Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 27 June 2000 (continued)

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Of course, it does not take a statement from an IRA/Sinn Féin Minister to get Members on this side of the House to congratulate the Fire Service for their sterling work in preserving property, life and limb from fire and danger in this society over recent decades. Can the Minister confirm to the House how many fires the Fire Service has had to attend and put out as a result of Provisional IRA bombs? What has been the cost to the Fire Service in terms of manpower and resources in dealing with such bomb attacks and tackling fires caused by terrorism in Northern Ireland?

Did the Minister, when meeting the Fire Service, apologise to it for the years of bomb attacks that placed the lives of firemen in jeopardy because of the activities of members of her party? Has she called on her community to cease from stoning and attacking firemen and stopping them from doing their duty? Should the Minister not be embarrassed by coming to this House and announcing an award to a Fire Service that her party tried to expunge from existence in Northern Ireland?

Ms de Brún:

It is not possible to disaggregate those fires and other incidents that the Fire Service has attended over the last 30 years which specifically emanated from the conflict or from any section of the community from those which occurred for other reasons. We can all recite specific incidents which occurred in the course of the conflict over the past 30 years and engage in pointing the finger of blame. I had hoped that today would not be about political point-scoring. That is certainly not my intention, and I hope that Members will not wish to engage in that either. Today we give due recognition to the Fire Service's labour for all sections of the community throughout the period, often at great personal risk to its members.

Mr Neeson:

I sincerely welcome the Minister's statement. The awards are long overdue, given the Fire Service's bravery over the years of the troubles. Even now its members are being attacked on the streets by all sides. This is not the time for making political statements. Rather we should be thankful for this announcement.

I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to reviewing existing Fire Service provision throughout Northern Ireland, bearing in mind that, in recent times, there has been a significant population growth in a number of areas which still only have part-time firemen and facilities. The time has now come for full-time Fire Service provision to be made in these areas.

Ms de Brún:

I thank the Member for his kind words which I shall ensure are passed on to the Fire Service. It is fitting today that we give recognition to the Fire Service. We all wish it well in the work that it is carrying out today, just as we wish those well who have carried out such work over the past 30 years.

I have given some details of significant investment in existing provision. I should be happy to write to the Member if he wishes to raise specific areas with me where it is felt that existing provision should be altered.

Mr J Kelly:

Thank you, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I too welcome the Minister's statement and concur with those who have pointed out that this is not an occasion for political point-scoring. We have met members of the Fire Service Union and, indeed, the Fire Authority itself on several occasions, and those meetings were extremely amicable.

In the health authority we have spoken about the integration of the Fire Service and the Ambulance Service. Would the Minister like to comment on that? Does the Minister recognise the need for North/South co-operation between the fire brigades? Have any formal arrangements been put in place for this?

Ms de Brún:

There is already good co-operation between the Fire Service and the Ambulance Service in training and communications. The inclusion of responsibility for fire and ambulance services under a single Department will, of course, now provide greater opportunities for increased co-operation and efficiency, including joint training and the sharing of premises for vehicles. I also expected it to lead to the development of a common communications infrastructure and joint approaches to the provision of information to the public about access to public safety.

6.15 pm

With regard to North/South co-operation, the Fire Service maintains a good working relationship with brigades in the South. There is a formal arrangement with Donegal County Council in which the Fire Service provides fire and emergency cover for East Donegal. The cost of doing so is a retainer of £3,500 per annum and a charge of £195.50 per appliance per call out. Cross-border protocols exist between local fire stations also in terms of responding to emergencies. Contacts have been established with the Dublin Fire Brigade for joint training initiatives and for considering questions of, for example, advanced technology. There is ongoing co-operation therefore. As part of their fleet replacement programme, smaller fire brigades in the South purchase some of the Fire Service's older appliances that have become surplus to requirements.

Mr Davis:

I welcome the announcement of the award to the Fire Service. Does the Minister intend to give posthumous awards? I believe that the first person who died as a result of a bomb explosion was Mr Wesley Orr from Lisburn.

Ms de Brún:

We are talking about bringing forward proposals that have been under consideration for some time in terms of the recognition for firefighters. The type of award that was to be brought forward had been discussed between members of the Fire Service Past Members' Association and previous Ministers with responsibility for the Fire Service. I have not yet given any consideration to further awards, or other forms of awards. I think we need to mark quite clearly our regret that nine firefighters lost their lives, and that hundreds of firefighters were injured in the last 30 years. Again, I have to say that it is not possible to disaggregate the specific causes and the specific contexts in which those occurred. It is a matter of regret to us all that firefighters lose their lives defending our population, and we should give them every recognition for the service they have given.

