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30 January 2003 Edition

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Equality threatens no one


Unionists should join the search for equality as enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on equality and human rights, Bairbre de Brún told a Belfast press conference this week.

The former Health Minister said that equality posed no threat to anyone and institutional discrimination must be addressed irrespective of political or religious creed so that people are afforded equality in all aspects of their lives.

"Commitments in the Good Friday Agreement to measures such as those aimed at eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between Protestants and Catholic communities must be implemented," said de Brún.

The most recent report on Community Differentials and New Targeting Social Need shows that Catholics are still less likely to be in employment, at greater risk of living in lower income households and are more dependant on benefits as well as at greater risk of experiencing multiple deprivation.

Sinn Féin recognises that deprivation is in no way confined to one community but the reality is that there are still structural issues that result in inequality between communities.

"A response to this must include economic development in areas of greatest need, allowing communities to receive help commensurate with the level of need they experience," said de Brún.

Party colleague Dara O'Hagan pointed out that religious discrimination against Catholics had fuelled conditions for conflict and despite 30 years of anti-discrimination legislation, Catholics in the North remained almost twice as likely to be unemployed than their Protestant counterparts.

"The British government needs to be proactive in addressing this legacy," said O'Hagan. "For decades, the British state intervened to support the shipyards and other unionist dominated industries in the North." The state must recognise it is part of the problem and it needs to be part of the solution," she said.

West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty said that West of the Bann had disproportionably suffered economic deprivation, but despite commitments enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement no programmes had been brought forward by the British government, or other state agencies, to address this.

Sinn Féin also criticised the response of the Ulster Unionist Party in relation to the issue of equality, citing the recent refusal of the UUP to attend the Implementation Group meeting on Equality and Human Rights.

"We are disappointed to hear UUP spokesperson Dermot Nesbitt repeat previous claims that there is no discrimination in the Six Counties and that there is no need for an Equality Commission or for state action to address the unemployment differential," said de Brún.

"The Ulster Unionist Party presided over systematic discrimination from the foundation of the northern state. Some Ulster Unionist Party spokespersons appear oblivious to the injustices that they inflicted on the people, including both Catholics and Protestants, living in areas most affected by discrimination and inequality.

"Equality posed no threat to anyone and the UUP must join the other parties in the promotion and achievement of equality and human rights."


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