Sinn Féin challenge British Secretary of State on preferential treatment for Orange Halls
Sinn Féin has described Tony Blair's decision to grant rate exemptions to Orange Halls while making no such provision for the halls of sporting and cultural organisations across the six counties as discriminatory.
West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty has now written to the Direct Rule Secretary of State Paul Murphy demanding that the rates exemption measure for halls be implemented impartially.
In his letter the West Tyrone MP questions the equality implications of Tony Blair's decision to grant "Rate Exemptions" to Orange and Independent Orange Order Halls following on from Unionist demands at the Leeds Castle Talks.
"We are told that the rates exemption has been granted because Orange Halls fulfil an important social function in the community.
"If this is the criteria for rates exemptions for halls then I believe that a wide range of sporting and cultural organisations, including the GAA, must also now be deemed eligible. Failure to extend this measure would be in breach of equality legislation and undoubtedly lead to legal challenges.
The local MP concluded his letter by demanding that the situation be standardized as soon as possible.
Omagh Sinn Féin Councillor Begley echoed these demands by saying,
"The special dispensation being given to Orange halls is completely unbalanced. It fails to take into account the fact that there is a wide spectrum of sporting and cultural organisations right across the community who are equally if not more deserving of a rates exemption if we are talking about the contribution they make in terms of improving the social fabric of communities on a day-to-day basis.
"This move by Tony Blair to single out Orange Halls for preferential treatment is totally discriminatory. It runs contrary to Section 75 of the Good Friday Agreement and other equality legislation.
"However, the decision to exempt Orange Halls from rates creates a precedent which now opens the door for other groups like the GAA to demand that the same exception criteria be applied to its halls.
" Sinn Féin is determined to pursue this issue and I would encourage all appropriate sporting and cultural organisations to do likewise." ENDS