Mr Gallagher:

I welcome the Minister's statement and the recognition of the invaluable service given by the personnel in the Fire Service. Will the Minister include the families of those who have lost their lives at the awards ceremonies? At the first gathering, which will probably be the main focus of attention, does she intend to have a geographical spread of people from all of the fire stations throughout Northern Ireland present?

Ms de Brún:

I thank the Member for the questions. He raises very important points. The specific details have not yet been laid out, and I will certainly bear in mind the points he has made.

Ms Ramsey:

Go raibh maith agat, Madam Deputy Chair. I also welcome the Minister's statement, and I think an award to the Fire Service is long overdue. I have a couple of questions.

Can the Minister inform us of the total number of house fires that have taken place over the last two years? Will she work with the Minister for Social Development to ensure that all public and private sector housing will be fitted with smoke alarms as a matter of urgency to reduce the number of senseless deaths?

Ms de Brún:

I fully support the points the Member made in her question about the need for smoke alarms. I am sure she will agree that the Fire Service has recently undertaken significant initiatives to ensure that smoke alarms are not only fitted but tested regularly. There has been some success in this, and I want to pay tribute to it for this. I should certainly be quite happy not only when it is necessary but when we wish to see co-operation between different Departments to ensure that it is possible. I shall write to the Member with a specific answer.

Mr Dalton:

I wish to welcome the statement from the Minister today and make it known to the House that some tribute should be paid to Mr Harry Martin, the secretary of the Retired Firefighters' Association, who has steadfastly campaigned for this medal for the past five years. It is through Mr Martin's sterling work that this has been brought to people's attention. I approached Mr Martin some time ago to become involved in trying to promote this issue as well, and the Minister will be aware of this from some of the correspondence on the file. I am glad to hear that this is going to happen, for the Fire Service deserves to be recognised for the work it has done for the entire community. The medal will go some way towards recognising the service that has been given by the Fire Service to all members of the community, from whatever side. I welcome this statement today.

Ms de Brún:

I concur absolutely. I previously made reference to the Retired Firefighters' Association, but not specifically to Mr Harry Martin, and I welcome the opportunity to do so now. His work in bringing this to the attention of the Ministers responsible for the Fire Service has been commendable. I am glad - in fact, honoured - to have been given the opportunity to take this work forward.

Mr Carrick:

I am honoured to welcome the tribute to firefighters' courage over the last 30 years in particular. I should like the Minister to comment on her reply to a question when she said that it was a source of regret that nine firefighters had lost their lives as a result of the troubles. Will she now go further and lend credibility to her statement by condemning the terrorists for their actions that led to those deaths?

Ms de Brún:

I must point out to the Member that I did not say that. I pointed out that nine firefighters had lost their lives over the last 30 years. It is not possible to disaggregate figures into those who lost their lives in the conflict and those who lost their lives fighting fires in other circumstances. I have therefore stated clearly that I note not only that firefighters have lost their lives, but that hundreds of others have been injured fighting fires. It is not for the Department to try to disaggregate the causes of those fires. My wish today is to pay tribute to the firefighters' service, and it is a source of regret to me that firefighters have been injured or lost their lives in carrying out this tremendous work.

Mr Davis:

I can assure the Minister that Mr Wesley Orr was killed by a bomb explosion in Belfast. It should not be too hard to find that out from the Department.

Mr Dodds:

I join with all those who have welcomed this long-overdue award for those who have served in the Fire Service. We all agree on the tremendous, sterling work that they have done, especially in the difficult circumstances of the last 30 years.

I would like to question the Minister further about some of the statements that she has made. Surely it must be possible to have these figures disaggregated. Whether or not it is possible, she may not wish to do it now, but it must surely be possible to have figures supplied on who was responsible for arson and bomb attacks over the years. At the very least, the Chief Constable issues certificates on many of these attacks, so the information will be on record.

Further to the previous question, instead of obscuring the issue of who was responsible for particular deaths, will the Minister take the opportunity now - regardless of which terrorist organisation was responsible - not to waffle or be ambiguous but to condemn clearly those terrorist outrages and make her position absolutely clear?

It is also time for the Minister, instead of coming here and paying tribute to the Fire Service, which is incumbent on all of us, to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the other emergency services, notably the police and the Army, instead of condoning the murder and maiming of their officers and soldiers.

Ms de Brún:

While I have said that it has not been possible to disaggregate figures, I am in no way taking away from the fact that at the very beginning of my statement I made it very clear that I wish to advise Members of the arrangements which are being made to pay tribute to the exceptional service of the Fire Service over the last 30 years. The context in which I made that statement is therefore very clear, as was the context in which those firefighters carried out their work over the last 30 years. I have, however, no intention of being diverted from what today is about. The suffering which all sections of the community have endured over the past 30 years, as a result of the conflict, is a matter for regret. Firefighters suffered too, and I regret that and I recognise that. [Interruption]

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. The Minister has a right to be heard.

