Putting equality and rights in poll position

Reverend Jesse Jackson will push the message that equality and rights matter in General Election 2011, says the Equality & Rights Alliance (ERA).

Election 2011 got under starter's orders this morning with the launch of a campaign urging people to "Make Your Mark for Equality and Human Rights" on their ballot papers.

Equality & Rights Alliance, a coalition of 155 organisations and activists with a membership spread of well over a quarter of a million people, said that it would actively encourage its members and others to elect people who will protect equality and human rights.

In a month's time, on 14 February, ERA will host the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Snr. (pictured) who will push this ERA election challenge. He will make a rare trip to Ireland to launch a groundbreaking ERA document setting out how the Irish equality and human rights infrastructure can be strengthened by the incoming government.

A recent study showed that Ireland now has one of the worst levels of social justice of all OECD member states, ranking 27th out of 31 countries, largely because of its poverty levels.

"You get what you elect," said Joanna McMinn, Chair of ERA. "We are rallying our sizeable membership to declare on the doorsteps that equality and rights matter. We are asking them to find out who will best protect and progress equality and human rights and then to elect them."

"If we want real change and a decent society, we have to elect people who are going to deliver that. If we don't, it's back to politics as usual, which has failed us." She said that a stronger equality and human rights infrastructure was critical to rebuilding a better society.

One of the key ERA recommendations is the inclusion of the socio-economic ground in equality legislation to ensure that targeting poverty is prioritised by future political leaders.

The election launch took the shape of Ireland's first social justice mash event. Speakers gave different perspectives on the experiences of people and groups living with inequality and discrimination.

Among the speakers at today's mash were: Denise Charlton (Immigrant Council of Ireland), Norah Gibbons (Barnardos), Robin Webster (Age Action), Frances Byrne (OPEN) Martin Collins (Pavee Point), David Egan (Centre for Independent Living), Grainne Healy (Marriagequality), Ailbhe Smyth (Feminist Open Forum), and Frank Goodwin (Carers Association).

Inequality and discrimination – alive and well in a community near you

"There's one segment of our financial services which is thriving: money lending." – Frances Byrne representing lone parent families.

"In recession, women are the front-line 'shock absorbers' of social welfare cuts, health cuts, cuts in public services, cuts to community programmes, cuts to the minimum wage." – Ailbhe Smyth, representing women.

"Families where children are being raised by gay parents are suffering discrimination – the children have no rights to one of their parents and the family has no constitutional protection..." – Grainne Healy, representing lesbian and gay people.

"A woman on disability caring on her own for her elderly mother, who is also in a wheelchair, performs dialysis on her mother at home and saves the State about €50,000 a year. Her half rate carers allowance of €106 was reduced by €4 to €102." – Frank Goodwin, representing carers.

"I could spend two to three hours describing the discrimination and inequality faced by migrants and their family members from decisions to deport people, resulting in the effective expulsion of their Irish children, through to denying the children of migrants equal access to the education system...." – Denise Charlton, representing migrants.