20 February 2003 Edition
Equality and local government
No one can deny that successive British governments have practised or tolerated discrimination against Catholics in the Six Counties. Thirty years after the Civil Rights Movement began its campaign and after 25 years of fair employment legislation, Catholics are still nearly two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants. For many northern Catholics, it's as though discrimination against them is now institutionalised.
Over 25 years ago, the British government took responsibility for the Six-County statelet. Since then, little of practical value has been offered to tackle inequality. The anti-discrimination laws passed in the '70s and '80s have made little impact. A cynical view would be that the Fair Employment Laws were designed to reassure the international community as opposed to altering the status quo of Catholics.
The new Equality Commission is responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws, and ensuring that public authorities bring about fair employment. Whilst we welcome its establishment, we are mindful of past experiences of bodies given responsibility to bring about change.
The local government institution in the Six Counties has not changed. No public body has discriminated against Catholics in this statelet as much as local district councils. Local government in the north employs over 8,000 people. This can be broken down to 60% Protestant, 36% Catholic. Four individual councils have less than 10% of Catholics in their workforce. Another 12 have less than 25%.
On the Council that I am elected to, the second largest in the north, only 15% of the workforce is Catholic in an area where the Catholic percentage of the workforce overall is 33%. Catholics only hold two of the top management posts. Women's employment opportunities are even worse. In the top two occupations, on the council, women have only six positions out of a total 28.
The abuse of power by Lisburn Council extends beyond discrimination against Catholics applying for jobs. It has also refused to implement the former FEC affirmative actions programme, and has resisted interference from the FEC.
A study by the FEC in the late '80s showed that most councils across the Six Counties were reluctant to bring about a meaningful end to discrimination. Their recommendations have been widely ignored.
What is required to bring about change, and what has been lacking from the British government, is the will to do what is right. Equality should be at the heart of government decision making in London. However their policies are usually aimed at maintaining the status quo.
As a first step to demonstrate that things may change, the new Equality Authority should investigate each of the 26 District Councils in the Six Counties. It should set timetables and goals to bring an end to discrimination.
It must also tackle the issue of flags and emblems in the work place. Workers must have an harmonious Working environment where they do not feel under threat. Councils should be forbidden display unionist flags and other emblems associated with only one section of the community.
Up to now the system of local government in the north has been synonymous with unionist discrimination. For inequality to be a thing of the past, this can't go on. The British government must deliver on the promises of the Agreement. The Equality Commission can play a part in ending discrimination if it is willing to enforce implementation of real and meaningful change. Equality must play its part in bringing about an end to the conflict.
Cllr Paul Butler,
Fullertons deserve truth
The 31st anniversary of Bloody Sunday took place on Sunday 2 February last with the annual march through Derry, retracing the steps of that fateful anti-internment rally of 1972.
Among the speakers at Free Derry Corner was Minty Thompson, a daughter of Kathleen Thompson, who was killed by a British soldier in the garden of her home in Creggan in 1971. Minty Thompson was speaking on behalf of a number of families, whose loved ones were the victims of state and loyalist killings in the Derry and Donegal areas.
The families have launched a campaign called 'Open up the files' demanding the right to access police investigation files, to know the reasons why the DPP decided not to prosecute in relation to their loved ones' murders. They want to know whether the state colluded in the loyalist killings of their relatives.
This campaign is supported by a number of groups, including the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, Relatives for Justice in Belfast and Fírinne in Fermanagh.
A Donegal family with similar demands is that of Cllr Eddie Fullerton, who was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries on 25 May 1991 at his home in Buncrana, County Donegal. To this day, neither the Gardaí nor the RUC/PSNI have arrested or questioned anyone in relation to this killing, irrespective of the fact that the RUC have matched one of the weapons used with another murder for which convictions were secured.
The Fullerton family has been consistently denied access to the Garda investigation files, has received no information or updates regarding the investigation and recently the family has been denied the right to be heard at the Morris Tribunal.
The 'Open up the files' campaign will provide the Fullerton family with an opportunity to pressure the British and Irish governments to address the inadequate response to the murder of their loved one. The Garda Síochána in Donegal stand accused of negligence in their duty of care to protect Cllr Eddie Fullerton, following receipt of two death threats sent to his home in Buncrana some months prior to his murder.
Eddie Fullerton was an elected representative and dedicated much of his time and energy to the people of Donegal, therefore it is incumbent on the people of Donegal to support this campaign and assist the Fullerton family in any way possible to bring closure to this painful chapter in their lives.
Liam Ó Duibhir
Letterkenny Sinn Féin
Single people & housing
As a public representative I have become aware of the desperation of single people who find it impossible to get Council housing. They encompass a wide range of people. Some of these people are working but find it impossible to buy on the private market. Some are unemployed and in receipt of Rent Allowance and very often find themselves in substandard accommodation because that is all that is available. Others are older citizens and some have various levels of disability.
It is easier for family units with children to get Local Authority Housing. That is understandable. However, what is incomprehensible is the fact that quite a large percentage of housing applicants are single people yet there is no effort being made to take this on board when planning for housing provision. It is not acceptable that this 'bury the head in the sand' attitude regarding single people should be allowed to continue because it denies the reality of what is actually happening in people's lives.
Some are separated people who find it impossible to maintain family links with their children because their accommodation is wholly unsuitable. This is a group that particularly suffers. Does our constitution only recognise the traditional family unit and not what is for many people the actual reality?
While the wheels of bureaucracy turn tortuously slow and will take time to deal with reality, an interim solution needs to be found to cope with the housing needs of those who can no longer afford to wait. Vast amounts of money are disappearing daily in Rent Allowance, affording no real solution to the problem. Could not a more imaginative approach be used by Local Authorities to purchase low cost intermediary stage housing.
I am aware that Councils have attempted to redress the issue by suggesting to single people that they share a house. While this may work for family members, it is going to be highly improbable for people who are total strangers to make this work.
In my area, Carbery Housing Association is attempting to redress this situation by recognising the housing need of single people as individuals with a varying range of circumstances. This is to be welcomed but it needs to be adopted on a more widespread basis.
Cllr Anne O' Leary
Sinn Féin, Bantry.
On Wednesday 22 January there was another leak at the British Nuclear fuel plant at Sellafield. Part of the plant had to evacuated after Lithium Nitrate leaked from a tank. This material can cause fire if in contact with other material. Britain, through its use of the plant, is endangering the lives of its own citizens and the citizens of neighbouring countries. America stores nuclear weapons in Britain, a country which falsifies nuclear documentation, a country which has caused the Irish Sea to become the most radioactive in the world, with some recent fish samples having over 120 times the legal level of radiation in them.
Britain and America are the biggest arms exporters in the world. They continue to produce mass weapons of destruction and have not ruled out using them against Iraq. Britain and America trained Osama Bin Laden and sold chemical weapons to Iraq to attack Iran. Britain and America should get their own house in order rather than bringing the world to the brink of World War III.
Bertie Ahern should not allow American warplanes and weapons to land at Shannon. These warplanes dropped 300 tonnes of Depleted Uranium onto the Iraqi people in the 1991 Gulf War causing thousands of cancers. As the song goes, 'it's too late when we die'.