Ms de Brún:

I feel very strongly that on a day when we have come to pay tribute to the firefighters we should focus on applauding the Fire Service for its service to the community rather than score political points or engage in pointing the finger of blame for the past 30 years of conflict.

Mr Morrow:

I have listened to what the Minister has to say, and I would like to start by saying that this recognition of the Fire Service is long overdue. It is something, regrettably, that has come about because of pressure from, and lobbying by, the Fire Service and others. I also concur with what Mr Dalton said about Harry Martin. He is the gentleman who pioneered this and spearheaded the attack, as it were, on the Departments to bring this recognition about.

However, the statement that the Minister has delivered here this evening has a hollow ring to it. The fact that she deliberately sidesteps this and is not prepared to condemn terrorists who caused the death of nine firemen - [Interruption]

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. The Member should ask a question and not make a statement.

Mr Morrow:

It should be a very simple task for the Minister to find out how the nine members who were killed lost their lives. What were the circumstances and who caused their deaths? Could we have less waffle and more direct answers please.

Ms de Brún:

I feel that I have dealt with these points again and again. I do applaud the work that Harry Martin has done. I do recognise that this question of recognition for firefighters has been under consideration for some time, and I am very glad to have been able to bring this forward today. It is not possible for me to give the circumstances, in all cases, of those who have been killed or injured over the last 30 years.

6.30 pm

Mr Beggs:

I welcome the announcement of the medals for the good service of the fire officers over the years. Rather than just give out medals, however, will the Minister acknowledge that the Fire Service in Northern Ireland receives less, per thousand of population, than other regions of the United Kingdom? Will she also accept that underfunding can mean that it takes longer to deal with emergencies and that can result in the loss of lives?

Ms de Brún:

My view is that we compare well in terms of investment here. The Fire Authority has a baseline budget allocation that has risen from £43·7 million in 1998/99 to £51·4 million in 2000/01. An additional £4·9 million was allocated last year, an increase of 8·5% in real terms. On this year's resources, £51·4 million represents an increase of £2·9 million over the 1999/00 allocation, a real terms increase of 3·6%.

The Fire Service needs to be efficient and effective - public safety depends on that. I am committed to maintaining and improving our Fire Service, but we should not underestimate the significant resources that are available or the fact that we compare reasonably favourably in terms of those resources.

Mr Berry:

I would like to commend and salute the Fire Brigade for the tremendous work and dedication with which it has served Northern Ireland over the last thirty years. I must say that we have not received answers on this side of the House. Can the Minister confirm how many firemen, over these past 30 years, have been murdered due to IRA/Sinn Féin activity? Is it possible for the Minister of Sinn Féin/IRA to confirm to the House that she condemns the work of the IRA over the past 30 years? When is she going to condemn the work of Sinn Féin/IRA? This is rank hypocrisy on her part.

Ms de Brún:

I have dealt with both these questions.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

I also congratulate the members of the Fire Service; they have shown courage and determination in protecting the lives of innocent, law-abiding people throughout the Province. Lip-service to this is something that the firefighters do not really appreciate. Without looking deeper into the figures that have been mentioned today, it is clear that nine persons died over the years of murder and mayhem. It would be easy for any Minister to find out exactly who those persons were and exactly how they died at the hands of terrorism.

Does she agree that the courage of these firefighters is in sharp contrast to the cowardice of the IRA men who murdered them?

Ms de Brún:

I have saluted the courage of the firefighters, and I salute them again. I have said that I will not engage in political point scoring, and I will not do so now.

Mrs E Bell:

The message from the Minister is that she recognises and acknowledges the work of the firefighters over the years, and I am very pleased to have heard it. Can the Minister assure me that the investment and the reorganisation mentioned in the statement will come about as quickly as possible?

I have had many meetings with local firefighters as a result of the dispute that was recently solved, and there is no talk of who did what or when. People are talking about setting up a good fire fighting service that is recognised by, and has the confidence of, everyone. I welcome this as a step towards achieving that.

Ms de Brún:

Certainly I will ensure that the necessary investment is made available and that there is no delay. I will carefully consider any recommendations that come forward for improvement, but I would point again to the significant investment that is there at present.

Equality Commission


Madam Deputy Speaker:

We move now to the Equality Commission motion. The Business Committee has allocated two hours for this debate. Given the number of Members wishing to speak, I have decided to allow the mover of the motion up to 15 minutes, and a further 15 minutes will be available for the winding-up speech. All other Members should limit their speeches to eight minutes. This will be reviewed during the course of the debate.

