Equality Issues

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th July 2009.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North 11:30 am, 8th July 2009

What plans he has for the transfer of responsibility for the equality issues within his portfolio to the Northern Ireland Assembly; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The vast majority of equality and anti-discrimination matters are already within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have no current plans to devolve any of the remaining reserved equality issues, but would be happy to consider doing so if requested by the Assembly.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

Would the Minister consider it to be in the spirit of the Good Friday agreement, and the spirit of equality, for both Her Majesty's Government and the devolved Assembly to continue to ensure that children receive a similar education and are not separated, if not at birth, then at the age of four or five, into religious groups, and learn tribal loyalties, rather than a loyalty to humanity?

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I know that my hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in, and commitment to, integrated education in Northern Ireland; he has raised the issue on many occasions. He rightly points out that equality, and a commitment to equality, was at the heart of the Good Friday agreement. It paved the way for the great progress made in Northern Ireland in recent years. One of the products of that progress is that many matters are now devolved in Northern Ireland, including responsibility for education, so I hope that he will forgive me if, on this occasion, I pass and leave it to others to comment on those issues.

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Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I suppose that it should be said—I hope that the Minister agrees—that state schools in Northern Ireland do not encourage tribalism.

Leaving aside the as yet undetermined date for the transfer of policing and justice powers, what more rapid progress can the Minister secure to bring about an equitable situation regarding recruitment to the police in Northern Ireland, so that everyone, irrespective of their religious background, has an equal opportunity, and so that merit is the only consideration in such recruitment?

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I know that the special provisions in place for recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland are a matter of some controversy, and I know that the hon. Gentleman has very strong views on them. However, he will recognise that when Patten reported, only 8 per cent. of serving police officers in Northern Ireland were from the Catholic community. I can tell him that the figure is now more than 26 per cent. That is a huge change, and it means that the Police Service of Northern Ireland more fairly reflects the community that it serves. We are absolutely committed to disapplying the special provisions that are now necessary when we reach the target of 30 per cent., and recruitment will then proceed in the normal way.

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