Dr Katherine Zappone
We end a year of commemoration and celebration. However it is important to reflect on our progress towards becoming a Republic with justice, equality and fairness for all. We must develop equality in Ireland further, for more underrepresented groups.
The memory of a sea of rainbow flags greeting Marriage Equality in the courtyard of Dublin Castle springs to mind. In that moment, Ireland became a beacon of tolerance, equality and fairness. The globe broadcasted, beamed and tweeted these images.
There are countries where people live in fear, isolation and in some cases in prison for this movement. However, the sight of the Irish tricolour joyously aloft with the colours of the rainbow was a moment of hope. It is a moment every Irish person should be justifiably proud of and should cherish forever.
Research launched earlier this year shows that LGBT people continue to experience victimisation and harassment in their day-to-day lives. Levels may have fallen since similar research in 2009. 75% of people have reported verbal abuse however. Over 30% report threats of being outed while 20% have been abused on social media. This is unacceptable.
What are the government’s plans?
In Government I am continuing my work as a life-long social justice campaigner. Extraordinary people allow me the privilege of meeting them. People, who for a variety of reasons feel excluded from the main-stream. Whether through poverty, sexual orientation, place of birth or other circumstances people feel cut off and isolated.
Information and awareness in the workplace is key. People need to know that the workplace is a place of respect. Somewhere everyone, no matter what their circumstance is treated equally and fair. Somewhere helping develop equality in Ireland. Awareness campaigns, information and training all have a role to play. In addition service industries must ensure that both their customers and staff are protected from any abuse. The message from employers must go out loud and clear that there is no acceptable level of abuse – and incidents should be reported.
Government plans to develop equality in Ireland
In Government we too have responsibilities. A new National Integration Strategy is currently being prepared which will seek to build on the momentum which has followed the referendum result. Every part of Government will be involved in the development of the strategy which will focus on all aspects of Irish life. It is our hope that employers and worker representatives will take an active role in the formation and implementation of the plan. Over the next 12-months experts and young people will work on preparing concrete proposals which will make a real difference in the lives of young people.
Discrimination is unacceptable no matter where it happens and it must be ended. In the workplace taking such a pro-active approach is not only the right thing to do it also makes business sense. Also, International research supports the view that having a varied workforce can improve the bottom line. Advantages include higher job satisfaction, lower staff turnover, higher productivity and morale, as well as improved creativity and innovation.
Inclusion makes business sense
Other business-related reasons to become more inclusive include the potential to tap into new markets by reaching out to new clients or audiences. The IDA in its efforts to attract more business into Ireland has recognised the value of having an inclusive workforce. The job creation agency says Ireland’s reputation as an open and welcoming country for diverse employees from all over the globe is critical in creating employment and economic growth. Top employers here pride themselves on offering support networks for LGBT employees.
Discrimination is legally described as treating one person in a less favourable way than another based on nine grounds including gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community.
There are two Government bodies, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Workplace Relations Commission. Protect, uphold and develop equality in Ireland is at their forefront. There are also non-profit agencies offering free support, information and legal advice for anyone who feels unfairly treated. Workplaces have broken down barriers with support from laws and such.
Everyday employers, worker representatives and our laws work in tandem to confront discrimination. It is important to acknowledge that.