Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty
What is the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty?
All public bodies in Ireland have a legal obligation to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of:
- Their employees
- Their customers
- Their service users
- Anyone affected by their service
The Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty applies to the whole organisation. It is an ongoing responsibility that should be part of the public body’s strategic plan.
To fulfill their legal obligations, public bodies must:
- Assess the human rights and equality issues it believes are relevant to its functions
- Address these issues, and describe how it plans to address these issues in its strategic plan
- Report on developments and progress
The law and what bodies it applies to
The Duty is set out in section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. It says that a public body must, in the performance of its functions, have regard to the need to:
- Eliminate discrimination
- Promote equality of opportunity and treatment of its staff and the persons to whom it provides services
- Protect the human rights of its members
The Duty applies across all functions of the public body. For example, it applies to the hiring of staff, procurement of services, corporate services, awarding grants and providing services.
The law applies to a broad range of organisations, including:
- Government departments
- Local authorities
- The HSE
- Universities and technical colleges
- Education and Training Boards (ETBs)
- Any other organisation established under statute or under a scheme administered by a government minister
- Companies that are financed by a department of state, under powers given to the Minister under statute
- Companies where the majority of shares are held by the Government
Fulfilling the Equality and Human Rights Duty
The first step for public bodies to meet their obligations under the Equality and Human Rights Duty is to assess any human rights and equality issues for people who use its service and its staff.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) recommends that public bodies should consider the following when they are carrying out the assessment:
- What equality and human rights legislation is most relevant to the functions and purpose of your organisation?
- How does your organisation measure its impact?
- What does your organisation know about its service users, with reference to the 9 protected grounds in equality law?
- What initiatives do you already have in place to support human rights and equality?
- What human rights and equality issues need to be prioritised for action?
The second step is to take action to address any equality and human rights issues you have identified in the assessment. The actions should be integrated in the organisation’s strategic plan.
The third step is to report on the organisation’s progress in a manner that is accessible to the public. IHREC recommends that you take an evidence-based approach to reporting, and reporting should be done in consultation with staff and service users.
The role of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC)
IHREC has guidance on how to implement the Duty.
If it believes that a public body is failing to perform its functions in line with the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty, it can either:
- Invite the public body to carry out a review or
- Prepare and implement an action plan for that public body to comply with its legal obligations
It can take either or both of the above steps.
Human rights are the basic universal rights that apply to everyone regardless of race, sex, nationality or any other status. They include civil and political rights like the right to life or the right to a fair trial, and economic and social rights, like the right to work and the right to education.
Many human rights are not absolute. This means that they can be limited in accordance with the law.
Human rights are set out in law. In Ireland, human rights are protected by:
- The Irish Constitution and national laws that protect human rights
- The European Convention on Human Rights
- The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
- United Nations treaties that Ireland has ratified
- The right to life
- Equality before the law
- Right to a fair trial
- Right to liberty
- Freedom of expression
- Freedom of assembly and association
- The right to fair procedures
European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
Ireland was a founding member of the Council of Europe and has signed the ECHR. Ireland has also put the ECHR on a statutory footing through the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003.
Irish courts can declare that laws are incompatible with the ECHR, but they cannot declare that the law is in invalid for this reason.
If your ECHR rights have been breached, you can take a case to the European Court of Human Rights. You can only do this after you have taken all the legal steps available to you in Ireland.
Charter of Fundamental Rights
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union brings together the most important personal freedoms and rights enjoyed by citizens of the EU into one legally binding document. The Charter was declared in 2000, and came into force in December 2009 along with the Treaty of Lisbon.
The Charter has the same legal power as an EU Treaty. This means that it is superior to Irish domestic law. However, it only applies when Irish bodies (particularly the Irish Government) are implementing European Union law.
United Nations treaties
Ireland is a member of the United Nations and it has ratified a number of UN human rights treaties, including:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CAT)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Irish law prohibits discrimination through the Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts under 9 protected grounds. They are:
- Civil status
- Family status
- Sexual orientation
- Race, including nationality
- Religion, including having no religion
- Membership of the Traveller community
The Equal Status Act protects against discrimination in access to goods and services. In addition to the protected grounds listed above, the Equal Status Act also prohibits discrimination against people who get Rent Supplement or the Housing Assistance Payment when they are accessing accommodation.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission have detailed guidance on implementing the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty.