Skip to main content
In order to provide complete functionality, this web site needs your explicit consent to store browser cookies. If you don't allow cookies, you may not be able to use certain features of the web site including but not limited to: log in, buy products, see personalized content, switch between site cultures. It is recommended that you allow all cookies.
How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.


Law reform
Law reform

What you need to know


Race Law Reform

We are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to make urgent changes to the race equality legislation in Northern Ireland.

These changes are aimed at strengthening, simplifying and harmonising the race equality legislation so that individuals in Northern Ireland have robust and effective protection against unlawful racial discrimination and harassment. Legislation should meet best international standards.

We have responded to The Executive Office’s 2023 consultation on race equality law reform (pdf, June 2023).

We have, and will continue to, engage and work with a wide range of key stakeholders.  We hope you will agree that we need stronger racial equality laws in Northern Ireland and encourage you to take steps to raise awareness and secure implementation of these recommendations. Help us make change by sharing these recommendations with colleagues, officials, and friends and family; writing to your local political representatives; and by responding to any consultation on race law reform in support of our recommendations. 

The most effective means of reforming equality law in Northern Ireland remains by introducing comprehensive single equality legislation.

Priorities for Change 

The Commission has highlighted five priority areas for change to the race equality laws:

Harmonise and expand the scope of racial grounds

Increase protection on grounds of colour and nationality
We recommend increased protection from discrimination and harassment on the grounds of colour and nationality across the scope of the race equality legislation, including consideration of the removal or modification of exceptions that apply only on grounds of colour and/ or nationality, unless there are justifiable reasons for doing so, or statutory exception to protection.

Protections should be harmonised upwards to the highest standards. Any regressions in relation to race or ethnic or national origins may be a potential breach under Article 2 of the Windsor Framework.

Define ‘racial grounds’ non-exhaustively, and specifically include caste and descent
The definitions of ‘race’ and ‘racial ground’ should be expanded and be non-exhaustive. 

This should be clear in statute and reflect best international practice, in accordance with human rights standards.

Increased protection for individuals against racial discrimination and harassment by public bodies carrying out their functions

We recommend that public bodies be prohibited from racial discrimination or harassment as regards all public functions, except in some narrowly defined limited areas where they can be objectively justified.

This prohibition should apply to all racial grounds. Currently protection only exists on the grounds of race, ethnic or national origins and not on the grounds of colour or nationality.

Introduce protections against combined discrimination

We recommend the introduction of protection against combined discrimination so that there is legal protection for individuals who experience direct or indirect discrimination, victimisation or harassment because of a combination of equality grounds, including racial grounds.

Courts and tribunals should be able to take into account the effect of the combination of racial discrimination with discrimination on other grounds.


Ensure greater protection for employees against third party racial harassment

We recommend that employers are liable if they fail to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent the racial harassment of an employee by a third party.

We recommend that employers are liable in circumstances that they ought to have been reasonably aware of the risk of third party harassment, as this should encourage employers to take steps to reduce harassment from the start of a person’s employment. If this is not introduced, employers should be liable when their employee has been subjected to third party harassment on one previous occasion.

Employers should also be liable if, after such harassment has occurred, the employee is treated differently because they rejected or accepted the harassment.

Expand the scope of positive action

We recommend that the race equality legislation is amended to expand the scope of voluntary positive action that employer, service providers and public bodies can lawfully take in order to promote racial equality, and remove unnecessary barriers relating to collecting statistical information before taking such action. 

Positive action should be permitted where an employer, service provider or public body reasonably thinks that a racial group suffer a related disadvantage, or have different needs, or have a disproportionately low rate of participation in an activity. Any action should be a proportionate means of achieving the aim of enabling other persons who share the racial characteristic to minimise the disadvantage, meet their needs or participate in the activity.

