Welcome for law on teachers’ sexuality

Donal Og Cusack pictured at the launch of Stand Up! Awareness Week on Homophobic and Transphobic Bullying at the Department of Education in Dublin.

Gay rights groups have welcomed proposed laws which would ensure that religious-run schools could not sack a teacher based on their sexuality.

A proposed amendment to the so-called “chill factor” in employment laws has been tabled by a group of Labour parliamentarians and will be debated in the Seanad next week.

It will change Section 37 in the Employment Equality Act, which allows religious employers an exemption from discrimination rules to end a contract or refuse to hire someone, based on its ethos. This means certain schools and hospitals could fire staff for a range of reasons, including being divorced, or being gay.

This has, for years, acted as a “chill factor” for teachers who are fearful of revealing their sexuality in case they lose their jobs, according to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.

“Nobody should be in jeopardy of their job just because of their identity or status” said its director of education policy, Sandra Irwin-Gowran.

She said there is a link between this “fear factor” and homophobic bullying in schools: “Removal of uncertainty will be an important building block in ensuring that schools can urgently and comprehensively address bullying.”

The bill was published by TDs John Lyons, Ciara Conway, Dominic Hannigan, Aodháin Ó Riordáin, and senator Ivana Bacik.

Fianna Fáil senator, Averil Power, who published a bill last May to change Section 37, said the latest proposal does not go far enough.

She believes it may still allow teachers to be discriminated against solely on their sexual orientation.

“Instead of banning discrimination, it includes a specific clause under which employers may claim that taking action against a gay employee is “justified by a legitimate aim”, she said.

Senator Power said she plans to table a number of amendments to the bill and hopes a final text can be agreed to on a cross-party basis. “I look forward to debating this issue in the Seanad next week and will be asking Labour to explain the rationale for still permitting discrimination in some circumstances,” she said.


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