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5 August 2013 Edition

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‘We can’t afford equality’

Labour Party TDs vote against their own party policy to appease Fine Gael

• Labour TDs Kathleen Lynch, Seán Sherlock and Ciarán Lynch were forced to argue in the Dáil against their own party policy on equality

‘How could a Minister for Equality oppose the concept that equality should be a cornerstone of economic and fiscal policy?’ – Louise Bayliss of the Equality Budgeting campaign

LABOUR PARTY TDs have been forced to vote against their own policies on equality to appease their masters in Fine Gael during Private Members’ Business in the Dáil.

Labour and Fine Gael TDs rejected the Equality Status Amendment Bill tabled by Sinn Féin Justice and Equality spokesperson Pádraig Mac Lochlainn aimed at protecting the most vulnerable groups in society from devastating austerity policies.

The Sinn Féin Bill wanted to introduce six new anti-discriminatory categories to existing legislation:-

  1. Trade union membership;
  2. Socio-economic background;
  3. Irish-language speakers;
  4. Rural dwellers;
  5. Former political prisoners released before the Good Friday Agreement;
  6. Former political prisoners released under the Good Friday Agreement.

These six categories would have joined the existing nine protected groups of gender, civil status, family status, age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and membership of the Traveller community.

The Bill would have resulted in mandatory equality impact assessments on public bodies introducing measures that impact on these categories and required equality proofing of annual Government budgets.

The main argument given by many on the Government side of the chamber (including Labour Junior Minister for Equality Kathleen Lynch) was effectively that the Government cannot afford equality – “the reality is that resources are limited”, the Equality Minister told the Dáil.

In response, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said, “If that is the best the Minister can do, there is no doubt she has lost her soul,” pointing to the fact that she had been forced to stand in the Dáil chamber and argue against her own party’s policy

Louise Bayliss of the Spark (single parent) and Equality Budgeting campaigns told An Phoblacht the Bill was a very important piece of legislation which would have required that “there is due regard given to ensuring austerity measures don’t widen the inequality chasm”.

Louise says she is disappointed on many levels by Minister Lynch’s argument.

“I was horrified by her contribution to the debate. How could a Minister for Equality oppose the concept that equality should be a cornerstone of economic and fiscal policy? And after Labour members supported five motions in favour of equality budgeting and impact assessments at the most recent Labour convention?”

Louise says the Equality Minister’s claim that it is too expensive to carry out impact assessments is shocking.

“How on earth can it be seen as reasonable to carry out certain cuts without ensuring that an analysis shows this won’t lead to hungry children or senior citizens dying of cold?”

On the second night of the debate, Labour Junior Minister Seán Sherlock showed his contempt for the Dáil Opposition by reading out THE SAME SPEECH as Kathleen Lynch had read the previous evening.

• Louise Bayliss of the Equality Budgeting Campiagn says the contribution to the debate by Minister of State for Equality Kathleen Lynch was ‘shocking’

Labour Cork South Central TD Ciarán Lynch made one of the most bizarre arguments of the debate by saying “equality is a subjective concept” and claimed the Bill was an attempt to embarrass the Government.

This prompted Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty to respond:

“I ask the Labour deputies of 2013 to imagine what it would be like if they transposed themselves back to nearly 100 years ago, if one of their leaders was in place of the great labour leader, James Connolly, when they sat down to discuss what would be in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and if when James Connolly put forward the notion that all children of the nation would be treated equally, the Labour Party of today said: ‘Ah now, equality is a subjective concept, James, we can’t have that in the Proclamation.’ That is the message they are sending out here today.”

Rounding up the debate, Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien TD said:

“If this Bill does not meet the Government’s standards and is to be rejected here, then that is unfortunate. The challenge, however, is for the Government to bring forward its own legislation to ensure that budgets are fairly analysed and an impact analysis is done.”

He noted that if that type of legislation had been in place initially, Minister Ruairí Quinn would not have had to reverse a decision on resource teachers or reverse the DEIS decision, and the Health Minister would not have had to reverse disability cuts because they would never have been made in the first place.

“If it had been done in the first place, all those sectors in society, including the parents concerned and people with disabilities, would not have had to camp outside the gates of Leinster House to get what is rightfully due to them.”

The Labour TDs took the Fine Gael line over their own grassroots and the bill was rejected by 89 votes to 46.

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