Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Unionist attempts blunt equality tools are wrong

28 February, 2005


Sinn Féin's Spokesperson on Equality, Human Rights and Women Caitriona Ruane MLA speaking after debating the a range of issues with Ulster Unionist Assembly Member Dermott Nesbitt this weekend has said that unionist attempts undermine and blunt the tools that are essential to combat discrimination and inequality are wrong.

Ms Ruane said:

"I wish to thank Community Dialogue and particularly Kay Nellis for facilitating Saturday's debate and chairing the meeting in such an impartial and professional way. This was a very welcome engagement with one of the political leaders of Unionism who for a number of years has attempted to perpetuate the myth that in the six counties discrimination has been eradicated.

"Unionist leaders like Mr Nesbitt tell us that the Good Friday Agreement is a one-way street of concessions to Nationalists. Have they ever asked why it seems that way? Maybe they should examine our history and remember what it was like pre-1968 and the Civil Rights Campaign.

"Today, Castlereagh, Ballymena and Lisburn Councils demonstrate that given access to majority positions Unionists will still exclude others from positions of power. They will not share anything willingly. When asked about the systematic discrimination of nationalists that characteristics Lisburn City Council Dermott fudged the issue. He turned down the opportunity to criticise his party colleagues who refuse to share any of the top Council positions with Sinn Fein, the SDLP or the Alliance Party.

"Catholic males are still nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their Protestant counterparts. Protestants still occupy an inordinate number of senior positions in the Civil Service and all other state agencies. It is depressing therefore, that Dermot Nesbitt, a former Junior Minister in OFM/DFM with responsibility for equality, is arguing that we live in a society free from discrimination.

"His attempts to blunt the tools that are a key to ensuring a fair and just society and his determination to undermine key equality legislation that is essential to combat discrimination and inequality wherever it manifests itself is clearly wrong. In doing so he damages the tools that can assist us all in challenging discrimination and inequality.

"What a pity that Dermot does not argue as strongly on the need to empower working class Protestant areas in terms of jobs, incomes and education. It is my view that structural and indeed institutional discrimination against Catholics, ethnic minorities, the gay and lesbian community, travellers are part and parcel of living and working in the north of Ireland. Statistics show that discrimination and disadvantage are current realities and require urgent solutions.

"As we enter the new millennium many Unionists argue, without a hint of irony, that the injustice and the inequality which sparked the Civil Rights Movement were not really problems in the first place, but a figment of the Catholic imagination that was mired in victim hood; encouraged by a republican conspiracy designed to undermine the state by fuelling nationalist anger.

"It is this argument, which supports the view that public finances should not be wasted on Equality. This is the agenda, and the philosophy that is a recurring theme behind the public debate which Dermot Nesbitt, former Junior Minister with responsibility for equality, has immersed himself in.

"Yet the reality is that Nationalists fare badly across every indicator of deprivation.

"Here in Downpatrick areas such as the Flying Horse and New Model Farm estates are characterised by high unemployment and social deprivation that compare to anywhere in the north of Ireland. Six miles up the road at Ballyhornan people are living on the site of an old RAF military base that was recently described as a shantytown not dissimilar to Soweto.

"What they have in common is that they are predominantly nationalist areas, which have suffered as a result of neglect from Government and statutory agencies yet they are far from the exception.

"This is no accident. It is symptomatic of the nature of a statelet that was deliberately gerrymandered in order to maintain the status quo." ENDS

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