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Civil Service Recruitment

Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 21st September 2009.

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Debated resumed on motion:

That this Assembly notes the efforts made by the Northern Ireland Civil Service in recent years to address the under-representation of Protestants among those applying for, and being recruited to, occupational groups which have most employees in the Civil Service; and calls for continued monitoring of all the grades, but particularly those grades where thousands of people are employed, in order that those from all community backgrounds can have confidence in the recruitment process. — [Mr Campbell.]

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

I beg to move amendment No 1: Leave out all after the second “Civil Service;” and insert

‘notes the continued under-representation of Catholics and women in the most senior grades of the Civil Service; and calls for continued monitoring of all grades, the immediate publication of the ninth Equal Opportunities Unit report which the DFP Equality and Diversity Plan (para. 6.2) stated, in October 2008, would be published by the end of 2008 and the continued publication, in their traditional format, of the major DFP Equal Opportunities Unit reports detailing NICS workforce recruitment, composition and promotion patterns in order that those from all community backgrounds can have confidence in the recruitment and promotion processes.’

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. It is important to emphasize that the proposed amendment is not an attempt to dilute or divert the concern that exists about under-representation of Protestants in the occupational groups that have the most employees in the Civil Service. I regret that Gregory Campbell is not in the Chamber at the moment. We share a long history of being elected representatives from the city where he, I and the Speaker come from. However, this is the first time — and I really want to get this off my chest — that I have been able to state that I agree with what Gregory Campbell has said on a particular issue. My party also shares that concern and strongly supports effective and legally permissible affirmative action to redress that injustice. Of course, my party wants to apply that scrutiny to every level and structure in the Civil Service, and I expect that all parties would agree that that is a laudable and worthwhile exercise.

I urge all parties, particularly the party whose members proposed the motion, to consider in an open-minded fashion how the Sinn Féin amendment will have the effect of addressing each of the issues that have been identified in the motion. The amendment adds, in a constructive manner and intent, the issues that will deliver the employment and monitoring processes of the Civil Service that will command the confidence of all sections of our community.

We must address the question of why we need special measures, fair employment legislation, anti-discrimination measures, section 75 and ongoing monitoring. The reason is obvious: our history reflects systematic and institutionalised discrimination. When we accept that that has been the case for generations, that legacy will be with us for some time. There is a need to have an affirmative action programme designed to meet milestones on the way to creating a truly representative workforce. Sinn Féin acknowledges that those issues are being addressed. However, the question is whether they are being addressed in the most effective and the most timely fashion. The report indicates that more needs to be done.

The fact that, in some of the lower grades, we have 50:50 representation — or a figure approaching it — does not in itself indicate a fair reflection of the workforce as a whole. It is the benchmark against which we must test the effectiveness of policies that are developed to ensure an end to discrimination on political or religious allegiance — or perceived allegiance — and to determine whether one would have a career, a job opportunity or a fair opportunity in all circumstances. It behoves us all to develop those robust, stringent and ongoing measures.

The Sinn Féin amendment adds a caveat: it is not a departure; it is an addition to the issues that were addressed by Gregory Campbell in proposing the motion. It argues for the continuation of the publication of the monitoring processes that are already in place. Those monitoring processes are resourced and have been utilised over time. Mr Campbell and I relied on those reports in compiling our contributions to the debate, as, I am sure, did all party spokespersons. Equally, the useful briefing paper, which Gregory also acknowledged, was prepared on the basis of those various monitoring processes and the periodic reports that they have generated.

Information is the key, and the differences or the potential divisions on the issue are more apparent than real when we recognise that we are all relying on the same data and on the objective accumulation of that information. If the information shows that there is Catholic or Protestant under-representation, we should be fearless in pursuing and developing our responses to it, wherever it may be, and we should do that on the basis of negotiated and agreed timetables and targets for redressing such imbalances.

Our unfortunate history means that we will have to address legacy issues for some time; however, that does not justify any perpetuation of those patterns. All new employment should be carried out using rigorous criteria when addressing suitability. If we acknowledge and accept that there has been progress, we can, in a spirit of co-operation, agree that we can develop agreed processes on the way forward.

Sinn Féin’s amendment does not take away one iota from the motion; it genuinely adds to the basis on which we can assess, identify and highlight under-representation, irrespective of which community it reflects.

I ask for support for our amendment, hopefully from the proposers of the motion as well as the rest of the Assembly. It will ensure that the full range of the monitoring processes, which have been developed over a considerable period of time in response to the endemic problems caused by discrimination in the past, will not continue to blight our approach in the future. I ask for support for the Sinn Féin amendment. Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I beg to move amendment No 2: Leave out all after “people are employed” and insert:

“to ensure that achievements made to address historic imbalances throughout the Civil Service workforce are sustained; and recognises the continued need for a specific focus on encouraging religious and gender equality and ethnic diversity, not least in the Senior Civil Service, in order that those from all community backgrounds can have confidence in the recruitment and appointment processes.”

In one sense I strongly welcome the original motion. I will make some, hopefully measured, criticisms of it, but I welcome the implicit DUP support for the fair employment process and the legislation that underlies it. We know that that party stood very strongly against the whole concept of fair employment legislation — as did its unionist colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party — and did so until very recent times. I welcome the fact that, in the wording of the motion, the DUP is embracing the mechanisms laid down in the fair employment legislation and urging that they be used in particular ways.

The motion specifically calls for monitoring of the workforce. I recall that, when the concept of monitoring was first proposed, the DUP said that our businesses and organisations would be overwhelmed if they had to do that work. Now that party is obviously totally persuaded of the value of that legislation, and is embracing it to the extent of wishing it to be used in the ways proposed in the motion. However, I am very critical of the DUP’s focus on the Protestant workforce exclusively. The proposer, Gregory Campbell, did not clear the decks on that with the words that he said, because the words as printed are as printed. For a party that needs to be demonstrating its fundamental belief in a shared future for us all to bring forward a motion worded in partisan terms does us no good at all. The DUP is failing to exert the leadership that it should when it does that.

I will now make some comments on the factual accuracy of the motion. I take a lot of my information from the most important report issued in June of this year, the ‘2007 Review of Fair Participation’ published by the Department — the article 55 review — which gives the state of play in 2007. It states that, in relation to the overall Northern Ireland Civil Service workforce, the Protestant component is 51·9% and the Catholic component is 45·6 %. Now, all statistics should be used carefully. The report makes comparisons with the 2001 census, and there is obviously a six-year gap. The proportions that we might expect in the workforce, particularly for individual sections of the Civil Service, are not necessarily exactly in accordance with other categories that one can discover in the census.