Download our race law reform recommendations (pdf):




Race Equality Law Reform: Strengthening Protection

Professor Brice Dickson was commissioned in 2021 to review the anti-discrimination provisions in the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 with a view to determining what changes should be made to enhance protection against race discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Our recommendations


  • Ensure equality law reform reflects best international standards, advances equality of opportunity, prevents discrimination, and clarifies the law    
  • Ensure race law reform is in compliance with Article 2 of the Windsor Framework

For further detail, see pp. 9-13 in our Full Policy Position: Priorities, Recommendations and Supporting Rationale (pdf)

Forms of discrimination

Harmonise and Expand the Scope of Racial Grounds


  • Increase protection on grounds of colour and nationality 
  • Define ‘racial grounds’ non-exhaustively, and specifically include caste and descent 



  • Define direct racial discrimination in terms of treatment occurring ‘because of’ racial grounds
  • Remove the comparator requirement in the definition of victimisation and maintain scope of protections
  • Widen the definition of ‘racial harassment’

Public Functions


  • Increase protection for individuals against racial discrimination and harassment by public bodies when carrying out their public functions

Combined Discrimination


  • Introduce protections against combined discrimination 

Protections in Employment and Analogous Situations


  • Ensure greater protection for employees against third party racial harassment
  • Increase protection for agency and contract workers
  • Clarify protections against victimisation for office-holders
  • Expand protection for law enforcement officers
  • Ensure the appropriate parties can be held liable for unlawful acts
  • Ensure protection for Councillors against racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation by local councils
  • Enhance protection against providers of employment services
  • Provide legal protection for volunteers

Protections in Schools and Training


  • Increase protection against victimisation for pupils in schools     
  • Ensure greater protection in relation to admission to educational establishments 
  • Clarify protection in provision of education     
  • Extend protection from qualification bodies     

Positive Action


  • Expand the scope of positive action to better address disadvantage and disproportionately low participation, and meet differential needs
  • Allow political parties to take positive action measures when selecting candidates 

Influencing Others and Previous Relationships


  • Introduce additional preventions against influencing others to discriminate 
  • Extend protection after relationships (members of clubs / associations) have come to an end

For further detail, see pp. 14-60 in our Full Policy Position: Priorities, Recommendations and Supporting Rationale (pdf)


  • Further limit exemptions to race equality law (public order, national security and public safety)  
  • Remove the immigration exception which permits discrimination on the grounds of ethnic or national origins in the carrying out of immigration functions. 
  • Narrow the employment exception on foreign nationals in public service
  • Clarify, and extend the persons covered by, proportionate and legitimate exceptions from occupational requirements 
  • Clarify law regarding competitive activities 

For further detail, see pp. 61-71  in our Full Policy Position: Priorities, Recommendations and Supporting Rationale (pdf)

Enforcement and remedies

Commission Powers


  • Increase powers to issue Race Codes of Practice in a wider range of areas 
  • Strengthen formal investigation powers
  • Ensure provisions in relation to the disclosure of information are appropriate and compliant with data protection
  • Strengthen and harmonise the Commission’s grant-making powers
  • Maintain powers to undertake research and educational activities
  • Maintain Commission powers to tackle discrimination
  • Empower the Commission and other representative bodies to bring a claim on behalf of named individuals and in its own name
  • Amend NI race equality law, as appropriate, aligned to EU Directive on standards for equality bodies, if introduced.

Procedural and Remedies


  • Simplify the enforcement mechanism for education complaints against schools
  • Ensure time limits for assistance by Commission and bringing proceedings are fit for purpose
  • Clarify rights of individuals to take cases relating to instructions to discriminate
  • Increase powers for tribunals
  • Maintain the questionnaire procedure, and allow for tailoring of questions

For further detail, see pp. 71-95 in our Full Policy Position: Priorities, Recommendations and Supporting Rationale (pdf)

Ethnic equality monitoring

  • Ensure provision for effective ethnic equality monitoring to improve the delivery of public services

For further detail, see pp. 96-97 in our Full Policy Position: Priorities, Recommendations and Supporting Rationale (pdf)
Print All