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Pride: Rainbow Colours… June 29, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, LGBT, Rights.
49 comments

images

On foot of Tomboktu’s thoughts here earlier in the week, and given that it’s the weekend of Dublin Pride, here’s an useful piece on Slate.com on the roots of rainbow flags as a symbol of lgbt rights.

One element of the genesis of the symbol is the following, which is connected with this island!

Closeted gay people historically used bright colors to signal their homosexuality to each other. Oscar Wilde was famous for wearing a trademark green carnation on his lapel, and the flower is thought to have been used by him and other Londoners and Parisians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to quietly express their orientation.

That history has a darker manifestation, in the form of the pink triangles gay men were forced to wear in Nazi Germany in the camps, and clearly the flag is an effort to rework and refashion that. As the Slate piece notes it wasn’t until 1978 that the first eight stripe gay pride flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in San Francisco. And as the piece notes:

…each [stripe is] a different color with its own symbolism: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for the human spirit.

It’s interesting because a variant of that flag is also used as the peace symbol, albeit with a different development and starting point. Indeed the Slate piece mentions it in passing, almost as an artefact of the past…

Hippies sometimes used a rainbow flag when marching for peace in the 1960s and 1970s, which may have helped inspire Baker’s design.

Though that usage remains current and argably received a boost in the 2000s during the Iraq War.

On an appropriate tangent, I got an email yesterday from Irish Ferries about fares on the Oscar Wilde, their ferry which sails between Rosslare and France. I can’t help but think that Wilde might have been amused at his legacy being commemorated in that way (and given the dispute in 2004/5 appalled at that point given his leftist sympathies).

One wonders what he would have made of the progress made so far as characterised by Dublin Pride 2013, and the way yet to go.

Apply the law, Judge Teehan. August 13, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Human Rights, Inequality, Judiciary, racism, Rights.
3 comments

A judge’s job is to apply the law, as set out by the Oireachtas. That task is subject to the Constitution and EU law.

I am trying to figure out Judge Tom Teehan’s thought process in doing his job in a recent case. In fact, it looks to me like he didn’t do it correctly. The case was the appeal against a decision in favour of a teenager called John Stokes. He is a Traveller, and had been refused entry to a secondary school of his choice. (Actually, it was his mother’s choice, but when you’re at the younger end of your teens, that’s how these things are decided.)

The facts behind the case have been reported widely enough in the Irish media, and not all of them are relevant to the issue I have with the judge’s thinking, so I won’t repeat them here.

To tee-up my point, let me quote the three relevant pieces of law.

Exhibit A, Section 7(2) of the Equal Status Act:

(2) An educational establishment shall not discriminate in relation to—
(a) the admission or the terms or conditions of admission of a person as a student to the establishment,
[…]

Exhibit B, Section 3(1) of the Equal Status Act (this was amended by the Equality Act 2004, and it is the current wording I quote here):

(1) For the purposes of this Act discrimination shall be taken to occur—

[…]
(c) where an apparently neutral provision puts a person referred to in any paragraph of section 3(2) at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless the provision is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary

And the final piece of law, Exhibit C, the section 3(2) of the Equal Status Act which is referred to in Exhibit B:

(2) As between any two persons, the discriminatory grounds (and the descriptions of those grounds for the purposes of this Act) are:
[…]
(i) that one is a member of the Traveller community and the other is not (the “Traveller community ground”) […]

The key piece is Exhibit B. The starting point of it — in fact the core purpose of it — is that an apparently neutral rule cannot be used to discriminate on the Traveller ground. It then allows an exception to that: the rule “is objectively justified by a legitimate aim”, and sets a standard for that exception: “the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary”.

Now, I know some disagree with this law (I don’t), but whether or not it should be the law is beside the point here. The fact is that the democratically elected Oireachtas decided that this is what the law is, and the judge’s job is to apply the law.

The rule the school used to exclude John Stokes was that his father had not been a pupil at the school, and when the school was over-subscribed it gave places to the sons of past-pupils first before running a draw for others.

