Equality legislation in Northern Ireland

Comparing the equality legislation between Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland (NI). 

Unlike the ‘Equality Act’ in GB, there remains a need for NI equality law to be harmonised and simplified so as to address significant inconsistencies, unjustified anomalies and complexities and to ensure uniform protection against discrimination across all grounds, where appropriate.

For example, unlike in NI, the race equality legislation in GB has been harmonised so that individuals have the same level of protection on grounds of colour and nationality as well as race, ethnic origin and national origin.

There is an argument that single equality legislation is the most effective means of strengthening and maintaining protections against discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Such legislation would also improve consistency, understanding and efficiency - saving time and costs for individuals from all equality groups, as well as employers, service providers, advisory services, and those interacting with equality legislation more generally.

It is fundamentally unfair that different equality groups have different protections without justifiable reason.

Such differing protections contribute to a ‘hierarchy of rights’.

The Equality Commission NI has consistently called for reform of equality legislation in Northern Ireland, for example around recommendations for a change to the race equality legislation, the disability legislation, and the sex discrimination legislation.

The 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement made it clear that the Government accepted the need for a Single Equality Bill and committed to working “rapidly to make the necessary preparations so that legislation can be taken forward by an incoming Executive at an early date”.

Despite that commitment, there has been no progress in relation to a Single Equality Bill by the Executive.

The adoption of a single equality law approach in GB with the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 in October 2010 further exacerbated and highlighted the significant gaps and shortfalls that exist in Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, there have been amendments over time to individual pieces of equality law, for example to the race and sex discrimination legislation to give effect to EU Directives.

Further recommendations have been considered by Professor Brice Dickson: Race Equality Law Reform: Strengthening Protection - Brice Dickson

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