With all those caveats presented, most people would conclude that there is something like broad, fair participation across the Northern Ireland Civil Service by the two major religious communities in Northern Ireland. That is a very major statement to be able to make. The proportion of females is described as 50·4%, and I presume that the remainder are males. Therefore, once again, there is a remarkable degree of balance. Taken broadly, if there is a variation in favour of, for example, Catholics in one place, there is going to be compensation in favour of Protestants in another place. Therefore, the fundamental premise presented in the original motion is false.

Using the words “grades where thousands of people are employed” creates an utterly false impression, because, taken as a whole, the statistics present a picture of a balanced workforce with regard to gender and religious composition. That did not use to be the case; however, it is now broadly the case. The achievements are that the headline figures, as I stated, show broad fairness in gender and religious participation.

The second major achievement is that we have religious balance in the Senior Civil Service. The report tells us that, for the first time, there is fair participation for Catholics in the senior levels at grade 5 and above. That is the group of approximately 199 persons generally referred to as the Senior Civil Service. For that reason, I am not quite sure of the factual basis for that element of the Sinn Féin amendment.

That is the report as presented. I can only assume that those facts are accurate, and for them to be reported for the first time is a hugely important achievement that we should mark. When we first embarked on fair employment legislation, the lack of balance in our public service was one of the key areas that needed to be addressed. To find now, for the first time, that Catholics are fairly represented at the highest levels of the Civil Service is an important achievement, and an absolute vindication of the fight to achieve fair employment legislation — a fight that was hard fought and hard won. It is also a vindication of the quality of that legislation, because it is achieving what it is supposed to do. I will not aim at commenting on whether there are nuances in those figures on the Senior Civil Service. However, certainly on that group, the report says what it says.

What remains to be done? On the religious category, there are significant imbalances in certain sections and grades. I might summarise those as the need to ensure fair participation by Protestants in the administrative assistant, administrative officer and executive officer grades of the general service group, and by Protestants and Catholics in the professional and specialist groups. Therefore, there are weaknesses. There is substantial work to be done and deep analysis of those areas as to why participation is not even, and further methods need to be adopted to address those weaknesses. In AO grades, for example, the report says that the lack of fair participation by Protestants is likely to continue. Such a message should sound alarm bells and make managers look further and more deeply and attempt to find measures that will remedy that situation.

The 2007 report is not specifically about gender; indeed, it identifies the need to do a further in-depth report on gender. However, it presents provisional conclusions, some of which are worrying. I again point out the headline figure, which shows that there is broad equality, but the report says that in the general service group, men are under-represented in the administrative AA and AO grades, in which only 32% of staff are male, and that in the general service group, women are under-represented at senior levels of grade 5 and above, in which 24·1% of staff are female. Women are also under-represented in some professional and specialist occupational groups. The report does not refer to the fact — and I have little doubt that it is true — that women are under-represented in the Senior Civil Service. That is my own observation, and, I think, probably the observation of most people. There is significant work to be done on gender in some areas.

There is also a job to be done on ethnic diversity. In the Programme for Government, PSA 21, objective 2.3, has as its target:

“The NICS is more reflective of the diversity of Northern Ireland’s society by 2011.”

However, it is a very modestly presented target, and all that has been done so far is to set in place a plan to achieve that.

I wish to qualify the following words, which appear in the motion and in both amendments:

“can have confidence in the recruitment … process”.

My party and I use those words in a different sense to that in which they are used in the motion, which tells the Protestant community that it cannot currently have confidence in the recruitment process. That is not fair to the managers in the Civil Service. The system is broadly fair, but, because of the elements that I have pointed out, further work needs to be done to enhance that.

The Prison Service makes up a small percentage of the Civil Service, but its results are stark. Catholics comprise 9·8% of the workforce, and 17·8% of the workforce is female.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker 3:45 pm, 21st September 2009

The Member must draw his remarks to a close.

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party

The serious reports that have been produced recently on Maghaberry prison suggest major cultural problems that may well be associated with those religious and gender issues.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

I will digress for a second. I feel that this is the time for the people who are in the Building today to test blood pressure to come and test ours.

Due to our circumstances, recruitment to the Civil Service is an issue that we may be destined to debate back and forth for years to come. We must pay attention to two undeniable facts. First, there is a shortage of applications from Protestants for recruitment to the Civil Service, which results in a widening gap between Protestants and Catholics in the junior grades. Secondly, it is also true that Catholics are underrepresented in the senior grades of the Civil Service. Neither of those indicators is desirable; nor is the shortage of women in some grades and men in others. However, we must not get involved in a phoney argument about discrimination. It must be recognised that Northern Ireland has a difficult past that means that it is often correct to take the levels of representation in the public sector workforce into consideration. The motion correctly draws attention to one of those instances. In 1990, twice as many Protestants as Catholics were employed in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. By 2007, that gap had been closed to the point at which the overall figure is at a balance that fits well with the overall demographic picture.

As the motion highlights, a lack of Protestants are applying for positions in the Civil Service, resulting in fewer Protestants at administrative and junior management grades. If that trend were to continue, there would be a danger of reaching a reverse position to that of the 1990s, and all Members will agree that that would not be an ideal outcome.

I remind Members that successive DUP Finance Ministers have been aware of those issues and have assured the House that there is no need to change employment practices. The current First Minister, in his previous job as Minister of Finance and Personnel, said in July 2007:

“The latest statutory review by the Northern Ireland Civil Service shows that employment and selection policies and systems are fair, objective and non-discriminatory. Protestants and Catholics are fairly represented in many grades and good progress has been made in some areas of under-representation.”

By all accounts, that is a fair representation of the situation. There is no systematic or structural discrimination in recruitment to the Civil Service. Although that may have existed to some extent in the past, there is certainly none today.

It is bordering on the reckless for the motion to imply, if not to state, that there could or should be a lack of confidence in the recruitment process due to discrimination. There is a problem with the number of applications from Protestants to the Civil Service, and there is a range of different reasons for that. The recruitment process is surely not one of them. Just over two years ago, the First Minister said that the process was fair. Is Mr Campbell now saying that it is not fair?

My party wishes to see representative numbers of Catholics and Protestants, men and women and all other groups applying and being appointed to positions in the Civil Service on the basis of merit. We are mindful of the words of the now First Minister, who said in 2007 that the Civil Service’s employment practices are “fair, objective and non-discriminatory”. However, there is a problem with other elements of those practices. I am sure that the Finance Minister will inform the House as to how he will deal with those issues.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

To follow Mr Kinahan of the Ulster Unionists, I should say that it is only appropriate that we acknowledge the appointment on Friday 18 September 2009 of a former UUP Minister to the Equality Commission. There is no doubt that the House wishes the new commissioners well; they will have an interesting relationship.

