IHREC settles important case concerning lone parent’s access to job activation measures

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has welcomed the recent settlement of the appeal to the Circuit Court by the Department of Social Protection (‘the Department’) of the decision of the Equality Tribunal in the case of Noreen McQuaid v. Department of Social Protection.

The IHREC provided legal representation to Ms McQuaid in respect of the appeal which concerned the exclusion of persons in receipt of One Parent Family Benefit (‘OPFB’) from the Jobbridge Internship Scheme (‘the Scheme’).

Ms McQuaid is a single mother of two children. In her case before the Equality Tribunal she claimed to have been actively seeking work and also claiming Job Seeker’s Benefit as well as OPFP. In October 2011 she saw a position advertised on the Scheme that she claimed would have assisted her future career prospects. However, although Ms McQuaid otherwise met the criteria for the scheme, she was unable to apply to the scheme as a result of a policy decision by the Department of Social Protection whereby all OPFP recipients, regardless of their circumstances, were excluded from the scheme. The Equality Tribunal held that Ms McQuaid had been indirectly discriminated against under the Equal Status Acts on the grounds of family status and civil status in being ineligible for participation on the Scheme because she was in receipt of OPFP. Ms McQuaid was awarded €5000 to compensate her for the effects of the discriminatory treatment experienced by her.

The Equality Tribunal found that the Department’s approach to accessing job activation measures implied an assumption that only people on the Live Register are unemployed and that those on other benefits are not actively seeking work because of their family or civil status. Pilot schemes that target specific cohorts should not facilitate inadvertent and unconscious discriminatory treatment.

The Department had appealed the decision but have now agreed with the Commission to withdraw their appeal which means that the decision of the Equality Tribunal is binding.

In welcoming the settlement, Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Commission commented: “This is an important decision of the Equality Tribunal in highlighting the danger of making assumptions about the willingness and ability of lone parents to work. Such assumptions pose a risk of engaging in inadvertent discrimination against a protected group, such as happened in this case. This decision points to the need for social welfare payments and schemes to be equality and human rights proofed before being implemented to avoid any indirect discrimination or unintentional breach of human rights standards. In particular lone parents as a group already have many hurdles to overcome, and the State should not put additional unnecessary hurdles in their way, particularly at the point where they are seeking to achieve economic independence from the State”.


For further information please contact Niamh Connolly/Fidelma Joyce on IHREC 01 8589601/ 087 4399022. Twitterfollow us @_ihrec

Editors Notes:

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent body, established in law on 1st November 2014.

The Chief Commissioner, Emily Logan was appointed through open competition; all fourteen members of the Commission were appointed through an independent selection panel.

The Chief Commissioner and all fourteen members of the Commission were appointed by President Michael D. Higgins on 31st October 2014 and account directly to the Oireachtas for their statutory functions.

Under Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 (2014 Act), the IHREC has a statutory remit to protect and promote human rights and equality in the State, to promote a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding, and to promote understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights and equality.

Under Section 40 of the 2014 Act the IHREC may grant assistance, including legal representation, to a person who applies to the IHREC for assistance in relation to legal proceedings involving law or practice relating to the protection of human rights.

The Equal Status Acts 2000-2012 prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, of accommodation, and by educational establishments, related to any of the following nine grounds: gender, civil status, family status, age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, membership of the Traveller community.

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