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7 October 1999 Edition

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No peace dividend for northern Catholics

Figures released this week show that Catholic families in the Six Counties earn almost £200 (or 15 per cent) a month less than their Protestant counterparts. The figures, released by the NIO Statistics and Research Agency, also show that Catholics are more dependent on social welfare benefits than Protestants.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Mary Nelis has branded the statistics ``an indictment of those who have established and diligently presided over a system of economic discrimination in this part of Ireland. Few people, if any, will have been surprised by these findings.

Low pay campaigners say that they are not surprised by the statistics and have called for drastic changes in employment policies. Paddy Logue of the Low Pay Unit said: ``Low pay and low income are inextricably linked to unemployment. He called for the minimum wage to be raised from £3.60 to £5 an hour.

Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action director Seamus McAleavey added that, historically, employment patterns in the Six Counties have not favoured Catholics and that the new Targeting Social Need (TSN) strategy outlined by the British government has to be ``implemented vigorously.

Earlier this year, unemployment figures released by the Statistics and Research agencies revealed that any recent converging of the unemployment disadvantage faced by Catholics in recent years had now reversed. Catholics are now three times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants, with a third of Catholic men being unemployed for more than four years, compared to 19 per cent of Protestant men. Benefits now make up 28 per cent of the Catholic average weekly income compared to 18 per cent of the Protestant family's weekly income.

Sinn Féin's Mary Nelis added: ``These statistics are part of a legacy of discrimination in employment practices that has impacted in a very negative sense on the quality of life for Catholic people.
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