Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Report


8. In 1986 and 1987, respectively, the Department of Economic Development[9] and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR)[10] (a statutory committee which advised the Secretary of State until its replacement in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission) proposed new legislation. In particular, the latter provided a detailed set of proposals for legislation and other Government initiatives, emphasising the need to change the focus of action from the simple eradication of prejudiced discrimination to reducing unjustified structural inequality between Catholics and Protestants in the labour market, whether caused by discrimination or not. In 1988, the Government published proposals for new legislation, which differed significantly from the SACHR proposals. These were enacted, after significant amendment, and came into effect on 1st January 1990.

9. The new legislation (the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989) replaced the Fair Employment Agency with a new Fair Employment Commission (FEC) and significantly amended the 1976 Act, adding new rights and obligations. The basic outline of the legislative scheme in operation from 1990 was:

  • to create a mechanism for resolving individual complaints of unlawful discrimination; and
  • to establish a regulatory scheme which would oblige employers to take action to ensure a fairer distribution of employment opportunities between Protestants and Roman Catholics.

9  Department of Economic Development, Equality of Opportunity in Northern Ireland: Future Strategy Options, HMSO, 1987. Back

10  Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, Religious and Political Discrimination and Equality of Opportunity in Northern Ireland: Report on Fair Employment, Cm 237, HMSO, 1987. Back

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Prepared 29 July 1999