The Alliance Party finds itself in the position of being able to support any of the three proposals that have been made. They each address the issue in their own different ways, although I do not believe that any of them is brilliant. Indeed, I would probably say that the SDLP’s amendment is the best. However, they are not mutually exclusive. The spirit of the Alliance Party is always to be optimistic, so we are happy to give support. We shall see which way the voting goes at the end of the debate.

That said, I want to make a number of points from my party’s perspective on the motion, and perhaps I will discuss a few of the flaws of Members’ arguments. At the outset, I stress that I agree that recruitment should always be carried out on the basis of merit — the best person should get the job. That is the only fair way to recruit people. However, it is only right and proper to look at any imbalances that exist in the pool of applicants for positions, to encourage diversity, and to address any barriers that may exist — and I stress the word “may”.

We must also recognise that, in certain respects, the issues may lie beyond what the employer — in this case, the Civil Service — can do and look to what governance as regards policymaking can do to address underlying imbalances in society.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I thank the Member for giving way. Does he agree that when such debates take place and there is, if you like, political and partial discourse on the matter, that in itself can often create barriers for people who may feel that it is not worth their while applying?

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The Member will have an extra minute added to his time.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

That is correct. We must be careful with the language that we use and the approach that we take to such debates, particularly the notion that one side of the House battles for Protestants and the other side battles for Catholics. That does not do justice to the issue.

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the Member care to say who is battling for Protestants and who is battling for Catholics? I certainly would not like to hear it suggested that I was battling for one group more than the other in my speech.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

One only has to look at the Order Paper and the Marshalled List. The motion mentions only Protestants, while one of the amendments mentions only Catholics. That makes the point fairly clearly.

My party’s concern is the approach that is taken to monitoring in Northern Ireland. The Alliance Party certainly supports the concept of fair employment, with which it has no difficulty; indeed, an Alliance Party member was instrumental in setting up the former Fair Employment Agency in the 1970s. My party has a problem with the approach that is taken to monitoring, in that it misses many of the subtleties that exist in our society.

We must recognise that whenever we use the terms “Protestant” and “Catholic”, we are often talking about “unionist” and “nationalist”. Those are code words. However, it is fallacious to assume that everyone’s identity lines up as neatly as that and that every Protestant is a unionist and is also British and that every Catholic is a nationalist and is also Irish. That does not reflect how people see themselves as individuals; rather, it pigeonholes people and puts them into blocks of voting fodder.

Using those terms does not recognise mixed identities or the fact that someone may have differing political, national and religious identities. It does not take into account the fact that there is a growing number of people who are the product of mixed marriages or who are in mixed marriages or relationships.

It does not take into account the fact that new residents come to Northern Ireland who do not fit into the traditional paradigm that is used. They are cast aside and are not part of the equation when the number of Protestants is measured against the number of Catholics. The joke is that if the previous Pope had to come to Northern Ireland to look for a job, he would not have been treated as a Catholic.

Whenever we talk about the under-representation of Protestants or Catholics, we may miss some of the dynamics that occur in the different traditions in Northern Ireland.

It is worth pointing out that some in the Protestant population have the highest level of educational attainment in society and some have the lowest. As my colleague pointed out earlier, we are running the risk of polarising the issue and making it extremely contentious.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair)

We need to be careful not to fall into the trap of assuming that an imbalance means that there is a fundamental problem that must be addressed. An imbalance may be benign or malign, depending on the reasons for it. For example, an imbalance can easily occur within the range of statistical error.

When looking for solutions to the problem, we need to be clear that we are talking about equality of access and treatment. I believe that our procedures are fair and provide for that. Equality of access is a different concept from equality of outcome. Some Members have come very close to demanding the latter by calling for a precise balance of representation throughout every grade in the Civil Service. Equality of treatment and access is where the line should be drawn. That may or may not produce equality of outcome for perfectly good and acceptable reasons. With those reservations, we are happy to support the flow of the debate.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP 4:00 pm, 21st September 2009

The debate has been interesting thus far. Although differing positions have been stated, most contributions have been well researched and well thought out. Hopefully, Members will be able to say that at the end of my contribution.

As a young unionist growing up in Northern Ireland, my contemporaries and I heard the prevailing propaganda that discrimination or under-representation in employment was one-sided in Northern Ireland for many years. We heard that Catholics were under-represented in all walks of life and that Protestants were over-represented. That sort of propaganda was rammed down our throats for decades.

It will be interesting for many people to note the argument that my colleagues Mr Campbell and Mr Weir put forward in respect of under-representation among tens of thousands of civil servants at general service grades. I appreciate that it is impossible to reach exact and fair representation in any walk of life or any employment sphere; that is well accepted. However, historically and at present, it is right and proper that we should endeavour to address the prevailing problems behind under-representation.

Although I accept the principles or desire behind fair employment — I say that in acknowledgement of Mr O’Loan’s point — we need to debate the detrimental impact that the legislation can have on some small businesses, such as a typical two-, three-, four- or five-man company in Northern Ireland. We should debate that issue in a proper and mature way at a later date.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. He makes a valid point about the burdens that are placed on businesses. I will be happy to engage in that discussion. Does the Member recognise that the thresholds for monitoring apply to only certain sizes of businesses and that there is a danger that a large degree of segregation in the labour market in Northern Ireland will fall under the radar, particularly in very small, one- or two-person companies?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I understand the Member’s point. My party and I resist the imposition of draconian, far-reaching and expensive monitoring requirements on very small companies in Northern Ireland. That would be a retrograde step for that sector as it tries to increase its competiveness, particularly in the current situation. That is a debate for another day, and I will not go into that now.

Mr O’Loan criticised the substantive motion for not addressing Catholic under-representation at senior grades. On more careful reading of the motion, he will see that it calls for representation at all grades of the Civil Service, and that includes the problem that we acknowledge exists at senior levels for Catholics and women. Indeed, the amendment that Mr O’Loan and Mr Attwood proposed does not take away from Mr Campbell and Mr Weir’s substantive motion in respect of the focus on Protestant under-representation at the general service grades, so they might want to reflect on that.

The make-up of Civil Service staff is more or less where it should be in its reflection of the wider community. However, as Danny Kinahan mentioned, a worrying trend is developing, which could result in the situation being flipped, going from a historical under-representation of Catholics to an under-representation of Protestants.

The concentration on the percentage of Protestants in the general service grades is due to the much bigger numbers involved. Roughly 20,000 people work in the general service grades. There are 3,000 people employed at AO grade alone, compared with 260 people employed at grade 5 and above.

