Norris, Mullen clash over exemption of churches from equality legislation


SEANAD:DAVID NORRIS (Ind) clashed bitterly with fellow Independent Ronan Mullen over the exemption of the churches from the operations of equality legislation.

When Mr Mullen suggested that those raising this issue, which were extraneous to the needs and concerns of the victims of abuse in institutions, ran the risk of being accused of acting cynically or manipulatively at a time when “we are all struggling to deal with the grim reality”, Mr Norris angrily retorted: “That is a classic smear from you, you smug hypocrite!”

Mr Norris had earlier proposed, unsuccessfully, that the House debate a motion he and Independent colleagues Joe O’Toole, Ivana Bacik, Shane Ross and Feargal Quinn put forward, calling on the House to request the Government to re-examine the exemption, which he contended was unsustainable, especially given the latest revelations about abuse.

He wanted Seanad leader Donie Cassidy to give leadership on this matter. “I know there are significant elements in his own party, including at ministerial level, who completely agree with the position we have taken. The issue should be discussed.”

Mr Mullen said he did not see Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act as protecting the privileges of any church.

Mr Norris: “It puts them above the law; that’s a privilege.”

Mr Mullen: “I see it as protecting the rights of different groups in society, in conscience, to an education that reflects their ethos.”

Minister of State John Moloney said he would give a serious commitment to re-examine the exemption clause.

A row erupted over a Fine Gael member’s claim that politicians would be at the Galway Races when an implementation plan was brought forward to deal with the recommendations of the Ryan report on child abuse.

Fidelma Healy-Eames said it had to be asked why the Government had relegated this important job to an overworked junior Minister and why it had decided that the implementation plan should be published at the end of July when they were all likely to be at the Galway event.

Geraldine Feeney ( FF ) called on Ms Healy-Eames to withdraw her reference to the Galway Races.