Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Report


22. The Northern Ireland Act 1998, implementing the Belfast Agreement, accomplished several aims in the equality field:

  • the amalgamation of the existing separate equality commissions;[38]
  • imposition of a duty on public sector bodies to ensure that each paid "due regard" to the need to ensure equality of opportunity between a wide range of groups in the operation of their functions;[39] and
  • allocation of responsibility between Westminster and Belfast regarding equality issues on devolution of legislative and executive powers generally.[40]

23. The statutory equality duty on the public sector and the Equality Commission were made reserved matters for which the Secretary of State would continue to have responsibility, although the Assembly would be able to legislate on those issues with the consent of the Secretary of State. The existing substantive provisions on fair employment, sex equality, race relations and disability discrimination in Northern Ireland would be transferred matters, for which the Assembly would have legislative responsibility, subject to the general restrictions on the power of the Assembly to legislate:

  • any legislation in the equality area may be made subject to "cross-community support";[41]
  • the Assembly may not legislate in any way incompatible with rights under the European Convention on Human Rights or with European Union Law;[42]
  • the Assembly may not legislate in any way which discriminates directly on grounds of religious belief or political opinion.[43]

In addition, the Secretary of State may decide not to submit any Bill for Royal Assent if the Assembly legislates in a way incompatible with the United Kingdom's international obligations.[44]

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

39  Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 75. Back

40  Northern Ireland Act 1998, Schedule 3, para.42. Back

41  Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 42(1). Back

42  Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 6(2)(c) and (d). Back

43  Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 6(2)(e). Back

44  Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 14(5). Back

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Prepared 29 July 1999