A plan to change the law that allows schools or other religious employers to fire gay teachers is to be published tomorrow and is expected to get government backing.
A group of Labour Party backbenchers will publish their draft bill tomorrow but the Irish Examiner understands it should have the support of the two ministers who have been looking at the issue for almost a year.
Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power published a bill last May to change Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act that allows religious employers an exemption from its discrimination rules if it fires or refuses to hire someone in order to uphold its ethos. The section has been held for many years by unions as an obstacle to gay teachers being open about their sexual orientation, although there are no known cases of schools using the exemption available to them to fire anyone.
The proposed amendment will be published tomorrow by TDs Aodhán Ó Riordáin, John Lyons, Dominic Hannigan, and Ciara Conway, along with Senator Ivana Bacik. Ms Bacik is expected to get the bill onto the Seanad floor during private members’ time next week.
However, although it will have to be discussed at the Cabinet next Tuesday, a reliable source said Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn saw “considerable merit” in the planned legal changes.
Mr Shatter rejected the FF bill on the grounds that a consultation was needed on the constitutional issues, with arguments that personal rights had to be balanced with the rights of religious groups to uphold their ethos. This was to have been the topic of a consultation process by the proposed Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, but legislation to set up the new body has yet to be published.
The bill is expected to place a stronger level of responsibility on publicly funded organisations such as schools to uphold equality law. But at the same time, their right to uphold their ethos could be maintained by allowing exemptions to continue in relation to actions in the workplace, as distinct from the personal lives of staff.
At the launch of next week’s Stand Up! Awareness Week organised by young people’s group BeLonG To, Mr Quinn admitted it “looked really bad” to be moving against homophobic bullying in schools when Section 37 was still in operation.
“We are going to deal with that, we are 24 months into our term of office, there is another 36 months to go.
“I’ve been speaking to Alan Shatter about it because it falls within his remit, under his department,” he said.
“It is not that Mr Shatter is opposed to it, it is that he has other priorities. It still remains a priority for me. Homophobic bullying is toxic.”
Stand Up! campaign supporter Donal Óg Cusack said it was very disappointing that any school teacher, or anybody in any occupation, could be discriminated against because of their sexuality.
“There are enough things for young people to be worried about and their sexuality should not be one of these,” he said.
Donal Óg: I’d find it hard to toe party line in politics
By Shaun Connolly Political Correspondent
Cork GAA legend Donal Óg Cusack has downplayed talk of a post-match switch to the Dáil — insisting he might be too independent-minded to toe a party line.
After seeing his name linked with a future Oireachtas run for Sinn Féin, Mr Cusack was coy about his plans as he threw his weight behind a high-profile campaign to combat homophobic bullying in schools.
Asked what the chances of him becoming Sinn Féin’s first “out” TD were, He said: “At the moment they are every bit as much the same chances of me being the No 1 goalkeeper for Cork when it comes to the championship.”
Mr Cusack, who was recently omitted from the Cork senior hurling panel, did not rule out a move to politics, but suggested his independent spirit could prove an issue. “I’ve learned a politician’s life is a very demanding life. It’s a challenging life to be a politician and one of the things I’d be worried about myself is whether I would have the capabilities.
“I worry that if I did come to those situations, I might find it hard to toe the party line, if I’m honest. And I don’t necessarily say that that’s a weakness in politicians, and that must demand a lot of strength to go along those lines.
“So, it’s not as easy as it looks from the outside, and a lot of people would say to me would you think about politics, and I’d say it looks a lot easier on the outside.
“I’ve an interest in politics, I like watching it, I like reading about it, I like learning about it, I like what’s going on in different countries. I work for an American company, so obviously I’d be interested in what’s going on over there, in the UK, here.”
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