The Public Sector & Human Rights Duty

In last week’s Strategies for Change Session we had Jacqueline Healy from the Irish Human Rights Equality Commission (IHREC) come and talk to us about the Public Sector and Human Right’s Duty. Jacqueline kicked off the session by inviting us to take part in a Polling exercise. She asked two questions:

  1. Do you think public bodies in Ireland respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of disabled people? 
  1. Do you think public bodies have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality and protect human rights for disabled people in their day to day work? 

Unanimously the collective answer was NO for both questions. Hence a lot of work needs to be done and disabled people as a collective must be involved in both their Public Sector Assessment Process and using the duty whenever they get the opportunity. 

About the Public Sector Duty

Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014

states that all public bodies in Ireland have a responsibility to promote equality of opportunity, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of their staff and those that use their service.

This is a legal obligation and it is called the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty. The duty places equality and human rights at the heart of how all public bodies function and plan their work – see https://www.ihrec.ie/our-work/public-sector-duty/ for more information. 

A public body is a service where everyone can go – funded by the government. Examples of some of these services include Government Departments, HSE Services, County Councils, Universities, Public Schools, Post Offices, Banks, Libraries, Public Parks, Health Centres, the Gardaí and all of our Public Hospitals.

An important thing to know about is that the Public Sector Duty only covers Public Services. The duty does not cover private services such as Taxis, Shops, Restaurants and Hairdressers. However it is expected that this sector takes account of disabled people’s requirements – see – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZWz5X_iFnY&t=72s for examples of how three private business’s welcomes and values their customers that have impairments.  

The Public Sector Duty in relation to Disabled People

All public bodies under this duty must Assess, Address and Report. This involves:

The duty is a very valuable activism tool for disabled people and their organisations. One of the things that IHREC really communicates to all public bodies is that they must carry out evidence-based assessments and the only way they can do this is to consult with disabled people, whether they’re staff or customers. All public bodies must also take into account both our Equality Legislation and the UNCRPD.

Both disabled people and their organisations can and need to engage with public bodies. 

Asking questions such as:

  • Have you done your Public Sector Duty in relation to disabled people?
  • Have you taken disabled people’s issues and concerns into account? 
  • What are your actions in addressing disabled people’s issues and concerns? 
  • Are you reporting every year on the progress that you are making in dealing with disabled people’s issues and concerns? 

You can also make a complaint and use the Public Sector Duty when doing so. This can be a powerful way in informing public bodies what is wrong and what they need to put in place in order to fulfil their Public Sector Duty in relation to disabled people.

Some of the reasons to why this duty is important include:

It supports the State’s responsibility to:

  • Respect, protect and fulfil human rights, in line with its international commitments
  • Be proactive in ensuring that all public bodies are human rights and equality compliant. 

The Duty can also act as a catalyst for institutional reform:

  • It can improve public services, addressing issues such as accessibility, so that they meet the needs of everyone who requires them
  • It can improve work places – the human rights and equality needs of staff are respected
  • It can help reduce discrimination against disabled people, and other groups 
  • It makes access to public services like health, housing, education and transport more equal for everyone. 

During our session with Jacqueline, the group were asked two questions in relation to three public bodies, Dublin County Council, the HSE and the Department of Transport.

The questions included:

  1. What are the Human rights and equality issues for Disabled people in relation to the public body and the actions needed to address the issues?
  2. How will you communicate those issues to the public body so they take your concerns into account when implementing their public Duty?

Feedback from the 3 breakout room groups included:

HSE Issues
  • Language that they use to describe disabled people and their requirements needs to change
  • Medical card needs to be a right to all disabled people – assessment of need – means testing – if you’re lucky enough to be working – you could lose your medical card. Sometimes you are better off working part time or not working at all to keep this entitlement
  • Lack of access to clinical appointments, this also includes information
  • Lack of PA hours, moreover you are not allowed use whatever hours you get for meaningful social engagement
  • If parents have a disabled child this can be seen “as a death sentence” by doctors and other professionals
  • Lack of empathy and not respecting our individual needs
  • GP’s don’t understand our impairments
Actions that could be taken
  • Better informed GP’s in relation to our individual impairments
  • Writing letters outlining issues e.g. forms can be overcomplicated
  • Using our collective voices
  • Use media platforms to highlight issues – go on prime time 
  • Never be afraid to go to the top, Paul Reid
National Transport Authority
Issues
  • Accessibility – have to ring ahead and ask for ramps, 24- 48 hours in advance – ridiculous 
  • Limited space for wheelchair-users, parents with buggies need space also
  • Wheelchair accessible taxis are like “gold dust”
  • There can be a curfew on public transport in small towns – 6 p.m. is the last bus – we are not supposed to go out after that time
  • Cost of being a disabled person – I lost my Travel pass because I am working, also some private bus companies will not accept passes
  • Everyone carrying a travel pass should be allowed to have a companion to travel with them and this travel companion should not be questioned 
  • Bus and train timetables need to be in formats that are accessible, e.g. easy read, braille, websites over complicated 
  • Lack of disabled parking spaces available 
  • Parking pass should not have to be renewed every 2 years – ‘My CP is not going to just disappear “
Actions that could be taken
  • More communication with us is needed, we are the experts, we have lived experiences and we want to share these
  • Use Social media # to highlight issues
  • Tick the box – some staff in these departments do not have any experience of the issues that we encounter on a day to day basis while travelling –  need to be involved as a collective – informing, teaching, story sharing
  • Some non-disabled employees that understand our needs are not willing to speak up because of what might happen e.g. demoted 
Dublin City Council 
Issues
  • Obstacles in my-way while out walking, hedges overcrowded that you could walk into or branches on trees lying around, you could trip and have a bad fall
  • Footpaths are so uneven and are to low/high – sometimes I just use the road to get around “scary”
  • Outdoor dining’s is not suitable for disabled people, it is so hard trying to make your way around the tables and if you are a wheelchair-user “you just can’t get down onto the footpath anywhere” “I have fallen twice because I cant see what’s on the path in front of me” – be it tables and chairs or section dividers between seating
  • Toilets in pubs and restaurants are not wheelchair-user friendly – hard to get into and move around
  • Access to get into buildings, “can be very difficult”, in some cases you have to ask for a ramp or a specific lift to be put in place in order for you to get in
  • In some shops and parks toilets for disabled people are locked so you have to go find someone to give you the key to gain access
Actions that could be taken
  • More disabled people need to be employed in certain areas within Councils, it would be great to have people with real lived experience working in all County Councils 
  • Only a very small percentage of disabled people are employed in public sector jobs, it should be more then 3/6 %
  • Reasonable accommodation in both the public and private sector needs to be addressed – we need to be consulted 
  • Working from home was not really recognised before the pandemic, now it is possible to do – this would suit a lot of disabled people
  • Accessible housing – a lot of the time these houses are not fully accessible and do not meet the person’s needs – “we need to be consulted about our unique set of accessible requirements”

After this session the group decided that they wanted to collectively write to these three public bodiess using what they have learned in this session about the Public Sector Duty. 

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