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Sinn Féin send out strong message on the direction of Equality Commission

6 January, 2006

Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Human Rights and Equality, South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane has issued a strong New Year's message on the future direction of the Equality Commission and also questioned why the series of public meetings being organised by the commission do not include meetings in counties Down and Tyrone.

Ms Ruane said:

"The Equality Commission have a responsibility to drive forward the equality agenda. This involves proactively identifying and tackling inequalities wherever they exist and however they manifest themselves. The record of the Commission to date in this respect has been sadly lacking.

"The Commission's vision of their future role as laid out in their draft Corporate Plan for 2006-2009 fails dismally to generate any confidence that they have learned from past mistakes and that they are committed to fulfilling the remit envisaged for them in the Good Friday Agreement.

"The record of the Commission thus far with regard to the enforcement of the equality duty which is enshrined in legislation is woeful. Their view of their future role points to a continuing failure, or refusal, on their behalf to grasp the fact that they should be investigating inequalities as well as responding to individual complaints. Their draft Corporate Plan for the next 3 years does not even acknowledge the damaging impact that the withdrawal of funding assistance in discrimination cases has on the capacity of individuals to challenge inequality.

"For the Commission to make meaningful progress it must address the historical legacy of discrimination. It must recognise that that the structures of the state in the Six Counties have, in the past, consistently reproduced and compounded inequalities, and that this approach prevails to this day as manifest in the geographical location of investment and capital infrastructure and the persistent and ongoing failures to target and direct resources towards those most disadvantaged.

"And it must acknowledge the adverse impact of direct rule and recognise its obligation to develop an all Ireland perspective. Their failure to factor such considerations into their Corporate Plan is, in our view, a deliberate omission. This is unacceptable.

"The Equality Commission have signalled an intention to hold a number of public meetings across the north which will provide local people with the opportunity to discuss equality related issues. This is to be welcomed. However, it is unacceptable that they have no plans to have any of these discussions in Counties Down and Tyrone. I have therefore written to the Equality Commission and asked that they organise, as a matter of urgency, consultation meetings in both these counties." ENDS

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