Government blocks Seanad move to protect gay workers from being fired

A move to protect gay doctors and teachers from being fired due to their sexual orientation has been blocked by the Government.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter claimed Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power’s Employment Equality Bill may not have been able to pass “constitutional muster”.

Ms Power said appropriate wording could have been worked out at committee stage, but the move was voted down.

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network described the Government’s attitude as “very disappointing”.

Ms Power told the Seanad provisions in law that could see schools, hospitals and other institutions sack staff because of their orientation “serve as a daily chill factor for gay lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people”.

She warned the threat of sacking was real under a section of employment law that allows exemptions for religious, educational, or medical institutions which are under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes.

“It is widely considered that this section could be used to justify discrimination against an employee simply because they are LGBT, separated, divorced, cohabiting outside marriage, or an unmarried mother,” she said.

“Some people will say this is a hypothetical problem, or that in this day and age such discrimination, legal as it could be, couldn’t possibly be taking place on the ground.

“Yet this week we learned of an investigation by the Children’s Ombudsman into a Catholic school which refused to enrol a 16-year-old girl on the grounds that she was pregnant. Citing his duty to protect the ‘honourable majority’ of his pupils, the principal stated that the school should not be blamed for having — and I quote — a ‘moral code’.

“Let us be clear that, as we sit here, people are at any immediate risk and that putting this issue on the long finger will leave them vulnerable.”

Ms Power said it was wrong that doctors and teachers had to hide from colleagues something as important as who they had fallen in love with.

Mr Shatter joined Education Minister Ruairi Quinn in welcoming the aims of the reform attempt, but claiming the measures need more consultation and would be better dealt with next year.

“I am unsure this bill, as drafted, would pass constitutional muster,” he said.

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