This debate will last two hours. The proposer may speak for 15 minutes. Then there will be five minutes each for other contributors. The proposer will have another 15 minutes to make the winding-up speech before which there will be a further 15 minutes shared between the two junior Ministers.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I beg to move the following motion:
That this Assembly notes with approval the work to be completed by 30 June 2000 by public bodies in order to comply with the requirements of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
This motion has been put on the clár to afford the Assembly an opportunity to comment on, and set down markers in relation to, conformity with equality requirements by public bodies and other bodies in receipt of public funds. This is the month in which those bodies designated by the Secretary of State are to complete their equality schemes. It is an opportune time for us, as elected representatives, to note with approval the genuine efforts being made by some to conform fully with the requirements of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and to remind those who have produced inadequate responses that we are determined to hold them fully to those requirements. We must also ask why the Secretary of State appears to have exempted certain public bodies, and many bodies in receipt of public funds, from the requirements of the Act.
The inclusion of an equality agenda in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement was no accident. The unfortunate attitude of many public and private bodies in this state throughout its history was, perhaps, best summed up by John Taylor at the beginning of those negotiations, when he said
The incorporation of the equality agenda into the agreement was a direct consequence of resistance to the systematic discrimination that was prosecuted by the institutions of this state, including public bodies, for three generations. Until that apparatus of discrimination is dismantled, the emphasis on equality must be a major focus in the Programme for Government of this Administration. The Good Friday Agreement enshrined the equality agenda and paved the way for the creation of a new statutory duty under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act to promote equality among all public bodies. This requires such bodies to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, and that means more than just facilitating equality of opportunity. It means recognising the existing need to redress inequalities and actively promoting policies that address that need. These will inevitably include affirmative action measures, which will need to be clearly identified in equality schemes.
This is not just about religious and political discrimination, which has been the hallmark of this state, important though that is. Equality schemes must actively address disability issues. The experience of inequality among disabled people in this society is evidenced by the fact that nearly one in five persons of working age in the Six Counties has a disability which significantly limits their day-to-day activities. Only 31% of people with disabilities are in employment, compared to 75% of those without.
On gender issues, the discrimination experienced by women in all aspects of the economy of the Six Counties remains an obstacle to social change and economic equality. Just over half — 50·5% — of women are economically active, compared to 69·4% of men. Female workers are concentrated in low-paid, low-status jobs and in part-time, casual or temporary work with poor terms and conditions. Overall, women’s income from employment and/or benefits is only 61% of that of men.
On the issue of race, there is continuing racism on institutional and individual levels. The marginalisation of Irish travellers is reflected in their lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and poorer educational attainment.
Attacks on, and harassment of, ethnic minorities are increasingly common in Irish society, both North and South. There are other issues relating to sexual orientation, age, religious belief, political opinion, and those with and without dependants.
On the unemployment differential, the most recent labour force survey, released a fortnight ago, demonstrated that Catholics are still more than twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants. This has been the case throughout the last three decades, despite the repeated bogus claims about the efficiency of fair employment legislation in this society. The 1991 census showed that Catholic males in my constituency of Newry and Armagh were as much as three times more likely to be unemployed than Protestant males. In the Mid Ulster constituency, Catholic males were almost three times more likely to be unemployed than Protestant males, and Catholic females twice as likely as Protestant females to be unemployed. Undoubtedly this is as much a product of the practice of discrimination in job location as the practice of discrimination in job appointments. In an article published last year in the ‘European Journal of Political Economy’, Prof Vani Borooah concluded that the central message, based on analysis of the 1991 census for Northern Ireland, was that there was clear evidence of discrimination against Catholics.
This systemic discrimination has been institutionalised in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The latest equal opportunities audit, published earlier this year, shows gross under-representation of women and Catholics in the senior grades of the Civil Service. Indeed, it was not long ago that we had the spectacle of a Catholic woman being subjected to the worst kind of sectarian harassment in the office of Baroness Denton. Despite the shame and adverse publicity that that case brought upon the senior Civil Service grades, the perpetrator of that sectarian abuse was subsequently promoted.
Targets must be set, as part of the Programme of Government for this Administration, to eliminate the unemployment differential and to ensure equality of representation for Nationalists and women in the senior Civil Service grades. Many of the equality schemes produced to date, particularly and disappointingly those by many of the Government Departments, fall below acceptable standards. They are deficient in affirmative action measures, transparency monitoring and research, proper use of impact assessments, and effective timetables to tackle seriously the impact of inequality in this state. Some public bodies have not even been required by the Secretary of State to comply with the equality requirements. That is contrary to the intent of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Assembly should send out a signal that less than full and proactive adherence to the principles of equality will not be tolerated from anyone in receipt of public funding. The private sector should also take note of our determination in this regard. We should note with approval the work being undertaken on this issue, but should also serve notice that adherence to equality principles will be a central theme of these institutions. We will remain vigilant until full equality across all these issues has been attained. Go raibh maith agat.
I am somewhat unclear about the meaning and intention of the motion. I am assuming that Members will be noting with approval the intended, or hoped for, result of the work currently being undertaken, and which has been completed by some public bodies and authorities. Rather than necessarily agreeing with Conor Murphy’s introductory remarks that many bodies have successfully completed the work, I would like to concentrate on his remarks questioning the levels of completion and adherence to the requirements by slightly amending them to "some bodies have successfully completed." In our view, an analysis of the existing draft equality schemes shows that they leave a lot to be desired, and they appear to have fallen well short of the intended aim.
I and my Colleagues, having examined draft reports from various public bodies, are particularly concerned that such bodies appear to be paying only lip-service to the scheme requirements. Many lack the appropriate levels of detail in their assessment plans. In particular, I draw the Member’s attention to the Departments that are attached to the Assembly. There is, in the SDLP’s view, a big flaw in many of the assessment plans. They appear to be statements of agreement with the spirit of the legislation, rather than of what arrangements are needed in order to carry out an equality impact assessment of their policies.
Recent European Commission research into equality legislation showed that the quality of the policy statement and the assumed equality-neutral character of the policy were two difficulties in promoting what it referred to as mainstreaming, that is, implementing quality legislation in the workplace. Our departmental equality schemes tend to fail on both counts, as they provide no information to support implicit assumptions or explicit statements of assumptions made.
There does not appear to be any joined-up government discussion of how one Department’s policy might influence another. In the SDLP’s view, Departments should provide much more detail on decisions relating to their timetable of work.
The documents appear — I am talking about the whole public body requirement — generally to support the requirements of the scheme. But, as I have said already, they do not go far enough in suggesting what is needed within the organisations to carry out an equality impact assessment on policy.
Often it is a simple matter of repeating the guidelines and agreeing with their implementation, rather than proactively illustrating how they can work. The true test is the commitment of finance and resources to achieve equality. It is a good test of a public body’s commitment to see whether it will "pony up", as we might say, and make a financial commitment.
As I am trying to illustrate, there is a mixed picture surrounding the draft schemes and their various aspects. For example, how far does the draft scheme issued by any body specify that adequate consideration will be given to impact assessments? I am now talking generally and not just about the Departments, which I have dealt with specifically. Too often one sees repetition of old Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment-style formulae that are more about redressing discrimination than about actively promoting equality. Many of the schemes do not supply visible impact analysis plans. There are several other concerns, but my time is up.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it is good to see you back in the Chair. This is an interesting debate, and it is interesting to see who has brought the equality issue forward.