The judge summarised the situation and said:

Accordingly, it can be stated unequivocally that the “parental rule” — an ostensibly neutral provision as provided for by the amended section 3(1)(c) of the Equal Status Act — is discriminatory against Travellers.

He then said that the question that arises is whether the school can invoke the exception:

[T]he onus is on the [school]
(A) to objectively justify the there was a legitimate aim;
(B) to prove that the measure was proportionate; and
(C) to establish that such measure was necessary.

In paragraph 17 of the his judgement, Judge Teehan said*:

17. With regard to the question of the legitimacy of the aim, [John Stokes] adverted in argument to the school’s Admissions Policy, and the lack of any direct correlation between the stated aims and the “parental rule”. Dealing with “Goals”, one of the criteria referred to is “supporting the family ethos within education”. While this goes on to justify the “sibling rule”, with no reference to parents, I find that the overall aim of the [school’s] Board in introducing the “parental rule” is entirely in keeping with this goal and the “characteristic spirit of the school”, a concept to which it must have regard with section 15(2)(b) and (d) of the Education Act 1998. The [school] has thus objectively justified to the satisfaction of this Court that the aim of the Board in this regard was wholly legitimate.

Now, the judge goes on to deal with the second and third components of the exception — the bits about ‘proportionate’ and ‘necessary’ — but I stop here at the first stage and ask: what on earth did the judge think he was doing finding a ‘father rule’ was legitimate? That finding completely rejects the the intention of the Oireachtas, and the judge has failed in his duty to apply the law as set by the democratic legislature. (Nor he is not invoking a higher authority such as the Constitution or an over-riding EU law.)

Let us remind the judge: the core purpose of the law you were meant to apply is to prohibit discrimination against Travellers. Now, ask the question: how do you get to be a Traveller? The answer, of course, is by being the son or daughter of a Traveller. I can think of no other way of becoming a Traveller. And the rule the school used to give preference to non-Travellers — which the Judge did find is discriminatory — uses that very criteria of who your father (in this case) is, and that rule is, he says, a ‘legitimate aim’?

If the judgment is not overturned, the idea of a ‘legitimate aim’ will be allowed to be so wide, so flexible, that all somebody has to do to get away with undermining the intention of the Oireachtas would be to define an aim that is based not on your membership per se of a group that is the subject of the discrimination at hand, but on the process by which you come to be a member of that group.

Do you want to exclude people who have a disability? Then write a rule that discriminates against anybody who has had an accident that severed their spinal cord, or who in utero experienced a bio-chemical assault that irrepairably damaged the genes that control the development of hearing, etc.,

I wonder would Judge Teehan have tried his logic with a rule that permitted lower pay for people formed from the merging of a human sperm containing an X chromosome with a human egg. That would have been an ingenious way to overturn the Oireachtas’s intentions on gender discrimination.

_________
*To make it easier to follow, I have replaced the words ‘respondent’ with ‘John Stokes’, and ‘appelant’ with ‘school’ in the quoted text.

Asking for the public’s views on human rights July 4, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Employment Rights, Human Rights, Justice, Rights.
7 comments

The Government’s Report on Human Rights for the Universal Periodic Review was published today. It’s a tad long, so I haven’t attempted to read it this evening. (But I am sure that some of the NGOs like the Irish Council for Civil Liberties will scrutinise it so that they can tell the UN’s Human Rights Council if our Government is telling any porkies or making key sins of ommission. And I think it is unusual in that it has been completed on time, which is unusual with Irish Government submissions to human rights monitoring bodies.)

Published with it are notes from seven public meetings the Department held as part of its consultation procedure before preparing the report. (Not published, peculiarly, are the written submissions the Department received. I hope the Department does publish them, because the data the Department has made available on the great public’s views at the meetings suggests we are a weird lot.)