Mr Campbell:

I beg to move

That this Assembly notes the publication by the Equality Commission of their tenth annual monitoring report, criticises the worsening under-representation of the Protestant community, particularly in the public sector, and calls upon the Equality Commission to address this problem as a matter of urgency.

It is more than 22 years since the first publication by what was then the Fair Employment Agency on the subject of fair employment. Many other publications and reports have followed. There have been many references in all of those publications to the fact that Roman Catholic males are twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestant males. This simplistic cliché has underpinned almost all Government legislation since 1978. There has never been any attempt to accept that, at the outset of Northern Ireland's troubled existence, the leaders of Roman Catholic opinion in Northern Ireland called for Catholics not to take positions in the Civil Service, the largest single employer in the country. It was gross hypocrisy then, almost fifty years later, for that same community to complain about not getting the jobs it had previously advocated not taking up.

Since the violence erupted in 1969 there has been a huge increase in security-related employment, and because of IRA intimidation there has been a low uptake from Roman Catholics in that sector. Unfortunately, very little reference is made in successive fair employment reports to these uncomfortable but factual positions. At the outset others and I were very critical of those early reports in that they excluded any reference to the discrimination against Protestants. Initially, those of us who campaigned on that issue were dismissed as being inaccurate or as being only partially correct.

After the evidence began to mount, the defence from the Fair Employment Agency, later the Fair Employment Commission, against these allegations was that unfairness against the Protestant community was contained to very small geographic areas. Today I intend to demonstrate that there is widespread disadvantage being suffered now by the Protestant community right across Northern Ireland.

I want to turn now to present day events. Quite often in the Equality Commission reports we get facts and figures which can mislead people. The most relevant section of the tenth monitoring report is chapter five, entitled "Applicants and Appointees". I have made the point over and over again to successive Government Departments that the composition of a company or a public sector body, many of whose employees were employed twenty, thirty or forty years ago, is not important. That is of little relevance. What is of relevance is what those companies and the public sector are doing now, not whom they employed in 1960, 1970 or 1980, but whom they are employing today. That is the relevant and most significant section of any report.

The motion refers to the public sector. In table 41 from chapter five of the report we can see exactly how many people applied for positions in the public sector. This is not a small position in some corner; this is not some minor firm; this is the public sector, which had 125,448 applicants, one in four of the entire employed population of Northern Ireland. We are not talking about a sector or a small geographic area. We are talking about a swath of people looking for employment - more than 125,000 of them. If we exclude, as the Equality Commission has done, the applicants who cannot easily be put into either Protestant or Roman Catholic categories, we are left with 55% who are Protestants and almost 45% who are Catholic, and that in itself shows a very slight under-representation of Protestants. It is known that of the available workforce in Northern Ireland approximately 57% are Protestant, so we have a slight under-representation of Protestants applying for positions in the public sector.

This cause for concern is minimal, however, compared to the concern we have about those who were appointed from the 125,000 plus applicants - 16,101 people in all, a figure which breaks down to show 52% Protestants and almost 48% Catholics. I want to be absolutely clear, so that people know exactly what we are talking about, that this covers all sectors across Northern Ireland and shows not only an underrepresentation of Protestants applying for positions in the public sector, but a further under-representation of Protestants actually getting jobs in it. Only 52% were successful while Protestants make up 57% of the working population in Northern Ireland. As I say, more than 16,000 were recruited, and only 52% of them were Protestant.

I want to look at a couple of sectors to emphasise the point. In the health sector, 36,000 people applied for employment last year, of whom 49% were Protestant. Remember, it ought to have been 57%. Now, if we had expected 57% of those recruited to be Protestant, we would have been disappointed. Only 48% were Protestant - an under-representation of Protestants being employed in the health sector. Now lest anyone think that we are talking about a small number of people, over 6,000 people were offered employment last year in the health sector, and only 49% of them were Protestant.

We now turn to the huge education sector within the huge public sector where 16,564 people applied for jobs. Only 53·8% of them were Protestant - a 4% under-representation of the Protestant community in people applying for, not getting, jobs. What happened after that? Only 48% of them were successful. The pattern is emerging in department after department, and this time we are talking about 3,666 people who were successful in getting employment in the education sector - another very sizeable number of people.

6.45 pm

I will move on to the issue of how this under-representation is defended. Often when I and others quote these statistics, which as I often say are not our statistics, but Government statistics from the agency set up to monitor the public sector, a defence is made which I call the quality defence. That means that there is a fall-back position. Some Government officials and some people in the old Fair Employment Commission would have said "Yes, the number of Protestants being employed is quite small, as you, Mr Campbell, and others, allege, but the quality of the jobs, the people at the top end of the public sector are very predominantly Protestant." In other words, it is this nonsense that I hear from some commentators that Catholics get the menial jobs and the Protestants get the cream. That is a total and utter fallacy. The fallacy is proven by table 43 in chapter 5 of the monitoring report.

