We’re running out of comparable all-island data post-Brexit – academic

By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

A senior human rights academic has said we are “running out of data that is comparable” north and south of the border post-Brexit and now is the time to find a solution.

Dr Iris Elliot, the head of policy and research at the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, was speaking at the Dublin launch of a study that compared women’s pay and participation in the workforce north and south of the border.

Dr Elliot said that some of the figures in the report were from as far back as 2017 as the research was cut off because of the UK leaving the EU.

She said Ireland should be the first EU country to develop a data strategy on equality and it should consider adding an all-island aspect to it.


“Since Brexit, Northern Ireland is no longer participating in European surveys or European data work,” she told the PA news agency.

“There’s now an absence of comparable data. This report is using data that concluded in 2017 because the data is no longer available to us.

“There’s an opportunity with Ireland’s equality data strategy to use that as a framework to have a conversation across the island about how we develop an all-island data infrastructure that will support comparable research.”

She said that Ireland and Northern Ireland wouldn’t necessarily have to create a new survey system and instead could implement a “mirroring” of each other’s data collection.

“Ireland continues to use EU surveys and Northern Ireland runs the same questions at the same time with the same type of sample,” she said.

“I would speak to the value of continuing using some of the EU survey questions because that enables Ireland also to compare ourselves with the rest of the EU.”

The UK Government would need to fund such an initiative in Northern Ireland.

She added: “It’s very difficult to have a comparison about what are the experiences of the whole population, and then particular groups who are covered by equality legislation, unless we have comparable data.

“And that includes using the same categories, using the same questions, collecting the data at the same time, and it’s important on a one-off basis for that comparability, but also will enable us to compare over time.

“I think it’s a way to across any survey work we are doing to always be asking the question ‘is there an opportunity to build in comparable data north and south?’.”

Both Northern Ireland, the UK and Ireland have signed up to international agreements, UN and European treaties and will need to collect monitoring data to ensure they are complying with those terms.

“I think now is a good time to do it before more years pass and over time systems will change.

“At the moment we’re still relatively in step with each other in terms of the EU framework of legislation around equality and non discrimination and fundamental rights. So now is the time to do it.”