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Equality Commissioner accused of setting bar 'dangerously low'

6 November, 2006

Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has said that while some of the Equality Commission's recently released strategic priorities are to be welcomed the Commissions' overall set of priorities are 'setting the bar dangerously low' in terms of achieving fundamental change across a range of equality areas.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Sinn Fein has no dispute with the Commission prioritising the gender pay gap, education opportunity for the travelling community and employment opportunities for the disabled as particular issues to be focussed on in the Comprehensive Spending Review. However the Commission would in our view be setting the bar dangerously low if it failed to set as a higher overall target the need to eradicate the causes and patterns of poverty and the need to tackle under-representation in sections of the labour market and in other equality areas which disadvantage the two communities in different ways.

"Sinn Féin believes that if the Commission wants to have any impact on the Comprehensive Spending Review then it must significantly raise the ante with government to reflect the wider poverty and community differentials that evidently exist and which have caused deep inequity.

"These patterns have emerged often as a direct result of government policies themselves and the failure by many public bodies to implement the equality legislation which the Commission is supposed to ensure is properly mainstreamed. The Commission should set this as a key priority area for itself if we are to see meaningful equality outcomes across all areas of policy development and implementation.

"The Commission's approach to employment opportunities and to the whole area of infrastructure and investment strategies has not been as effective as it should. The Commission has failed to put on its public agenda the economic investment and infrastructure disparity that has blighted areas like the West of the Bann, border areas and North and West Belfast. While the Commission has now stated that it intends to prioritise infrastructure and investment issues it remains unclear how it intends to impact on existing patterns and whether it intends to use its own authority to do so.

"In light of a recent NGO report which highlighted the failure of government strategies and policies to impact in a number of key areas such as employment, housing, infrastructure and investment the Commission should have demonstrated a stronger willingness to match its priorities with these realities.

"Sinn Fein will be seeking a meeting with the Equality Commission to ensure that this opportunity to impact on the Comprehensive Spending Review is maximized to the fullest degree." ENDS

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