The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) have welcomed a report from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), published today (29 September 2021), which concludes the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) breached its Equality Scheme in relation to its proposed legacy bill.
The ECNI investigation was triggered by a complaint from CAJ and PFC, made in July 2020.
Daniel Holder of CAJ said: “We welcome this investigation report by ECNI, which shines a light on haphazard Donald Trump-like policy making on legacy by the NIO. Its notable that the NIO departed from applying its Equality Scheme procedures properly at the same time that it unilaterally ditched the Stormont House Agreement.
“An equality assessment should have been carried out and made available on the policy at the earliest possible stage to highlight the impact of this change would have, including on victims and their families.”
Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre said: “Whilst the NIO should have provided an equality assessment on the legacy bill to us, and that was the source of our complaint, it is doubly concerning that the NIO also refused to provide the documents to Equality Commission investigators.”
The CAJ / PFC complaint
The complaint centred on the NIO’s withholding of its equality assessment on changed NI legacy policy, which was initially requested by CAJ after the NIO unilaterally departed from the Stormont House Agreement in March 2020 and instead developed an alternative legacy bill (1). According to the NIO’s own Equality Scheme, this policy change required it to conduct an equality assessment (an ‘equality screening’) at the “earliest opportunity”, and to make the resulting document available upon request.
The NIO later contended they would not provide this equality assessment as, despite the passage of time, it was “not completed”. The NIO maintains it did carry out initial equality screening exercises, but despite ECNI exercising formal powers of investigation under Schedule 9 of the Northern Ireland Act, the NIO refused to provide the documents in question to investigators. (2). It also maintains discussions took place with the Secretary of State on the equality screening but did not provide any records or other evidence of this (3).
ECNI’s full investigation report is available here.
Please direct media enquiries to Robyn Scott, Communications & Equality Coalition Coordinator on firstname.lastname@example.org or 075 1994 1203. Daniel Holder of CAJ is available for interview.
- A decision that was set out by the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis in a Written Ministerial Statement on the 18 March 2020.
- See paragraphs 16/4.45 of ECN’s investigation report.
- See paragraphs 35-6.