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Stormont rapped for ignoring children on age discrimination laws

By Adrian Rutherford

Stormont's top office failed in its legal obligations to properly consult with children and young people on proposed age discrimination legislation.

The Executive Office - formerly the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) - was investigated by the Equality Commission after a complaint from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People.

The Executive Office was found to have breached commitments in its equality scheme in 2015.

Koulla Yiasouma, the commissioner for children and young people, welcomed the ruling.

"Government departments cannot pick and choose who has access to equality," she said.

"Ignoring robust and considered advice, the Executive Office proposed to exclude children under the age of 16 from age discrimination protections without providing evidence as to why.

"This is particularly concerning given that, at the time, this was the lead department for both equality and children and young people's issues."

In 2015 the then OFMDFM had produced policy proposals to extend legal protection against discrimination on grounds of age to cover the provision of goods, facilities and services.

Under this proposal, legislation would apply only to those over the age of 16, and children and young people under that age would not be included.

The department consulted on these from July to October 2015.

The Equality Commission's investigation focused on whether the consultation by OFMDFM in 2015 adequately met the commitments in its equality scheme.

It considered:

  • If the consultation adequately sought the views of all those directly affected.
  • Whether it ensured accessibility and removed barriers to consultation for children and young people.
  • If it made all relevant information available to consultees in a format which would ensure meaningful consultation.

The investigation concluded the consultation did not sufficiently meet these commitments and the Executive Office had breached its equality scheme.

Michael Wardlow from the Equality Commission said: "It is important to build relationships between those who make and deliver public policy and those affected by it.

"Consultation plays a vital role in assessing the views of those who will be affected by policy decisions, helping to raise awareness of issues and problems, which may not otherwise be discovered.

"This investigation highlights the importance of public bodies ensuring that consultation arrangements are meaningful, and seeks the views of all those directly affected, including children and young people in this instance, as committed to under equality schemes."

Ms Yiasouma called for a comprehensive consultation with children and young people on age discrimination laws.

The Executive Office responded by saying it would give the Equality Commission's report "due consideration".

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