Section 75 - the statutory duties
The Commission has a Statutory Duty Team which oversees the implementation of the duties on public authorities required by Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. For relevant publications, see our Publications section.
The new duties on the public sector to promote equality of opportunity and good relations
Legal duties, which were introduced on 1 January 2000, require public authorities "to have due regard" to the need to promote equality of opportunity and "to have regard" to the desirability of promoting good relations. The duties are designed to ensure that equality and good relations considerations are made central to policy development by Government and public authorities. The duties have the potential to make a real difference to the lives of people in Northern Ireland, since those affected by policy decisions must be consulted and their interests taken into account. This provides an opportunity for the community to participate in public policy-making, right from the start of the process.
Please click here for more information about the Commission´s work in this area.
The statutory duties
In the Agreement reached between Governments and political parties in April 1998, the section dealing with Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity included a commitment to a statutory obligation on public authorities. This was then implemented through the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Under Section 75 of this Act, public authorities are required to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity:
- Between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation;
- Between men and women generally;
- Between persons with a disability and persons without; and
- Between persons with dependants and persons without.
Public authorities are also required to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.
This approach has been reflected in the Northern Ireland Executive´s Programme for Government, which has set out the Government´s vision of Northern Ireland as "a peaceful, fair and inclusive community", requiring both the promotion of equality and working to improve community relations.
Most public authorities in Northern Ireland plus cross border bodies and a number of UK wide public authorities have been required to produce an equality scheme. Each public authority must have an equality scheme in place, as both a statement of its commitment to the statutory duties and a plan for performance on the duties. Public authorities must also assess the equality impact of their policies and publish the outcome of such assessments.
The paper ´Strategy for requesting revised/new Equality Schemes´ sets out the agreed strategy which provides a framework and direction to the Commission´s request for revised/new equality schemes from designated public authorities under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Commission has also developed an operational list and notification timetable for requesting revised / new equality schemes from designated public authorities.
The Commission decides on whether or not to approve an equality scheme. It has an assessment template which is used by Commission officers, which allows assessment of statutory requirements for an equality scheme, as well as good practice. The assessment of the statutory requirements results in recommendations for whether the schemes should be approved or not. The Commission´s Equality Scheme Approval Committee takes the decision on whether to approve an equality scheme.
Consultation with those affected by public policy decisions is central to the effectiveness of the duties. Equality schemes spell out an authority´s arrangements for consultation on the duties and on the likely impact of policies.
Impact on policy
If a public authority´s assessment of the impact of a policy shows a possible "adverse impact" on any group, it must consider how this impact might be reduced, and how an alternative policy might lessen any adverse impact the policy may have. The public authority must also show that it has considered how any alternative policies might better achieve the promotion of equality of opportunity.
How do the statutory duties affect people in Northern Ireland?
The implementation of the statutory duties provides an important opportunity for all those affected to influence public policy decision making. It makes the process more transparent and accountable as people have the opportunity to make an input to the formulation of policies that impact on their interests. Consultation by public authorities has to be meaningful and be conducted before a decision is made, while it is still possible to influence the outcome. This is leading to a new set of relationships between Government and people in our society. The aim is to have more informed and better decision-making.
Role of the Equality Commission
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has a role to:
- keep under review the effectiveness of the duties imposed by Section 75;
- offer advice to public authorities and others in connection with those duties; and
- carry out the functions conferred on it by Schedule 9 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.