Age Discrimination Legislation

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 2nd March 2015.

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Photo of Megan Fearon Megan Fearon Sinn Féin 2:00 pm, 2nd March 2015

3. Ms Fearon asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on age discrimination in relation to goods, facilities and services legislation. (AQO 7679/11-15)

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

8. Mr Weir asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the implementation of legislation to eliminate age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services. (AQO 7684/11-15)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

With your permission, Mr Speaker, junior Minister McCann will answer.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer questions 3 and 8 together.

On 19 February, the First Minister and deputy First Minister made a written statement to the Assembly about the Programme for Government commitment to extend legislation to give legal protection from unfair age discrimination by those providing goods, facilities and services (GFS). The proposed new legislation will apply to people aged 16 and over. The aim of the new legislation is to protect all people aged 16 and over from discrimination because of their age when accessing goods, facilities and services. That will put age discrimination outside work on a similar footing to discrimination law in employment. It sends out a clear message that ageist attitudes and practices are as unacceptable in service provision as they are in the workplace. Subject to Executive agreement, we intend to bring forward a consultation document in the near future setting out our proposals on the matter.

Following consultation, we will consider all the options that are available to us for bringing the legislation before the Assembly.

Photo of Megan Fearon Megan Fearon Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for her answer. Would she be supportive of future legislation to allow for the inclusion of under-16s in respect of age discrimination in GFS?

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I am most definitely supportive of more inclusive legislation to stop age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, and we will continue to work with the children and young people's sector to progress the full extension of age discrimination legislation. The current agreement on the scope of the legislation means that, where previously no one had protection against age discrimination, we now have the most advanced legislation on these islands for people aged 16 and over.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I thank the junior Minister for her answers so far. Will she outline the timetable for the implementation of such legislation? Does she envisage it being implemented in this mandate?

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

The Member will know that it is a Programme for Government commitment. We have been working with officials. We recently agreed the scope of the legislation and are looking at how we can take it forward. There will obviously be the consultation period, but we are looking at all the possibilities to try to bring the legislation forward in this mandate.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a freagraí. The Minister said that she will consider extending age discrimination provisions to people under 16 in the future. Why can she not do that now?

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

The Member will be aware that we could not get political consensus on that issue. I would have preferred to have been able to say that the age discrimination legislation would cover all ages, but we have to remember that we are where we are. The main gap in the anti-discrimination law here is that, at the moment, there is no protection from age discrimination for any age in the provision of goods facilities and services, so this is a move in the right direction and a move forward. As I said in my previous answer, I hope that we can work towards getting that legislation for everyone. That would put us in a better place.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I thank the junior Minister for her update on the issue and welcome the long overdue progress on legislation to protect people from age discrimination. The older person's parliament in particular will welcome this long overdue announcement. What did the Minister make of the evidence that was given to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister about those under 16 who have been excluded from the legislation? In that evidence, there were assurances that exemptions could be delivered that should allow the legislation to be extended to all ages.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I reiterate my previous answer to the Member. He will know that I have spoken to members of the Committee inside and outside of the Committee. I wish that I was standing here saying that the legislation would cover all ages. I certainly believe that that would have been better legislation, particularly as it is anti-discrimination law. I will endeavour to work towards that. We will be protecting people who are over 16. We do not have anything on that at all at the moment, so this is a step in the right direction. I hope that we will be able to see progress at some stage and that I will be able to say that it will cover all ages.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

With regard to age discrimination, does the Minister consider that the use of voluntary redundancy and vacancy control may discriminate against younger people? When she is considering legislation in future, will she undertake to address the imbalance between ages old and ages young? That is a serious issue for our society.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I am not sure what the Member means about voluntary redundancy. Voluntary redundancy is obviously just that: you take it because you want it. In the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, we have responsibility for equality legislation and the policy on equality issues. Certainly, if the Member wants to come and discuss the issue with me, the other junior Minister or indeed the First Minister or deputy First Minister, he would be most welcome.