UNISON Northern Ireland

UNISON Press Release

Statement from Fidelma Carolan, Regional Organiser, UNISON

UNISON notes media reports today that the Board of the Education Authority (EA) failed to approve its Business Plan because it advocated establishing a LGBT staff forum at its meeting on 23rd May. It has been reported that the proposal to establish a LGBT staff forum generated “substantial discussion” and that a board member stated that such a proposal could create “tensions” within schools.   

Commenting on these reports, UNISON Regional Organiser Fidelma Carolan said: “The establishment of an LGBT+ Staff Forum was already in the Equality Action Plan which was consulted on and approved by the Board last year.  Jim Wells from the DUP confirmed that the objections had been raised by his colleague, Nelson McCausland, who was not a Board member when the initial decision was taken. This sends a very negative message out to LGBT+ staff who are working in schools, in youth services or in Education Authority offices. It says to a gay school cleaner or a lesbian school nurse that their employer is not willing to afford them the same support as a hospital cleaner or nurse in, for example, the Mater Hospital where a LGBT+  Staff Network exists”.

LGBT+ Staff Forums currently exist in the Health Service, the Civil Service, the PSNI, local universities as well as a number of Councils and across private sector organisations in retail, financial services and legal firms. Research carried out by the Rainbow Project, the TUC, UNISON and the UK Government’s Equality Office highlights that supporting inclusive environments where people can be out at work improves health and wellbeing, productivity and collegiate working.

Fidelma Carolan continued: “The failure of the Board to approve the Business Plan may mean that scheduled expenditure on special needs education, youth services, capital spending may not be able to proceed until the Plan is signed off.  This appears to us to be an issue of someone who has previously opposed the rights of LGBT+ people using their position on the Education Authority to block a positive initiative for staff”.

UNISON calls on the Education Authority to provide assurance that it will immediately proceed with its original intention to set up the LGBT+ Staff Network and comply with its own Equality Action Plan.

For comment, please contact Fidelma Carolan  07796 675 826, or UNISON – 028 9027 0190