with a criminal conviction is an ongoing and significant issue of concern. A 2016 YouGov survey in the UK found that 50% of employers would not consider employing an ex-offender. While recent surveys carried out with employers in Ireland and Northern Ireland have been more positive in regards employers’ willingness to hire people with convictions histories, IPRT’s own research indicates that many people continue to experience disadvantage as a result of their criminal conviction.
Despite various recommendations made from 2002 to present, as it stands, Ireland does not provide any protection against discrimination on the basis of a criminal conviction. The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016, while permitting those with a spent conviction to not disclose it, does not include any explicit anti-discrimination provisions. This means that it is still possible for employers or service providers to discriminate against a person on the basis of their spent conviction or their unspent conviction.
Senator Lynn Ruane’s Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 (as amended at Committee stage) addresses this to a certain extent, by proposing an amendment to the EEA that would make it unlawful discrimination for an employer to treat a person less favourably by reason of their spent conviction. However, this provision in the Bill is quite limited.
While there is a lack of robust data on the social profile of people in Irish prisons, previous studies suggest that prisoners have a history of social exclusion, including high levels of family, educational and health disadvantage, and poor prospects in the labour market.
This link between prison and social exclusion highlights the possible consequences of socio-economic deprivation, and supports the introduction of a specific ground of discrimination to help counter such disadvantage.
Read the IPRT submission in full here.