Speech: Lo proposes race relations motion in Assembly

South Belfast Alliance MLA Anna Lo is today proposing a motion calling for a review of the current Race Relations Order for Northern Ireland because it does not afford people the same protection as they have in the rest of the UK or in Ireland.

Here is Anna Lo’s speech to the Assembly:

In instigating this moving, myself and other members of the All Party Group on Ethnic Minorities are responding to the request of the communities who wish to see parity of protection for individuals from different racial groups in NI, in line with current and proposed changes in Great Britain.

Although they accept that recommendations for the amendment of the Race Relations Order would be best dealt with under the Single equality legislation process, they have seen little progress since OFMDFM’s consultation in late 2004 on the development of the Single Equality Bill. In fact, it did not even feature in the government’s Programme for Government 2008-2011. For this reason, we are calling on the First and Deputy First Minister to conduct a formal Review of the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 (RRO).

The Order mirrors the equivalent Race Relations Act 1976 in Great Britain, except for the planning law provision which is not applicable in Northern Ireland. As one of the people who campaigned for the Race Relations Act to be extended to NI, I was very pleased at the time to see the legislation introduced here 11 years ago to outlaw racial discrimination albeit 21 years behind the rest of the UK.

In 2000 the British government introduced the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 in response to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, this covered GB only. A key element of the Amendment Act was to put the criminal justice system under the race legislation. Since we do not have the equivalent Amendment Act in Northern Ireland, we are bound by the principle put down in the Amin judgement which stated that for services that are solely the provision of government with no private equivalent, equality legislation shall not apply. In practice this allows immigration officers, police officers, prison officers, probation officers, tax officers, planning officers and court staff to discriminate against ethnic minorities without any legal redress. The Amin principle applies to all existing equality legislation in Northern Ireland, so it is discriminatory on grounds wider than race.

Section 19B of the 2000 Act in GB introduced the race equality duty on public authorities, modelled to some extent on our section 75. But section 19B opens out policing and a range of other ‘purely public’ functions. Instead of introducing section 19B into the Race Relations Order (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003, OFMDFM introduced a minimalist version of section 19B, perceived as sufficient to satisfy the requisite European Directive but still a long way short of the GB duty.

We believe that the Race Relations Order should include a similar provision of Section 19B of the GB legislation in order to protect victims of discrimination on a wider basis that what the Amin case principle allows.

In 2003 in GB the British government introduced the Race Relations Act 1976 (Amendment) Regulations 2003 as part of their obligations under the Racial Equality Directive 2000.. The direct rule administration introduced the equivalent Race Relations Order (Amendment) Regulations 2003 to N.I.

Presently in Northern Ireland, there is less protection from discrimination and harassment under the RRO 1997 on the grounds of colour and nationality, than on other racial grounds. “Racial grounds” as defined in the RRO include colour, race, nationality, ethnic origin and national origin. However, as the Race Directive was considered only to apply to the grounds of race, ethnic and national origin, the Race Relations Order (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 which were introduced in order to give effect to the Race Directive, did not amend the provisions in the RRO 1997 as regards the grounds of colour and nationality.

This interpretation creates a two tiered system in which “colour” and “nationality” have less protection significantly in areas such as the burden of proof shift to the respondent, as well as new definitions of direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation, etc. The Race Relations Order should include provisions on discrimination and harassment on grounds of “colour” and “nationality” across its scope to rectify the problems created in the Race Relations (amendment) NI Regulations 2003.

The British government introduced the Race Relations (Amendment) Regulations 2008 in November 2008 to change the definition of ‘indirect discrimination’ as required by the European Commission, but did not introduce a new definition on ‘instruction to discriminate’. In contrast with GB, in Northern Ireland the government did not introduce any new Regulations to rectify the problems of the transposition of the directive as required by the European Commission.

There have been calls for a formal Review of the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 for some time from the former Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland, NICEM and the Equality Commission.

The Equality Commission recommended changes to the legislation specifically that it should apply to ALL government activities. It also made recommendations on the effective enforcement of the legislation by the Equality Commission and a number of other recommendations. We believe these recommendations should be implemented..

Currently, there is a Planning law exception in the Northern Ireland legislation. The Race Relations Order should apply to Planning Authority in Northern Ireland equivalent to the legislation in GB.

The Race Relations Order should impose a specific racial equality duty on public authorities in Northern Ireland. It should include a similar GB provision under Section 71 of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 to replace the current Article 67 of the RRO.

In conclusion, due to the delay in getting a Single Equality Act for NI, it is time for a comprehensive review of the RRO over almost 12 years of its existence, given the many amendments and deficiencies mentioned earlier.


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