Religious-run schools and hospitals will be stripped of the ability to sack staff for being gay, divorced, or unmarried parents by Easter, Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin says.
The move will see Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act changed, as the minister says it puts a “chill” into workers who fear being fired for private lives that go against the ethos of church-run institutions.
“They can be sacked, technically, if a board manager felt that someone was actively undermining the ethos of their school by their private life,” Mr Ó Ríordáin told the Irish Examiner.
“It has a chilling effect when people feel they can’t be themselves. In the staff room they have to hide their private lives; they have to hide the fact that they’re gay, or that they are divorced, or in a second relationship, or that they’re an unmarried parent.”
Mr Ó Ríordáin, who said he aims to have the changes through by Easter, said people had the right to be open about themselves at work.
“Members of the LGBT community and divorcees and unmarried parents will not have a fear of being themselves and being open about their private lives if they are working in schools and hospitals,” he said.
He accused Alan Shatter of dragging his feet over the reform when he was in office, stating: “It wasn’t a priority for the previous minister of justice.”
Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power, whose 2012 bill to end the discriminatory elements of Section 37 was blocked by Government, expressed doubt about Mr Ó Ríordáin’s plans.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” she said. “The Bill that Labour brought out last year kept in discrimination; it just moved the onus on to employers to be able to justify that discrimination.”
Sandra Irwin-Gowran of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network warned the section adds to a homophobic culture in schools.
“Teachers can’t be open about being gay or lesbian because of the impact it could have on their job security,” she said. “This can mean they are fearful of addressing homophobic bullying in schools, for fear it would bring attention to themselves.
“It is the same with civil partnerships, as some people are concerned if they have one it will mean coming out as gay or lesbian.”
Meanwhile, plans to lift the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood is a significant step in addressing stigma, campaigners claim.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who a week ago announced he is gay, has referred recommendations to revise the restrictions to the State’s Chief Medical Officer and senior officials in the Department of Health.
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