What does it tell us? It uses a breakdown called the Standard Occupational Classification, which runs from SOC1 to SOC9. SOC1 jobs are the most highly paid positions: managers and administrators. SOC2 covers the professional occupations. SOC3s are associate professional and technical occupations. And so it goes, down to the lower grades at SOC9. If the myth and the nonsense were accurate, one would expect to see the highest numbers of Protestants at the higher grades, if what I hear from the pan-Nationalist front was accurate. In reality, it is the reverse. If we look at SOC1, SOC2 and SOC3, the three highest grades in the public sector, they have the lowest Protestant success rates. The higher the grade in the public sector, the less likely you are to find a Protestant. That is what this report tells us.

Looking at SOC1, 48% of those appointed last year were Protestant, and almost 52% Catholic. At the second highest grade, 47% were Protestant and 53% Catholic. At the third highest grade, 48% to just over 51%. You have to go right down to the bottom grades to get a higher number of Protestants, yet there are those who would tell us that Protestants get the most jobs and the best jobs. In reality, Protestants do not get their fair share of jobs, and the jobs that they do get are less qualified and lower paid. That may be uncomfortable, and people may rail against it and complain about it and not like it, but it is reality. They will have to face up to it. Where does that bring us?

Mr Fee:

Will the Member give way?

Mr Campbell:


Mr Fee:

The report is extremely detailed. Will the Member read out from the report that he has in front of him all the figures for all the classifications? Will he point out that the trick in the figures is that as Protestant representation decreases, the figure for non-returned or non-determined background increases in direct proportion?

Mr Campbell:

I thank the hon Member for that inaccurate intervention. The Equality Commission has actually said that, over the years, the non-determined are decreasing in number, not increasing.

I want to come to my conclusion. There have been many figures, and I appreciate that those who have not got an intense interest might be somewhat confused, but I have tried to cut through the confusion and use these statistics to show that the myth and the campaign of nonsense is just that. It is utter nonsense.

In conclusion, this report proves three things. First, it proves that Protestants are slightly under-represented in the number of applicants to the public service. This cannot be refuted. Secondly, Protestants are even more under-represented in the numbers appointed to the positions for which they have applied. Again, this is irrefutable. To say otherwise is to deny the statistics contained in the report. Thirdly, Protestants are losing out in the higher grade of classification in the public sector, and, again, this cannot be refuted.

That brings us to what we have come to know as the equality agenda. Many people, both in this House and outside it, have campaigned on an equality agenda and have emphasised the need for equality. This infers that there is inequality at the moment. These statistics show that there is inequality but that it is suffered by the Unionist community. The Protestants are the people who are under-represented in the public sector and this needs to be addressed immediately by the Equality Commission. It must devote sufficient resources to an investigation of this problem as a matter of the utmost urgency.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

As a great number of Members have indicated that they wish to speak, I am forced to advise the House that the time allocated to each Member will be reduced to five minutes.

Dr Birnie:

Madam Deputy Speaker, at least you are practising rigid equality by reducing everyone equally.

I too welcome the Equality Commission's tenth annual monitoring report. I will make some important statements of principle at the outset. My party stands full square on the principle of equality of opportunity - accepting the principle of the best man or woman for the job. The 1998 Northern Ireland Act, in the relevant sections, discussed equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity need not mean - and this is a crucial distinction - equality of outcome. This has been the subject of much ideological and political debate in many countries throughout the last century. This was a debate between liberal democracy, where value is ultimately placed on equality of opportunity and freedom, and totalitarian systems of politics, where attempts were made in vain to have everyone on the same level.

Public policy designed to create equality of opportunity should be directed towards individuals rather than geographical regions. It is individuals who are poor, unemployed or disadvantaged, not patches of ground. The key thing in the labour market , which is the specific point of this motion, is recruitment on merit. It is worth noting that even if recruitment is on merit - where the best person gets the job in every case - this could still be compatible with an unemployment rate differential between the two main sections of our community, or indeed with perceived imbalances in the percentage composition of employment in given enterprises. Chapter 5 of the report, which the proposer of the motion emphasised, shows the figures for recruitment inflow into jobs. We can see that in 1999 48% of all public sector appointments went to Catholics and 46% of private sector appointments likewise.

In both cases this represented more than the relevant share of the available labour force. This does not, of itself, prove discrimination or unfairness, but it is at least a cause for concern. It may be argued from some of the Benches that, in some sense, positive discrimination is justifiable to rectify a perceived historical wrong. However, there are at least three main responses to such an argument.