It is clear from the notes of the public meetings that they were not particuarly useful in helping the Department of Justice prepare a complete report to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. And they probably were not meant to be. The vast bulk of the points were on issues the protagonist wants changed or retained. For example, at the Cork meeting, one of the contributions ardued “Section 37 of the Equality and Employment Act should be repealed, as it allows discrimination in the workplace”. I happen to agree with that call (the correct reference is the Employment Equality Act), but I don’t know if there is a basis for claiming that this change needs to be made on foot of Ireland’s commitments under any of the UN human rights conventions it has ratified. There are other reasons for seeking a change to that law, but the meetings were not about those reasons.

In contrast, one of the labour-rights speakers at the Ballymun meeting knew what the UN’s UPR process was about when they said

The National Report should acknowledge the damage done to workers in Ireland by the State’s failure to oblige companies to engage with unions.

And of course, when you see how well the workers’ friend at that meeting understood and invoked the technical detail of the Human Rights Council’s UPR, you immediately see how pointless the process of a domestic consultation by the Department of Justice is — at least when that consultation is held before they have drafted their report.

it is not just cynics who would hold that Governments — whether of the permanent civil service sort or the temporary political sort — are not in the business of confessing their sins in public, unless it is to mitigate criticism by saying “we will shortly cease sinning (and we’re not all that bad anyway)” (which the State’s report does in the case of the rights of transgender people). But suppose for the moment that the cynics are wrong, that governments are willing to use documents like their submission to the UPR to acknowledge shortcomings. Now ask yourself: how can you best engage the public in a consultation on that process? Well, throwing them a blank sheet of paper, and very technical guidelines is not a way to go. But that is precisely what the Department of Justice did on its website for the UPR. And those Techincal Guidelines the Department referred people to weren’t even written for Ireland. If you plough through them, you find that the relevant standards include

  • Human rights instruments to which the State is party;
  • Voluntary pledges and commitments, including (where relevant) those undertaken when presenting candidature for election to the HRC; and
  • Applicable international humanitarian law
  • Not the kind of items that members of the public are familiar with, I think.

    In the end, somebody was clearly pushing every opportunity to make their case when they raised this point:

    • Closure of fire stations in Offaly

    I suppose that shows that if there are people who are determined to get their issue onto the table, then no amount of proposer briefing and support for a public consultation process will weed out the duds. But it could help the non-expert who is willing to focus correctly if the Department provided guidance intended for the general public.

    ====================

    On the positive, the views offered did start out well from a Left perspective, with the following point being made at the first Dublin meeting on 16 May:

    Trade unions & right to collective bargaining – 2 speakers said that Ireland is not compliant with international standards in that there is no legislation obliging an employer to engage with trade unions. As a result, companies that engage with unions in other countries do not engage with unions here, because there is no legal compulsion to do so.

    The issue was also raised on 20 May in Kilkenny. On 23 May in Limerick, two speakers expanded with another point about employment rights and who it affects:

  • workers in Ireland are being denied the right to organise and to bargain collectively. Multinationals who engage with trade unions in other countries refuse to do so here because the law does not oblige them to.
  • employment situation in Ireland is deteriorating, especially for vulnerable, migrant workers. Those on work permits are scared to seek membership with unions as their employers could withdraw their work permits.
  • Ireland lags far behind the UK, where workers’ rights are protected by legislation. The problem is not just with multinationals but also domestic companies
  • Whoever spoke on employment rights at the final meeting, in Ballymun on 30 May, seems more familar with human rights law and the UPR procedure.

    • Workers in Ireland are being denied the right to organise and to bargain collectively. Despite having signed up to 6 core human rights treaties, right to collective bargaining elements have not been implemented. Government have failed to secure our rights.
    • The National Report should acknowledge the damage done to workers in Ireland by the State’s failure to oblige companies to engage with unions.

