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Fire Service discriminating against the Nationalist community

20 August, 2004

Sinn Fein's spokesperson on Equality, Human Rights and Women Caitriona Ruane MLA has expressed deep concern at the level of discrimination Nationalist employees of the Northern Ireland Fire Service are currently subject to as a result of the introduction in 2002 of stand-by maps.

Ms Ruane was speaking after taking on the case of Warrenpoint man John Allen who has served in the Fire Brigade for 18 years. In August 2003 he was offered the post of Divisional Officer on the condition he move to a specified geographical zone that was within a 30 mile radius of Lisburn.

Mr Allen was subsequently forced to decline the position because as a resident of Warrenpoint he lived outside of the stipulated area. The exception to this rule applies to people living in Belfast who despite their close proximity to Lisburn are still prevented from obtaining senior positions within the Fire Service because of the stand-by map rule.

Ms Ruane said:

"Sinn Fein fully supports Mr Allen who in October of last year contacted the Fair Employment Tribunal alleging unlawful discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion. He was prevented from accepting the position of Divisional Officer because of where he lives. The introduction of this geographical catchment area encompasses a number of predominantly Unionist areas, such as Craigavon and Portadown, yet areas, such as Newcastle, Armagh, Warrenpoint, Newry Belfast and Downpatrick, are excluded.

"This case has wider implications. The Good Friday Agreement created a statutory obligation under, Section 75, on all designated public bodies have a to equality proof all policy. It is clear these maps were introduced by the Fire Authority without any screening for their equality impact.

"For 18 years Mr Allen has been a hard working member of the Fire Service and his talent, experience and dedication should be rewarded. It is wrong the he is now subjected to this type of discrimination. Why is it that the 'stand by' area for headquarters in Lisburn stretches as far as Loughgall in the west and Islandmagee in the east but excludes Belfast, with its substantial nationalist population, even though it is much closer to Lisburn.

"Sinn Fein are concerned because it appears that Fire Service are determined to implement regressive criteria which is designed to discriminate against specific sections of our community. This is unacceptable. We need to take steps to address the levels of discrimination that currently still exist here in the Six Counties.

"Make no mistake, this appears to be designed to prevent Catholics obtaining top positions within the Fire Service. This is blatant discrimination. The purpose of it might be to discriminate against Nationalists but it is actually discriminating against everyone living outside 'call out' areas; Catholics, Protestants, women, members of ethnic minorities, all the areas the equality legislation was set up to deal with. It is not acceptable.

"There needs to be an immediate investigation into this case. We are also calling on the Equality Commission to speed up the case because as time goes on John Allen is being further discriminated against.

"It is outrageous that senior officers within the North's Fire Service believe they have the right to exclude fire fighters with years of experience and exemplary records because they live in places like Newcastle, Downpatrick, Armagh Warrenpoint, Newry, Rostrevor, North Belfast, West Belfast or South Belfast. I have now written to the Fire Service expressing my deep concern about this case, which also violates statutory requirements and I am waiting for a response. I have also written to Direct Rule Minister Angela Smith expressing my concerns about the fact that the maps were not put through equality impact assessments and about the level of discrimination that is going unchallenged." ENDS

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