Role of the Equality Commission

There have been a number of equality laws in place in Northern Ireland since 1970. However, the Equality Commission was established in 1999 after the Good Friday Agreement. We have created a really useful and detailed presentation on the Role of the Equality Commission which you can access directly by clicking on this link. Below is a brief overview of the information available there.

What is Discrimination?

Generally, discrimination is treating someone less favourably purely because of their age, disability, race, sexual orientation, religious belief/political opinion or sex. Note that discrimination is not always unlawful and some discrimination can be justified despite equality laws.

Our Background

The Equality Commission was established under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. On 1 October 1999 the Commission took over the functions previously exercised by the Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland, the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland, the Fair Employment Commission and the Northern Ireland Disability Council.

The Equality Commission is the statutory body in Northern Ireland which promotes equality of opportunity and works to eliminate discrimination on grounds of:

  • age
  • disability
  • race
  • sexual orientation
  • religious belief/political opinion
  • sex

Our Structure

We are an independent public body established under Section 73, 74 Sch 8 and 75 Sch 9 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Equality Commission;

  • Carries out regulatory functions on behalf of the government (enforces anti-discrimination law and legislation designed to promote equality)
  • Provides specialist advice to Ministers and others
  • Has a Province wide remit
  • Has a board whose members (commissioners) are appointed by the Secretary of State / NIO
  • Employs its own staff, who are not civil servants
  • Manages its own budget

Our Vision and Mission

The Equality Commission has the vision of Northern Ireland as a shared, integrated and inclusive place, a society where difference is respected and valued, based on equality and fairness for the entire community.

Our mission is to advance equality, promote equality of opportunity, encourage good relations and challenge discrimination through promotion, advice and enforcement.

Range of Powers and Responsibilities

The Commission has a wide range of powers and responsibilities including;

  • Advising and assisting people who believe they have been discriminated against
  • Enforcing the law (enforcement powers are different across the various equality grounds) including powers of enquiry and investigation
  • Providing information, education and promoting equality and good relations
  • Overseeing statutory duties on public authorities to take equality and good relations into account in its work
  • Conducting Research
  • Keeping the equality legislation under review and making recommendation to government for change

Key Northern Ireland Equality Laws

The Equality Commission needs to be aware of and implement the following Equality Laws.

1970 – Equal Pay Act (NI) (as amended)

1976 – Sex Discrimination (NI) Order (as amended)

1995 – Disability Discrimination Act (as amended)

1997 – Race Relations (NI) Order (as amended)

1998 – Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order (as amended)

1998 – Northern Ireland Act

2000 – Equality (Disability etc) (NI) Order

2003 – Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI)

2003 – Employment and Treatment Order (Amendment) Regulations (NI)

2005 – Special Education Needs & Disability (NI) Order

2006 – Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (NI)

2006 – Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI)

2006 – Special Educational Needs & Disability (NI) Order 2005 (Amendment) (F&HE) Regulations (NI)

2006 – Disability Discrimination (NI) Order

2009 – The Disability Discrimination (Transport Vehicles) Regulations (Northern Ireland)

Do you think equality bodies have an important role to play in society?  Michael Rubenstein, honorary vice-president of the Industrial Law Society answers this question.


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