Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 6 June 2000 (continued)
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.
Mr A Maginness:
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.
Mr S Wilson:
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.
Madam Deputy Speaker:
Order. The Member should be cautious about his remarks.
Mr S Wilson:
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]
Madam Deputy Speaker:
Order. The Member's time is up.
With regard to the remarks concerning the possibility of the Speaker, or the Deputy Speaker, allowing the House to be abused I will look closely at Hansard.
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.
Madam Deputy Speaker:
I must have order in the House.
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.
Go raibh maith agat, Madam Deputy Speaker. First, some of the comments -
Madam Deputy Speaker:
Rev Dr William McCrea:
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it going to be the rule that only one side of the House is to be called to order? Is it that persons on the other side can act however they like and with a blind eye turned, or is there a need for -
Madam Deputy Speaker:
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.
Junior Minister (Office of First and Deputy First Ministers (Mr Haughey): 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.
Junior Minister (Office of First and Deputy First Ministers) (Mr Nesbitt): 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.
Your time is up.
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.
I will take a point of order from Mr Dodds before responding to Mr Haughey's point of order.
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.
Mr C Murphy:
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.
Mr C Murphy:
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.
Would it be in order for me to thank Mr Weir for his enlightenment? We all deeply appreciate it and wish we saw and heard more of him.
I am not sure that that is either in order or a point of order, but the Member made his point in any case.
Mr C Murphy:
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.
Mr C Murphy:
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.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 37; Noes 23.
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.
I wish to inform Members that Royal Assent to the Financial Assistance for Political Parties Bill has been signified. The measure became law on 10 February 2000.
Adjourned at 4.27 pm.