I shall touch a little on the equality schemes in the first instance. I have to concur with some of Mr ONeill’s remarks. Many of the responses have lacked clarity, particularly in relation to staff training, resourcing, timetabling and impact assessment. There is also a lack of information on the financial implications of the measures proposed, and in many cases there is no indication of how they propose to communicate the schemes to young people. Many of the schemes do not address the needs of older people.
There is much work to be done on a lot of the schemes that have been brought forward on the draft proposals. There is a need for tightening up. The policy of the DUP on equality is that no one should suffer discrimination on account of gender, disability, religion, ethnicity or creed.
We believe that everyone is entitled to be in the same position in respect of getting jobs or of accessing the various options that are available to them and that no one should be discriminated against. I am thinking in particular of the new police force that is to be established and the fact that the selection of police officers is to be carried out on a fifty-fifty basis. In reality, there should be a system whereby those who are best qualified should be selected to carry out the job.
I was told today that Sinn Féin had been speaking to foreign journalists and telling them that people who had previously been engaged in paramilitarism should be entitled to join the RUC. In my view that is not equal representation. All those who adhere to the law and who are prepared to enforce it in an impartial manner should be entitled to apply to join the RUC, or the Northern Ireland Police Service, or whatever it happens to be called. Nothing else should be taken into account.
I would be interested to see how European money will be distributed under these new equality schemes. In the past there was a very unequal distribution of European money. We heard some interesting figures being quoted today — figures that go back to 1991. That is the last century, in case those people did not realise. It is time to come into the new century, into the new era, into the new millennium and leave the old century behind. On a regular basis, we hear old, irrelevant figures being quoted, but perhaps a lot of people in South Armagh, those referred to, were "doing the double" at that time. That was before the Tories had drawn up the legislation which stamped out a lot of that, and perhaps not as many people were unemployed as the statistics created by that census showed. That census has undoubtedly been used to discriminate against members of my community when it came to getting money from the European peace funds, and that should be addressed under the new equality initiative. Ministers of this Government have made certain appointments. How does that fit in with the equality agenda? The Health Department, for example, has brought out its equality agenda, and yet the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has taken on a multiple murderer to act as her special adviser. Was that person the best qualified to do the job, or was it simply a case of employing somebody because of his past? [Interruption]
I have nothing to be cautious about, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can name the person he murdered. He happened to come from my constituency, and I went to school with his son. I have no problem in doing that, if it is the wish of the Assembly. I can understand that that Minister would, perhaps, like to portray herself as being a very green Republican in spite of the fact that some of the Sunday newspapers indicated that she comes from a fine line of British Army soldiers. Her great-grandfather once joined the forces to suppress Fenians — a fact that is quite amusing. Given that that was her background, she may go out of her way — [Interruption]
There are currently a number of problems with these schemes, and from what I understand, 105 of them have been completed to date. I want to pay tribute at this point to a number of bodies that have called for consultation with others, in particular the South Eastern Education and Library Board, which wrote to Assembly Members yesterday. The letter gave details of meetings at which the Board is prepared to have consultation before it finally submits its schemes. This is a piece of good practice which the other designated bodies would have done well to follow, rather than simply preparing a scheme and forwarding it to each of us. We currently have approximately 50 of these schemes sitting on our desks, and they could have notified us about some of these consultation meetings.
That brings me to my first point. This is such a new method of designing equality in Northern Ireland that a great deal more consultation should have taken place. There are three stages. The Equality Commission made it very clear to the designated bodies that they could have taken more time in the preparation for approval of the schemes, and then decided on what should be screened for impact assessment statements.
Having read a number of them, I am concerned that the departmental bodies — not the non-departmental ones — have decided what they are screening out. So, it seems they have taken a very negative approach to the issue of equality. In other words, they are deciding what they are not going to do, rather than what they are going to do.
Finally, there would have been a third stage, after the schemes had been forwarded to the Equality Commission, when there could have been some consultation on the impact assessment statements. I am slightly disappointed that they did not take the opportunity to engage in the kind of wide-ranging consultation that needs to happen on issues of equality, and in which the Human Rights Commission is now prepared to engage, in relation to its bill of rights.
This is a unique opportunity for Northern Ireland. Human rights and equality should not be owned by any section of the House — they belong to us all. With that in mind, I commend Mr Poots for his early comments, before he got into the disappointing party political statements. He was right in saying that Departments have lost an opportunity to speak to children in particular about the impact, and also to older people who have often been the more excluded and marginalised members of our community.
Most of the schemes comment on disability, religion, race and gender. However, this was an opportunity for us to bring in others, and link up Departments which are responsible for older people and the younger members of our community.
There is serious concern that the Secretary of State has still not designated other bodies for equality schemes. Different types of bodies have been designated, and those currently completing the schemes have been designated under two pieces of legislation — the Commissioner for Complaints (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and the Ombudsman (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. The Secretary of State has the power to designate other bodies and has not done so. He should now set out a timetable by which he will designate them and let us see how comprehensive these bodies are.
Now that our new Ministers are in place, they should be committed to the schemes. In their absence, the Departments and the designated bodies had to go ahead and prepare the schemes. The Ministers may not have had much time to sign off the schemes, other than perhaps by adding their signatures. Now is the time for them, in this consultation process, to be active change agents. If the statements do not come from the top and there is not a commitment to allocate resources — as Mr Poots has pointed out — and put the training in place, they will only be as good as words on paper. Many of us know that writing reports or making statements is worth little if they are not enforced or implemented.
I take some hope from the fact that we have now gone a long way in Northern Ireland towards not just talking about and using the rhetoric of equality, but to producing action.
I thank Mr Conor Murphy for proposing the motion on equality, as it gives the House an early opportunity to examine the issue of equality schemes currently out for consultation across Government Departments.
The equality schemes set up under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 are a worthwhile first step. However, I know, from my own experience in responding to the Department of Education’s scheme, that the consultation period is very short. If equality is to work for any group of people then the key to success is enforcement and accountability. I call on the Departments, and the Ministers in particular, to put equality high on their agenda. I call on them to ensure that section 75 is implemented in full and that they address some of the issues raised today and I call on them to ensure that adequate resources are allocated, suitable training is given to staff and that appropriate mechanisms are put in place for proper consultation, particularly, complaint procedures.
Questions also need to be asked about whether the internal management structures for coping with the equality duty are adequate and about whether suitable weight is given to the equality of opportunity considerations when it comes to making final decisions. These queries need to be answered and appropriate amendments made to redress the major flaws in these schemes.
I would also like to bring to the House’s attention the specific issue of equality for those with a disability under the requirements of section 75 of the Act. The House will be aware that the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 is already on the statute book. However, for this law to have real teeth in the future, it is essential to establish a commission of enforcement for Northern Ireland. Without such enforcement it will not be possible to make serious inroads into the present levels of discrimination. In the rest of the UK the newly formed Disability Rights Commission has real teeth to deal with those who flout the law. In Great Britain, the commission possesses the powers not only to investigate cases of inequality in the workplace but, where necessary, to pursue action through the courts. As no such protection or redress exists for disabled people in Northern Ireland, I look forward to early legislation emanating from the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers not only to correct this imbalance, but, more importantly, to protect disabled people against discrimination in our society.