    ====================

    That first meeting also saw another theme that came up at every meeting, and at length at every meeting:

    Reproductive rights / abortion – conflicting points made

    On that first evening evening in Dublin, the points made were as follows:

  • UN should not enforce laws on member States that are anathema to the people, such as abortion, which is opposed by a majority of the people in Ireland
  • The unborn child should be included in all efforts to protect the right to life
  • Pro-life representatives should be included in all official Government and international discussions and committees concerning the right to life
  • The right to life of the unborn child is protected under Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. This right should be protected by the State and the UN. Abortion is also prohibited by UN language. (Several speakers).
  • The Irish people do not want abortion. (Several speakers).
  • Ireland needs a deep investigation into the concept of life and when it begins.
  • The UN should lead campaign for a worldwide prohibition of abortion. (Several speakers.)
  • The State should look after rights of the post-born, not just the unborn. It is wrong to dictate to people facing crisis pregnancies.
  • Nothing surprising there, given the strength of feeling on the issue raised. There was one dissenting voice that night:

  • Ireland should provide for increased reproductive justice and offer choice to people, including termination of pregnancy.
  • Some people might winder what exactly lies behind the next point on the abortion issue, made two days later at the public meeting in Athlone:

    Pro-life volunteers are harassed and bullied. Female volunteers have been forcibly removed by Gardaí and detained under the guise of the Public Order Act. When they approached Amnesty Ireland for representation, they were turned down; selective approach to human rights

    It was not until the final meeting, in Ballymun on 30 May that different views on the issue were aired for a second time:

  • We export our difficulties; many women whose lives are in jeopardy from crisis pregnancies are forced to leave the State for support and rely on European Courts. Their rights should be upheld. Irish women should have access to information on abortion.
  • The State should uphold the rights of women to determine what happens with their own bodies. Expressed the view that pro-life groups were influenced by faith in a deity whose existence could not be proven.
  • Lack of abortion rights in Ireland is a human rights abuse.
  • Women’s right to choose needs to be properly acknowledged and taken on board in legislation.
  • Another point was not listed under the heading of abortion but was probably made with abortion in mind was the following:

    NGOs should not be allowed to make submissions to the UN that contradict our Constitution.

    On 27 May, in Cork, the contributions moved onto another plane altogether:

    One speaker spoke of the pro-abortion lobby being funded by US Wiccans, who want the babies for use as sacrifices in satanic ceremonies.

    I presume that this point has not been used for the report to the UN.
    ====================

    The list of other topics raised is too long to give them all the same treatment:

    • Adopted people
    • Childcare
    • Children’s rights
    • Criminal justice system
    • Rights of people with disabilities
    • Domestic violence against men
    • Domestic violence against women
    • Education
    • Environmental issues
    • Euthanasia
    • Family issues/ Rights of the family (which included some calls for continuing the ban on same-sex marriage)
    • Fathers’ rights
    • Health services for children with disabilities
    • Housing rights
    • Human rights education
    • Human rights infrastructure
    • Judicial system: lack of transparency / bad practice in public life
    • Magdalene Laundries
    • Mental Capacity
    • Mental health services
    • Migrant / asylum issues
    • Misuse of Irish airspace
    • Older people
    • Prisoners’ rights
    • Right to no religion, blasphemy, non-/multi-denominational education
    • Social and economic rights
    • Stalking – protection and awareness
    • Issues relating to dealing with State bodies / legal system
    • Suicide
    • Trafficking
    • Transgender issues
    • Lack of transparency / bad practice in public life : policing and political systems
    • Travellers’ rights
    • Ireland’s relationship with UN and other international agencies
    • Underrepresentation of women in political life

    The Department of Justices’ note-taker put a peculiar heading on the following point:

    Gender and right to privacy issues

  • The State should put in place a national strategy to combat homophobia in conjunction with suicide awareness, focussing on schools.
  • Eight statistics May 20, 2010

    Posted by Tomboktu in Crime, Crime, Ethics, Inequality, Inequality, Ireland, Justice, Rights, Uncategorized.
    25 comments

    I think the eight numbers in these two lines say so much. They are from an Irish Times story on Monday. The ‘he’ is Fr Peter McVerry.

    … there had been 3,183 prosecutions for welfare fraud, worth €43 million. This had led to 48 people being jailed for 12 years in total, he said.

