12 June 1998
Equality - the foundation for a political settlement
Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle member Bairbre de Brun and other senior party figures, this morning held a press conference in Belfast at which they presented Sinn Fein's detailed response to the British government's White Paper ``Partnership for Equality'. Ms de Brun described the White Paper as an ``inadequate response to the problem of deep rooted structural, political and religious discrimination and inequality''. She added ``it fails to meet the standards set in the Good Friday Agreement.''
Ms de Brun outlined a comprehensive Sinn Fein position which demands that
``The White Paper must be reassessed to make its proposals consistent with the Good Friday Agreement. New and revised legislation must be completed by policies such as PAFT and TSN, which are properly implemented and resourced.
``Central to the success of any anti-discrimination programme is the creation of a Department of Equality. That will be a priority for Sinn Fein. We regard it as being of critical importance to the equality agenda: as a clear signal of serious intent about this core matter. We hold equality to be the foundation for a political settlement''
Ms de Brun said:
``The issue of jobs discrimination has been a critical issue since the Civil Rights Campaign was launched 30 years ago in 1968. In 1973 a British government report stated that: `Affirmative action involves ... deliberate programmes under which equality of opportunity may be achieved. It sets out consciously and systematically to create this equality. It acknowledges that, in this way, employment proportions, by and large, will automatically reflect the denominational ratios in the community as a whole.'
``We have been waiting thirty years for this automatic reflection of equality in employment. It is not yet visible. The political will to, `consciously and systematically ... create this equality' has been absent.
``The Equality agenda was a central feature of Sinn Fein's agenda in the negotiations that concluded on Good Friday. Our position was outlined in our submission to the talks process entitled `For a Future as Equals.'
``Equality remains a primary focus for Sinn Fein.
``The commitments entered into by all the parties to the agreement, in relation to the equality issue, broaden and deepen the debate and commitments to action beyond the SACHR report and the White Paper. These formally agreed commitments now need to be implemented. The effect must be significant change within tangible time scales.
``The SACHR report was based on a two and a half year study of the legislation and government programmes to tackle discrimination, resulting in a detailed agenda for action. ``Sinn Fein believes that the agenda proposed by SACHR has the potential to reduce inequalities in the north of Ireland.
``It is unacceptable that many of SACHR's recommendations have been rejected, ignored or at best, have been interpreted in a minimalist way in the White Paper. This is precisely what happened in 1987.
``The issue is about change, what is required to get it and within what timescale. There is a lack of recognition on the part of the British government of the urgent need for fundamental change now, and of the need to introduce mechanisms which will produce movement towards equality in the short term. We set out below some of the mechanisms which we believe are essential.''
- Equality is a fundamental requirement as a foundation for a political settlement.
- Equality is an issue of social and economic rights rather than a community relations problem.
- Equality is an indivisible right of all.
- The Good Friday Agreement goes beyond the White Paper in terms of principles, practice and institutions. In view of this there is an evident need to reassess the proposals in the White Paper to make them consistent with the Agreement.
- The White Paper has rejected, ignored or interpreted in a minimalist way many of the key recommendations in the SACHR report. This is precisely what happened to the SACHR report in 1987. This is unacceptable.
- Sinn Fein believe that the SACHR report of June 1987, if implemented, has the potential to reduce inequalities in the north of Ireland.
- The issue is change, away from discrimination and the effects of discrimination and towards equality in tangible timescales. There is a lack of recognition of the urgent need for change now and of the need to introduce mechanisms which will produce movement towards equality in the short term.
- Sinn Fein supports the establishment of a Department of Equality as a clear signal of serious intent about this core issue.
- The British Government should set clear goals and timetables for change. All actions must be outcome oriented, the expected outcomes explicitly stated.
- All segments of the population must be made stake holders in the objectives as well as the processes and changes which will be required to achieve these outcomes. Groups and communities which experience inequalities must have the right to participate in decision making which affects them.
- Revised and effective legislation, consistent with the Good Friday Agreement, needs to be complemented by policies such as PAFT and TSN, properly implemented and resourced.
- PAFT should be placed on a statutory basis which includes all groups presently covered. The Policy Appraisal process and the `Impact Assessment Test' are crucial elements of the statutory basis to PAFT.
- There needs to be concerted area-based positive action measures via TSN.
- The scope of affirmative action needs to be extended.
- Section 42 of the Fair Employment Act which gives employers the opportunity to evade their obligations on spurious grounds of `national security' must be rescinded. Political vetting must cease.
- Investment should be subject to equality disciplines. The British government should co-operate with the international community to ensure this.
- SACHR's proposal of 1987 in relation to the differential in the unemployment ratio should be adopted. That is, to set the goal of reducing the differential from 2.5 to 1.5 within five years. The British government must indicate its seriousness about early progress in eliminating an unacceptable differential.
- Contract compliance - the use of economic power of the public sector in the pursuit of equality - is a vital tool for change. It must be taken up, not discarded.
- Discrimination in the public sale of housing and lands should be outlawed in the terms of the legislation.
- Further research to assess the issue of amalgamation of the existing equality commissions is necessary. the remit for this should go to the new Human Rights Commission. In the interim the separate Commissions should remain as at present with separate budgets and separate legislation.
- The British government should show goodwill and commitment to real change by accepting SACHR's policy agenda and providing the resources to bring these changes to fruition.
- There must be equality at all levels, including the highest levels of decision taking, implementation and review and within all institutions - the civil service, judiciary and public bodies. This will, in particular, be a litmus test for a new policing service.
- The overall approach and actions must tackle not only the disproportionate economic and social exclusion of nationalists and catholics but also the economic and social exclusion of disadvantaged protestants and other affected groups and communities.
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