As a result of the House’s recent suspension, the powers contained in the Equality (Disability, etc) (Commencement No 1) Order (Northern Ireland) 2000 were left for others to decide. As a result, disabled people in Northern Ireland got a raw deal and did not receive the protection they rightly deserve. The House has the duty in the months and years ahead to ensure such protection. Then and only then will we be able to talk seriously about equality.
In recent years there has been a more pragmatic and forward-looking approach to various aspects of equality legislation, particularly when it refers to disability and gender. May I echo the comments made by Mr Poots that noone in the House would contemplate or countenance accepting or acquiescing to discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, community background or anything else. We believe in the concept of a fair and equal society.
Now, looking at the timetable for equality impact assessments, it is very clear, taking the equality agenda as a whole, that what is happening in Northern Ireland is the emerging of a concept of inequality. A revision of legislation is being undertaken as result of this concept rather than as a result of reality. That concept is total and utter nonsense. It is a fallacy that people are discriminated against in Northern Ireland because they are Roman Catholic. People may say that for party political purposes or because they need some medical or psychiatric assistance. Perhaps they should listen and learn.
The tenth monitoring report of the Equality Commission is available only now; it was issued last week and gives the current up-to-date figures, in local government terms, for the Nationalist-controlled councils. In Newry and Mourne — I think one of its representatives spoke earlier — 76·8% of recruits last year were Roman Catholic. In the case of Down District Council — again, one of its representatives spoke earlier — 78·9% of recruits last year were Roman Catholic. In Londonderry — a representative has not spoken until now — 77·4% of recruits were Roman Catholic. In the case of Omagh District Council, 73·8% of recruits were Roman Catholic. Strabane came out remarkably well: only 60% were Roman Catholic. What sort of world are these people living in? I have not gone into the statistics for private sector companies, which I have mentioned from time to time over the past 20 years.
No, not when I have only one and a half minutes.
The private sector is even worse. In the case of Norbrook Laboratories, the head of which sits on one of the North/South Councils, 85·9% of recruits are Roman Catholics. The figure for Glen Electric is 95·1% — we are coming close to 100%. Sean Quinn’s is 91·2% Roman Catholic. Reality checks are needed big time. People want to try to dwell on a concept and an illusion of reality. In reality, our community is being discriminated against day in, day out.
Any equality impact assessment study must take account of the impact that reverse discrimination has had over the past 20 years. There is nothing that I have seen or heard from either the Equality Commission or any submissions to it that takes account of that — nothing. It has to be and it must be taken account of because these figures demonstrate a worsening position. If I were to read out the figures of 10 years ago they would have been slightly better than that. Where there are large numbers of Roman Catholics in employment, even more are being recruited. Of course there is the reverse situation where there are a large number of Protestants being employed, but it is not the case that large numbers of Protestants are also being recruited.
Go raibh maith agat. Equality is central to the Good Friday Agreement and the incorporation of the equality agenda into the Good Friday Agreement was a direct result of the inequalities that have existed in this state since partition. As my Colleague, Conor Murphy, pointed out, senior Unionist politicians in the Six Counties failed to recognise the inequalities that existed then, and some still fail to recognise them.
Section 75 is a key part of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Section 73 outlines the duties of the Equality Commission. The legislation also details the equality schemes that will help to address the imbalances in our society. It should provide a framework to help ensure that equality of opportunity for all is made a reality in policy making. By 30 June, public authorities will have to comply with the requirements of section 75 by law. However, it is vital that all public authorities are included in this designation. At this point Peter Mandelson, who has authority for designating bodies in receipt of public funding, has not yet designated universities, further education colleges and UK Departments. I urge him to do so immediately.
The UK Departments include the Home Office, which is responsible for the appalling conditions to which asylum seekers here are still subjected, and the Social Security Agency, which clearly has an obligation to promote equality. Some other glaring omissions include the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, which has is no equality scheme for the IDB — a body which has been criticised recently for its poor management and bad judgement, and which has a huge budget to spend as and, more importantly, where it wishes.
The Department for Social Development, in which there is no equality scheme for the Belfast Regeneration Office, has spent millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on the Laganside project; but it is doubtful how this will impact on the most deprived areas of the city in terms of employment and accessibility. While the docks area thrives with building work going on as far as the eye can see, areas like north and west Belfast remain as they were, with dereliction and deprivation being the norm.
We are in danger of creating greater divisions and disparity in this city, and across the Six Counties, unless funding is properly allocated so that all can benefit from the resources that are available. If the Belfast Regeneration Office does not have to comply with equality legislation, there will be a danger that Nationalist areas will suffer neglect. What I find hardest to understand is the reticence of the Office of the Centre, under the First and Deputy First Ministers, on addressing religious and political discrimination. They are listed in the screening process as matters for consideration in five years from now. The same scheme has listed community relations for impact appraisal in the first year of work.
The promotion of equality in employment, goods and services should be the primary duty and the promotion of good relations a secondary consideration. If the former is achieved, it should surely underpin the latter. As for the equality schemes themselves, it is essential to have clear and unambiguous timetables specified for achieving the tasks and goals. Equality schemes must include timetables for training, for screening and for the production of impact assessments and annual reports. They must clearly specify how the body concerned intends to secure equality and not merely repeat the guidelines. We have to ensure that overlaps that may exist are properly dealt with and do not result in gaps in the provision for equality. Schemes must indicate the extent of their responsibilities for impact assessment and show how this relates to the next level up or down to ensure adequate protection.
None of the equality schemes that I have seen to date has addressed one of the most important aspects of this work — is the effective monitoring of employment practices by public authorities. We all know about disparities in employment practices which were only addressed in part by the old fair employment legislation. For example, senior ranks of the Civil Service and Government Departments discriminated wholesale against Catholics.
Go raibh maith agat. We all know about disparities in employment practices which were addressed only in part by the old fair employment legislation. We must use this opportunity to get it right and to ensure that future generations are not discriminated against because of religious belief, political opinion, age, sexual orientation, race, gender, dependence or disability. Go raibh maith agat.
I am sure we will get order.
Equality, as Mr Campbell has confirmed, is a term like reconciliation, agreement and even peace that has many definitions,depending on your background and perceptions. It is therefore difficult for us to ascertain how the statutory duty in section 75 will affect the need for equality of opportunity for all and how it will be implemented by designated public authorities in terms of good value, equal treatment, and best practice. This must be done within the specified criteria. I recommend a means used by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. It has circulated to all other bodies, and to their staff, an Equality Commitment Statement. If any member of staff feels that he is being discriminated against in any way he can call that up to have it dealt with.
Something like that is clear. As other Members have said, sometimes it is great to put something on paper, but it can be hard to implement it. The submissions that I have read from many different public authorities and bodies make very similar reading. It looks as if they all used the same template, which seems to be this guide to the statutory duties. I got the definite impression that many, if not all, seem to have been completed simply because they were obligatory rather than from an informed viewpoint, and clearly that gives concern.
