Republican News · Thursday 03 August 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Meehan fights Newtownabbey discrimination

Martin Meehan, Sinn Féin's candidate for the forthcoming South Antrim by-election, has called for an investigation by the Fair Employment Agency into the working practices of Newtownabbey Borough Council after it emerged that Catholics make up less than 10% of the workforce. He has also requested a meeting with the council's own senior officers to discuss the matter.

His call comes a few weeks after Paul Butler, Sinn Féin Lisburn Councillor, demanded an investigation by the new Equality Commission into ongoing discrimination against Catholics in almost all unionist-controlled local authorities.

Unionist-dominated Newtownabbey Council is just one of several others in the Six Counties - Lisburn, Castlereagh, Ballymoney and Carrickfergus included - where Catholics are severely under-represented in the workforce, particularly in relation to the religious makeup of the local population. In some twelve local authorities in the Six Counties, Catholics make up less than 25% of the workforce.

One element of the Newtownabbey Council's discriminatory practices, says Martin Meehan, is the permanent presence of a union flag outside the council building, a sight which has consistently discouraged many Catholics from even applying for employment within the council in the first place. ``From canvassing the borough, I know that there are serious concerns with the council's insistence on flying the Union Jack from every available flag pole on its properties. Nationalists have been complaining for a very long time, but still the council refuses to address these very real concerns.''

This disregard of nationalists' views is, he says, also reflected in the makeup of the workforce; ``The employment figures would now appear to show that the council's Union Jack policy is actually part of an overall agenda to actively discourage Catholics from applying for jobs.''

Meehan will be asking the Fair Employment Agency to provide him with details of discrimination cases brought against Newtownabbey Borough Council until now and, if necessary, for the Agency to take legal action against it in an attempt to bring the practice of discrimination to an end. ``Newtownabbey councillors have got to realise that the days of gerrymandering are over,'' he said, ``and if they will not do this voluntarily, then the full rigours of the law will have to be used.''

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