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The Northern Ireland Section 75 equality duty: an international perspective

Chaney, Paul and Rees, Teresa Lesley 2004. The Northern Ireland Section 75 equality duty: an international perspective. Presented at: Section 75 Equality Duty: an Operational Review Conference, Belfast, UK, 10 June 2004. Published in: McLaughlin, Eithne and Faris, Neil eds. The Northern Ireland Section 75 Equality Duty: an Operational Review. Belfast: Northern Ireland Office, Annex B.

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‘Mainstreaming’ equality came to international prominence in the mid-1980s. This approach of promoting equality contrasts with anti-discrimination laws designed to protect the rights of individuals in that it is concerned with transforming public decision-making processes and resource allocation. It requires making the concerns and experiences of hitherto marginalised and discriminated groups an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all policies and programmes. This holistic approach has developed rapidl y and has been endorsed and adopted by countries and supranational organisations around the world. However, despite its widespread acceptance, in the two decades since mainstreaming came to international prominence, there have been very few detailed evaluations of the various approaches developed in different countries. A survey of the published literature reveals that some countries and organisations have favoured a 'light-touch' approach to mainstreaming - based upon enabling legal and institutional mechanisms, whereas others have adopted a more regulatory approach with an emphasis on monitoring, compliance and legal enforcement. This paper is concerned with an example of the latter approach. The 'Section 75' statutory equality duty, as set out in the Northern Ireland Act (1998) has been described as 'unique and world leading'. It requires strategic practice that compels public sector agencies to mainstream equality. It is singular in both its broad scope and its use of strong regulatory and monitoring mechanisms. Here we contrast the N.I. duty with an extensive range of international approaches to mainstreaming, and examine the way in which the S.75 duty has been implemented. Our discussion reveals that whilst the initial operationalisation of the pioneering N.I. equality duty has impacted upon its overall effectiveness, it nevertheless has great utility. Important lessons can be learned from the Northern Ireland experience, lessons that can inform the contemporary approach to promoting equality in a variety of national and international contexts. Moreover, the evidence set out in this paper indicates that in several respects, the N.I. duty reflects the future trajectory of international approaches to promoting equality.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Publisher: Northern Ireland Office
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 06:19

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