There has been a worrying change where there has been action to address the under-representation of Catholics at the higher grades. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of Catholics working at grade 5, grade 6 and grade 7 increased from 17% to 35%, 21% to 39% and 26% to 40% respectively. The employment of Catholics at those grades has almost doubled in that 10-year period, yet in the same period the percentage of Protestants working at the AO grade has decreased from 54% to 48%, which reflects the overall general service grades, in which 48·6% of the 19,000 employees are Protestant and 49·8% are Catholic. Therefore, although there has been an improvement in Catholic under-representation at the senior grades, there has been a fallback in the representation of Protestants at the lower grades. That is the problem that we need to get to grips with.

I am not saying that the system is unfair, but we need to look at the prevailing factors behind the issue and find a way for the system and the recruitment process to address them. I welcome the acknowledgement from the Minister’s predecessor that there was an increase of some 10% in applications from Protestants in a recent recruitment drive. Part of the problem is that simply not enough Protestants were applying for such positions, so hopefully that increase will yield some positive results.

I do not have time to talk about problems with other aspects of the public service, such as the Housing Executive and the Equality Commission — it is ironic that the body charged with monitoring the issue is so under-representative of Protestants.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

I ask the Member to bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Member must recognise that there is a problem that we need to get to grips with. If we do not, the trend will get worse and a problem that some might have baulked at when the shoe was on the other foot will develop in the Protestant community.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Thus far, the debate has been somewhat predictable, but it is unfair, particularly of Dr Farry, to present it as being one that we have heard before and a case of one side being as bad of the other. Dr Farry needs to read the Sinn Féin amendment — it does not exclude the section on Protestant under-representation at the lower grades of the Civil Service. Mr McLaughlin was at pains — and was in pain — to agree with Gregory Campbell on some of the points that he raised about the under-representation of the Protestant community at the lower grades of the Civil Service.

Members on this side of the House are not saying that Catholics are being discriminated against and that we do not need to worry about the Protestant section of the community. If there is a difficulty with that, it should be pointed out. I always find Dr Farry’s speeches interesting and I have a lot of respect for him, but his speech today was all over the place. He was trying so much to walk the middle ground, he fell off the tightrope and missed an opportunity.

The debate should be about equality of opportunity, equality of employment and quality of employment. Regardless of community background, my party believes that people should be employed on merit; both qualifications and experience should be taken into account. If there is a concern about the Civil Service recruitment process, that concern should be expanded on and the process should be examined.

Mr O’Loan said that the senior grades in the Civil Service now have a fair balance. I am paraphrasing him, so I am open to correction. I am not sure of the figures that he is working with to conclude that there is a fair representation of the Catholic and Protestant communities in the Civil Service.

If one looks at the report and lumps a cohort together, one can come to that conclusion. However, on further examination, there is still a discrepancy between employment of Catholics and Protestants among the most senior posts in the Civil Service, with Catholics, and women in particular, losing out. Although there has been work done, and we welcome that work, there is clearly much more to do if we are to reach equality of opportunity and equality of posts, particularly in the Civil Service. I am not sure if I am misquoting the Member on that point.

In debates, facts and figures can be used to support either argument. However, sticking to the heart of the debate and to what the motion should be about, we must ensure that when someone goes for interview they are judged on the merit of their application, experience and qualifications, and not on their community background.

Photo of Jimmy Spratt Jimmy Spratt DUP

What about the Police Service?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I will come back to that comment.

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I was very clear in my remarks. Read the ‘2007 Review of Fair Participation in the Northern Ireland Civil Service under article 55 of the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998’. It states, quite specifically, that in relation to religious composition, there is now fair participation in the Senior Civil Service at grade 5 and above.

I believe that the Member is right about the gender issue, which I referred to. Although no figures are presented, further studies are being done on gender across the Civil Service, and I have little doubt that that will expose gender issues as a major problem at senior levels.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I am dealing with figures from a written answer to a question from March 2008; and, to me, the position is not balanced. We recognise that work has been done, but more work needs to be done to ensure that there is equality of opportunity and equality in the workforce.

Applications, regardless of the level, must be judged on the basis of qualifications, experience, and the value that the applicant will bring to the post. Judgement should not be based on community background. Where there is evidence of discrimination against any section of the community or any individual, it must be investigated. Robust measures must be taken against the groups or individuals involved in such discrimination.

A Member has just said that it does not work like that when it comes to the Police Service. That was a unique set of circumstances, which has had to be corrected through positive discrimination. Many years ago, the same argument could have been used about the Civil Service; that positive discrimination was necessary to ensure that a state of fair play was reached.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

Does the Member accept that there is a potential difficulty with respect to police recruitment? Looking at the Catholic nationalist community in very broad terms could result in the quota being filled by people from a particular background, particularly a middle-class background. It runs the risk, in the Member’s own words, of under-representing people from a working-class, republican background. Perhaps that type of bi-national quota misses those subtleties.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I am not sure that I want to get into a debate on policing, but perhaps I will.

Mr O’Loan has a point, and I think that Mr Mandelson, the former British Secretary of State here, has a lot of questions to answer in relation to that. If memory serves me, the Patten report included a reflection of the republican nationalist community. Republicans come in all brands: they are not just working class; there are middle-class republicans too.

I support the amendment and I ask the House to do the same. It is not about Protestant or Catholic; it is about fair employment, equality of opportunity and equality of jobs.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I was already in shock about the debate being tabled, and I listened in shock as the Member for Upper Bann extolled the virtues of a merit only employment system. For the past number of years, we have been berated for suggesting that that is applied that to policing and justice and the recruitment of police officers. If police officers were employed on the basis of their ability to do the job and not on the basis of the community that they come from, we would hear a cry that that is not acceptable, will not be allowed, and has to be changed. Today, a marker has been put down. If employment is going to be a meritocracy, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others should accept that police officers can no longer be employed on a 50:50 recruitment basis: they must be employed on merit alone.

