HC Deb 02 February 2000 vol 343 c593W
Mr. McDonnell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action his Department is taking to tackle anti-Irish discrimination. [107588]

Mr. Mike O'Brien

I should make it clear that Irish people already receive the protection that current legislation provides. The Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful for anyone to discriminate against another on ethnic grounds. Successful complaints in relation to discrimination against the Irish have been brought by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) resulting in compensation payments and agreements by organisations to change their practices. A Bill currently before Parliament will amend the 1976 Act by extending it to the functions of public authorities not currently covered by the Act. The Bill will also put a statutory duty on public authorities to promote racial equality.

It is also an offence to incite ethnic hatred against the Irish community by virtue of part III of the Public Order Act 1986. Racist violence and harassment towards members of the Irish community falls under the new racially aggravated offences in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

The Government are also addressing the specific issues of discrimination and disadvantage faced by some sections of the Irish community. These were highlighted in the CRE's Report, "Discrimination and the Irish Community in Britain" which has been the subject of a number of discussions which I and my colleagues across Whitehall have been having with the Irish Ambassador and representatives from Irish organisations.

One of the major issues was a recommendation that there should be a separate Irish category in the ethnic origin question in the next Census in 2001. The Draft Census Order for England and Wales was laid before Parliament on Monday 10 January. It includes an ethnicity question with a category for "Irish" cultural background in the "White" section.

We will continue to look carefully at other concerns to ensure that the Irish community has full access to the rights and opportunities.