[Sinn Fein]

24th February 2003

Nesbitt `no jobs bias' claims dismissed

Sinn Fein Equality Spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA Dr Dara O'Hagan has dismissed claims by former UUP Minister Dermott Nesbitt that there is no jobs bias faced by Catholics.

Dr O'Hagan said:

``The latest figures from the Labour Force Survey Religion Report published last week showed that the unemployment rate for Catholics is 8.3%, significantly higher than the rate for Protestants - 4.3%. The unemployment differential sits at 1.9 for both sexes. For males the unemployment differential is 2.1.

``This confirms the findings of a recent report produced for OFMDFM, where Dermott Nesbitt was previously a junior Minster, that makes it clear that current policy is only having a `modest' impact on the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities.

``Dermott Nesbitt claims that because the unemployment differential has not changed much in over 30 years that that `it cannot easily be reduced'. That is self-evident. There has been a stubborn refusal of unionists to acknowledge the problem and they are active in attempting to frustrate the equality agenda and this is why there has been little progress. There is a lack of progress because of unionism not because the problem doesn't exist. The Fair Employment debate is characterised by the inability and unwillingness of unionists to acknowledge that systematic and structural discrimination against Catholics and nationalists occurred

``For Unionists like Dermott Nesbitt the problem (which wasn't really a problem but a figment of nationalist imagination) was in the past but things are different now so let's move on - why waste money on an Equality Commission. The unemployment differential - a key indicator for measuring the success or failure of fair employment measures - is rejected by Dermot Nesbitt. He suggests there is a lack of hard facts. But there has been a 160% increase in the number of applications to Fair Employment Tribunals over the past decade. The majority of cases relate to fair employment.

``Dermott Nesbitt has a vested interest in questioning the use of the unemployment differential - despite its international use as a measurement tool - simply because he wants to explain away Unionist refusal to back the equality agenda.

``Monitoring data demonstrates that Catholics are underrepresented in public and private sectors relative to their proportion of the economically active population. While there is an increase in the Catholic share of employment, the share is still less than it should be and the gap has grown since 1971:

. In 1971 Catholics were 31% of the economically active and had 29.1% of employment, a 1.9 percentage point gap. . In 1991 Catholics were 39.8% of the economically active and had 36.3% of employment, a 3.5 percentage point gap. . In 2001 Catholics were 43% of the economically active and had 39.5% of employment, a 3.5 percentage point gap.

``We are still a long way from achieving fair participation. Monitoring is necessary so that we get a sensible debate on the issue of employment equality. We need better monitoring. The Labour Force Survey has too small a sample while the basic annual workplace monitoring and the Article 55 reviews every three years are of little value if the Equality Commission does not have the resources to analyse and act on the information collected. The Commission has already, for example, cut back on support for individual cases that will adversely effect equality provisions. This is an issue that Sinn Fein is currently pursuing with the Equality Commission.

``There is a commitment in the Agreement to eliminate this differential. It is not good enough to say that there is a slow pace or a downward trend, the stark reality is that through a mixture of Unionist resistance to tackling the legacy of discrimination and the failure of the British government to implement key areas of the Agreement that the situation has not changed greatly in the 5 years since the agreement was signed.''

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