Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Report


The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—




1. Fair employment in Northern Ireland remains an issue of considerable importance and sensitivity.[1] The question of how best to deal with allegations of discrimination in employment, and how to bring about greater employment equality between Roman Catholics and Protestants, has raised controversial political and complex legal issues since the introduction of Direct Rule in 1972, and before. A reflection of the importance attached to fair employment issues, and equality more generally, is the inclusion in the Belfast Agreement of a commitment by Government to "make rapid progress with ... measures on employment equality...". We note too the fact that, under the Agreement, the Irish Government has accepted a responsibility to ensure "at least an equivalent level of protection as will pertain in Northern Ireland." Several witnesses[2] stressed how important to the Peace Process issues of equality of opportunity are, particularly issues of fair employment. We agree.

2. Fair employment is now about to enter a new phase in three different respects. First, responsibility for the substance of the legal requirements will be transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly once devolution takes place.[3] Second, the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland will be replaced with a new Equality Commission which will amalgamate the four existing equality bodies - the Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Disability Council, the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland and the Fair Employment Commission itself.[4] Third, the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, which for the past ten years (together with the earlier Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976) has set out the legal requirements on employers and others has been replaced by a new (and somewhat different) Fair Employment and Treatment Order 1998.[5] It is thus an opportune time to reflect on the effectiveness of the legislation to date, and consider what more, if anything, might be done further to improve the situation.

1  Q379 and Q426. Back

2  See, for example, Q1, Q426. Back

3  Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 4. Back

4  Northern Ireland Act 1998, Sections 73-4. Back

5  S.I., 1998, No. 3162 (NI 21). The only provisions of the Order not yet in force are Articles 80, 96 and 98, which deal with appeals against national security certificates. These will be brought into force following the making of the Northern Ireland Act Tribunal (Procedure) Rules 1999, a draft of which currently awaits Parliamentary approval. Back

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Prepared 29 July 1999