I will outline why we are having today’s debate. At a meeting of the Committee for Finance and Personnel, I remember clearly that Mr O’Loan asked a senior civil servant to outline discrimination in the Civil Service. I remember the shock on that Member’s face when he was told about the levels of discrimination against Protestants, because he expected the years-old propaganda that only Roman Catholics are discriminated against in Northern Ireland to be confirmed. The vast majority of people —

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

I will give way in a moment. The vast majority of people discriminated against in the Civil Service are Protestants. That is the point. That matter should be addressed, and that is why we tabled the motion. It is most disappointing that Members on the other side of the House will not join the debate and recognise that the issue must be reconciled and resolved. They could resolve the matter if they join with us and support the motion.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

Does the Member accept the difference between under-representation and discrimination? Does he accept that evidence of under-representation is not necessarily evidence of discrimination? The use of the two words interchangeably can create more of a problem than it solves.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

The Member has obviously fallen for the years-old propaganda used by nationalists on the issue, through which they wrongly describe under-representation as discrimination. The Member’s point is well made; if the perception is created about under-representation, a whole generation, class and community are discriminated against. The Protestant community is under-represented in the largest section of the Civil Service. That must be fixed. It can be fixed, and I hope that the House supports the motion, which will give the Minister the encouragement to try to resolve those issues so that under-representation and discrimination against the largest section of the community in Northern Ireland are addressed once and for all. I have considered the amendment

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

No. I have considered the amendment in the name of Mr O’Dowd, Mr McLaughlin and Ms McCann, which mentions under-representation in the most senior grades. Those grades account for only a small proportion — approximately 250 or 260 — of civil servants. It does not consider the 19,000 staff in general Civil Service grades. That is why the matter should be addressed urgently, before our ability to address it runs out. The Government should make a decisive drive to address the issue. The House should unite behind that drive, because any under-representation affects the confidence of the entire community and the entire House. I support the motion.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

I support the motion. Some Members raised the issue of 50:50 recruitment. I do not, in any way, support that principle. It is wrong, and I believe, as other Members have said, that recruits must be fit for purpose. There is a need for greater monitoring of the process. That was highlighted in July 2007 when Peter Robinson, who was the Minister of Finance and Personnel at the time, released a statement that highlighted under-representation at some levels of Civil Service employment. The DUP previously noted that issue, and, as such, the matter was flagged. A better spread of job allocation has been applied since our time in Administration.

This aw bein saed it cleerly haesnae reeched tha staeg yit whor ther is reel equality an this haes bin broucht tae me bi’ sim o’ tha fowk that A represent, whau hae passed ther entrance exam intae tha Civil Sarvis but er noo waetin tae be placed alang wi’ mony ithers.

Whun this metter cums up ther seems tae be a questyin as hoo they er selected an oan whut basis. It seems tae me tae be daft whun fowk whau leev in Portavogie trevel tae Bilfaust whun they cud be soarted oot wi’ a joab oan tha saem level in Rathgael in Bangor. Shairly it wud mak maer sense tae keep fowk closer tae whor they wrocht. This needs lukin at again.

However, we have clearly not reached the stage of real equality. The issue has been flagged up to me by constituents who have passed their Civil Service entrance exam but have been waiting for positions longer than many others.

When that issue arises, there are questions about how people are selected and on what basis. It seems absurd to me that there are people who live in Portavogie who travel to Belfast to work in the Civil Service while, at the same time, the Department of Education employs people at the same level who travel from Belfast to work in Rathgael House in Bangor. It would make more sense to keep people in the closest available and suitable posts: that should be considered.

I have every confidence that that issue will be looked into, but it is not the only issue that must be examined. A February 2009 National Audit Office (NAO) report, ‘Recruiting civil servants efficiently’, found that it costs between £556 and £1,921 to recruit each Civil Service position in central government. The report claimed that those costs could be slashed by 68%, delivering savings across government by up to £35 million a year and:

“without compromising the quality of the candidates recruited.”

The NAO report also suggested that having online application forms and contacting only successful applicants could save the Ministry of Justice in Westminster approximately £250,000 a year. In a related article about the report, the head of the NAO, Tim Burr, said:

“External recruitment is a key component of ensuring that the Civil Service has the right skills and the capacity to deliver. Departments often pay too little attention to how they manage the recruitment process. External recruitment currently takes longer and consumes more internal staff than it should.”

The article went on to say:

“Anticipating recruitment demands, using resources more effectively and, where possible, standardising the recruitment process — which currently takes up to 16 weeks — would help speed up the process, says the report.

Other failings in the Civil Service’s recruitment process included a lack of quality testing of the recruitment process and little information on staff turnover or surveys of candidates. The NAO questioned why managers were not routinely used to identify the successes and failings of the recruitment process.”

I believe that a new process should be implemented in which people from all sections of the community could have confidence. At present, a great many people in the Protestant community do not have that confidence. The fact that the candidate surveys and staff turnover are also issues on the mainland shows that any new-style process will have a positive effect throughout the UK. We can lead the way in implementing a new way of recruitment that will benefit all civil servants and prospective civil servants in the UK.

I am confident that the new Minister of Finance and Personnel, Sammy Wilson, will continue to address those matters, among others, with the Civil Service. Members will agree that monitoring must be put in place to ensure that people who are best equipped to do the job are given employment. However, we must also ensure that the dearth of Protestants in the categories stated in the motion be continuously gauged. We cannot and must not have alienation in the Protestant community or of people in that section of the community who feel that they cannot apply for a job or receive equality.

The wording of the motion is clear. Our Minister continues to work hard, and he will make the Civil Service a more efficient and sensible place for business. I support the motion.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I notice that the Member for South Antrim Mr Kinahan is not in his seat. He said that perhaps the people who were monitoring blood pressure in the Building today should be doing so in the Assembly this afternoon. That may have been a wise comment on the part of the person who wrote his speech before the debate took place. However, no one could describe the debate as one that has caused blood pressure to rise or faces to redden. I will, perhaps, seek to do that in the next 15 minutes, if I can.

I thank all those who participated in the debate, and I will deal with some of the issues that have been raised. At the outset, however, I will make two or three points. First, as the Minister of Finance and Personnel, I believe that when we recruit people to the Civil Service, the only criteria should be whether they are fit to do the job. There is no point in having a public service that is more concerned about political correctness or being pushed in one direction by one pressure group or the other if we do not get the people who can do the job properly.

I rely on my officials to give me advice. I do not always take it, but I rely on them to do so in the most professional way. I do not care about their name, their background, or what church they go to.

As far as I am concerned, the question is whether the advice is good and whether the person is capable of doing their job. I believe that most Ministers and people who interface with the public service are only interested in that.

Secondly, we now have an equality industry that has grown up around recruitment; an expensive equality industry. That has now permeated, because, as Members have pointed out, people will listen to the monitoring figures that they like and dismiss the ones that they do not like. I sometimes wonder what the use of monitoring is.

The monitoring and accompanying figures do not come about by magic. They require resources, personnel, documentation and databases to produce the figures. That is costly, and monitoring in the Civil Service costs hundreds of thousands of pounds. Some Members have mentioned the costs to industry and small firms.

