24 May 2007 Edition
Assembly : McElduff rejects Campbell's comments on Language Act
Nothing to fear from Equality
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights, Foyle MLA Martina Anderson said it was the responsibility of the Executive and Assembly to build a new society which guarantees equality for all in a shared future.
Anderson was speaking as Unionists in the Six County Assembly defeated a Sinn Féin motion supporting a Single Equality Bill to bring together different legislation outlawing discrimination.
“In our society we live alongside discrimination and exclusion everyday. Some of the barriers that inhibit our development as individuals, or communities can be blatant or unseen. Women for example continue to suffer discrimination in gaining employment, in salary levels, in the workplace and under-representation in public life”, Anderson said.
“We not only have the obligation but the power to put in place an equality framework that looks to our future needs as a developing and increasingly complex society”, Anderson said.
The Foyle MLA said that the fragmented array of legislative instruments that exist in the North, which applies different standards of protection across the discrimination strands, has proved difficult, confusing and costly for individuals seeking to assert their rights and similarly for employers and service providers seeking to understand and observe their legal obligations. Indeed, confused law is no law at all.
Protection against discrimination
“The legislation that we have, is a hotchpotch of different Acts that need to be brought together into one composite bill; bringing together all the separate, cross cutting Acts and setting clear protections against discrimination of all groups, especially our children”, Anderson said.
She said that what was needed was a “robust conciliation and interpretation of the different pieces of legislation – bringing them together, harmonising and enhancing provision - upwards – so we produce a Rolls Royce of Legislation”.
Anderson said that it was no protection against discrimination, that the law simply declared discrimination to be illegal, and left the burden on the victim to bring justice for themselves, or their peer group.
“An effective anti-discrimination Act must stipulate, in enforceable law, what positive action needs to be taken to ensure that discriminatory practices cease’, she said.
“It has long been recognised that an equal/same treatment approach will never be enough to deliver substantive equality, and by that we mean equal outcomes, because people/groups do not start from the same place. Because of discrimination and disadvantage suffered by certain groups – the playing field is not level”, Anderson said.
The Assembly motion was defeated by 45 votes to 42.
Speaking after the Assembly debate Martina Anderson said:
“For too long equality has been placed on the back burner. This is no longer acceptable. Sinn Féin is determined to advance the Equality Agenda.
“There is no reason why any one should resist progress on equality because progress will benefit everyone right across our society, particularly those who are marginalised or face discrimination.”
Meanwhile the DUP’s Gregory campbell has said that his party will veto an Irish Language Act for the North.
His party colleague and Culture Minister Edwin Poots has to decide on any future legislation as culture minister once a consultation exercise is complete this summer, but Gregory Campbell said his position was unequivocal.
“It is a no-brainer. It is my view that the party will not introduce or allow this,” he said
Draft plans issued by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in March envisage the appointment of an Irish language commissioner and the establishment of Irish language schemes for public bodies. Irish language activists have campaigned for changes to correct the fact that the North gives no legal protection for the language.
Poots has said he will not make any decision until the second consultation period closes. However, Mr Campbell said the matter would require cross-community consent to be passed by the Assembly and unionists would clearly oppose it.
Responding to Campbell’s remarks, Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff said:
“The demand for an Irish Language Act is based upon the need to deliver on the rights of Irish speakers. If we are to build a rights based society then these will have to be respected regardless of what Gregory Campbell says or does.
“It would be worth Gregory Campbell reflecting upon the reality that we all have vetoes which we can choose to use. This however will not bring about the sort of new future we all desire. Sinn Féin want to work with all of the parties in the Assembly but for that approach to succeed then people like Gregory Campbell will have to come to terms with equality and respect for others’ rights and entitlements.”