The principal of equality is enshrined in many international, EU and national legal instruments including;
Art. 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’.
Art 40.1 of the Irish Constitution which states that ‘All citizens shall as human persons, be held equal before the law’.
In Ireland, the key pieces of equality legislation are;
- The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011 – prohibit discrimination in employment, including recruitment, promotion, pay and other conditions of employment.
- The Equal Status Acts 2000-2012 – prohibit discrimination in access to and provision of services, accommodation and educational establishments.
- The Disability Act 2005 – places significant obligations on public bodies in terms of providing integrated access to services and information to people with disabilities, as well as promoting the employment of people with disabilities.
- The Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014 – has established a positive duty on public sector bodies to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and treatment and protect human rights.
This means that all public bodies in Ireland have responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of their employees, customers, service users and everyone affected by their policies and plans. This is a legal obligation, called the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty.
Under equality legislation discrimination based on any one of the following distinct grounds is unlawful. These grounds are:
- Civil status
- Family status
- Sexual orientation
- Age (does not apply to a person under 18)
- Membership of the Traveller community
Pregnant women or women on maternity leave are also protected under the gender ground and under EU law a transgender person who experiences discrimination arising from their gender reassignment, or transition, is also protected under the gender ground.
Discrimination is the treatment of a person in a less favourable way than another person is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation on any of the nine equality grounds. Discrimination can be direct, indirect, by association or imputation.
Harassment is any form of unwanted conduct related to any of the nine discriminatory grounds that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.
In addition, the Institutes of Technology Act 2006 places obligations on Governing Bodies to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, specifically with regard to gender balance, and access.