People will still bring their prejudices to the figures. I will give an example: Mr O’Loan started making a very moderate speech, recognising that Protestants sometimes faced disadvantage, and Catholics faced disadvantage, but that by and large, the Civil Service was an equal employer, and we should not be cherry-picking. However, he could not resist a bit of cherry-picking. In the very last sentence of his speech, he had to mention the Prison Service.

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party

There was no cherry-picking. This is a serious debate, and my points deserve to be properly presented. I said that there was overall balance, and I said that there are specific areas and grades where there was imbalance, and that all of those areas need to be addressed.

We need to be grown-up enough to recognise that, if there is overall balance, then if there is compensation for one particular religious grouping in one area, there is bound to be compensation in another way in another area. That must be analysed, and an attempt needs to be made to iron it out. I am totally consistent in my position. I feel absolutely entitled to point out particular areas that are problematic, including the Prison Service.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I do not know whether that was an intervention or another speech, but the fact that the Member rose to justify himself in such a long intervention shows that I struck a chord.

The words “cherry-picking” were used by the Member. He did cherry-pick, and his proposed amendment does not even reflect the report to which he referred. Mr O’Dowd made the same points, as did Mr McLaughlin, about the imbalance at Senior Civil Service level. Mr McLaughlin and Mr O’Dowd, who claimed ignorance of the report, could not be blamed for deliberately ignoring some figures, because they had not read the June report. Mr O’Loan, by his own admission, has read the report. In fact, he waved the report in the air. That report makes it clear that there is fair participation at the senior level of the Civil Service.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Well, what does the SDLP’s proposed amendment say? It states that there is a need for continued, specific focus, not least at Senior Civil Service level. Either the Member read the report, or he did not. Maybe he read the report and still needed to say something about it, because historically the SDLP has believed that there is an imbalance, so he just ignored that part of the report.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I gave the Member a long intervention last time. Regardless of what monitoring figures are available, people will still believe what they want to about those figures. Mr O’Loan has identified that today.

I will address some of the other points that were made during the debate.

Mr Campbell talked about the importance of looking at trends in the figures. He is right: we should look at trends for the longer-term picture. Indeed, some encouragement can be found in those trends. Appointments of people from a Protestant background to AO level increased from 45% to 58% between 2005 and 2007. Appointments of people from a Protestant background to AA level increased from 47% to 58% between 2006 and 2007. That trend bears out the point, which was made by my predecessor, that action is being taken to make improvements. That action includes visiting schools, advertising on radio, and so on.

Mr McLaughlin argued the traditional Sinn Féin view that imbalances are a result of systematic discrimination, but I have some difficulty with that. Since there was neither a unionist Government nor a nationalist Government, the figures must have come about as a result of systematic discrimination on the part of direct rule Ministers. Perhaps the imbalances were brought about by unionists 30 years ago? Is Sinn Féin now so paranoid that it believes that what unionists did, or what it claims that unionists did, was continued by direct rule Ministers? There have been Administrations here periodically since 1998. Therefore, in the past 11 years, have nationalist, unionist, Sinn Féin and DUP Ministers engaged in systematic discrimination? That is the implication of Mr McLaughlin’s words if he is putting the figures down to systematic discrimination.

Mr McLaughlin talked about under-representation at Senior Civil Service levels. I make the case again that the most recent monitoring, which was done in June 2009, indicates that there is fair participation. That finding is based on methodology that was laid down, and accepted, by the Equality Commission, so it cannot be argued that the Civil Service has somehow set its own rules to produce the right figures.

I wish that Mr Kinahan had got the facts right in his contribution. First, he also did not get the figures right on Senior Civil Service grades. Secondly, he claimed that the motion referred to discrimination in recruitment — I do not see that in the motion — and claimed that there must then be discrimination in recruitment in the Civil Service. He ruled that out, but I think that he misread the motion in the first place. I emphasise the fact that action has been taken where monitoring has shown there to be an imbalance. Action has been taken by visiting schools; by advertising on radio; by changing qualification requirements; and by doing a whole host of other things. At a time of very low recruitment, there is a difficulty in trying to make the changes quickly.

Dr Farry talked about the importance of equality in access and treatment, and my earlier comments make it clear that I agree with him. Provided that there is equality of treatment in recruitment and equality of access to encourage people to apply for jobs, it is important that people are chosen on merit. That, of course, brings its own benefits, because the wider the recruitment pool, the better the choice of candidates will be. All employers would want that. That is why the initiative of going into schools to highlight the opportunities in the Civil Service is important.

Mr O’Dowd mixed his metaphors. He said that Dr Farry was walking the middle ground, but falling off the tightrope. I do not know which of the two it is, but either he is on the ground or he is on the tightrope. More importantly, Mr O’Dowd also mixed up the facts. He showed that he had not done his research very well. For a debate such as this, I thought that he would have at least examined the latest figures. Had he done so, he would have realised that the amendment that was proposed by Sinn Féin — and I emphasise this point — does not bear any relation to the facts regarding the senior grades in the Civil Service. Indeed, an imbalance at the senior grades in the Civil Service was identified, and the proposer of the motion accepted that progress was made on that issue. Furthermore, DFP’s own monitoring system shows that progress has been made on that issue and that there are now fair levels of representation. Therefore, as I said, Mr O’Dowd mixed up the facts.

If the position on the grade of AO is as a result of discrimination, I am surprised that Sinn Féin, and maybe even the SDLP, did not suggest 50:50 recruitment. That was what I was waiting for, but they did not do that. I do not advocate 50:50 recruitment and I would not like to see it used for the Civil Service, but, for consistency, I thought that we may have heard some suggestions about that from the nationalist side of the House.

DFP has taken the appropriate actions. Through our monitoring system, we are aware of the issues that have been raised about the Civil Service. Through the actions that have been taken on the senior grades, by the trends that I outlined for AA and AO grades, and by the actions that we have taken to try to widen recruitment and get more applicants, we have shown that the issue has been taken seriously and is being dealt with. Furthermore, we will continue to work at it.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:30 pm, 21st September 2009

The essential problem with the Minister’s reply is that it reflects a lack of understanding and breadth of knowledge about the issues that need to be addressed, particularly those that are addressed by the SDLP amendment. The Minister stuck to one single theme, namely that the June 2009 figures show fair levels of participation in respect of religion. He beat up Declan O’Loan on that issue, but the SDLP amendment does not simply refer to fair levels of participation based on religious background; it refers to gender and ethnic diversity.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

The amendment does say that. The fact that the Minister parked himself on the sole issue of religious representation in the Civil Service, and the fact that he failed to comment on gender and ethnic diversity, and the equality of those groups across the Civil Service, including at the senior grades, suggests that the Minister has missed an opportunity to demonstrate a breadth of understanding and knowledge about the vast array of equality issues that face him and the public services in Northern Ireland generally.

