Carers Need More Protection from Discrimination in our Laws – Human Rights and Equality Commission

Commission Makes 60+ Recommendations on Needed Reforms to Equality Laws

Greater regulation of confidentiality agreements (NDA’s) in equality cases among changes being sought

One of the legal grounds protecting people against discrimination in Irish law should be updated to explicitly protect Ireland’s carers from being targeted in accessing employment or services due to their responsibilities, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (the Commission) has told Government.

The recommendation comes as the Commission today publishes its detailed recommendations to the Minister for Equality on how Ireland’s Equality laws need to be urgently reformed. The Commission has made these recommendations in its role as Ireland’s National Equality Body as part of the current review underway of Ireland’s existing equality laws.

The current “family status” ground set out in law, does not capture and protect the full range of caring responsibilities present in modern Irish society. Ireland has the third highest rate of unpaid work for both men and women in the EU.

Speaking today, Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney stated:

“The next generation of equality legislation needs to combat all emerging and cumulative forms of discrimination, comply with European and international legal frameworks, ensure awareness of rights, mandate disaggregated data, and address the existing procedural and accessibility issues impacting on access to justice.

“This review of Ireland’s equality law and framework is a moment of opportunity for the State to fully protect and advance equality. It must be comprehensively applied and not squandered.

“Discrimination is something that any of us can experience whether because of our age, gender, disability or a range of other factors. We are making clear to Government that our laws need to be tightened up and modernised if they are to provide proper protection for us all.”

The Commission makes over 60 individual recommendations including that on:

Access to Justice

  • People taking these cases to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) need access to legal aid currently denied to them.
  • Trade unions and NGOs should be allowed to take representative actions on behalf of named complainants, as well as in their own name in cases of alleged discrimination.

Grounds of Discrimination

  • We need to prohibit discrimination on the ground of socio-economic status and on discrimination on the ground of criminal conviction.
  • The Equality Acts should also explicitly prohibit discrimination against transgender, non-binary and intersex people.
  • The definition of disability in our equality law needs to comply with the human rights model enshrined in the UNCRPD, based on close consultations with, and the active involvement of, disabled people and their representative organisations.
  • The current religion ground should be amended to the ‘religion or belief’ ground to comply with EU law.
  • Protection against intersectional discrimination, where people suffer across multiple grounds (e.g. race and gender or disability) needs to be provided for under law.


  • The existing exemption under the Equal Status Act (ESA) which prevents any challenge to discriminatory laws needs to be removed. This blanket exemption sees crucial State services made immune from challenge under the ESA. It also creates the situation where a successful ESA challenge can be subsequently reversed by introducing new Statutory Instruments, which may be overtly discriminatory but regardless are immune from challenge.
  • Private primary schools and all secondary schools can currently refuse to admit a student on the basis of religion where: “it is proved that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school”. Clarity is needed in law on the definition of ‘ethos,’ and precisely what would be required to establish that such a refusal was ‘essential’ to school ethos.
  • Domestic workers need to be defined as employees and protected under employment equality laws. The exclusion of domestic workers from the definition of employee is a de facto exemption for employers in recruitment and treatment, and disproportionately affects women and migrant women.

Procedural Issues

  • Greater regulation of confidentiality agreements (NDA’s) in all equality cases should be introduced.
  • Limits on the amount of compensation that can be awarded under our equality laws should be removed. Compensation up to a ceiling of €15,000 allowed under the ESA is inadequate for egregious violations.
  • Some current WRC procedures and practices can present unnecessary barriers to prospective complainants. A transparent and consistent WRC system for listing, hearing and expediting cases is needed.
  • The current provisions on the right to reasonable accommodation needs to be made fully compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
  • People complaining of discrimination under the Housing Assistance Ground can’t sometimes discover who their landlord or prospective landlord is. Access to this information needs to be legislated for.

Jurisdictional Issues and effectiveness

  • If you’re turned away from a licensed premises you currently have to take your case directly to the District Court rather than the WRC. This is more difficult to access, is more adversarial and generally requires legal representation. This approach has a disproportionate impact on Travellers and Roma as they are frequently refused admission to licenced premises. The State needs to return such complaints to the jurisdiction of the WRC.
  • Urgent action is needed by the State to develop and roll out disaggregated data collection, processing and communication to monitor the effectiveness and impact of Ireland’s equality laws. The relevant complaints mechanisms should publish statistics and analysis annually.


For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / (087) 0697095

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

The full submission from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is available at the following link:

The Commission has published these legislative observations as Ireland’s National Equality Body and in line with its mandate to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights and equality, and to make recommendations to the Government to strengthen and uphold human rights and equality in the State.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.