Irish Examiner

Ex-paramilitary prisoners may get legal protection

23 June 2004
By Dan McGinn

FORMER paramilitary prisoners could be offered greater protection from discrimination under the North’s single Equality Bill.

The British government asked various interest groups, in a 196-page consultation paper, whether there should be specific protections for former IRA, other republican and loyalist prisoners from discrimination and inequality.

The document, launched yesterday by Northern Ireland Office minister John Spellar at Stormont, also asked whether victims of the Troubles, pregnant women and mothers, Irish language, Ulster Scots and non-English speakers should also be specifically identified in the bill.

It is envisaged that the Equality Bill, which was the brainchild of Stormont ministers during devolution and harmonises all equality legislation, will tackle inequality in the jobs market, workplace and in the delivery of goods and services.

Ex-prisoners have often complained that the requirement to declare past convictions in job applications has resulted in discrimination against them.

Yesterday’s document suggested the concerns of victims and survivors of the Troubles could be specifically addressed in the bill following the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s recommendation that they be included in the non-discrimination clause of its draft Bill of Rights.

The British government has already decided that discrimination against people on the basis of disability, race, religion, age, political opinion, marriage, gender, sex change, sexual orientation and disability will be covered in the new bill.

The consultation will last until November 12.

Seminars are also being organised across the province to enable various interest groups to consider the proposals.

As he announced plans for the consultation, Mr Spellar insisted that the proposals were not set in stone.

“This consultation document does not provide definitive proposals; no decisions on the content of the bill will be taken in advance of the type of comprehensive and inclusive consultation process we are embarking on today.

“We have come a very long way since the introduction of equal pay legislation in 1970 and we have learned a great deal along the way,” he said.

“The single Equality Bill now gives us the opportunity to harness all that experience, and will serve the people of Northern Ireland for many years to come.”

It is believed that it may take until 2007 before the legislation will finally become law in the

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