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4 October 2007 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Equality - it was never going to be easy

THE statistics are all there, reams of documents obtained mainly under the Freedom of Information Act because of the reluctance of the NIO and the various statutory agencies in the North to acknowledge that the equality fault line grows wider every day.
Twenty years on from the 1986 launch by the Fair Employment Trust of the aptly-entitled Westminster’s Apartheid Economy, unionists still refuse to recognise  the democratic  rights of the nationalist population to full equality in work, education, speech and social justice.
The systematic and entrenched discrimination, albeit more sophisticated than under the old Stormont regime, is alive and well and thriving in the face of a toothless Equality Commission, made up of two members with links to the Women’s Coalition, two SDLP, one Alliance, one DUP and others with a pedigree acceptable to the NIO.  Republicans are not represented in the various commissions set up by the British Government. 
No wonder then that hardly a day goes by without an announcement of further mega bucks for the already job rich and affluent unionist areas of Belfast like the Titanic Quarter already basking in the glow of major investment. The latest is the development of the old Sirocco Works whose claim to fame was an employment record that excluded Catholics.
Sinn Féin last year raised concerns that the task of mainstreaming legislation to achieve equality within the North was “unravelling” and that senior civil servants were bypassing equality legislation and  failing to carry out equality impact assessments.  
Although West Belfast, Foyle and Tyrone continue to top the indices as the areas with the highest unemployment ratio, social deprivation and ill health, the record of investment in these areas by Invest NI has been described by Gerry Adams as “appalling and shameful”. Less than 4 per cent of its total budget was allocated to the areas that had suffered decades of neglect and discrimination.
It is 20 years since the Fair Employment Trust, the group headed up by the late Oliver Kearney, initiated the MacBride Principles which exposed the level of systematic and entrenched discrimination within the North’s political and economic structures.  
If we have learned anything from our past, it’s that the culture of side deals pioneered by the SDLP and encouraged by successive British and Irish governments in that time  has obstructed the political and economic  changes needed to achieve the egalitarian society as envisioned by the members of the Fair Employment Trust all those years ago.  Indeed, had senior members of the SDLP, who campaigned against the MacBride principles in the United States, devoted their energies to addressing structural inequality, we may not be in the situation we are in today where the concerted efforts of unionism has thwarted the hopes raised by the Good Friday Agreement.
Unionist claims since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement of ‘concessions to republicans’ are code for their refusal to implement equality legislation and embrace the change needed for the transformation of the North.
They had better get used to it. The status quo is not an option.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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