    Yet in the same period there were only 39 prosecutions for tax evasion worth €2.25 billion. These led to six people being jailed for a total of 3¾ years.

    We need a graph to illustrate that. And I hope they form the basis of lots of submissions to the Department of Justice’s consultation on crime.

    Minister White, here’s a better idea April 25, 2010

    Posted by Tomboktu in Complete nonsense, Fianna Fáil, Human Rights, Minor Left Parties, Rights, Skepticism.
    2 comments

    I don’t know the motivation behind Minister Mary White’s first substantial decision since she was elevated: to commission assessments of three state bodies with responsibility for equality: the Equality Authority, the Equality Tribunal and the Human Rights Commission, which was reported in the Irish Times at the weekend.

    Her motivation might be bad, in that it could be that she, a Green Party minister, rather than Fianna Fáil’s Dermot Ahern, has now taken up the cudgels that he was forced to quietly drop a little over a year ago when he cut the Equality Authority’s budget by 43% and announced ‘efficiencies’ would be introduced through sharing ‘back office functions’. (It would have been interesting to see how that could happen seeing as the Human Rights Commission has the colossal number of one staff who deals with administration and finance, and the Equality Tribunal and Equality Authority’s staff are civil servants in the Department of Justice (and Whatever it is These Days), and their pay-processing and other ‘back office functions’ are already pooled with the Department’s.)

    Alternatively, it might be an attempt to kill that earlier plan by using a well-oiled civil service technique against itself: get a review done, but in Minister White’s case, it could be that she intends to stack the review to get the answer she wants rather then the one others have sought. What suggests that possibility is the report that the assessments are to be carried out by academics outside the civil service. However, the Irish Times report makes clear that the external assessments are simply to “prepare the ground for a full-scale review of the bodies”. Is it the case that ‘real’ Ministers or permanent government in the civil service (or both) want the irrelevant shenanigans these bodies get up to stopped, and have duped the knight on a horse from the Green Party to find out for them where the landmines are by sending her out to do the first sortie while they build a tank that will follow behind and trammel all in its path?

    May I suggest an alternative, Minister, if you really want to see how we can improve the effectiveness of the equality and human rights systems in the State? Ask your academics from outside the civil service to do an assessment of how effectively each government department has implemented Appendix K of the Revised Regulatory Impact Assessment Guidelines for the proposals it has prepared for the Cabinet. As you and all the key officials will know, Appendix K sets out how a proposal is to be assessed for its impact on poverty.

    And ask the academics from outside the civil service to establish how frequently each government department has, as recommended in paragraph 4.48 of the Revised Regulatory Impact Assessment Guidelines, contacted the Equality Division of the Department of Justice or the Equality Authority for assistance in carrying out an assessment of the equality impact of proposals they have placed before government, and how well the proposals have been amended to take account of concerns identified by the Equality Division or the Equality Authority.

    Also, ask the academics from outside the civil service to establish how frequently each of the government departments have, as recommended in paragraph 4.58 of the Revised Regulatory Impact Assessment Guidelines, contacted the Human Rights Commission for assistance in carrying out an assessment of the human rights impact of proposals they have placed before government, and how well those issues raised in all of those human rights impact assessments have been dealt with in the final proposal. And ask how many ministers (other than Michael McDowell, who did use the system) have referred heads of bills or other proposals to the Human Rights Commission for observations before proceeding with it in the Oireachtas.

    Finally, ask the external academics to examine the (public) records on cases taken before the Equality Tribunal to establish the proportion of those cases in which a state body has been found to be in breach of the equality legislation, and how many of those have been Government Departments.

    I wonder what ‘back office efficiencies’ that exercise would suggest are needed.

    Further privatisation of the State’s functions December 16, 2009

    Posted by Tomboktu in Ethics, Human Rights, Ireland, Rights.
    15 comments

    The Irish Human Rights Commission has advertised for contract workers for its human rights education project. The two temporary contract posts are, the IHRC’s web-site informs us, funded by Atlantic Philanthropies.

