Keeping Equality on Agenda for All; PLATFORM: Director of Communications at the Community Relations Council

Article excerpt

RAY MULLAN underlines the

important work that needs to be done if the Equality Debate is to be successful in addressing the

sectarian differences in our community

Arguments about equality have been at the very centre of the conflict and political debate in Northern Ireland over the last 30 years.

It is also likely that in the years ahead the equality agenda will continue to be an important element in the process of creating lasting peace.

Already the Good Friday Agreement has reaffirmed the proposals in the Government White Paper, Partnership for Equality, for stronger legislative and institutional arrangements for promoting equality of treatment and equality of opportunity across a very broad range of public and private sector activity.

In the debate ahead, and in the flurry of new government activity, it will be important not to lose sight of two key points. The first is that, important though the legal framework for equality is, the actual process of making equality a reality is just as important.

Introducing and enforcing laws against discrimination in employment is one thing, but ensuring that there is equal access to public services in a segregated and divided society is quite a different matter and often much more difficult to accomplish.

Those providing services, both in the public and the private sector, may not even be aware that there is a perception of unequal provision, in practice, in particular areas. Many minority groups may be invisible, scattered or powerless to organise an effective lobby in their area.

Unionists living on Londonderry's Cityside or in Newry do not feel that they have equal access to local facilities; nationalists in East Antrim or Portadown would feel similarly aggrieved despite the fact that the local majority community in any area may not share the perception of any inequality.

There are tiny minorities everywhere in Northern Ireland and their experiences of disadvantage need to be addressed.

If there is in practice to be equality of access and provision across the sectarian divide, whether in health care, transport, education, employment, training, housing, leisure or any other service, those responsible for planning and delivering provision need to have an honest and open discussion about the difficulties in the way.

Organisational audits are an important first step in establishing a realistic appraisal of how well the service is functioning across the sectarian divide. …