The Equality Commission has worked tirelessly on advising and informing authorities on the implementation of the statutory duty, but it is early days for all of us. We will need to support the Equality Commission’s examination of policies for promoting equality of opportunity. This must be done within appendix 1 of the Act, which I do not have time to read out.
Equality-impact assessment must also be clearly and effectively conducted so that everyone feels they have been treated exactly the same. The consultation process, as others have mentioned, must be thorough and comprehensive; it does not seem to have been in some submissions I have seen in different areas which I know. There has not been as wide a consultation to complete their submission as there should have been. Members have already mentioned shortcomings regarding disability and gender, therefore, rather than follow my notes, I shall merely say that I share their concerns.
One of the main problems to date is the complete absence of information for the public, who seem unaware of the statutory duty’s implications. Procedures must be publicised for the public so that equality requirements can be properly maintained. As has been said, in due course equality schemes must be produced by other bodies and authorities that have not been designated, and I hope the Secretary of State will examine that. Organisationssuch as the Assembly must look at it to ensure that we lead the way in promoting equality at all levels. Our Departments have had to make submissions on issues like employment and recruitment practice, and procedures of general good practice and we must do likewise.
We are in the early days of real equality that we all understand. However, I will, as a Member of the Committee of the Centre, along with my Colleagues, be looking at the role of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy Minister in the area of equality. We shall be looking carefully at implementation so that all the gaps are stopped. Like others, I welcome this. When I first looked at this motion, I thought it was perhaps too early. But I now believe, on the basis of comments made by others, that it has been timely, ensuring that we all know what we are in for in the coming months, and hope that we can all look each other in the face equally.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I listened with interest to what Mr Campbell said about the Equality Commission’s annual report. As most Members know, Assembly Members get most reports that go out, but it is significant that we do not get a copy of that particular one. Would it be in order for the Assembly to take that point up with the Equality Commission and ask it why it does not circulate this report annually to Members?
I agree with the closing remark of my North Down Colleague Eileen Bell that this debate on the issue of equality is timely. However — and I shall come to the reasons presently — I take exception to the wording of the motion, which I feel is perhaps not quite so appropriate or timely. As the Member remarked the importance of equality, like many of these words, lies perhaps as much in perception as in reality. Unfortunately, for many within the Unionist community, the terms "equality" and "Equality Commission" conjure up other images. Indeed, their memories are very much drawn to the Fair Employment Commission, which for many in the Unionist community was heavily discredited. For many of them, it is difficult to approach this issue in the context of trying to create a situation where there is equality of opportunity, which should be our aim for everyone. Many Unionists will view the word "equality" in the same way many people viewed Eastern European states calling themselves "democratic" in the former Soviet era. A concern among many Unionists is whether the Equality Commission will simply be another exercise in discrimination against Unionists.
I do not think that should be the case, and I hope we shall all strive for a situation in which we have full equality of opportunity, not simply in religion, but, as has been mentioned, in gender, ethnic background and disability. All those things should be tackled.
This brings me to the nature of the motion itself. It is rather clumsily worded, for two conclusions could be drawn from it as to what is intended. Either we are congratulating the fact that work is going on in the area of equality, although to be congratulating people on the fact that the matter is being looked at without any examination as to the quality of the work itself seems to be a rather facile notion, or secondly, we are congratulating the output that has been achieved. Given that there was a deadline of 30 June, it seems premature to be making a judgement on whether it is achieving, at this stage, its objectives. Indeed, we have heard a wide range of criticism from various Members. It may well be that, given time, those criticisms can be accepted and dealt with, but there is great concern that many of the responses which have been put forward are fairly inadequate and do not cover all the issues. In particular, given the concentration on religious discrimination, other issues such as gender discrimination and giving teeth to disability legislation have tended, in the past, to be pushed to one side. Before we make a judgement on whether the matter is being dealt with properly by the equality review, we need to look at the end product, rather than simply welcoming it at this stage.
I question the methodology that has been used. The sheer number of Departments and statutory bodies producing reports led to a period when all of us were deluged more or less every day with another report from another group. I wonder whether the idea of simply getting every Department or every group to produce its own report was the right approach.
I also wonder whether the issue of equality could be better tackled by a more holistic approach which actually looked at the wider issues, and also whether Government resources have been wisely spent on these dozens of reports, rather than having been used to look at the issue in a broader frame. There is then a tendency to ignore a lot of the bigger issues.
For example, I have severe concerns, from a legal point of view, about some of the powers that the fair employment body had. We had a situation — I do not know whether it has been addressed yet — which particularly discriminated against employers. If an employer lost a case, he could not appeal in terms of quantum; he could appeal only in terms of law. There are a number of similar issues which I do not think —
I do not have time to give way.
There have been a number of issues of that nature. There are issues, in terms of taking a look at the wider approach, as to whether the whole area of disability discrimination has been properly dealt with. I am not sure that simply pigeon-holing it into a wide range of Departments and minor Government bodies is the right way of dealing with it. It should have been dealt with centrally using a bigger approach.
I also question, for example, discrimination in my own constituency. Much has been made of discrimination in a number of areas. North Down, which is supposed to be the "gold coast" of Northern Ireland — [Interruption]
North Down, at one stage, had the lowest rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland, but it now has above-average unemployment. I believe that that is due to Government policy. I do not think that this is the right motion for today. I am glad to see it is being debated, but I do not think the wording is correct.
First, I want to make an observation about this debate, which I hope will be heard by the bureaucracies inside and outside Government. There is a very high degree of consensus in the Chamber on this issue. There may be some difference of opinion — and there is some profound difference of opinion on the outworking of equality practice — but it is quite clear that, that aside, all those who have spoken today from all the parties now accept that there is an equality duty; that equality has been mainstreamed and that a culture of equality has to prevail inside government and beyond in the North. I have observed, not just for our own benefit but more to ensure that those who are in and close to government and those who are in public authorities in the North understand, that there is a high degree of political consensus on the issue of equality in the North, unlike at any other time in our history. Public authorities in particular need to acknowledge and accept that there is a growing consensus and cohesion and that whatever the past might have been, the political establishment in the North will increasingly make demands from public authorities to ensure that they fulfil their equality functions and equality duties.
While the Chamber understands that public authorities have taken time to come to terms with their new duty under the Northern Ireland Act and acknowledges that the outworking of that, at public authority level, is difficult and requires many changes, nevertheless it is appropriate to put on record what is expected of them. Other Members have referred to that already, so I will only mention two crucial requirements on public authorities which, to date, have not been reflected adequately or at all in the draft equality schemes that they have submitted to the Government.
The first requirement is essential. Section 75 lays two responsibilities on public authorities. There is concern that public authorities will concentrate on one to the absence of the other. That will not be accepted by politicians or by the Equality Commission in the North. The two duties are to pay due regard to the need to promote equality and opportunity and to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations. We can easily imagine situations where, while fulfilling their equality of opportunity duty, they will respect community relations but fail to promote equality of opportunity as required by the legislation.
Public authorities need to appreciate that the higher duty upon them is the need to fulfil equality of opportunity. While it is desirable to promote community relations, that is a lesser duty, even though it is a high duty that they owe to the local community. Public authorities need to be aware of the difference and of the primacy of the need to promote equality of opportunity rather than the desirability of promoting community relations.
