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24 April 2008 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Change of civil servant mindset needed in battle for equity and equality

THE WORDS equity and equality are confusing. They are essentially similar in meaning or so I thought until I heard Martina Anderson patiently explain to Sir George Bain, the Canadian academic and former Chancellor of Queens University Belfast, the subtle but important difference between the two words.
Sir George was in Derry heading up another review of the relocation of public sector jobs. The public sector jobs road show will be travelling to a number of different venues in the North as part of a consultation process on the decentralisation of civil service jobs.
The word equity according to the Oxford dictionary means fairness, based on the principles of natural justice. Equality on the other hand means parity, balance, and non-discrimination.
That precisely was the point that Martina Anderson was trying to address when she pointed out to George Bain, the historical disadvantages faced by the people of Derry and the people West of the Bann, disadvantages that are against all the laws of natural justice but have been the cornerstone of a unionist political system and its public service establishment, since the Six Counties came into being.
The Bain review team, some of whom are retired civil servants, would know that the North West is and has always been at the bottom of the political heap in the tables of deprivation and marginalisation. Reports and surveys over a long number of years reaffirm the persistent structural inequality in terms of employment, health, skills, housing and all the other inequalities of those living in this region. Derry consistently has the highest number of long term unemployed for over 40 years. Such inequality and discrimination did not happen in a vacuum but was as a direct result of decisions taken over those years by senior civil servants, most of whom had never progressed beyond the Glenshane Pass and most of whom in the face of political stability and change have no wish to relocate anywhere beyond East Belfast and North Down.
On the 40th Anniversary year of the Civil Rights Movement and ten years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the dead hand of some senior civil servants in terms of the North West can be seen in the Assembly Programme for Government. The draft Equality Impact Assessment consultation document appears to have the same difficulty in defining the objective needs of the North West, as the Bain road show has in acknowledging that the relocation of senior civil servants’ posts to Derry, would result in a lot more to the economy than ‘a few milkshake bars’.
We do not need another review by retired academics to show that patronage and privilege have not gone away. Such mindsets still exist in the higher echelons of the Civil Service. That’s why we welcome the application of the McBride principles to the latest announcement of New York Pension Fund investment.
A change of mindset within senior civil servants and the relocation of jobs would help to bring about the equity and equality that will be essential in our march towards an Ireland of Equals.

An Phoblacht
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