Thursday, July 21, 2005

Pressure mounts for greater equality in the north of Ireland

Anne Cadwallader:

Sinn Féin has signaled its intention of stepping up pressure on the British government to deliver on the housing and jobs equality agenda of the Good Friday agreement in the absence of devolution.

A first step was a stinging critique from the party's economy spokesman, Mitchel McLaughlin, of the just released annual report of the Northern Ireland inward investment agency, Invest NI. The party also claims unfairness in the amount of public housing available to Catholics.

The report, said McLaughlin, showed "a clear imbalance" in the way resources are being targeted. "The impact west of the (River) Bann, in border areas and in North and West Belfast is especially stark because these are areas of high deprivation and unemployment."

"West Belfast received fewer offers of financial assistance than any other constituency. North and West Belfast together received less than a third of the financial assistance given to South and East Belfast for 2003/04 (£12.6 million compared to £41.5 million).

"The five border constituencies together have received less assistance than South Belfast, an area high levels of prosperity. The seven constituencies West of the Bann have received only 10 percent of assistance given.

"It is no accident that the areas that have received the lowest levels of INI financial support and investment are nationalist areas. In failing to tackle discrimination and disadvantage and simply replicating patterns of disadvantage, Invest NI is part of the problem", said McLaughlin.

In a response, a spokesman for Invest NI said it had targeted the six most income and employment-deprived council areas along with the 28 most deprived wards in Belfast. Together they covered around 30 percent of the total population.

During 2003/04, it said, it had offered these areas £68 million, representing 57 percent of the total value of offers made in that year, a much higher proportion than the share of population living in these areas.

The SDLP Western Development spokesperson, Eugene McMenamin, concurred with McLaughlin saying Invest NI was failing to deliver sufficient development and jobs to the areas of greatest social need west of the Bann.

"The whole purpose of having a development agency is to counter imbalances in the economy and direct development to where its social impact can be greatest. That is not what is happening.

"West of the Bann is caught in a vicious circle in which companies will not locate there of their own accord because of poor infrastructure, yet resources are being concentrated in the east," McMenamin said.

"Agencies like Invest NI are supposed to help us break out of that circle, but their own area investment patterns suggest they may even be reinforcing the problem. The great bulk of their investment goes east of the Bann, much of it to areas which are both comparatively wealthy", he said.

Investment skewed in Unionists' favour, say Sinn Fein

Catholic areas ‘not receiving fair share of Invest NI funds’


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