Irish Language Scheme

Implementing the Human Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty

The goal of the conference was to inform public bodies of its obligation under Article 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, which is as follows:

42. (1) A public body shall, in the performance of its functions, have regard to the need to—

  • (a) eliminate discrimination,
  • (b) promote equality of opportunity and treatment of its staff and the persons to whom it provides services, and
  • (c) protect the human rights of its members, staff and the persons to whom it provides services.

 (2) For the purposes of giving effect to subsection (1), a public body shall, having regard

to the functions and purpose of the body and to its size and the resources available to

it—

(a) set out in a manner that is accessible to the public in its strategic plan (howsoever

described) an assessment of the human rights and equality issues it believes to be

relevant to the functions and purpose of the body and the policies, plans and

actions in place or proposed to be put in place to address those issues, and

(b) report in a manner that is accessible to the public on developments and

achievements in that regard in its annual report (howsoever described).

Emily Logan, IHREC Commissioner, stated that public bodies should no longer act on individual complaints received, i.e. reactive, but should be proactive in its approach. This proactive approach should be reflected in a strategic plan (42.2a) and the organisation’s annual report (42.2b), both of which should be made available to the public. This introduction of fairness and transparency will benefit public trust in public authorities.

The conference was complimented by three panellists from Revenue, Taf County Borough Council and Maynooth University, each sharing their own experiences at implementing similar policy across their organisations. The following points were provided by them:

Paul Dempsey (Revenue)

  • They implemented a top down approach for human rights and equality changes, the senior management drove the change.
  • Within senior management, they worked to change unconscious bias.
  • Staff training played a large part, and this was directed at front-line staff.
  • All basic policy documents were reviewed to make sure they were in line, and updated if they were not. This was extended to charters, eg customer charter. Instead of new documents and procedures, old ones simply updated.
  • Use of customer engagement to identify the success of the public sector duty.

Dilys Jouvenat, Taf County Borough Council (Implementation of similar legislation in the UK)

  • The Council created channels of dialogue with other authorities/departments to share strategic plans and discuss issues they were facing. Provided the opportunity to work with other authorities/departments.
  • A supportive leadership was required for success of the changes. Focus groups were developed amongst management to address their own concerns.
  • Provided evidence why they made certain changes, to avoid needless changes.
  • Took the approach of embedding the new Duty into everything that the Council does.
  • Addressed gender pay gap, which was to identify why women were in lower pay grades. This was a noticeable confidence issue for women, and it was identified.
  • Any suggestions received by public consultation were answered. Suggestions that were not implemented received a response which outlined why their suggestion could not be applied.
  • Simple guidelines were provided to staff members.

Seamus Taylor, Social Policy Lecturer, Maynooth University, spoke from his experience as a lecturer, and from the implementation of similar policy in the Crown Prosecution Service.

  • The Duty brings about positive impacts for the organisation such as more efficient operation and builds unity through diversity.
  • This should not be treated as a new idea, but rather an opportunity to instil best practice.
  • In the CPS, community engagement and community confidence was low, and the Duty allowed for transparency and an increase in community confidence.
  • The CPS operated a 5 year awareness plan to keep staff conscious of the new policies.
  • The CPS operated on a prioritisation model to avoid the Duty becoming a bureaucratic nightmare that was too resource intensive to manage. Key areas and concerns were identified and ranked on their significance to human rights and equality. This same method was also applied to core functions. Consultation came from both staff and working groups made up of representatives from affected groups. Allowed for informed and inclusive policy making.
  • It is beneficial to have an employee/group within the organisation that has a “helicopter view” of all units to oversee the Duty.

The IHREC have undertaken pilot schemes with the following public bodies:

  • Cork City Council
  • University College Cork
  • The Probation Services
  • Monaghan County Council
  • LGMA

The IHREC will provide further guidelines over the coming year, which will be more detailed in nature. Points of information also include:

During the workshop tailored towards governmental department, Una Doyle of the Probation Service discussed their own experiences of implementing the Duty as part of the pilot scheme. The PS is still at very early stages of implementation.

  • Initially, the Duty was discussed at director and senior management level on several occasions, who were seen as critical leads. Throughout these discussions, lower grades were kept informed of developments.
  • Established a working group to drive policy and engagement, which was represented by cross grades, units and geographical offices.
  • Established a set timeline of implementation. The approach to be taken is “steady as you go”, to avoid a rushed project that misses targets.
  • Data was collected from service user engagement, available datasets and the civil service engagement survey. For ethnicity public engagement, the results were only used when the engagement rate was over 80%.
  • Mechanisms will be established within the organisation for monitoring and reporting on the Duty.
  • For the success of the Duty, it’s changes will be embedded in the work culture and the core business of the organisation. It will not be treated as an add on, rather a natural part of the organisation. It will be kept in the consciousness of the office to ensure it is kept alive and is meaningful.

Conclusion

Under Article 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, public bodies are obliged to implement a number of changes which are to be laid out in a strategic plan and in our annual report. As per the experiences outlined above, we can determine that there are common factors required for the success of the Duty:

  • Senior management must take the lead, and understand change is necessary.
  • A working group must be established for policy change and implementation.
  • Consultation must take place with staff of all grades/units and members of the public, particularly minority groups.
  • The Duty should not be treated as an add-on, rather a necessary element of the organisation’s core functions.
  • Staff should be provided with training and guidelines, and be kept aware of their obligations under the Duty.
  • Establish a review of all current policy documents, and guidelines.
  • Establish a system of monitoring and reporting.
  • Dialogue with other public bodies implementing the Duty, the IHREC and non-profits should be considered as highly recommended.

The Duty will provide our Office the opportunity to work with other public bodies, to increase our transparency and promote equality and human rights for employees and service users as a normal expectation within our core functions.