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2 October 2008 Edition

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It's equality, stupid!

WHAT is the cause of the difficulties in delivering sustainable, efficient government in the North? One simple but powerful word - EQUALITY.
Every step towards equality is perceived by many unionists as a threat to  their constitutional position.
For republicans and the wider nationalist community in the North, equality legislation was hard fought for and achieved, in the face of indifference, intransigence and foot-dragging. Once a resolution to the current impasse over nationalists’ entitlements in such matters as policing and justice and Acht na Gaeilge is achieved, then I have no doubt that rejectionist unionists will immediately set about looking for the next issue that they can use as a roadblock on the road to full equality.
Some people may say that this is unfair criticism of unionism and its political leadership but the facts are irrefutable. Rejectionist unionists realise that the Northern state was established and sustained on discrimination and inequality and that the rationale for partition will be removed when nationalists achieve full equality.
Unfortunately, there are a number of senior DUP members who are identified as rejectionist and who are intent on undermining the basis of partnership enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. But they belong to a failed political agenda. Their politics are predicated on slowing down, as much as possible, the process of change even at the cost of negatively impacting on the people they are elected to represent. But even they will be forced to accept change.
There are many equality issues still to be resolved in the North (and indeed throughout the island of Ireland) and Sinn Féin has a duty to ensure that the majority of people throughout this island and beyond are not confused about the basic reason for the  stop-start nature of politics in Stormont.
In recent years, former US President Bill Clinton was credited with the political slogan “It’s the economy, stupid!” For those who are perplexed about current difficulties in the Assembly let me say, “It’s equality, stupid!”
The two governments are currently in default of commitments in the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrew’s review because of DUP intransigence. Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown are very aware of the nature of the disagreement and should impress on the DUP leadership the need to accept a realistic approach to eradicating inequality in practice as well as in theory.
There are still many areas in which inequality needs to be addressed and an approach must be developed where these matters can be resolved in a manner that is genuinely perceived by nationalists and unionists as a validation of rights and entitlements, mutually endorsed and welcomed.
These problems have long been identified. Those who suffer from unemployment, particularly the long-term unemployed, suffer from multiple effects of poverty. Nationalists suffer disproportionate disadvantage across all the indicators of deprivation. There are areas of unionist disadvantage which need to be tackled also.
We know the location of the most disadvantaged areas and the targeted strategic investment required to regenerate these areas. We know the areas, nationalist and unionist, which suffered the greatest during the conflict and suffer from the highest levels of poverty and inequality. Instead of waiting for these issues to become the next roadblock erected by the rejectionists, Sinn Féin is demanding sensible and pragmatic procedures for dealing with them.
It  is clear from the DUP approach to policing and justice, academic selection, Acht na Gaeilge and the Long Kesh issue that many DUP politicians are still a long way from accepting equality and parity of esteem as legitimate, indeed, normal politics.
Sinn Féin wants to work with all others to create an equal society for all. We want to demonstrate to the unionist people that there is nothing to fear from equality – in fact they have much to gain. Yet we find ourselves increasingly frustrated by a cabal of unreconstructed supremacists who want to remain in a 1690 time-warp while the rest of the world moves on. We will not compromise on equality and I believe that equality in practice, once achieved, will also set unionists free.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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