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4 June 1998 Edition

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The rocky road to equality

By Mary Nelis

Thirty years ago, a cavalcade of cars, led by middle class Derry nationalists, and ferrying the less well-off working class of the city, made its way over the Glenshane Pass and through the torturous roads to Toome and thence to Belfast.

They were protesting at the siting of the second University for the north in the market town of Coleraine, whose location was part of the East/West apartheid of the unionist state.

The journey was long, the road was bad, but nationalist Derry was on the move.

The road to Belfast, for Derry nationalists, was ``the road less travelled'' not only for its bends and potholes, but primarily because neither the road nor Belfast was kindly disposed to those who lived west of the Bann.

Thirty years on, the road to Belfast and indeed the entire roads infrastructure in the north west, was cited at an economic seminar in Derry as a major cause of industrial decline and job losses which have beset the city over the past year.

Leading nationalist businessmen and politicians roundly condemned the government and civil service, claiming that Derry was still suffering the same discrimination, by the same faceless men, which prompted people to take to the streets in the Civil Rights Campaign in 1968.

The belief that civil servants still continue to operate on a principle of sectarian privilege and political discrimination is widely held in Derry and indeed in most areas West of the Bann.

People who have lived within the ``Protestant state for a Protestant people'' know how the system works and who is in charge. Yet many unionist politicians and clergymen try to avoid acknowledging that such blatant inequality exists by continually asserting that ``Catholics have all the jobs and better housing'' and that this is a concession to republicans. This is coupled with reports from within the Northern Ireland Office that Derry has had more than its fair share of financial assistance. This attitude raises the key question of whether unionism is psychologically capable of accommodating any form of nationalist equality.

In the recent government white paper, ``Partnership for Equality'', no internal civil service mechanism of any kind is to be adopted for implementing the equality duty. This job will be given to a powerless quango, while real power in decision making will remain within the inner circle of civil servants. These are the people who set the criteria, make the ground rules, and cover up any kind of decisions, which has kept the Brandywell district of Derry top of the league table of long term unemployment since records began.

These are the people who have made the decision to allocate to Derry a roads budget of £1.5 million over the next 13 years, while Ballymena, with its wall to wall roundabouts, has a budget allocation of £11 million.

Not surprising really, when you think of it.

The official offices of the DOE Roads Service, Planning and Water Services, like the University, are located in Coleraine, East of the Bann.

Addressing nationalist inequality, West of the Bann is not compatable with the Status Quo, for no matter how one presents the case or juggles the figures, Catholic nationalists in Derry will remain seriously disadvantaged for the foreseeable future.

Is it any wonder then that Derry people look with a somewhat jaundiced eye at the many and varied announcements by government agencies and leading politicians of millions of pounds of inward investment which we are informed, ad nauseum, has created thousands of jobs.

The latest and by far the best was the ``Derry Journal'' announcement that the boatman cometh. This boatman, an American tycoon, was touring Derry as a guest of John Hume. He wants to build a $1 billion `Freedom Ship', which would measure one mile long, and would have accommodation for 50,000 residents costing from $4 million to a modest $80,000 per condominium. It will create 36,000 jobs.

Mr Nixon, an engineer from Arkansas, is grateful that the IDB, Derry City Council and Mr Hume are taking a positive role in the proposed enterprise with its world class library, hospital, resturant, banks and hotel. ``Freedom'' will also have jogging paths, cycle paths, and even roller skating paths.

De Lorean, another American tycoon, saw the money to be made out of Ireland's civil servants, but at least he produced a car.

In Derry, we would settle for a road.

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