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14 June 2007 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Equality and all that

Yes it will be a battle a day, and the battle lines are already drawn. The Sinn Féin motion to the Assembly proposing the establishment of a working party to examine the question of the under representation of women in that male dominated establishment was rejected and instead members voted in favour of a DUP amendment encouraging gender equality, something that unionists of whatever hue have singularly failed to embrace with the exception of the politically rich DUP husband and wife teams.
Nor was it surprising that another Sinn Féin motion supporting the introduction of a single equality bill to replace the existing ineffectual legislation was also defeated by unionists.
Equality is the last thing that Unionist will sign up to for. Experience has shown that equality is never given voluntarily by those who have for all of their political existence, perpetuated inequality.
Gregory Campbell claimed in the recent debate that Protestants are facing discrimination in terms of police recruitment, (about 17% of new recruits are from the Catholic community) and has called for the 50/50 policy to be scrapped.  
The notion of equality has been resisted for generations by the British Government and exercised by their caretaker regime in the Six Counties. Signing up to power-sharing was one thing but equality, that’s something else, for those whose mindset is still entrenched in the ‘old order’.
Last week unionists stated that Sinn Féin Ministers would not be permitted an allowance for the drivers of Ministerial cars and they would have to use drivers from the Stormont car pool. As John O’Dowd stated there are more pressing issues to occupy the energies of MLA’S – issues such as the religious imbalance among those employed at Stormont and the NIO.
We know that 90% of the staff at the NIO is located in predominantly unionist areas. In the distribution of staff by parliamentary constituency some 690 are located in East Belfast, three in West Belfast, one in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, and seven in Foyle.
Of the 118 security guards employed in Stormont only 12 are drawn form the Catholic community. Perhaps some of those unionists concerned with car pools might tell the public the religious composition of that service, given the long history of discrimination practiced at Stormont since its inception. The ‘not a Fenian foot about the place’ might provide a more interesting topic for debate than car pools.
At present 43% of the population in the North are from a Catholic background.  Despite equality legislation and the Equality Commission, that community still does not enjoy a level playing field in terms of employment, the Irish Language, the Civil Service, and the allocation of resources to areas suffering the highest level of deprivation. The equality fault line still runs deep through the Six Counties and unionism collectively has decided that it’s one change too many. For the  republican/nationalist community, it will be a battle a day but it’s a change that Unionism better start getting used to, for equality is timeless and universal.

An Phoblacht
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