    As I flip between typing this post and the the IHRC’s site, I stare at the advert, to check, and check again I haven’t made a mistake. But it is true. A private body is now paying a statutory body to perform the function that statutory body was assigned under legislation. This isn’t a commercial activity, with the private sector buying a service from a statutory body. This is a private organisation taking over a key role of the State in funding its infrastructure for the protection of citizens (and, indeed, others).

    What does it say of the independence of the Irish Human Rights Commission that it has accepted this funding? Maybe some businesses should set up a foundation to provide funds to the IHRC to do some work on how a “free market” helps the poor. Or will we next have the Shell-funded Garda Síochana and the IBM-funded High Court?

    And, as I have (almost) commented over on Human Rights in Ireland, can we now expect the Department of Social and Family Affairs to now issue Gates Foundation Job Seekers Allowances instead of the dole?

    Dept Education disconnectedness – a case study October 10, 2009

    Posted by Tomboktu in Education, Human Rights, racism, Rights, Sex, Uncategorized.
    7 comments

    Even if there hadn’t been a scandal over the Ceann Comhairle or negotiations on a revised programme for government, parliamentary question no. 1271 last Tuesday would have had to struggle to get any attention. For starters, it was for written answer; further, it was for answer on a day when the Dáil returned after a break (and thus it was included in a long list of answers that had built up over a fortnight); finally, it was about an issue many would consider to be a minority interest. But question no. 1271 does merit some attention, not just for that subject matter, but possibly more so for what the answer reveals about the lack of even the most simple joined up administration in our government.

    The (possibly) minority-interest issue is homophobic bullying in schools. The question, from Labour’s Ruairi Quinn, asked for statistics on what school inspectors found about school policies and practices on the issue during their routine whole school evaluations.

    Minister Batt O’Keeffe uses three paragraphs of his answer to set out the law on school codes of behaviour, to outline administrative provisions on school policies on bullying, and to summarise what inspectors do – and what they don’t do – when conducting a Whole School Evaluation. It is not until then that Deputy Quinn’s question is answered:

    The [Whole School Evaluation] reports published by my Department in 2008, and 2009 to date, have not explicitly identified problems with homophobic bullying, nor have school policies and practices to deal with such behaviour in individual schools been identified by inspectors as causes for concern.

    The reason for this is

    The review of anti-bullying policy during a [Whole School Evaluation] does not focus explicitly on any single category of bullying or harassment such as homophobic bullying.

    Now, it’s not as if the Department of Education doesn’t know that there is a problem here. Ruairi Quinn’s question hints at that when he sets out the timeframe for the statistics he wanted as being “since the second report on homophobic bullying in schools was published”. That reference in Ruairi Quinn’s question is not the clearest, but I think reasonable to suggest that it refers to two reports on research by Dr James Norman and his colleagues in DCU’s School of Education. And my reason for thinking these were what Ruairi Quinn was referring to? You see, the studies were commissioned by the Department itself, and Ministers in the Dpeartment launched them with press releases.

    The first report – dated 2004 – found that 79 percent of  a large sample of SPHE teachers had enocountered instances of verbal homophobic bullying in the school term in which the research was conducted. Physical homphobic bullying was observed less frequently at 16 percent (still worrying), but where that was witnessed, there was a very high incidence of repeated physical homophobic bullying (87 percent). (I also wonder if there is any form of physical bullying that would not come within the ambit of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.) The report also found that 90 percent of the school’s policies did not refer to homophobic bullying.

    The second research report, published in 2006,  used a different approach. It went into significant depth in five schools, interviewing 100 teachers, parents and students (that is, 100 in total, not 100 of each). All of the students in that study reported that homophobic insults – ‘slagging’ using words like ‘faggot’, ‘queer’, or ‘dyke’ – are pervasive, and the researchers found that the evidence suggests “parents and teachers accept these terms as normal behaviour”. (I don’t know if there is research on equivalent racist or sectarian insults, but I doubt it would suggest that parents and teachers accept such terms as ‘normal behaviour’.)

