New statistics show that nationalist areas of the North are being starved of inward investment while job-creation is being directed to mainly Protestant areas.

According to British government figures, five of the top six areas for inward investment are unionist constituencies: Belfast East, Belfast South, East Antrim, South Antrim and Upper Bann.

The greatest amount went to staunchly unionist East Antrim, which in itself received double the investment in the combined border constituencies of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Newry and Armagh, South Down and West Tyrone.

Sinn Féin general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin has led a party delegation to discuss the practices of the North’s inward investment agency, Invest Northern Ireland.

“The council-by-council breakdown of the Invest NI performance shows up an even greater imbalance than the breakdown by Westminster constituency,” said Mr McLaughlin.

“These figures show that Belfast gets the lion’s share of INI support... and, within Belfast, it is south and east Belfast which get the majority of that support.

“In comparison, the seven Border councils -- Armagh, Omagh, Newry and Mourne, Dungannon, Fermanagh, Strabane, and Derry -- will receive just over 20 per cent of planned investment.

“This provides proof that investment is not being directed to Border areas despite well-documented evidence that these are severely disadvantaged. It also undermines the argument that an analysis of councils would demonstrate a fairer share-out of Invest NI resources,” Mr McLaughlin said.

He pointed out that the six most deprived council areas received substantially less than south Belfast and called into question Invest NI’s adherence to Targeting Social Need policies.

The figures appear to be an example of the official discrimination which sustains Catholic unemployment at a rate almost twice that of Protestants.

The unemployment rate for Catholic men is 9 per cent compared with 5 per cent for Protestant men. Among women, the unemployment rates are 6 per cent for Catholics and 3 per cent for Protestants.

Less than 1 in 4 senior civil servants is Catholic. In the private sector, some of the worst offenders are Harland & Wolff, which employs 12 Catholics versus 235 Protestants, and Shorts Brothers which employs only 3 Catholics for every 17 Protestants.

Figures show that ill health and poverty are also a bigger problem for the Catholic community, while Catholics are openly discriminated against for housing.

The Housing Executive figures for 2002-03, show that in Belfast the percentage of Catholics on the Housing Executive waiting list for a house was 44%, yet only 28% of those actually allocated a house were Catholic - an ‘under-allocation’ of 16%. Protestants represented 43% of those on the waiting list, but 64% of those allocated a house - an ‘over-allocation’ of 21%.

Meanwhile, north Belfast assembly member Kathy Stanton last night criticised the North’s civil service for trying to “bypass equality legislation by not carrying out proper equality-impact assessments”.

Ms Stanton said the role of direct-rule ministers and senior civil servants in overseeing “clear obstruction and resistance” to equality was “alarming”.

“Sinn Féin has brought this matter to the attention of the Equality Commission and has sought a meeting to ascertain its opinion on this alarming approach of policy makers and those who have ministerial portfolios over those departments,” Ms Stanton added.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News