1.NIPSA is the largest trade union in Northern Ireland representing over 45,000 members employed across the whole of the public service in organisations such as the Northern Ireland Civil Service and its Agencies, Local Government, Education and Library Boards, the Health and Personal Social Services, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as well as a host of Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDBPs). NIPSA also represents a significant number of members in the voluntary sector.
2.NIPSA, like all Trade Unions, has a diverse membership. A membership that includes individuals of different faith and individuals of no faith. NIPSA wish to make it clear that we respect individuals having the right to freedom of religion as enshrined in Human Rights law and we also respect the right of all individuals to equality and freedom from all forms of discrimination as enshrined in Equality law. Policy, therefore, expressed in this document has been agreed through the well established democratic procedures for making policy at the NIPSA Annual Delegate Conference.
3.NIPSA will not be responding to the questions in this consultation document as we believe them to be biased and presented in a manner which leads the person towards a conclusion that supports the proposed amendments. Instead our comments are set out below.
3.NIPSA has a long and proud history of advancing the highest standards of equality and human rights issues. We believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members should have the same rights as all others. We have been involved in campaigns to end discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, and were involved in all the many improvements to the law secured over the years.
4.We are therefore extremely concerned at the retrograde step in equality law being proposed in the Bill. We believe if introduced, the proposed amendments will significantly weaken protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) individuals against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. We also believe the exceptions, if introduced, will weaken protection not only for LGB individuals but also those who associate with LGB individuals – their family members, friends and those who are perceived to be LGB.
5.If the proposed exceptions are introduced there will be not only a sharp difference between other areas of equality law in Northern Ireland but also between the two jurisdictions.
6.There are no equivalent provisions to the proposed exceptions in other areas of equality law in Northern Ireland. The proposed clauses are therefore inconsistent with the approach adopted under other equality strands, including in areas where there is also the potential for competing rights.
7.In addition, the proposed exceptions are inconsistent with the approach adopted in equality law in other parts of the UK; meaning that, if introduced, LGB individuals in Northern Ireland would have less protection against discrimination when accessing goods, facilities and services or accommodation than LGB individuals in other parts of the UK.
8.NIPSA does not support the proposed business exception as set out in clause 16a of the Bill. We fully support the Equality Commission’s position that what is proposed is fundamentally flawed. Its intention is to allow all commercial businesses to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and restrict the provision of goods, facilities or services so as to avoid endorsing, promoting, or facilitating behaviour or belief which conflicts with their strongly held religious convictions.
9.This means, if introduced, the Bill will allow landlords to refuse a LGB individual or couple rented accommodation or even allow landlords the right to forcefully evict a LGB individual or couple from rented accommodation which has the potential to increase LGB homelessness. This Bill will allow mortgage lenders to refuse a mortgage to an LGB individual or couple. This sort of discrimination and prejudice against LGB individuals restrict their rights to choose where and with whom to live.
10.If introduced the Bill will also allow restaurants and hotels to refuse LGB individuals a meal, a room, a function for civil partnership. This Bill will allow jewellers to refuse an LGB couple to purchase an engagement ring, commitment ring, wedding ring.
11.With regards to the proposed exception in relation to faith-based adoption/fostering agencies, we would be strongly opposed to any exemption for faith-based adoption or fostering agencies that provide publically-funded services from the Sexual Orientation Regulations. In doing so we would like to draw attention to the views of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its legislative scrutiny of the Equality Bill who stated that “we consider that there is nothing in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), or any other human rights standards that requires an exemption to be provided to permit religious organisations to discriminate when delivering services on behalf of a public body.”
12.Finally, as previously stated, NIPSA is seriously concerned at the unethical and biased manner in which the questions in this consultation have been presented. They have been framed in a manner to elicit responses that will support the proposed amendments. We would also be seriously concerned that at a time of budget constraints, any public money was being used to promote this discriminatory Bill.
13.In conclusion, NIPSA strongly objects to the proposed amendments to the Sexual Orientation Regulations as set out in this Bill.
14.We consider the proposed amendments a retrograde step in equality law in Northern Ireland which will significantly weaken legislative protection for LGB individuals, their family members, friends and those who are perceived to be LGB.
15.The proposed clauses are inconsistent with other equality strands.
16.We consider the proposed business exception is fundamentally flawed, discriminatory and not compliant with human rights standards.
17.We strongly object to any exemption for faith-based adoption or fostering agencies that provide publically-funded services from the Sexual Orientation Regulations.