    The good news in Minister O’Keefe’s answer to the parliamentary question is that

    My Department has also been working with the Gay Lesbian and Equality Network (GLEN) on the development of guidance material for school leaders in supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual students in second-level school. “Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students in Post-Primary Schools: Guidance for Principals and School Leaders” produced in association with the education partners and published jointly by GLEN and my Department, will be launched next week [by Minister of State Seán Haughey TD] and circulated to schools.

    Maybe I am excessively cyncial, but I think two characteristics of that announcement tell us more than the Minister probably intended. It sends a signal that a junior minister is launching the report – and at that, a junior minister with no particular responsibility in this area (Seán Haughey’s three-fold remit is school transport, lifeling learning, and educational disadvantage). Perhaps more significant is that fact that the guidance has been produced in association with an NGO. That is not the situation with the Department’s Guidelines on Traveller Education in Second-Level Schools or its Guidelines for Developing a School Substance Use Policy, for instance.

    Ultimately, though, the Department’s publishing of guidance is not a sign that it is addressing the issue in a meaningful way. The Department is failing in its duty because  in the two school years since the Norman reports were published, not even once have inspectors used their routine Whole School Evaluations to check whether a school has taken any steps to deal with the problem – never mind assess the quality of those steps. Putting the issue of homophobic bullying on the agenda in just a handful of schools each year would not entail a disruption of the WSE process – it already entails sampling in the subject areas. However, for all schools to see a paragraph on findings on the matter in the reports when they come to be published – and schools do check the published reports – would make clear that homophobic bullying is an issue that is open to being checked and reported on. That would be a low-cost way to provoke schools to be sure their house was in order before a WSE team announced their imminent arrival. And it would show some joined-up administration in the Department of Education.

    ====

    Here is the full text of the question and answer:

    1271. Deputy Ruairí Quinn Information Zoom asked the Minister for Education and Science Information Zoom the information available to him since the second report on homophobic bullying in schools was published on the number of whole school evaluations conducted in second level schools, Youthreach centres, Traveller training centres and in special schools in which inspectors have explicitly identified problems with homophobic bullying; the number of schools in which adequate and effective policies and practices are in place to deal with homophobic bullying; the number of schools in which inspectors recommended the school should make improvements or introduce effective policies to tackle homophobic bullying. [34428/09]

    Collapse Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): Information Zoom As the Deputy is aware the board of management of each school is required to prepare a code of behaviour in accordance with the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. My Department further requires each school to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, developed through consultation with the whole school community and properly implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.

    My Department has issued guidelines as an aid to schools in devising measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness among school management authorities of their responsibilities in this regard. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of their school. My Department has also been working with the Gay Lesbian and Equality Network (GLEN) on the development of guidance material for school leaders in supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual students in second-level school. “Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students in Post-Primary Schools: Guidance for Principals and School Leaders” produced in association with the education partners and published jointly by GLEN and my Department, will be launched next week [by Minister of State Sean Haughey TD] and circulated to schools.

    As part of a whole-school evaluation each school’s code of behaviour is requested and reviewed by the inspection team, along with other key school policy documents. The extent to which the policy is in line with the Department’s published Guidelines on Countering Bullying is considered. If a school does not have a legally required policy, inspectors will recommend that the school’s management address this as a matter of priority. In addition, where policies are found not to be in line with Department guidelines a policy review is recommended. This advice is given orally to the staff of the school and the board of management, as appropriate, and included in the published report of the inspection.

    The review of anti-bullying policy during a WSE does not focus explicitly on any single category of bullying or harassment such as homophobic bullying. The WSE reports published by my Department in 2008, and 2009 to date, have not explicitly identified problems with homophobic bullying, nor have school policies and practices to deal with such behaviour in individual schools been identified by inspectors as causes for concern. The reports for the period, therefore, do not make specific recommendations to schools regarding improving approaches to tackling homophobic bullying.

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