All of the EU equality Directives listed in Annex 1 to the Protocol have been brought into force in Northern Ireland law and are designed to promote equal treatment and tackle discrimination on the following protected grounds:
- Racial or Ethnic Origin
- Religion or belief
- Sexual Orientation
Specifically, the six EU equality Directives in Annex 1 are:
This is an important commitment as there are concerns that equality and human rights may be reduced when the UK is no longer part of the EU. EU law has played an important role in improving equality protections in Northern Ireland.
The commitment is also a recognition of the importance and centrality of rights and equality protections in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement
and that this Agreement has underpinned the peace process here.
The commitment applies to the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity provisions set out in the chapter of the same name in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. These provisions include, but may not be limited to:
- The right of free political thought;
- The right to freedom and expression of religion;
- The right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations;
- The right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means;
- The right to freely choose one’s place of residence;
- The right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity;
- The right to freedom from sectarian harassment;
- The right of women to full and equal political participation;
- The right of victims to remember as well as to contribute to a changed society;
- Respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity; and
- The need to ensure that symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division.
Yes, from 1 January 2021 individuals can bring legal action, by way of judicial review, to challenge the compatibility of the Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly actions or legislation with this commitment.
The Equality Commission and the NI Human Rights Commission have the power to:
- provide advice and assistance, and support individuals to bring legal complaints, where they believe that this commitment has been breached, where appropriate; and
- bring legal challenges or intervene in legal cases, where they believe that this commitment has been breached, where appropriate.
As set out above, in order to show that a reduction of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity has taken place, it will be necessary to show that:
- the right, safeguard or equality of opportunity provision or protection is covered by the relevant chapter of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement;
- it was protected under Northern Ireland law on, or before, the end of the Brexit transition period, namely 31 December 2020; and
- the reduction in rights occurred as a result of Brexit.
The Commissions can bring legal action separately or jointly. See how to make a complaint