The second point I want to make to the public authorities is that there is a lack of definition and detail in the draft equality schemes that they have submitted to the Government. They need to demonstrate much more conclusively that they are prepared to invest in the equality duty, the resources and all the other requirements necessary to see that it works in practice. In particular, they need to demonstrate more fully the requirement for training to be undertaken by public officials to ensure that the duty is fulfilled. They need to outline more clearly how resources are going to be invested to ensure that the duty is fulfilled, and how they are going to apply the principles of their equality schemes generally. They need to outline clarity in screening to ensure that we understand why public authorities select some of their functions rather than others when it comes to applying the public authority duty.
Finally, and most centrally, the public authorities need to outline how each equality duty and equality scheme fulfils the Targeting Social Need requirement of Government. A former Secretary of State said Targeting Social Need was one of three compelling requirements of government in the North. Public authorities need to demonstrate that in practice in each area.
A "rough draft" of the American Declaration of Independence states
"We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
That puts the proposer of the motion in perspective. It talks about equality, but the person who brought forward the motion is talking about a different type of equality which ignores the community that I come from and represent. They are here only because for 30 years they have tried to kill the Unionist community and put them under pressure.
I want to dwell upon some of the equality issues. They are issues that affect each and every one of us, are important to us all and affect many different parts of our community. When we talk about equality in relation to maternity services being moved from Jubilee to west Belfast, where is the equality for the community in east Belfast? Where is the equality when over £50 million is put into Irish language schools to the detriment of other schools and other education?
We now have two Ministers responsible for issues such as these. Perhaps they could start by looking at equality in their Departments and making sure that equality in every facet of life is looked at and dealt with. Unfortunately, many of us in the Unionist community feel that this equality legislation has failed to assure us that we are entitled to equality of treatment first, as every other part of the community is. Many Unionists look at it today and say "No, we are not part of this equality agenda and we are going to lose out."
Those of us who are elected representatives, including councillors, will be snowed under by this mountain of paperwork that we have on equality issues from every Department looking for our opinions. I am concerned that what will result is legislation that the councils will not be able to operate fully because of the workload. Officers in my council have said that this will be a very difficult issue for them, taking so much time and manpower. Everything that happens in council and Government life will be affected by equality issues.
One item that I am glad will be included relates to planning, a matter of concern in the area I represent. Even though they make their representations to the Planning Service, many people feel that their opposition to planning developments that will directly affect the area they live in are not really considered. So I am glad to see that they will be able to request a hearing and have direct input into planning matters. This will allow them to feel that they are part of the process.
I am also concerned about senior citizens and those with disabilities. Those with disabilities have not had the full support of the law of the land over the last few years. Some people with disabilities are only being recognised now, and that is something that we want to see happening more at every level by councils, the Assembly and MPs. Our disabled people, senior citizens and those who deserve extra consideration must feel that this equality agenda involves them.
We also have a problem with equality of funding. Many parts of the Unionist community feel that they have not received as much funding from Europe as they should have. They wish to see the balance addressed so that all those who have not received the proper funding will feel part of the process.
We are also looking for equality for Ulster-Scots. When it comes to handing out funding, there is no equality for that either. We want to see equality for the Ulster-Scots language, equality and parity of funding, full representation and the opportunity to express that language at every level of society.
In conclusion, we must have every possible opportunity for everyone, and everybody in the community must feel part of it.
Inequality was, and still is, a potent issue in our divided society — indeed, it was historic inequality which gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement. The equality issues that we are debating today, and which form a central part of the Good Friday Agreement, are really the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Movement — a campaign which was prematurely interrupted by the divisive and bloody campaign of violence by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries. Happily, there now is a widespread, though belated, recognition that these issues of inequality and equality are much more productive in terms of bringing about a beneficial effect on our society than concentrating on what was called the national question.
The SDLP welcomes the Good Friday Agreement’s emphasis on equality issues. I would particularly like to discuss the Secretary of State’s role under Section 75. First, it is vital that he designate UK authorities and public bodies involved in policing and other key areas so that the equality duty under section 75 applies to them. We are concerned that the Secretary of State has not said which bodies will be so designated. That has yet to be done. It is important that as many UK bodies as possible be designated. For example, the Department of Social Security should be designated, since its policies have a huge effect on parity issues in Northern Ireland. We have also publicly called for the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor’s Office to be designated. This would ensure fairness and equality in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State has other important roles. Where the Equality Commission does not believe that a public authority’s draft equality scheme is adequate that scheme can be referred to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then has the choice of accepting the scheme, directing that it be revised, or making a new scheme for that body. This is a very important power. Where the Equality Commission receives a complaint that a public authority is not fulfilling its equality duty in practice it can investigate and, if it finds the complaint to be justified, refer it to the Secretary of State. In the case of Northern Ireland bodies, the Secretary of State can ultimately direct the body to take the necessary steps to remedy the problem. That is also a crucial power. It is important that the Secretary of State has a dedicated equality unit supporting him to ensure that section 75 is fully and effectively implemented.
In our view, the Secretary of State has a key role in the implementation of section 75 and in ensuring that the promise of the individual equality schemes is realised in practice. We hope that he will rise to this challenge.
At the outset, I wish to say — and I am sure that my Colleagues will have pointed this out, in my absence, on behalf of the DUP — that we have absolutely no problem with the mainstreaming of the equality issue for Government Departments in Northern Ireland. Many people in the Unionist community are now experiencing the effects of unequal treatment and discrimination. It is essential that equality issues be brought to the fore. However, it is ironic — though perhaps not unexpected — that this issue has been brought before us by a party which, by its actions, shows that it has total contempt for equality on an almost daily basis. It really does not give two hoots about ensuring that people are treated equally. I have no doubt that at the end of this debate members of Sinn Féin will troop into this Assembly and through the voting lobby to vote for the motion.
I could mention them one by one, but I do not have time. I will just mention one. Maybe it should be indicated to Barry "the bantam bully" McElduff, that when we talk about not discriminating against people, or about promoting equality of opportunity between persons of different political opinions, that means not intimidating pensioners who happen to think that it is appropriate to sit on a police liaison committee.
Maybe he will also be informed that equality of opportunity means that if someone speaks to you in a language other than Irish, you do not pounce on him and abuse him. I have no doubt that Mr McElduff will raise his hand in support of this motion, but it is quite clear that he has not got a clue about what it means in practice.
I will deal with some of the issues on the equality scheme. As I said at the outset, I have no difficulty in supporting a sensible equality scheme for Northern Ireland and for Departments in Northern Ireland. However, I will not make myself part of Sinn Féin’s abuse of this House. They pretend to support equality while in practice they ignore the issues of equality.
I will outline where a lot of this equality legislation falls down. I have listened to Alban Maginness, who tells us that this is the culmination of the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Association. Over the last 30 years we have had legislation by the book load from Westminster. We have had Fair Employment legislation, Equal Opportunity legislation and all the rest, and we still hear the same old story from Nationalists that there is inequality.
