[Sinn Fein]

22nd January 2003

Government must defend integrity of Equality Law - Ó Snodaigh

Sinn Fein spokesperson on Justice, Equality, and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has urged the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell to take on board the concerns of a coalition of equality groups opposed to changes in the Equal Status Act and Intoxicating Liquor Act to widen publicans' discretion to refuse service as recommended by the recent Report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing on Admission and Service in Licensed Premises.

Backing the coalition's call for a fully inclusive consultation process to precede any legislative change, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

``This is a very serious matter. If implemented, the Commission's recommendations would undermine the Equality Authority, the Equality Tribunal, and the protections from discrimination provided by the Equal Status Act. It would set a dangerous precedent by allowing one sector of society to discriminate against others with impunity. Sinn Fein cannot accept this.

``Given their claim that full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement is the top priority of their Programme for Government, it is ludicrous to think that this Government would be willing to jeopardise the Equal Status Act - one of the most significant achievements of the Good Friday Agreement - for the comparatively frivolous purpose of allowing publicans unfettered discretion.

``It is the Government's responsibility to defend the integrity of the Equality Law. The Irish people as a whole benefit from its protections, and therefore deserve a firm guarantee from Minister McDowell and Minister of State O'Dea that they will not allow the right wing law and order agenda of certain interest groups to take precedence over hard-fought Good Friday Agreement gains such as the Equal Status Act.'' ENDS

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