Monday, August 22, 2005

Nationalist parties to raise equality issues

Anne Cadwallader:

Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have indicated that equality, investment, job creation and discrimination are going to be at, or near, the top of their political agendas when political life resumes after the summer holidays.

Nationalists are angry that the bulk of available public funding to encourage job creation is being spent in areas with low unemployment figures, while areas of multiple deprivations, which tend to be Catholic, are overlooked.

The British government has for many years publicly espoused the principle of "Targeting Social Need" but it has failed to make any significant inroads into Catholic unemployment rates.

Sinn Féin is also determined to try and increase the amount of social housing available in Catholic areas after figures show that 44 percent of people on the Belfast waiting list are Catholic yet they account for only 28 percent of those allocated a house.

In comparison, Protestants represented 43 percent of those on the waiting list but 64 percent of those allocated a house. These figures, the party said, point to a very significant differential that is every bit as unacceptable as the unemployment differential.

The SDLP is particularly critical of the record of Invest Northern Ireland, the British government's main job creation agency in Northern Ireland. The party also criticized its decision to locate its head office in Central Belfast.

"There are many alternative sites around Belfast that Invest Northern Ireland could have chosen," said a party spokesman. "Areas in North and West Belfast have the capacity for such a project and have the added advantage of being close to arterial routes."

Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein criticize INI's record on allocating funds to areas west of the Bann, which again tend to be Catholic with higher than normal unemployment and poverty rates.

Eugene McMenamin, SDLP spokesperson on western development and services, said the INI headquarters could have been located West of the River Bann. "It must develop a strategy that will address the investment differential created between the greater Belfast area and the West," he said.

Sinn Féin's anti-poverty spokesperson, Kathy Stanton, Assembly member for North Belfast, said there was clear evidence of persistent and deep-rooted poverty existing in both communities.

But, she said, the real challenge to the British government, direct rule ministers and civil servants is whether there is the political will to tackle deprivation with commitment and urgency.

Sinn Féin believes that disadvantage must be tackled where it exists and on the basis of need", she said. "Any other approach, particularly based on religious or sectarian criteria would be a serious mistake.

"The priority must be about ensuring that we get the policy approach right and put in place adequate funding and resources to address the crippling social and economic consequences of poverty wherever it arises."

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