10 December 2005

Equality body slammed by both DUP and Sinn Fein

Belfast Telegraph

Equally angry on two fronts

10 December 2005

THE Equality Commission has come under fire from unionists and republicans over its findings on the religious make-up of Northern Ireland's public and private sector workforces.

Chief commissioner Bob Collins was accused by Sinn Fein of underplaying Catholic disadvantage in his organisation's latest report.

But he was also accused by the DUP of being too slow to address the under-representation of Protestants.

According to the Equality Commission's 15th annual report on the religious composition of the monitored workforce in 2004, the proportions of Protestants and Roman Catholics were 57.7% and 42.3% respectively. This matched the proportions of Protestants and Catholics available for work which was 57.3% and 42.7% respectively.

Protestant employment in the public sector increased by 2.3% during the year (2,283 employees), while the number of Catholics rose by 5.9% (4,284).

The number of Protestants employed in the private sector fell by 0.6% during the year - a net loss of 1,019 employees. Catholics increased their share of jobs by 1.3% overall, a net gain of 1,595 employees.

Mr Collins said it was important to understand the context in which the changes in the workforce had occurred. He said: "During 2004, a growth of Protestant employment in the public sector was offset by a decline in private sector jobs, most notably in manufacturing industry, where Protestants were traditionally strongly represented."

Sinn Fein Assembly member Catriona Ruane said that while there was disadvantage in both the Protestant and Catholic communities, these problems had to be dealt with on the basis of need.

"The fact remains that across every single indicator of disadvantage and multiple disadvantage Catholics fair far worse," the South Down MLA added.

"Sinn Fein's greatest concern is that this is part of a wider agenda driven by the civil service and unionist politicians to rewrite history and, just as seriously, to default on existing equality commitments."

The DUP's Gregory Campbell said the commission was much too slow in coming forward with pro-active measures to combat the under-representation of Protestants, particularly in the public sector.

The East Londonderry MP said: "Over a period of many years this area of concern has been raised with them, the figures for recruitment across the public sector demonstrate the nature of the problem, what has not happened, however, is the Commission showing Northern Ireland people what they intend to do to about it.

"It is totally unacceptable that this report mentions the issue they spent so many years denying the existence thereof, and when they do refer to the problem, they attempt to rationalise it rather than dealing with it.

"They must bring forward solutions for those public sector bodies where they have categorical proof of the scale of the problem affecting Protestant under-representation."

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