Legislative and policy framework

The Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) contains a general provision that allows the State to give ‘due regard to the differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function’ between women and men (Article 40(1)). Gender equality is not mentioned and Articles 41(2)(1) and 41(2)(2) only recognise a narrow role for women, in the home and as mothers, with no similar passage on fathers.

Gender equality legislation was introduced in the 1970s after Ireland became a member of the European Economic Community (EEC). The introduction of broader equality legislation in the Equal Status Acts (2000-2015) and the Employment Equality Acts (1998-2004), together with new equality infrastructure in the 2000s, established protection against discrimination on nine grounds (including gender) in employment and access to services.

A significant gender mainstreaming policy was adopted during the late 1990s and early 2000s when a National Development Plan (Ireland’s multi-annual investment strategy, partly funded by the European Structural Funds) adopted gender mainstreaming as a horizontal principle. Gender impact assessment guidelines were also issued and applied to most areas of policy, and a Gender Mainstreaming Unit was established which was a precursor to the current Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

The most recent policy measure is the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 (NSWG), adopted by the government in May 2017 and extended to 2021.[1] It was prepared by the Gender Equality Division (GED) of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, with the advice of the Strategy Committee.[2] It ties into relevant EU legislation and provides objectives in key areas of life relating to gender equality. An all-government strategy, prepared by the GED with input from a strategy committee, the NSWG obliges all government departments to gender-proof new policies and review existing policies to ensure gender equality.[3] An integral management tool of the NSWG is an inter-departmental committee, which coordinates, stimulates, and mainstreams gender equality. The committee is entirely composed of managerial personnel who has the opportunity to promote and oversee policy implementation and meets on average four times a year. The NSWG identified ‘embedding gender equality in decision-making’ as one of six high-level objectives, with 16 measures agreed upon to advance this priority.

The National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 contains a provision for regular progress reports on implementation. A progress report for the first year (May 2017-July 2018) of the NSWG has been published. It included indicators to monitor change but no targets against which to assess it. Out of a total of 139 measures, only 13 had been completed in this first year of implementation.[4] No further progress reports have been published.

All government departments are required to address gender equality formally in strategic planning, policies and practices, and annual reports. This forms part of the public sector equality duty set out in Article 42(1) of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act of 2014, which states that public bodies should consider the need to:

  1. eliminate discrimination;
  2. promote equality of opportunity and treatment of its staff and the persons to whom it provides services; and
  3. protect the human rights of its members, staff, and the persons to whom it provides services.

Departments can also consider gender impact in the development or review of strategies, and ensure that the design and review of funding and grant schemes include measures on gender equality.

A strategy committee was appointed in February 2017 to advise the then Department of Justice on the preparation and implementation of the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020, which is now chaired by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.[5] The committee is composed of representatives of all government departments, key public bodies, social partners, and civil society, including the National Women’s Council of Ireland. Ireland has several other policies to promote gender equality within a range of sectors.


Government equality bodies

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth[6] (An Roinn Leanaí, Comhionannais, Míchumais, Lánpháirtíochta agus Óige), is the government equality body. Until 2020, it was called the Department for Justice and Equality. It has five divisions, including the ‘International Protection and Equality Division’.[7] It is led by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, who is assisted by one Minister of State. It was previously called the Gender Equality Division when it was within the Department of Justice. The Department is responsible for drafting, monitoring, and reviewing gender and anti-discrimination policy, as well as for its implementation and promotion. It is also responsible for coordinating the implementation of gender mainstreaming processes and methodologies, including gender budgeting. Research, EU and international matters, information services, publishing, and training related to gender equality, similarly fall within the remit of the Department. There are approximately five full-time equivalent staff members within the relevant division of the Ministry.

Independent equality body

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) was formed in 2014 as a public body independent of the government. It combines the responsibilities previously held by the (now defunct) Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission. The IHREC also serves as the national equality body for Ireland. The Commission has a broad statutory remit concerning the protection and promotion of human rights and equality under the IHREC’s founding Act 2014.[8]

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Functions

  • to protect and promote human rights and equality
  • to encourage the development of a culture of respect for human rights, equality, and intercultural understanding in the State
  • to promote understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights and equality in the State
  • to encourage good practice in intercultural relations
  • to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity in the State and respect for the freedom and dignity of each person
  • to work towards the elimination of human rights abuses, discrimination and prohibited conduct

The IHREC is mandated, under Article 42(5) of the Act of 2014, to carry out a review where there is evidence of a failure of a public body to perform its functions, or to prepare and implement an action plan in relation to its performance. The IHREC is also mandated to encourage and guide public bodies regarding their duties under the Act and has, for example, issued the guidance document ‘Implementing the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty’.[9]

Parliamentary bodies

There is a system of parliamentary committees in operation within the Oireachtas (the bicameral parliament). It is a matter for the Oireachtas to decide the number and range of committees that should be established, together with their terms of reference.

