Irish Republican News · July 12, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
British ethos to blame for lack of equality

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

Equality of status and parity of esteem. That’s a phrase you don’t often hear these days. Yet it was a fundamental concept of the Good Friday Agreement. All the participants in the talks in 1997 committed themselves in the Declaration of Support for the Agreement to equality and mutual respect.

Further, they endorsed the commitment of the Irish and British governments that in this jurisdiction there would be rigorous impartiality towards the diversity of identities and “full respect for and equality of civil, political, social and cultural rights... and parity of esteem and just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities”. All the parties committed themselves to a long list of safeguards including “the right to freedom from sectarian harassment”.

Of course the DUP wasn’t a participant, wasn’t one of the parties to the agreement and opposes the agreement. Indeed the oul’ curmudgeon Paisley recently said the agreement is dead. He’s wrong of course as he has been throughout his whole unedifying politico-religious career. In fact, if the past 40 years are anything to go by, then whatever Paisley opposes is guaranteed to happen within a decade of him bellowing his opposition to it. Remember “Nevaar, nevaar, nevaar”?

Even so, you can’t expect the DUP to press for the implementation of anything promoting equality of status or parity of esteem since they reject the concepts. Would it be too much to expect anyone in the UUP, which is allegedly for the agreement, to say something about festooning entrances to Catholic churches and schools with loyalist flags? In what way does that respect the diversity of identity or afford equal treatment to the ethos and aspirations of both communities? OK, it would be too much. The evidence of the past seven years shows no unionist representative supports the spirit of the agreement they signed up to and which a majority of people on this island voted for. There’s nothing new in that since Ulster unionism came into formal existence exactly a century ago to resist democracy in the form of the Westminster government to which unionists supposedly owe loyalty.

Still, it’s no good blaming unionists for the absence of progress towards equality promised in the agreement. Unionists have no formal power any more. They no longer exercise untrammelled power in their own toy-town parliament and never will again. No. The blame rests with the British administration here. The Agreement states, indeed ‘affirms’, that the responsibility for ensuring rigorous impartiality, equality and parity of esteem rests with ‘the sovereign government with jurisdiction’ here, which is Britain.

Now just run your eye over all those commitments. You don’t need to be an expert to see the British administration here has done nothing to advance any of them in the last seven years. The Human Rights Commission is a shambles, under-funded and run by lightweights, the special role of the Fair Employment Commission was abolished and buried in the Equality Commission which last year told the House of Commons it would be another five years before it could quantify sectarian attacks here.

They can’t even agree how to define them. The PSNI don’t record them even though unionist attacks on Catholics and their property constitute the most common form of criminal damage every summer. It’s left to NGOs like the Pat Finucane Centre to do the cataloguing.

The reason a scaffolding of commissions was erected around the agreement was because Dublin and London didn’t believe for a second unionists would agree to equality for nationalists and that no meaningful measures would ever get through an assembly.

Promoting equality of status and parity of esteem for nationalists was therefore left in the hands of the British administration. Unfortunately, since 1998 we have had a series of minor politicians on the make here as proconsuls, not one of whom has had a policy about equality or any idea how and why it should be advanced.

One of the enduring reasons for instability in the north since partition has been the conviction among nationalists that they can never achieve equality in a state whose ethos is exclusively British.

Our current proconsul, as smooth as a sucked lozenge, and just as vapid, looks as intent on appeasing unionists as all his precedessors.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News