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13 July 2006 Edition

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Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Equality - An All-Ireland Issue

When we speak of equality many people perceive it as a one dimensional issue, referring to the political situation pertaining in the North of Ireland. If you ask most people what equality means to them you will invariably get the answer that it is about equality between Catholic and Protestant, Unionist and Nationalist. Implicit in that suggestion is that Equality in Irish political terms is a sectarian issue. But this interpretation could not be further from reality.

Equality is not just about achieving a level political playing field in the North. More importantly, it is an issue that encompasses every aspect of social and economic life on this island. If we are to build the new Ireland that most people on this island wish to see then we must tackle the issue of equality as, primarily a political issue. By delivering social and economic equality throughout Ireland we will address the political fault line that afflicts society in the North.

Self-determination is an inalienable right. So also, economic, gender and cultural equality for all, is essential if we are to build an Ireland of equals. This would apply irrespective of social, race, age, marital or family status, sexual, political or religious persuasion or incapacity.

Many of those suffering from the effects of structural inequality in Irish society are the young and the elderly. A measure of any society is in how it treats its most vulnerable. Irish society North and South fails this test miserably. The latest report by the Irish banking sector claims that the 26-Counties is the second richest society in the world with over 3,000 millionaires. This in a state that also holds the dubious distinction of one in five children living in poverty and family homes sold in order to provide proper care for elderly parents.

The equality agenda entails ensuring that no child goes to bed hungry, that all have equality of opportunity to lifelong learning and that none of our senior citizens spend their later years in uncertainty. It also means that the new Irish who arrived here in recent years enjoy the same rights and entitlements as the indigenous population.

In the North, as well as confronting the same effects of social inequality as our fellow citizens in the South and the historical political problems we must confront and oppose the attack on the very fabric of society by British Direct rule. The swingeing cuts in education and health budgets and the imposition of massive water taxes and inflationary rates increases will only exacerbate the already economic inequality pervasive in society.

If we are to create a society built on equality of opportunity then we must see equality in an all embracing context and not just in the context of the North. It is an all-Ireland issue that needs a policy driven approach to the delivery of equality of opportunity and access to essential services including health care and education.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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