Various committees relate to gender equality. The Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality was established to review the recommendations from the report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality. Other committees that may consider matters relating to progress concerning gender equality efforts include the Public Accounts Committee (which focuses on ensuring that public services are run efficiently and achieve value for money) and the Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. For its part, the Select Committee on Budgetary Oversight has considered gender budgeting.

Consultation with civil society

Consultation with civil society primarily takes place through the steering committee members of the National Strategy for Women and Girls.[10]

Ireland has a history of consultation with members of the public on issues relating to gender equality. Women's empowerment and related issues have been considered by the Convention on the Constitution (2012-2016),[11] the Citizens’ Assembly 2016-2018[12] and most recently in a Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality in 2020-2021. The 2020-2021 assembly was established with the purpose of making recommendations to the Oireachtas to advance gender equality.[13] The assembly participants were selected to be a representative cross-section of Irish society, and this led to the drafting of 45 recommendations and an open letter calling for Ireland’s laws and policies to be transformed to be fit for a more gender-equal post-COVID-19 world.

Methods and tools

Note: the methods and tools listed under section this were the focus of EIGE's 2021 assessment. If certain methods and tools are not mentioned in this section, this does not necessarily mean that they are not used at all by Ireland.

Core methods and tools used in Ireland to mainstream gender considerations are impact assessments, gender budgeting and training.

Gender impact assessment

In Ireland, every scheme and policy should include an equality impact assessment to ensure that any unintended equality impacts can be identified and addressed at the development stage. The equality-proofing of all substantive proposals requiring governmental approval is mandatory.

The Cabinet Handbook, an internal government guide to assist ministers and officials in the preparation of matters to be dealt with at government meetings requires that all substantive memoranda should indicate the impact on gender equality. 'Substantive memoranda' in this context means any memorandum for which a government decision of a substantive nature is sought, such as:

  • A change in policy;
  • The introduction, abolition or significant change in an existing scheme;
  • A decision which impacts the public at large, or a significant subset of that population;
  • A decision to draft or approve legislation;
  • A decision involving expenditure increases or reductions, or changes in taxation.

Regardless of whether a government department is required to bring a memorandum to government concerning a scheme, completing an equality impact assessment is considered best practice.

Gender budgeting

Equality budgeting was piloted for Budget 2018, which used gender as a primary axis of equality. In Budget 2019, the scope of the initiative was extended to other dimensions of inclusiveness, including poverty, socioeconomic inequality, and people with disabilities, drawing on a broader range of national equality strategies.

Equality budgeting involves providing greater information on the likely impact of budgetary measures across a range of areas, such as income, health and education, and how outcomes differ according to gender, age, ethnicity, etc. Equality budgeting is intended to help policymakers better anticipate potential impacts in the budgetary process, thereby enhancing the government’s decision-making framework.

In partnership with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth commissioned the OECD to undertake a policy scan of equality budgeting in Ireland, published in tandem with Budget 2020. This provided recommendations on the further development of the programme in light of international experience; implementation of these recommendations is ongoing.

Training and awareness-raising

The NSWG 2017-2020 proposes that to comply with the expectations of gender mainstreaming, all staff in public services will require training in issues like unconscious bias, data collection and gender-proofing of all policies, including those related to rural communities and sustainable energy. However, there is no evidence that this takes place systematically nor is it compulsory.

Gender statistics

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) is the main body in Ireland responsible for statistics but neither it nor any other organisation, has a clear responsibility to collect and manage sex-disaggregated data. A semi-regular report, ‘Women and Men in Ireland’ presents the limited disaggregation of gender data to date. These reports were issued in 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2019 which are also displayed on a dedicated webpage.[14] Another webpage presents progress under Goal 5 on Gender Equality of the Sustainable Development Goals.[15]

In 2021, a survey was launched and published by the CSO on Gender Balance in Business.[16] It provides official statistics on gender representation regarding senior executive teams and boards of directors of large enterprises in Ireland.

The NSWG 2017-2020 seeks to improve the provision of sex-disaggregated data.[17] Action 6.13 states the need to identify knowledge gaps in relation to gender inequality and to use this as a basis for improvements in the data infrastructure and analysis required to close those gaps and then link it to relevant policies.[18]

Monitoring progress

EIGE carried out data collection in 2021 for the four officially agreed-on indicators on institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming in order to monitor progress on Area H of the Beijing Platform for Action. Institutional mechanisms refer to national machineries that implement, monitor, evaluate, and mobilise support for policies that promote gender equality and gender mainstreaming. No data is available for Ireland as no response was received from the relevant authorities. Data for other Member States, as well as data for Ireland from previous data collections, is available on the Gender Statistics Database here.