Perhaps this illustrates the danger in thinking that the issue can be sorted out simply by providing a lot of legislation. First this equality legislation must not do away with individual responsibility. We have a list of rights for people in this society, but people tend to ignore their responsibilities in society. That should not be submerged in any discussion on individual rights.
Secondly, we run into danger when we elevate individual rights above the needs of society. It is important that this legislation should not go in that direction. I will draw my remarks to a close. There are many other points that I wish to make, but there is a very real danger that this legislation … [Interruption]
It will not take five minutes to make my simple point. I want to use the opportunity of this debate on equality to make the point that there is absolutely no evidence available to sustain the proposition that there ever was systematic discrimination against the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. If someone wants to dispute that, I had the pleasure of editing a book, that was published a few months ago, in which there is a chapter by Graham Gudgin dealing with the two fundamental claims made about the issue of equality — inequality in housing and inequality in jobs.
Dr Gudgin has put forward arguments absolutely impossible for anyone familiar with the statistics to refute, and no one has ever even attempted it. No one from the Nationalist side of the House — or from among those who are committed to the idea that there was a long period of systematic inequality against Catholics in Northern Ireland — has ever even attempted it, because they know they could not sustain their arguments.
The argument about Catholic unemployment was something they discovered in 1971. Interestingly enough, it never formed a significant part of the civil rights programme. But in 1971 the census showed that two and a half times more Catholics than Protestants were unemployed, and that figure has largely been sustained over a thirty-year period, despite the fair-employment legislation we have. Dr Gudgin and Prof Breen, who now holds a chair in Oxford and who was one of the top researchers in the Economic and Social Research Institute, published a paper a few years ago. This paper demonstrated that a high proportion of long-term unemployment among the Catholic population was simply due to the abnormally high rate of population increase in that section of the community. There were certain other factors, but that was a key one. Nobody has ever refuted those statistics from two of the top researchers in Northern Ireland.
Statistics for employment since 1990 demonstrate that the relative number of Protestants in employment has declined, while the number of Catholics has increased. Therefore, over a period, I and a number of other people carried on a public debate against the so-called Fair Employment Commission with the argument that fair-employment legislation massively discriminated against the Protestant community. It was so discriminatory that the commission’s own employment practices were way out of line with what they should have been. They were employing more Catholics than Protestants. I am sorry to have to use the terminology of Catholic and Protestant, but that is what other people have brought into the public domain.
This debate on equality is about two fundamental things. First it is an attempt, among other things, to undermine the legitimacy of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. The other side of the coin is that, given the absolute poverty of Irish Nationalism, a child — and I challenge anyone on the Nationalist side ever to meet me on a public platform to sustain their position — could demolish the Irish Nationalist case. In order to fortify it, they have developed the idea that there was massive discrimination against the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, which could only be rectified by 30 years of unqualified barbarity and terrorism. Its purpose is not only to de-legitimise the status of Northern Ireland within the Union, but to legitimise 30 years of terrorism. That is what the argument is about. Having got this so-called equality agenda inserted into the Belfast Agreement, with the connivance of the Ulster Unionist Party, they are now systematically — [Interruption]
And you too, Mr Ervine. You were among the suckers. In fact, you were one of the biggest of them.
They have now given instruction to the Nationalist community to use a so-called equality agenda — and we had an example of this this morning — to systematically divest Northern Ireland of its identity within the United Kingdom.
Listening to this debate and to some of the comments from the other side of the House in particular, is like being with Alice in Wonderland, where the world is topsy-turvy. Some of the comments that have been made are indicative of what has been the problem all along: Unionist denial that there has been institutionalised discrimination in this state since its inception, and that equality was placed at the centre of the Good Friday Agreement as a recognition of that.
People need to get to grips with the reality of all this. There was a reference to Graham Gudgin and the work that he did. In the academic world a lot of his work has not been recognised or received very well. A large body of academic work lays down the proof of the inequalities that existed. One of the things that is very significant in this debate is that the DUP in particular, and Unionism in general, is arguing against equality. The question needs to be asked: who fears equality? Go raibh maith agat.
I welcome the motion, and I agree with the Member who moved it that existing fair employment and equality legislation has not produced the degree or speed of change that I would have wished to see. This is shown by the persistence of the differentials between, for instance, men and women in terms of the income they derive from employment, in terms of unemployment rates between the two sections of our community and in a number of other ways.
The section 75 statutory obligations are an integral part of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and they put the mainstreaming of equality onto a statutory basis for the first time ever. The mainstreaming of equality means ensuring that due regard is given to equality considerations in the decision-making processes of all public authorities. The benefits of this are very obvious — better decision making, since we will examine how different policy options could impact on different sections of the community; greater equality, since we will endeavour to ensure that equality of opportunity is promoted; and greater openness, since consultation with the wider members of civic society lies at the very core of section 75.
The statutory obligations arose out of the earlier administrative initiative — policy appraisal and fair treatment (PAFT). The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights found that PAFT was not being implemented as it should have been and recommended that it be placed on a statutory footing to ensure better implementation. A commitment, therefore, to put PAFT on a statutory basis was subsequently included in the Good Friday Agreement. The statutory obligations are, therefore, not just legally binding, they are also among the key initiatives promised by the Good Friday Agreement. Implementing section 75 correctly and effectively must be a key priority for the Administration and for all of us. It is as simple as that.
The obligation relates to a wide spectrum of equality of opportunity and not just to areas of religion, political opinion, gender, race and disability, where there are already laws against discrimination. Age, marital status, sexual orientation and whether one has dependants or not must also be taken into account. Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act requires public authorities, in carrying out their functions, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in all of these categories. They should also have regard to the need to promote good relations between people of different religions, political opinions and racial groups. I am not aware of any country that has created such a sophisticated framework for the mainstreaming of equality as we have here in Northern Ireland. We can rightly consider ourselves to be at the cutting edge and to be setting an example to the world in the promotion of best practice.
The obligations are to be implemented through equality schemes, which public authorities should submit to the Equality Commission by 30 June 2000. A very wide process of consultation has been going on recently. This has included the 11 Northern Ireland Departments, and their consultations are coming to an end. The Executive Committee is committed to the effective implementation of the section 75 obligations, which is a legal requirement.
In the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, we see section 75 as an important part of the equality agenda and of promoting better community relations — both of which are our responsibility. Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act is a reserved matter under which the Secretary of State has specific responsibilities in relation to agreed guidelines from the Equality Commission, designating additional public authorities and dealing with equality schemes referred to him by the Commission.
I cannot answer for the Secretary of State in the discharge of these functions. However, we can state our commitment that the Northern Ireland Departments will submit comprehensive and effective equality schemes to the Equality Commission, it is to be hoped by the end of the month. However, given the difficulties of recent months, there may be some slippage — something we hope to keep to an absolute minimum.
The schemes, which are currently out for consultation, were approved for publication during suspension by Northern Ireland Office Ministers. Much work remains to be done to improve the draft equality schemes over coming weeks. I agree with the criticisms made of some of those we have seen. The equality schemes are a new initiative, and consultation is raising a number of interesting points, as many Members have pointed out. I am also taking my own view of the schemes, and the Equality Unit is currently considering how best to ensure that the devolved Administration takes forward that work over the coming weeks.