The first is a historical reply. How much actual and systematic discrimination against Catholics was there under the old Stormont Administration? There has been a huge debate on that issue among historians, economists, sociologists and others, and the result is by no means clear. Secondly, there is a moral reply. One should not try to put right one wrong by making another one today. Thirdly and lastly, there is a legal response. Positive discrimination is plainly illegal under current fair employment law. Where it is happening, that is wrong, and it is a legitimate cause for concern on the part of the Assembly.

Given the specific evidence in chapter 5 of the report, which was highlighted by the proposer of the motion, and given the evidence on recruitment flows, I support this motion. Thank you.

Ms Lewsley:

I oppose this motion, and in doing so I will attempt to dispel the myths surrounding equality in employment in Northern Ireland - myths, sadly, that Mr Campbell seems intent on repeating today. In his motion, Mr Campbell spuriously attempts to imply that Catholics have somehow received special treatment in Northern Ireland at the expense of Protestants. That is not only untrue, it is demonstrably untrue.

A myth linked to equality in employment is the claim that all new jobs go to Catholics. While the net increase in jobs is similar to the increase in the number of Catholics in the workforce, this in no way means that all new jobs have actually gone to Catholics. There is absolutely no evidence of discrimination in the jobs' market. This can be illustrated by looking at the applicant to appointee rates. In 1999, 44·7% of public sector applicants were Catholic, and 44·4% of these were appointed; in the private sector Catholic applicants were 46·5%, with 46·2% appointees. It is interesting to note that the job applicants tend to be young, and the proportion of Catholics among the young is higher than among the workforce as a whole. Also, there are more Catholics who are unemployed and, therefore, applying for jobs and, as should be expected, getting jobs. The main problem is the under-representation in the Senior Civil Service where, of 232 staff, only 50 are Catholics.

Even if the Civil Service's own targets are realised, which is unlikely, the figure would only rise to 30% by 2006. The SDLP favours setting up a review in this area to see how progress can be speeded up. There is also acute under-representation of Catholics in securityrelated occupations. The Catholic population is 42% of the workforce. When Senior Civil Service posts and security occupations are excluded, that percentage rises to 44% - slightly higher - but most of those jobs are lower paid ones held by women. There is a higher proportion of women in the workforce, 42%. It is to be expected that if Catholics will not apply for security-related jobs, then they will apply for the lower paid jobs. The SDLP has, therefore, called for the new police service to be subject to quotas on recruitment, and for it to be possible to keep the quota in place for more than 10 years. The Government has agreed to this.

We have called for a guarantee that the quota will be kept in place for 10 years, and that it will apply to police support staff. As the Police Bill stands, it will only apply where there are 10 similar posts available at the same time. This will never happen. The SDLP agrees with the Equality Commission that it should apply where there are two similar posts.

7.00 pm

The main function of fair employment legislation is to eliminate discrimination in the employment and dismissal of employees. Not one single element of fair employment law can be held up by Mr Campbell to demonstrate that such laws discriminate against Protestants. Put simply, fair employment laws are religion neutral. They favour neither Catholic, Protestant, Sikh nor Muslim, so reform of the fair employment laws is quite unnecessary.

If, as Mr Campbell claims, there is an underrepresentation of Protestants, perfectly adequate measures already exist to address that, the same measures that would be applied if there were an under-representation of Catholics or of any other religion in Northern Ireland. Fair employment legislation does allow for some affirmative action to be taken in order to achieve a balanced workforce: encouraging applicants from under-represented communities; revising redundancy policies; providing training for the long-term unemployed; and so on. However, none of those measures discriminates. The principle of employing the best person to do the job still holds true.

Mr Campbell has previously cited over-representation of Catholics on Newry and Mourne District Council and Down District Council. These councils have taken affirmative action measures to redress this imbalance. I note that he failed to mention those councils which are not dealing with this issue, for example, Castlereagh Borough Council.

The Equality Commission was established as part of the Good Friday Agreement, and it espoused equality for all. I propose that we do not support this motion.

Mr C Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat. I sometimes wonder whether it is worth replying to motions from what can only be described as the flat-earth society - people who attempt to ignore all historical evidence - [Interruption]

Are you going to make me sit down?

Mr Campbell:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We heard very clearly on this side of the House what appeared to be a threat from the hon Member, Conor Murphy. He asked someone on this side of the House if he was going to make him sit down. In everyday parlance outside the House that sort of language is normally associated with aggressive, corner-boy tactics and a punch-up.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

I am not aware that such a remark was made. I will check Hansard and come back.

Mr C Murphy:

DUP Members would recognise corner-boy tactics since it is chiefly they who use them in the Chamber.

