Stripping religious-run schools and hospitals of the ability to sack staff for being gay, divorced, or unmarried is the “best we can do without starting over”, Equality Minister Aodhan O Riordain says.
A motion is underway to make amendments to Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which allows certain institutions the right to discriminate positively to protect their ethos, so that “no one will be forced to hide their privates life over fears of going against their employers’ religious ethos,” he told independent.ie.
“As long as schools are run by particular denominations protected under the Constitution we’ve just got to do the best we can when it comes to protecting people’s rights to be who they are.”
“Scrapping Section 37 totally would be a constitutional issue and that’s not something the Government is a position to do. Amending it is the best option we have.”
Mr O Riordain said he aims to have the changes through by Easter, September at the latest, and said people had the right to be open about themselves at work.
Defending criticism that amending a “discriminatory act” did not go far enough, Mr O Riordain said Government had to be “realistic in its proposals.”
“If we could start the education system all over again then perhaps none of this would be needed but that’s not what we have. We’ve just got to deal with how things are and amending Section 37 so that there is clarity is the best thing we can do for everyone.”
Among those critical of the Government's plans to overhaul Section 37 are teacher’s national school union INTO, who told independent.ie that “whatever is done, legtion designed to discriminate will continue to discriminate.”
“The Minister says that Section 37 has ‘had a chilling effect’ on those falling foul of their organisations’ ethos. Well we say that by amending it, all he is doing is changing the temperature,” said Peter Mullen,INTO Media Officer.
“No one has ever been fired under this act but what it has done is far more subtle. It has allowed schools to not hire certain teachers or to stop people from advancing their careers.”
INTO LGBT member Niall Callan said for any amendment of Section 37 to be meaningful, it needs to remove mention to “undermining religious ethos” from the act.
“I am very supportive of the work done Aodhan O Riordain and I hope that this amendment will end the uncertainty faced by LGBT teachers and those who are divorced or unmarried parents.”
“As a teacher, I want to be judge on what I do, not who I am. If a child in my class is being bullied because she has two mommies, what can I do to prevent?”
“If I speak to her and/or the class and say that it doesn’t matter if your family has a mum and a dad, or is single parent home, or one with two mommies, and say that it doesn’t matter as long as you’re loved,am I not massively going against the ‘ethos’ of the religious beliefs practiced by those that run most of the schools in Ireland?”