Ministers in the Executive Committee will also pay attention to how consultation responses have been taken into account in the finalised equality schemes.
The Equality Unit in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister has assisted Departments with guidance and training on these statutory obligations. That will continue in coming months as Departments implement their equality schemes. In particular, equality impact assessments on new and existing policies will introduce a new element to the administrative culture of Northern Ireland. It will place emphasis on analysis, openness, consultation and consideration of alternatives. This is an important element in our new institutional arrangements, and I hope it will contribute to the effective promotion of equality of opportunity.
We are happy to support this motion and we fully welcome section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act.
During the debate a considerable number of points have been made by Members. Many of them have been extremely constructive and require positive answers from the Executive Committee. It is not possible in the time I have left to deal with all of them. Junior Minister Nesbitt will deal with as many as possible in seven and a half minutes, and we will undertake to reply in writing to those Members who do not have an answer to the questions they have raised today.
First, I reply to Mr Poots with respect to the European Union funding. Yes, that is an equality aspect; yes, it is being dealt with in cross-cutting measures; yes, a need has been identified for an outreach approach, since the Protestant community has not been as active as it should have been in applying for European Union funds. Equality is being dealt with in that manner.
I refer to points made by Mr Poots, Mr Weir — with respect to another form of discrimination against Unionists, if that is what Unionists see as equality — and Mr Shannon, who said that Unionists see equality as just not including them. That may, but should not, be the case.
Equality is for all, and for the benefit of all if it is properly applied. I agree with Mr S Wilson’s first comment that the Unionist community, or any community, has nothing to fear in dealing appropriately with equality. That is why I am happy to reflect those views.
With regard to Prof McWilliams’s point about the timescale, she may be right. However, there is a legislative limit which states that it must take place by 30 June, and therefore consultation is taking place over eight weeks. When the consultation comes back the Executive will make sure that that aspect is fully dealt with. The Ministers will be committed to those schemes.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
With reference to Mr Shannon’s point about the Ulster-Scots language, he is correct in a sense. However, there is no scope in section 75 to deal with language. It is a reserved matter, the responsibility of Westminster, and when it, dealt with it Parliament did not accept the language balance of Ulster-Scots versus Irish or English. However, I draw the attention of all Members who raised that question to the commitment in the Good Friday Agreement to minority languages, and to Ulster-Scots. There is also a commitment given regarding the Council of Europe’s Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and that has been implemented.
I regret that Mr Roche is not here, and I trust that he will read avidly what I am about to say. [Interruption] I sometimes wonder which side of the House some Members are on, from the point of view of Unionism. That is why I used those precise words.
Mr Roche talked about the connivance of the Ulster Unionist Party on the equality agenda. I refute that out of hand. I personally wrote the minority report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. I am actually doing something about equality for Unionists. Mr Roche and others would not even have an Assembly here, and they would have the affairs of Northern Ireland dealt with by the Government at Westminster whom they all say they cannot trust.
My last point is an important and sensitive one. Mr C Murphy mentioned that Catholics are still more than twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants. Let me say something very clearly, and not out of a sense of bravado as some others might. I am very conscious of where I stand and that what I say is recorded; therefore I measure my words very carefully. There are two statistics and this is confusing. I note what Mr Campbell said about the percentage of recruitment. When one talks about Catholics being twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants, one is dealing with the actual stock of unemployment, which has absolutely nothing to do with recruitment. While I accept that the proportion of Catholic unemployed is higher than Protestant unemployed, it has nothing to do with discrimination.
Let me make it clear that there is no automatic link whatsoever between unemployment rates and whether or not there is equality of opportunity. There are many things that have an impact, such as immigration, retirement patterns and the likelihood of people wishing to work.
Finally, let me make it very clear — [Interruption]
I am happy to wait for order.
It is perfectly possible to have both fair employment and equality of opportunity, and to have the differential in unemployment statistics unchanged. There is no a priori link between unemployment differentials and discrimination. The sad point about unemployment differentials and equality of opportunity — and it is something that I put into print several years ago, and I repeat it now as this is a very sensitive issue — is that it has both communities in Northern Ireland feeling ill at ease with one another. In simple terms, the Catholic community in Northern Ireland feels it is discriminated against, and, at the same time, the Protestant community feels that it is being told that it is a discriminating group. Both communities are incorrect in their perceptions. Therefore, this aspect of unemployment differential must be very carefully stated in measured tones on all occasions.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. An important point has been raised by Members opposite — whether Mr Nesbitt speaks for me, or, indeed, I for him. We are both responding in a general sense on behalf of the Administration. Obviously we have different views, otherwise there would be no need for the Good Friday Agreement, and we cannot, and do not, presume to speak for each other in that particular sense.
It is helpful that the junior Minister has clarified that he was speaking not on behalf of the Executive as a whole but for himself and his party, and that the same applied to Mr Nesbitt. It shows the nature of collective responsibility we have under this scheme.
Mr Haughey referred to section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, and I would be interested to know what he meant by that.
This is not an opportunity for you to ask further questions of the junior Minister. It was a point of order that you raised, and this is a matter for the Chair to respond to, along with the previous point of order from the junior Minister, Mr Haughey. My understanding about the way in which a Minister responds by way of a winding-up speech is that he is speaking on behalf of the Executive, whereas junior Ministers are speaking on behalf of their principals.
I call upon the Member who moved the motion to respond if he so wishes.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. This has been a very useful and informative debate. There were a number of relevant points, and I thank all of the Members for their contributions. I also thank the two junior Ministers from the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers for attending and giving a view from that Office and from the Executive.
Mr Éamonn ONeill queried the intention of the motion. As I said at the outset, the purpose of the motion was to give the Assembly an opportunity to discuss this matter and to comment on the production of equality schemes at a time when they are out for consultation and before the deadline is reached, so that the views of the elected representatives could be given. People felt that during the period of suspension — and it has been reflected in many of the contributions today — proper adherence to the equality requirements seemed to have slipped. I thought that it was an opportune time for public representatives to give their views on this matter.
The motion is positive, and it was not by my design but was the result of the method by which it was agreed by the Business Committee. If I had had proper time to draft the motion and get it in front of the Business Committee, I imagine that it would have reflected the great degree of scepticism expressed by many. That was my view on the issue.
In order to get the debate aired I undertook to submit a take-note motion which mentioned equality schemes and allowed Members to make their contributions.
I am glad to hear, from Mr Poots’s contribution, that the DUP shares many of the concerns of everyone else on equality. I am glad that many of its Members expressed their commitment to equality, but they need to recognise that where inequalities exist — some of them do recognise this and some of them do not — they need to be properly addressed to make sure that we are all starting from a level playing field.
With regard to the use of the 1991 census figures, if Mr Poots could provide us with the 2001 census figures, he should be elevated to the Front Bench. The 1991 figures are the only ones we have to work from.
I welcome the remarks of Prof McWilliams and agree that while some of the public bodies that responded appear to be making genuine efforts, that was the case with too few. I share particular concerns about the equality schemes produced by the Departments under our jurisdiction. I hope that the junior Ministers present will note the concerns that were expressed across the House today and that we will find them reflected in the work of the Executive and, in turn, of the Departments.
