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Northern Ireland Humanists calls for stronger equalities laws in the wake of Brexit

Humanists UK and its section Northern Ireland Humanists have submitted evidence to the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland. Its submission focuses on the negative consequences that leaving the EU is likely to have upon equalities legislation in the country, and the possibility of additional barriers being imposed upon Northern Ireland women accessing abortion services.

Humanists UK and Northern Ireland Humanists expresses concern that the impact of Brexit could be to impede the ability of Northern Ireland women to freely travel to the rest of the United Kingdom to access abortion services. Until recently, women making this journey experienced significant financial and emotional barriers to accessing these services, including NHS charges, as well as the cost of travel and accommodation. However, the progress made in abolishing these charges could be undone should arrangements for customs and border checks after Brexit mean that the Common Travel Area is discontinued, making it harder for Northern Ireland women to make this journey, which over 700 women did in 2016.

Equality is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, and in the absence of the a single equality act, mirroring the Equality Act 2010, equality protections in Northern Ireland have not kept pace with those in England, Scotland, and Wales, and some provisions are not fully compliant with EU equality directives. In practice, this means that Northern Ireland is much more reliant on EU law than the rest of the UK. One area where this is quite problematic is for women’s rights, such as pay equality, pregnancy discrimination, and sex discrimination, which have traditionally been sidelined by a political narrative defined by sectarianism, and looks to be sidelined in the context of Brexit in which discussion will centre on economic, trade, and border issues.

Humanists UK and Northern Ireland Humanists have called upon the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to consider in great depth how it can be ensured that all EU equality provisions are fully transposed into law in Northern Ireland, and whether Brexit may prevent an opportunity for Northern Ireland to bring in a stronger single equality act.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented, ‘There are serious concerns that Brexit could have a significantly negative effect on equalities protections for the people of Northern Ireland, including for women, who already face significant burdens in the exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights. We will strongly oppose any measure that might arise as a result of Brexit that will make it harder for Northern Ireland women to access abortion services.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Rachel Taggart-Ryan, Campaigns Officer at rachel@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3065 or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on boyd.sleator@nihumanists.org or on 07918 975795.

Humanists UK and Northern Ireland Humanists’ submission will be published by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in due course.

Read more about our abortion campaign work: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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