This week Sinn Féin introduced into the Dáil an Equality Proofing Bill. The purpose of the Bill was to amend existing legislation and to provide equality proofing of government policy and budget and public bodies through impact assessments. If passed into law the Bill would have ensured that both government and public bodies in exercising their functions would so in a way that would reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.
As it was the Labour party voted with Fine Gael against the Bill. Government Minister and Labour TD Kathleen Lynch spoke against equality and ultimately against Labour party policy which supports equality proofing.
Essentially the Minister said that we cannot afford equality! From a Fine Gael Minister this would have been understandable – Fine Gael doesn’t believe in equality.
But Labour’s stated policy is for the equality proofing. By opposing this equality proofing Bill Labour TDs are voting against their party’s own policy position!
What is the value of Labour in government if its only role is to bolster the conservative economic and social politics of Fine Gael?
Labour’s founding father James Connolly is accepted as the principal author of that part of the Proclamation which guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens. It contains a commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally.
Sadly, equality does not exist in this society. It is a republic in name only and the policies of this government and of successive governments are contributing directly to a growing inequality – particularly between the rich and the poor.
I’m an Irish republican. I believe in a republican system of governance. A real republic in which the people are sovereign and equal, and have all–encompassing rights, including economic rights, the right to a home; to a job; to access to education; to a health service from the cradle to the grave; the right to a safe and clean environment; and to civil and religious liberties.
This is what republicanism is about. It is what genuine democracy is about. It’s about embedding equality into the daily life and experience of citizens.
The imposition of equality duties, and the equality proofing of government policies and budgets, and of public bodies through impact assessments, are a means of achieving this and of dictating outcomes. Without this equality will remain little more than a pipe dream.
It is a fact that inequality is all around us in this part of the island. It exists also in the north but there it has the added dimension of generational sectarian and political discrimination.
Interestingly the other parties in the Dáil reference the continued existence of inequalities in the north as a pretext for attacking Sinn Féin. There is no logic to this position. Or truth. Or rational. They quote poverty levels in west Belfast for example to justify their own position.
They refuse to acknowledge that the citizens of west Belfast in common with other communities in the north are tackling these issues on a daily basis and succeeding against the odds.
And because they took a stand – and they would be waiting a long time for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael or Labour to help them – because these citizens took a stand generational sectarianism and political discrimination is being tackled.
There are now equality duties and the equality proofing of government policies and budgets, and of public bodies. If this is good enough for the north why can’t citizens here have these rights?
Equality is cited 21 times in the Good Friday Agreement, including in the Pledge of Office for Ministers. It has a complete section given over to it and is included in legislation designed to ensure equality in employment. We are living in post Good Friday Agreement Ireland. That is obvious in the north.
So it is catch-up time in this state and legislating for equality here must be a key part of this. This should include the Charter of Rights which the Irish government signed up to 15 years ago. Apart from being ethically wrong – no person or community should be treated as second class or as non-citizens.
The refusal to recognise the Traveller community as an ethnic group is unacceptable.
Inequality is also expensive and uneconomic for society. A healthy, more equal, prosperous society is in everyone’s interest.
Sinn Féin’s Equality Bill is about achieving this. And the need for this approach is all the more obvious if we consider the record of the current Government. Budget 2012 was found by the ESRI to have had a disproportionate impact on the least well off in society. Budget 2013 repeated this.
Everyday sees the removal of citizen’s rights and the reinforcement of privilege for the elites in society. Sinn Féin’s Equality Bill would require an equality impact assessment to prevent the implementation of such blatantly unfair policies.
That is why the government voted against this Bill.
Sinn Féin is for a new Republic – an all island Republic – a real republic which will deliver the highest standards of services and protections to all citizens equally, guaranteeing parity of esteem and equality of treatment, opportunity and outcome.
This also means equality for the Irish language and for rural Ireland.
While Labour abandoned Connolly and sided with Fine Gael and the elites in voting down the Sinn Féin Equality Bill the Equality Budgeting campaign which represents over 30 civil society organisations welcomed the Bill. While this round was lost the campaign to achieve equality will continue.