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

Does the honourable Member accept the figures that I outlined and that others indicated, which reveal that, in total, there are fewer than 300 people of all genders and ethnic backgrounds in the Northern Ireland Senior Civil Service, and that there are almost 20,000 in the general service grades? Does he accept those facts?

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Member has an extra minute in which to speak.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Of course. That is a matter of fact and public evidence. However, our amendment goes beyond the issue of religious representation and covers the full range of participation in the Civil Service. The broader issues were not taken up at all in Mr Campbell’s opening speech or in the Minister’s reply. It was the same for all the speeches from the DUP ranks. Not one of them referred to the broader equality issues in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, which was the very essence of the SDLP amendment.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I thank the Member for giving way. He should recognise that all the speeches concentrated on the religious aspect of Civil Service recruitment. Even though the Member’s amendment referred to ethnic diversity and gender equality, those issues accounted for a very small part of any of the speeches that were made. I make it clear that, when it comes to ethnic diversity, the Civil Service in Northern Ireland is broadly in line with the Civil Service in the rest of the United Kingdom, so we have addressed that issue.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the fact that the Minister thinks that the issues of ethnic diversity and gender equality in the Northern Ireland Civil Service have been addressed. That will come as a hell of a shock to women and to people from ethnic minorities in the North. The Police Service, for example, has not yet addressed the issue of ethnic minorities and still has not fully addressed the issue of the women’s representation. There is an unmet need across a range of employers out there that the Minister only now, when he has been put in the spotlight, suddenly thinks that he has to comment on. That says a lot.

I am also concerned because the Minister referred, in rather contemptuous ways, to the “equality industry”. By now nodding his head, the Minister is confirming that he meant it contemptuously. Let me say this to the Minister and to the DUP ranks: if it had not have been for the equality architecture — the powers, legislation and penalties — and the fact that the inequality on the religious side of things was a source of alienation over many decades in our society, that boil would not have been lanced over the past 20 or 30 years and would have remained a rubbing point in our politics.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will come to that. It is simply not a credible position to beat up on the so-called equality industry if people do not recognise that that industry was essential over 20 or 30 years to move Northern Ireland to the point at which the Minister can rely on the information that he put before the Assembly today. It is because of that industry, those laws and that architecture that the DUP today can say that there is under-representation of Protestants in certain ranks of the Civil Service. We can all say that equality in the North is at a place where it has never been before.

I will not even reply on the issue of 50:50 recruitment. If it were the case that 8% of the Northern Ireland Civil Service was Protestant and 92% was Catholic, as was the case in 2001 with the police, I would be arguing for 50:50 recruitment in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. We do not object to the principle of 50:50 recruitment; we wanted it for women in the police, but the European Court of Human Rights would not allow it. We do not walk away from any of those issues. The DUP has come to the table late. I welcome that it has come at all.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

This is a very important debate. It is unfortunate that the proposer of the motion referred only to under-representation at the lower levels of the Civil Service. There is huge under-representation of young Protestants at that level. I know that people have already spoken about that. The Minister has said that measures have been taken to try to challenge that under-representation by sending people into schools and by setting entrance criteria at NVQ level, so that working class people who apply to the Civil Service have equality of opportunity.

Members have touched on two areas of under-representation that were not mentioned by Gregory Campbell when he moved the motion. One of them is in the higher, very senior grades. It was said that fewer than 300 staff occupy those grades, but those staff should still reflect the make-up of wider society. It is unfortunate that the under-representation of women in higher grades of the Civil Service was not included in the debate. I welcome the proposer’s campaign to get equality in the workplace, and I hope that that campaign will include people from all backgrounds — ethnic minorities, women and the gay and lesbian community — because equality is important for all those people.

In moving the amendment, my colleague Mitchel McLaughlin supported affirmative action to challenge all forms of under-representation at every level in the Civil Service. It is important that we agree to consider under-representation at all levels and right across the board. He mentioned that legislation and robust measures were needed to proactively challenge institutional discrimination and inequalities in the workplace. That is what our amendment looks to do; it argues for the publication of the report of the equal opportunities unit so that we can monitor, agree and be proactive about putting measures in place.

Some Members have referred to positive discrimination or action, and I have argued in the Chamber on previous occasions for positive action to be taken to address the lack of female representatives in the Chamber and on public bodies. Our amendment calls for the report from DFP’s equal opportunities unit to be published. We must have that type of robust monitoring, and it must be public so that every aspect of it can be considered.

Declan O’Loan welcomed the fact that the DUP is now embracing fair employment measures, including monitoring. I disagree with what Mr O’Loan said about there being fair participation across all the higher grades in the Civil Service. The figure quoted — that 30·4% of the Senior Civil Service are Catholics — does not reflect equality of participation right across the board. I am not citing a whole load of statistics, because, as everybody, including the Minister, has mentioned, we must be aware that statistics can be used to support everybody’s arguments. We must take a broader view.

Danny Kinahan from the Ulster Unionist Party felt that the recruitment process was fair, and he was a bit at odds with the DUP’s motion. Stephen Farry said that he could support the motion and all the amendments. He also believed in appointing on merit — that the best person for the job should be appointed. I do not think that anybody could disagree with that. However, I do not believe that someone should be denied equality of opportunity in getting the best-paid jobs just for being a Catholic. That is very important.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 4:45 pm, 21st September 2009

I thank the Member for giving way, but I am afraid that there is a conflict in her stated position. One cannot accept the principle of merit-based appointments in all cases while at the same time talk about favouring positive discrimination. If merit-based appointment is believed in, the only thing that should matter is the quality of the person and not their background, which can be monitored subsequently. Therefore, some conflict is opening up in what Sinn Féin has said in the debate.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I do not think that. What I am saying is that the educational qualifications of a person from an area of disadvantage may not be as good as those of someone from a middle-class area. Sometimes there has to be positive action to ensure that all people have equality of opportunity. That is what I am saying. I am not saying that there should necessarily be discrimination against any particular section, but that sometimes we need to look at taking positive action where there are inequalities.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

The Member’s time is up. She should bring her remarks to a close.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

I ask that people support the Sinn Féin amendment. It does not exclude the fact, which has been mentioned by my colleagues, that Protestants are under-represented at the lower levels of the Civil Service; that is wrong. Everyone should have equality of opportunity and the amendment is the best way to take that forward.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

As the Minister said, we have had a fairly reasoned debate in which we avoided the temptation — raised as a concern by Mr Kinahan — of raising the blood pressure too much. Nevertheless, we have had a robust debate, and that is to be welcomed. In summing up, I will address a few of the remarks that have been made.