Anyway, with regard to the motion from the "flat-earth society", Mr Campbell's argument about applicants and appointees asks us to ignore all the discrimination of the past 80 years and just deal with today - forget about everything that has gone before, just deal with today. It also ignores the fact that the age group most likely to be applying for jobs at the moment is different from that of what he refers to as the overall population. I think that he is referring to the 1991 census. He also asks us to ignore the recent statistics which show that Catholics in that age group are better qualified. Finally, he asks us to ignore the Equality Commission's report and its interpretation of that report and deal with the Gregory Campbell interpretation instead. The Equality Commission has said that one of its key challenges is the continuing under-representation of Catholics at senior grades in the Civil Service. Mr Campbell obviously knows the report better than the commission does.

Overall, Protestant male employment has gone down by 0·7%, and Protestant female employment has stayed the same. The only statistics that I could see that reflected any of that was in the section on standard occupational classification six, which deals with personal and protective services and employment in the security industry. Indeed, Catholics only make up 27·4% of the employees in this area. A possible reason for the marginal downturn of Protestant employment in this sector may be that a large number of RUC officers are availing themselves of early retirement, in comparison with the number being recruited.

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

The argument has been made that the representation of Catholics in the workforce in the public sector now reflects their proportion of the economically active population. There are a number of points to be made: this excludes the security-related occupations; it ignores the fact that Catholics are employed in the lower levels of the public sector; it ignores the large numbers who are economically inactive; and it ignores the fact that a younger Catholic workforce is coming on stream, while the Protestant workforce reflects an ageing population.

The report does not examine where the minute increases in Catholic employment or the minute decreases in Protestant employment are the result of natural wastage in the workforce, for example, where more Protestants are retiring than Catholics. The report needs a broader analysis of occupational classification such as tenure or duration of employment to get a real picture of the employment differential. The 1997 labour force survey states that the unemployment rate for Catholics is 12% as opposed to 5% for Protestants. In my constituency of Newry and Armagh it is 15% for Catholics as opposed to 2·9% for Protestants. The agency describes the unemployment rate for Catholics as being substantially higher than for Protestants, but says that the Government are committed to narrowing the gap. It is worrying that some of the recent attempts to undermine the unemployment differential as a measure of disadvantage and discrimination have come from the Office of the First and the Deputy First Minister. We will continue to be very vigilant about this.

I hope that the Equality Commission ignored the attacks on the unemployment differential as a measure of disadvantage and discrimination -

Junior Minister (Office of First and Deputy First Ministers) (Mr Haughey): Can you give us an example of such a recent attempt that has come from the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers?

Mr C Murphy:

During the last debate on the equality scheme, your fellow Junior Minister attacked the unemployment differential as being a proper measure -

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Please address your remarks to the Chair.

Junior Minister (Office of First and Deputy First Ministers) (Mr Nesbitt): Will the Member take a point of information? It is not a point of order.

Mr C Murphy:

I will if the Chair will allow me time to finish my contribution.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I will allow you time to finish your contribution, but I remind you to address your remarks to the Chair.

Mr C Murphy:

You did not remind the Junior Minister to do the same.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The Junior Minister was asking if you would give way, and he was entitled to address you directly. In other instances remarks should be addressed to the Chair.

Mr C Murphy:

Further to that point or order, Mr Speaker. The Junior Minister asked me a question, and it would be sensible to address my response to him.

Mr Nesbitt:

I did not ask him to answer a question; I asked him if he would take a point of information, not a point of order. Will he take a point of information?

Mr C Murphy:

I do not have the time left, but I am sure that we will continue to have this argument. There is a concerted campaign in Unionism to undermine the unemployment differential as a measure of discrimination, and we will continue to be vigilant.

Mr Nesbitt:

Let me put it on the record. What I said last time I will stand over from a statistical point of view, from a labour-market point of view. I was not trying to undermine any party or any individual. I stick to the objective statistical fact about unemployment.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I am sorry, Mr Nesbitt, but that is not a point of order.

Mr C Murphy:

Thank you for further time, Mr Deputy Speaker. As you quite rightly pointed out, it was not a point of order.

I conclude my remarks by expressing the hope that the Equality Commission will ignore this and continue to deal with the urgent matters in its remit.

Mr A Maginness:

An analysis of the report of the Equality Commission shows that over a period of 10 years very significant progress was made on the historic imbalance in the employment for Catholics.

That is something to be welcomed rather than criticised or belittled. It is progress that has been made in our society, and it is important for us to reflect on the fact that progress has been made since the introduction of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989. The preceding Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 had very little power, and between that period and 1990 the situation for Catholics at work did not improve very much.

