The Commission recommends to public authorities that:
- public authority leaders make clear the necessity of fulfilling the duties throughout their organisation – that they continue to be a statutory requirement;
- senior leaders and decision-makers in organisations actively request the evidence from equality assessments, as well as routinely seek assurance within their organisations that they are fulfilling the duties to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations;
- those responsible for providing information for decision-making on a function or policy should ensure they provide sufficient information, from their equality assessments, for the appropriate consideration (i.e. due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations) to be given in particular decisions;
- the importance of the statutory equality and good relations duties are highlighted within the organisation, on a continuing basis, and particularly given the current wider political and economic context;
- the shift of focus from process to outcomes should continue. Equality Schemes are to enable public authorities to fulfil the Section 75 duties – to give the appropriate consideration to the need to promote equality of opportunity and desirability of promoting good relations - when they deliver their functions. Through giving the appropriate consideration, a public authority will ensure that the decisions they take will be mindful of “the consequences on the lives of people” ; and
- they ensure their consideration of the need to promote equality of opportunity, and desirability of promoting good relations, is evidence based and the data is available to support the consideration. There is a clear link between the consideration needed to meet the Section 75 duties and the data development agenda that is required for the Outcomes Based Accountability approach to the draft Programme for Government. This should drive the collection and use of equality data.
The Commission has identified a number of actions that it will undertake in support of these recommendations:
- In its leadership role, the Commission will engage specifically with politicians, senior leaders in public authorities and decision makers to remind them of their roles and responsibilities in ensuring these statutory duties are fulfilled.
- The Commission will set the agenda and debate in highlighting the importance of the duties and their continuing relevance to, and assistance in the development of, public policy and service delivery in Northern Ireland.
- The Commission will convey and communicate one of the most important issues and success factors – leadership. While recognising the circumstances of reduced resources, leadership continues to be imperative within public authorities to ensure the maintained focus on equality matters, as well as the mainstreaming of equality considerations throughout the business of the authority.
- The Commission will continue to prioritise its advisory activities on public authority practices in screening and Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA), as set out in the 2018-19 Business Plan. This will ensure that these central methodologies are used to greatest effect by public authorities in consistently providing meaningful equality assessments of the policy objectives and policy goals under consideration at any given time.
- The Commission will use the issues identified in this report and review its approach to investigations generally, as set out in the 2018-19 Business Plan.
- The Commission will collate and publish the Commission’s evidence base on and recommendations relating to equality data and gaps for the draft Programme for Government, as set out in the 2018-19 Business Plan.
The Commission will continue to engage with and work in partnership with stakeholders who have an interest in relation to ensuring that public authorities are fulfilling their statutory equality and good relations duties, as required by Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.