17 September 1998 Edition
The heart of bigotry
Sectarian protest in Fermanagh
By Ned Kelly
Unionist support for a picket at the Aghadrumsee Primary School outside Roslea in Co Fermanagh last week has been branded as ``defending the indefensible'' by local Sinn Fein councillor Brian McCaffrey.
On three consecutive mornings a group of parents prevented two newly appointed Catholic cooks, who replaced two recently retired Protestant cooks, from starting work.
The group holding placards reading `Fair Play' and `Equality' were protesting that while previously the canteen had been staffed entirely by Protestants, in an area where 85% of the population is Catholic, now it employed three Catholic cooks.
Three local Unionists came out to support the Protestant protesters, Fermanagh District councillors Harold Andrews and Cecil Noble and local MP and Assembly member Ken Maginnis.
Anti-agreement Unionist, Andrews, acting as spokesman for the protesters, said, ``we feel aggrieved that the Protestant community is not receiving equality of treatment.'' Maginnis curiously pointed the finger at republicans, ``There have been almost 30 people murdered by militant republicans in that small area of SE Fermanagh. The whole might of the Republican Movement has been directed against the Protestant population there and I can understand the resentment and bitterness that many feel,'' he said.
Noble suggested that the Western Education and Library Board (WELB), responsible for the appointments, could have ``split the posts'' between Protestants and Catholics.
Despite these attempts to legitimise the protest, the WELB, after an emergency meeting last Thursday, said it stood firmly behind the appointments and said that ``recruitment procedures were absolutely correct, the board must operate within the law.'' It is also possible that the protesters at the heart of this sectarian row could face fines under Fair Employment legislation if action by protesters caused an employer to discriminate against an employee.
Describing the protest as ``nothing short of disgraceful'', Sinn Féin's Brian McCaffrey said, ``the actions of Councillor Andrews...has created consternation in both sections of the Erne East community and gives great cause for concern. I have spoken to a number of people from the unionist community and they have expressed to me a deep sense of shame that there are those who are prepared to express their bigotry in this way.''
McCaffrey called on Andrews to resign his membership of the Fermanagh District Partnership Board (FDPB), a body appointed to oversee and distribute the EU peace and reconciliation fund directed to promote social inclusion and redress social and economic disadvantage.
Section 7 of the FDPB's `Code of Conduct' for its members states ``Board members should subscribe to the concept of equal opportunities and ensure that the policies and requirements for equality issues are complied with and implemented.''
``Councillor Andrews' definition of equality,'' said McCaffrey, ``is at odds with that of the WELB, FDPB, Fair Employment legislation and the overwhelming number of people who, in supporting the Good Friday document, committed themselves to the equality agenda.''
Fermanagh Unionist Noble is himself at the centre of a row over the Unionist domination of key posts in the Housing Executive (HE). The row started when the Unionist-dominated Northern Ireland Housing Council (NIHC) yet again chose three Unionists to fill influential posts on the HE Board and ignored a nationalist candidate. Noble is one of the three Unionists nominated.
Every year the NIHC nominates three candidates to the 10 member HE Board, which has an annual budget of over £550 million. Only once, in 1995, has the NIHC nominated a nationalist, and then only after the NIO was forced to intervene and appoint a nationalist candidate directly.