This shows the effect of the determination of the Fair Employment Agency and the Fair Employment Commission to tackle the problem of employment for Catholics since that time, and that is something to be celebrated rather than criticised. In some areas there are still significant deficiencies. If one looks, for example, at the heavy engineering industry in Belfast, one can see considerable under-representation of Catholics. The same is true in the security forces and in the higher levels of the Civil Service. This motion is trying to cherry-pick one aspect to show that the Protestant community is suffering from some form of reverse discrimination. That is absolute nonsense, and when one looks at the figures, and at the totality of this report, one can see quite clearly that that is not happening.

Let me take issue with Mr Campbell, who talked about "the simple cliché of Catholic unemployment". How insulting can one get? Anybody who is unemployed suffers. Nobody is unemployed because he wants to be, and anyone who is unemployed is suffering serious disadvantage. To belittle people and to belittle that section of the community and refer to them as a simple cliché is outrageous. For any responsible Member of this House to use that sort of language to insult people is something to be deplored by all Members of this House. I hope that Mr Campbell will withdraw that remark, because it is a searing insult to people and seriously damaging.

When one looks at the overall situation in Northern Ireland and at the continuing problem of the over-representation of Catholics within the unemployed sector, one has to address that and ask why we have this historic problem. I believe that new TSN is one way of addressing it. There is no point in our coming to the House and bemoaning the problem - we have to have policies that will direct the attention of the Administration and public services to eradicating it. That is something with which we can all agree, because there would be a net benefit for the whole community. I look forward to the day when there is full employment in this community and when this unseemly scrabble over statistics on imbalances in the workplace is finally put to rest.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Mr Maginness, your time is up.

Mrs E Bell:

I welcome both the report and the debate. Even though we tend to disagree, it is healthy that we discuss these important matters. In an earlier debate I stated that equality means different things to different people. I can now say the same thing about the statistics in the Equality Commission's report. Statistics can be interpreted in many ways depending on the reader and what they wish to extract from them. Indeed, as I am sure everyone knows, Mark Twain referred to them as

"lies, damned lies and statistics".

For the benefit of others in the House that should be that the Devil can quote the Scripture for his own.

7.15 pm

The report was actually quite heartening, particularly from the point of view that jobs in all sectors appear to be more accessible to all job seekers in Northern Ireland. Concerns on the issues of gender and religious persuasion have been, and are continuing to be, addressed. One of my principal concerns on the issue of monitoring is that it does not seem to take into account that it is still very difficult, if not impossible, to employ people in areas of Northern Ireland where they do not feel comfortable. Some people, because of gender, religion, race or ability, do not feel comfortable and perhaps do not feel safe, not just in the workplace itself, but also in travelling to and from their place of work.

If we examine the tables in chapters three, four and five of the report, which outline the composition of authorities, public and private sector bodies and appointments to them, they confirm the fact that in some areas the situation somehow determines the make-up of the workforce. We must try to read such a report objectively.

I have also been particularly heartened by the increase in female employment, not only in the traditional service areas, but also in public sector management. I have examined the tables and figures given in the report, particularly those relating to the public sector, which appear to cause Mr Campbell concern. I do not see any substantial evidence to suggest that his views are completely right. The report states that an increase in the participation of Catholics in the workforce was approximately half of one percent each year over the ten years of the monitoring. I do not think that that is too worrying.

Protestants continue to be fairly represented in Northern Ireland's workforce and still find themselves in the majority in many sectors. The statistics, of course, do not show an increase in the percentage representation of Catholics in various sectors. However, after years of gross under-representation of Catholic people in our workforce, at least progress has been made towards achieving a just and balanced situation. Therefore, these figures should be warmly welcomed instead of being used to set off alarm bells. However, I say to Mr Campbell, if alarm bells are set off, the Equality Commission should be asked to account for that. Mr Campbell is actually implying that there is - positive though it may be - religious discrimination against Protestants. As another Member stated, this is illegal and it should be dealt with. I hope that Mr Campbell will be taking that matter to the Commission.

All in all, I am glad to see that in both the public and private sectors there is redress in the balance of Catholic workers. It is noted that there is still concern with respect to the percentage representation of Catholics in the security sector, but let us hope that this too will be reduced and not necessarily through quotas.

There should never be tokenism of a religious or a gender nature, and I think the report shows that that is not the case. The Civil Service, as has been mentioned, also needs to look at the gender and religious background of its senior grades. I hope, as a member of the Commission, that all our recruitment procedures will be open, transparent and accessible and fair to all.

Beneficial as these statistics may be in monitoring Northern Ireland's workforce, I long to see the day that the focus will be taken away from whether an employee is Catholic or Protestant; male or female; able or disabled, or is of any particular race. Instead, I hope that jobs are awarded to candidates on merit alone. I hope that one day a person will be capable of proving him or herself the best candidate for a job just for being the person they are, and not for what the statistics say they should be. I cannot support the motion.


<< Prev / Next >>