Similar concerns were expressed by Patricia Lewsley over disability discrimination. I share her view that the full use of section 75 would give proper effect to the Disability Discrimination Act.
It was interesting to hear Gregory Campbell’s commitment to equality, particularly where it concerns disability and gender. It has been a noted trait of the DUP in general and of himself in particular that they display particular vehemence or disdain towards female Members of the House. Yet they allege commitment to gender equality. They seem to reserve particular vitriol for women Members speaking from this side of the House, from whatever party they happen to belong to. I would like to see their commitment to gender equality put into practice when people are speaking.
His figures remind me of King Canute, or Paddy Roche, or, indeed, David Irving. Not our David Ervine but the Holocaust historian. It reminds me somewhat of the stand King Canute took, in the face of all historical research and evidence, in an attempt to argue his case.
Michelle Gildernew paid particular attention to some of the public bodies and bodies in receipt of public funding that have not yet been designated by Peter Mandelson. Other Members also drew attention to that.
On Peter Weir’s contribution, I am sorry — and other Unionists reflect this — that many Unionists see the equality agenda as threatening to their perspective. Dermot Nesbitt quite rightly said that this is not the case and should not be the case. Leaders from within the Unionist community must stress to them that equality is something which threatens nobody here. It is of benefit to everyone. He was quite detailed in his criticisms of my motion and of the many efforts that have been made to address equality, although he was vague on alternative solutions.
Alex Attwood’s contributions reflected the intention of the motion, which was to air this issue in the Chamber. I am glad that it appears to have worked out that way, and I hope that the views from the Chamber will be reflected in the work of public bodies and the Departments. People here are dissatisfied with the standard of the equality schemes produced so far. They are dissatisfied that the bodies all appear to be working off one template, and that leads to great concern about the intent behind them. This is a serious issue, and Alex Attwood —
Since the Member has said on a number of occasions that he is dissatisfied with the work being done, why did he move a motion to note it with approval? Surely there is a contradiction in this.
Perhaps the Member was not listening when I explained the way in which the motion was put to the Business Committee in my absence. Perhaps he likes to pose questions but not listen to the answers. This was the way of airing the matter that was agreed through the Business Committee — a take-note motion to get the issue of equality schemes on the agenda. I do note with approval some of the work that is being carried out.
As Monica McWilliams noted, some public bodies have been making genuine efforts to address what is required by way of equality schemes. Many have not, and this is an opportunity for people to —
If this was merely a take-note motion, why did it not simply say "take note" rather than "take note with approval"? If one is not satisfied, why are the words "with approval" there? Surely it should simply be "take note" — something which I am sure everyone could agree on.
It is quite obvious that Mr Weir has no one to represent him at the Business Committee, something which speaks for his current position of somewhat splendid isolation on the Unionist Benches. He has no one to represent him, otherwise the Chief Whip of the Unionist Party would have been able to inform him that, in his absence from the Business Committee, an undertaking was given that a generally positive motion on this issue would be presented to the Assembly. The other members of the Business Committee, to their credit, accepted that without prejudice to other motions that might be put, and that was the manner in which the motion was put on the agenda. I am sorry that Mr Weir does not have anyone from the Business Committee to speak to him, but if he engaged with some of the other parties they might fill him in. [Interruption]
I was represented there, and that is how the motion got on the agenda — with the agreement of the party of the Minister for Social Development.
With regard to Mr Shannon’s contribution, I should like to inform him that Jubilee Hospital is, in fact, in south Belfast and not in the east, as he referred to.
I am glad to hear that Ards Borough Council, of which he is a member, is beginning to address this issue and appreciate the seriousness of its responsibilities under section 75 of the equality requirements, and is beginning to prepare for this, however begrudgingly his portrayal of what the council is doing appears to be.
I agree with Alban Maginness that the Secretary of State has a huge responsibility in this, with much more to do by way of designation, and that we may well be looking to him to use his authority in enforcing adherence to equality requirements. That is something we need to bear in mind.
As for Sammy Wilson’s contribution, it is somewhat amusing to receive a lecture about equality from someone who revelled over many years in being an arch-bigot of the city hall. He is somewhat confused, telling us on the one hand that members of the Nationalist community had plenty of legislation to deal with employment discrimination over the years with which they should have been satisfied, yet we are in danger of creating too much legislation now. On the one hand we should be satisfied with loads of it, but we should not desire any more.
I am pleased that the junior Ministers representing the office in which the equality unit is located, particularly Mr Haughey, are in agreement with many of the points I made in my opening remarks concerning dissatisfaction with the equality schemes. I am also pleased and encouraged to hear that implementing section 75 is a key priority for the Executive. I undertake to hold the Departments to his commitment to adequate equality schemes, and I agree that much work needs to be done in ensuring that these are adequate and not the shadow ones we have had so many of to date.
As for Dermot Nesbitt’s analysis of the unemployment differentials, I shall merely say that many noted academics, and indeed many of his own ministerial Colleagues, would disagree with his analysis. I beg to differ.
Let me make it very clear. I am not quoting Colleagues. I refer to the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, the Statistical and Research Agency and others who have made it abundantly clear. I made it clear I was not making a comment about discrimination, but rather about unemployment differential as an indication of discrimination. There is not necessarily any a priori link between the two.
Doctors differ and patients die. With no disrespect to any of the doctors present, I contest some of the analysis, and I believe that many other people in that field would do likewise.
I am disappointed by the lack of participation from the Ulster Unionist Party. Mr Nesbitt is here representing the Executive, not his own party, and I am disappointed that, apart from one unauthorised Member, nobody else spoke on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party.
The absence of many Members from the Benches opposite is somewhat disappointing for those of us who believe that all who signed up to the Good Friday Agreement felt that equality was a central aspect of it. I am glad to hear that reaffirmed by Mr Nesbitt but, again, he is speaking on behalf of the Executive and not on behalf of his party. I would have preferred it if Members from the Ulster Unionist Party had taken part in the debate and had given their views on equality schemes, section 75, and the full implementation of all of that.
The purpose of the debate was to allow Members’ views to be aired on this issue. This is our first opportunity to put motions down since we came back. It is a very important time. Equality schemes are out there at the moment, they are doing the rounds, and they are out for consultation. As Monica McWilliams pointed out, very few of them have come to Assembly Members for any detailed consultation, other than a quick response and a very limited consultation period. This was a good opportunity for Members to air their feelings, and there was a broad degree of dissatisfaction. I hope that is reflected through the junior Minister to the Executive and into the Departments — those were some of the most disappointing equality schemes — and also into all the public bodies. I hope that the views, the general sense of this debate and the contributions made today are reflected back. That was the purpose of putting this motion on the agenda; there was no other purpose. If that is reflected back and comes back out in a much improved sense of intent and commitment to the proper implementation of equality, as required under section 75 of the Act, this will have been a beneficial debate.
Ian Adamson, Alex Attwood, Eileen Bell, P J Bradley, John Dallat, Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, David Ervine, Seán Farren, David Ford, Michelle Gildernew, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Alex Maskey, Kieran McCarthy, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Gerry McHugh, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Éamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, John Tierney.
Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Mark Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this Assembly notes with approval the work to be completed by 30 June 2000 by public bodies in order to comply with the requirements of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.