I will deal first with the motion’s proposer, Gregory Campbell. Gregory hit the nail on the head with the three key points in the debate. First, the debate is not about Civil Service promotion or composition, but about recruitment and its trends. That goes to the heart of the debate. Mr Campbell, Mr Kinahan and others pointed out that trends in recruitment potentially lead to long-term imbalances in composition if they are not addressed correctly.

Secondly, Mr Campbell dealt with the other key point that we are looking at the vast bulk of the Civil Service. In dealing with those grades, as opposed to the senior grades, we are dealing with roughly 99% of the Civil Service. Numerically, that is where the focus should be. Thirdly, the trends that we are trying to tackle have, until very recently, been getting worse rather than better; gaps in the expected outcome have been widening rather than narrowing. To some extent, that deals with a number of the points that were raised by other Members.

Some Members mentioned under-representation in the Senior Civil Service. Indeed, that is one of the main thrusts of the Sinn Féin amendment. Yet that involves fewer than 300 people. Mr Hamilton highlighted that the trend has led to a narrowing of the gap year on year, to the extent that the number of Catholics in Senior Civil Service posts doubled between 1997 and 2007. Even Mr O’Loan and others acknowledged that we are very close to a balance.

Gender issues were similarly highlighted. There needs to be a clear focus on the important issue of the promotion of women in the Civil Service. Any cursory examination of the trends, even in the Senior Civil Service, will show that there has been a massive improvement over the past 10 years, with the number of women in senior posts virtually trebling during that period. Therefore, although work remains to be done, at least the gaps are closing.

By contrast, as was highlighted by Mr Hamilton, Mr Campbell and others, the under-representation — at least it was the case up to 2007 — of people from the Protestant community at the lower grades has got worse instead of better. That is why the focus of the motion is as it is. It also highlights why the two amendments offer a degree of diversion from what should be the main focus, despite the best attempts of the Members who tabled them. The main focus should be on where there is a problem; where, despite the efforts that have been made in the past couple of years, a problem remains; where a marker needs to be put down, to which a number of Members referred; and where we need to keep an eye on the ball.

Mitchel McLaughlin proposed amendment No 1. I do not know whether he or Gregory Campbell should be more worried, because Mr McLaughlin started off by saying that he agreed, to a large extent, with Gregory Campbell. It is fortunate that Mr Campbell was not in the Chamber when that statement was made. Mr McLaughlin went on to say that the key point is that we need to look at the most effective way in which to deal with the problem. I agree with him in that regard: if we are to be effective, we must deal with the main problem. It is clear that the main problem has been the under-representation of the Protestant community at the lower Civil Service grades.

Mr O’Loan, in proposing amendment No 2, said that he was embracing a wider motion. I am not sure whether he read the SDLP amendment, because he indicated that he wanted to create a motion that was not discriminatory and that did not refer to one community only. However, the SDLP amendment leaves in all about the under-representation of the Protestant community and does not mention the Catholic community. I suspect that the amendment that the SDLP tabled was not the amendment that it wished to table, but its Members have gone into it nonetheless.

I wondered whether Mr O’Loan’s speech and Mr Attwood’s speech were merely speeches or, given the events of the past 24 hours, more an audition for future vacancies that may arise. It was the early stages of an SDLP ‘The X Factor’.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Indeed.

I was reminded by a colleague that it is perhaps appropriate that the leader of the SDLP is not in the Chamber, given the presence of Mr Shannon, and his penchant for aiming at lame ducks. It is just as well that the SDLP leader was absent from the Chamber during Mr Shannon’s contribution.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

I do not aim at lame ducks; I make sure that the ducks that I aim at are flying fast and strong. When I hit them, it is a job well done.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I do not want to question the prowess of Mr Shannon.

Mr Kinahan made a number of important points when he talked about the long-term trend and the widening gap. My only concern about Mr Kinahan’s remarks was that the more that he went on, the less clear I became on the position that he was taking on the motion. Despite some of the good remarks that he made, I was not clear by the end of his speech whether the Ulster Unionist Party supported the motion. No other Ulster Unionists took the opportunity to speak in the debate, so I look forward with interest and no little trepidation to see which Lobby its Members go through.

Stephen Farry made a lot of valid points, albeit in an ecumenical manner that was in keeping with the Alliance’s Party’s position. He indicated that the Alliance Party would support just about everything in the debate in respect of any resolution. I am sure that that generosity, which was spread around the Chamber, was welcomed by all. There can be a situation in which there is a difference between equality of treatment and equality of outcome, as was highlighted. Dr Farry also said that underlying discrimination can occur at low levels. I have a slight concern that if the equality legislation were to be employed to a greater extent on very small firms, it would merely add to their burden.

Mr Paisley Jnr and Mr Shannon highlighted the hypocrisy of some of the parties opposite, particularly the SDLP and Sinn Féin. The watchword is always “equality”. They talk about equality of opportunity yet support 50:50 recruitment for policing. It seems that it is all very well to have equality, except in particular circumstances. Long queues of people from the Protestant community have been discriminated against in PSNI recruitment in the past number of years. Fortunately, and thanks to the efforts of my party, an end to 50:50 recruitment has been negotiated. I welcome a time in which recruitment is based purely on merit.

The Minister said that we need something that is fit for purpose, and he highlighted the genuine progress that has been made in the past two years on such issues as advertising and the targeting of particular schools. Such initiatives have started to improve the imbalance in the lower ranks of the Civil Service. That is to be welcomed, and it is acknowledged in the DUP motion.

The motion is to ensure that a level playing field is created for everyone. That means tackling the problems where they exist and allowing progress to continue where it has already been made. We must ensure that the eye is kept on the ball, and that the marker is put down, as several Members have called for today. I call on Members to keep the focus on the problem and to support the motion.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Order. Before I put the Question on amendment No 1, I advise Members that if amendment No 1 is made, amendment No 2 will fall. The Question on the motion, as amended, will then be put.

Question, That amendment No 1 be made, put and negatived.

Question, That amendment No 2 be made, put and negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That this Assembly notes the efforts made by the Northern Ireland Civil Service in recent years to address the under-representation of Protestants among those applying for, and being recruited to, occupational groups which have most employees in the Civil Service; and calls for continued monitoring of all the grades, but particularly those grades where thousands of people are employed, in order that those from all community backgrounds can have confidence in the recruitment process.

Adjourned at 5.01 pm.