Issue 4-2022 small

5 November 1998 Edition

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Long march to equality

By Mary Nelis

It is ten years since Oliver Kearney, founder member of the Fair Employment Trust, a body set up to investigate fair employment practices in the north, published a pamphlet entitled ``A Long Road To March''.

The pamphlet explained why the issue of anti-Catholic discrimination lay at the very roots of the conflict, a conflict which could only be resolved by an honest and courageous examination of the structural inequalities in the six counties.

``A Long Road To March'' sought to promote moral and non-violent solutions to this conflict and was promoted in the US by the human rights group, American Protestants for Truth About Ireland. Both Oliver Kearney and APTI were trailblazers in the campaign to influence the British and Irish governments to address the economic apartheid in partitioned Ireland.

Ten years on and as a direct result of the efforts by Oliver Kearney and the late Fr Brian Brady, the McBride Principles of positive action to address anti-Catholic discrimination, have now become enshrined in US Federal Law. The Principles had already been adopted in sixteen States and thirty cities.

The long road to equality, for northern nationalists, began life in the US as a result of efforts by Fr Sean McManus and the Irish National Caucus to block a US Defence Department contract to Shorts in Belfast. Shorts' appalling record of anti-Catholic employment practices was documented in detail by Fr Brady. As a result, Fr McManus tried to persuade the US government not to give the contract. His efforts failed principally because John Hume argued that even if discrimination was rampant in Shorts, jobs had to be preserved.

A number of people, including Oliver Kearney, Fr Brady, Dr John Robb and Inez McCormack were activated to address the question of structural discrimination by instituting fair employment practices. The late Dr Sean McBride, worthy holder of the Nobel Peace Prize, agreed to give his name to the Principles and so the McBride Principles became the benchmark for equality.

Those who became actively involved in the promotion of these modest principles, would themselves become the targets of a massive counter offensive by the British government, who sought to convince the world that the broader band of Orange/Unionist politicians and civil servants in control of the six county state had undergone a miraculous conversion since Direct Rule, and that Westminster reforms would resolve any imbalance resulting from Stormont mismanagement. The Fair Employment Agency became a cosmetic creation in the campaign against the McBride Principles.

Oliver Kearney, the most effective voice of McBride in the US, returned from giving testimony in California to find that he had been dismissed from his job. Others would suffer more serious consequences. John Davey, who attended an equality meeting in Belfast, was later assassinated by loyalist gunmen.

The British opposition to the McBride Principles is estimated to have cost well over £20m. The money was spent in sending specially selected teams of ``performing poodles'' from the political, education, business and civil service professions in the north to the US. They were provided with first class accomodation and cocktail briefings, all aimed at undermining the effectiveness of the McBride campaign and a remarkable Irish American lobby of support.

The British denounced the campaign as IRA-inspired, unlawful and as promoting reverse discrimination. John Hume became active against the McBride Principles for this reason. Despite all their efforts at demonising the issue, the British government in 1988 were forced to respond. The much acclaimed White Paper, was published. Dr Christopher McCrudden of Oxford University stated ``that the inadequacies of previous government legislation, the adverse reaction of employers and unionist politicians, all serve to demonstrate the need for external pressure to continue''.

Ten years later, and with an Assembly in place, equality and fair employment is still on the agenda. Members of the Assembly last week attended a seminar on equality, as laid out in the Good Friday Agreement. The ten male speakers included Dr McCrudden, who was attacked by unionist Assembly members for his comments on the issue.

The attitude of those unionists participating at the seminar was an echo of their party leader. At the recent UUP conference Trimble stated that ``after more than a quarter of a century out of power, we are now on the verge of taking power back into our own hands'' Power, he said, ``must be shared with others but the north's problems will now be tackled predominantly by unionists''.

It is six months since the people voted for change and a new beginning. Equality is at the heart of the Agreement. It is obvious now that the unionists have no intention of allowing Irish nationalists to be treated equally for that in effect would put their six county state out of business. It is now up to the British and Irish governments to protect the Agreement which they put into place and which 71% of the people supported. They should note that while Trimble pleads the case of the LVF at Westminster, while using decommissioning as an obstacle to peaceful progress, Catholics are once again ``getting it in the neck''.

The long road to march still has miles to go.

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