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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.

Religion & Politics

The Equality Commission's work in the area of religious or similar philosophical belief and political opinion

Religious belief/Political opinion equality

Part of the Equality Commission's remit is to tackle unlawful discrimination and unlawful harassment on the grounds of religious or similar philosophical belief and political opinion.

Details about our work in this area can be found in various sections across the website, but the information here sets out current and recent policy and research work along with relevant publications and legislation.

We believe that equality, social attitudes and good relations are inextricably linked and must be central to all public policy decisions.  We work with government departments and with public and private employers to raise awareness and find solutions to issues which may give rise to inequalities.

'Together: Building a United Community'

We welcome the commitment in the NI Executive’s strategy ‘Together: Building a United Community’ of a framework for delivering good relations across a range of grounds.

We believe the three key areas that need addressed are:

  • Defining good relations
  • Measurements and outcomes
  • Ensuring compliance


Read our full response to the strategy (pdf)

Advice on the flying of flags

The Commission’s remit in this area stems from our duties under the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 to promote equality of opportunity, affirmative action and to work for the elimination of religious/political discrimination, and our duty to offer advice to public authorities in relation to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 . Given that flags and emblems may have a general relevance to these provisions and, indeed, have the potential to impact adversely on equality of opportunity and good relations, the Commission has a remit to provide guidance.

We propose that the principles contained in the Flags (NI) Order should form the basis of a framework for official displays of flags by district councils.

Promoting good and harmonious workplaces

Having a good and harmonious working environment is an important part of creating shared, welcoming and open spaces for people from all communities. We believe that helping businesses promote and encourage good equal opportunities practice is as important as enforcing the law.

Our guide for employers ‘Promoting a good and Harmonious Workplace’ distinguishes between symbols of those directly linked to inter-community conflict or associated with one religion or community.

Every year, the Equality Commission helps hundreds of businesses and organisations comply with equality laws, but we recognise that employers' needs differ across sectors and businesses – so we tailor our services to meet employers’ varying needs. We also run training courses and information sessions for employers and service providers:


Merger of teacher training colleges

In response to the Teacher Education Infrastructure Review’s consultation in 2011 we welcomed and encouraged the vision of cross-community School of Education but with some reservations.


Fair Employment law does not apply to most teachers

An exception dating back to the original drafting of Fair Employment legislation in NI means that teachers in schools are not protected in employment against discrimination on the grounds of religious or similar philosophical belief.  The Equality Commission carried out a review in 2004 that concluded that the continuation of the exception will not further equality of opportunity for teachers.

The Commission recommends the removal of the exception in the employment provisions of Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 in relation to the recruitment of teachers in secondary level schools, and early consideration as to whether the exception should also be removed for primary level schools.

Legal case decisions
Two legal cases supported by the Equality Commission helped to clarify the law:
  • Flynn & Debast v Laurelhill Community College & SEELB (2007) - A fair employment tribunal decision confirmed that the exception applies both to the initial recruitment of teachers and to promotion.

Same sex marriage recommendations

We support the introduction of legislation permitting same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, including sufficient safeguards for religious organisations.

We recommend that there are clear protections within the legislation so as to make sure unequivocally that no religious organisation or individual is forced to marry same-sex couples, whilst also ensuring that those organisations who wish to conduct these marriages can also opt in, as they can for civil partnerships.  It is important that rights relating to freedom of religious belief, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), are safeguarded.


Investigations into public bodies’ non-compliance with their equality schemes

The Equality Commission has powers to investigate complaints that public authorities have failed to comply with their equality schemes from people who are directly affected by such failure, and we can also initiate such investigations.

We receive complaints about public authorities’ commitments in their equality schemes in respect of good relations. The majority of these complaints to date have focused on the display of flags and memorabilia by district councils. Frequently such complaints will refer both to the duty of equality of opportunity and the good relations duty.

Completed investigations typically set out whether the alleged failure to comply with the equality scheme has been established, and the action it recommends in light of such failure.


Recent press releases and articles

Press releases, articles and blogs relating to religious or similar philosophical belief and/or political opinion are available online

Recent legal cases

Examples of legal cases relating to religious or similar philosophical belief/political opinion:

Further examples of legal case decisions and settlements are available online

Programme for Government
The Equality Commission has set out its recommendations in relation to the next Programme for Government (PfG) and Budget of the NI Executive.  We have highlighted the need for a clear commitment in the PfG to address key inequalities experienced by S75 groups, underpinned by robust measures, as well as a commitment to promote good relations.  Read our key point briefing (pdf) or recommendations in full (pdf, 2016). Further information is available on the Programme for Government section of our website

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Research relating to religion and/or politics

Fair Employment Monitoring Report No. 30
Monitoring Report 30The total monitored workforce in 2019 was 564,826 an increase of 1,597 (0.3%) from the previous year. The breakdown of the monitored workforce by community background was [50.5%] Protestant and [49.5%] Roman Catholic, an increase in the Catholic share of [0.2 percentage points] from the previous year.
In 2019, the female share increased to 52.3% from 51.8% the previous year. Women have increased their share of the monitored workforce almost every year between 2001 (50.4%) and 2010 (52.7%).

In 2019, Roman Catholics represented [53.1%] and Protestants [46.9%] of all applicants, and Roman Catholics represented [53.3%] and Protestants [46.7%] of all appointees.

The monitored workforce consists of an estimated 64 - 65% of those in employment and covers private and public employers, with 11 or more employees working 16 hours or more, who are required to monitor the composition of their workforce in terms of community background and sex.

Further information:

The Teacher Exception Provision and Equality in Employment in NI

In fulfilment of its duty to keep under review the school teachers exception in FETO, and in preparation for the Single Equality legislation, the Equality Commission decided to begin enquiries into the present structure of education, the arrangements for the
employment of teachers, and the options for the narrowing of the exception.


Working class Protestant boys underachieve in education

In 2007 our research indicated concerns about underachievement among working class pupils and in particular working class Protestant boys in their educational achievement.


Employment in health and social care trusts - fair employment trends analysis

In addition to the monitored workforce of Northern Ireland, we conducted an examination in 2012, of employment in the health and social care trusts.  Our report shows the changing picture of fair employment and the positive impact of planned changes.


Equality Awareness Survey

A Question of Attitude (2018)
Question of AttitudeWe asked respondents a series of 'social distance' questions to assess public attitudes towards ten equality groups. The scenarios explored how comfortable people felt with varying degrees of closeness to a member of a 'different' group. Respondents were asked whether they 'would mind' or 'would not mind' having a member of each group as a work colleague, a neighbour or if one of the group members were to marry a close relative.

Do You Mean Me? (2011)
The Commission's equality awareness survey 'Do You Mean Me?' includes social attitudes in Northern Ireland on a number of equality grounds, including religious belief/political opinion.
Do you mean me

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Publications relating to religious or similar philosophical belief and/or political opinion

We have produced a range of publications and short guides to provide information on religious or similar philosophical belief and political opinion related issues to individuals, employers and service providers.



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Religious or similar philosophical belief/Political opinion legislation

The Law
Equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated. The law is also complex and can require interpretation. Please contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel: 028 90 500 600.

Main law:

• Fair Employment & Treatment (NI) Order 1998
(this is the revised version of the statute that incorporates all of the amendments that were made over the years up to and including 2003)

Supplementary laws:

• Fair Employment (Monitoring) Regulations (NI) 1999

• Fair Employment (Monitoring) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2000

• Fair Employment (Monitoring) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2002


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