Sinn Féin demand maximum compliance with the equality agenda
A Sinn Féin delegation led by North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan and West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff met with Direct Rule Minister Jeff Rooker and senior officials today to raise the party‚s concerns that equality legislation is not being properly complied with across a range of high level policy strategies.
Philip McGuigan said:
"The purpose of this meeting is to remind the Minister of the centrality of applying the equality legislation and agenda to the maximum as required by law under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This is the main legislation allowing for equality mainstreaming yet we have discovered that many of the high ranging strategies being put forward for consultation are failing to carry out full impact assessments to determine the equality consequences, particularly for those in our society who need to see real evidence of change in their circumstances.
"Among the high level strategies we have identified so far which have not carried out proper and robust equality impact assessments are the Priorities and Budget 2005-2008, the New TSN anti-poverty consultation document, the introduction of ASBOS, the Strategic Investment Boards draft proposals for spending £16billion and Invest Northern Ireland‚s latest corporate plan, all of which are not complying to the maximum with equality legislation requirements.
"The equality mechanisms and legislation in place may not be perfect but they flowed out of the Good Friday Agreement in order to address a growing gulf between rich and poor in our society. Those same inequalities remain and in some aspects are deepening, particularly West of the Bann as well as in other areas where social and economic disadvantage remains consistently depressing.
In our view it is even more crucial, not less, that high level strategies and policies are subjected to the rigour of equality scrutiny in order to test their likely advantageous or detrimental impact on existing inequalities.
"We will therefore be calling on Mr Rooker and others to ensure that all high level strategies are properly impact assessed to the fullest."
Meanwhile West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff has revealed that the party has been working closely with the Equality Commission on this matter. He said:
"The Equality Commission has been well aware of this unsatisfactory situation for some considerable time and has been working with the party since last December to press home to public bodies and Ministers if necessary, the need to comply with robust equality assessments of policies. This work will be ongoing as we believe there is now a need for the Commission to take a more pro-active role in the time ahead, particularly in view of its responsibilities to review equality legislation this autumn." ENDS.
Note for Editors: The Sinn Féin delegation consisted of Philip McGuigan MLA North Antrim, West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff, Chrissie McAuley, Equality manager and Joe Doherty, Political Advisor.