Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180.  But it is because you think it is well-mined, rather than land-mined, that you have not touched it?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  You may say that.

Mr Hesford

  181.  Good afternoon. Two linked questions, if I may. Can you put a figure on how far economic growth has been retarded over, say, the last ten years by the absence of equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland; and how much inequality of opportunity would you estimate there has been in the Northern Ireland labour market?
  (Dr Gorecki)  I am sorry, what was the second question?

  182.  That is my question one; although, I accept, there were two questions there. But I will split it into three then. Can you put a figure on how far economic growth has been retarded over, say, the last ten years by the absence of equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland?
  (Dr Gorecki)  The question presupposes there has been an absence of equality of opportunity over the last ten years. I am not sure that necessarily is the case. You could argue there has been an increase in equality of opportunity, in the sense that various programmes that have been introduced have tried to ensure that, as far as possible, people from disadvantaged backgrounds have an equal opportunity, and you can see that manifested in statistics, such as Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of people going to university from disadvantaged backgrounds. So I think there has been an attempt to improve the equality of opportunity. In terms of what the cost might be if there was even, in some sense, perfect equality of opportunity, whatever that would mean, I do not think anybody has done that, I do not think there is an estimate available for that particular exercise.

  183.  The second part then was—I suppose your answer is you do not know—how much inequality of opportunity would you estimate there to be in the Northern Irish labour market?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Sorry, could you explain perhaps a little more what you mean there?

  184.  Given that there is the fair employment legislation, and given that there is a perceived problem, in terms of discrimination of a section of the community, my question is, how much inequality of that type, inequality of opportunity, would you estimate there to be in the Northern Irish labour market?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  You mean the statistics, you want the basic statistics, is that what you are asking for?

  185.  Yes, as far as your organisation comes into contact with this?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  You mean the statistics for the whole of Northern Ireland, not necessarily our organisation directly?

  186.  Yes.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  The statistics are published, and I think you will find, from the evidence that Sir Robert Cooper gave to you, that there has been an improvement, certainly, in the representation of Roman Catholics in certain areas within the workforce. Again, there are other areas where improvement has not been as great, in the sense that it is relatively easy to promote equality of opportunity when you are starting from a situation where there has not been equality of opportunity, if you have economic growth and if the economy is growing, and therefore there are jobs coming on line, and therefore there are vacancies and applications; it is very difficult in terms of an economic recession, because then people are losing jobs and, naturally, the jobs are not available. And I think this is borne out, particularly in the manufacturing sector, for example, in Northern Ireland, which, in common with most manufacturing sectors in the western world, and particularly in other areas of the United Kingdom, has been declining in terms of employment. And there you will find, for example, I think there has been only, what, just under a 2 percentage point increase in the representation of Roman Catholics in that area. But, as far as the representation in the expanding industries, and particularly in the service sector, and also if you look at electronics as well, the electronic industry, you will find that the proportion has, indeed, improved by quite a few percentage points. Also, of course, you have got to think in terms of your actual catchment area. If you talk about Northern Ireland as a whole, and you are talking about the 1.6 million people, and you are talking then about the relative proportion within that, is that what you mean, in terms of 40/60, or are you talking about sort of industrial catchment areas, in terms of travel to work areas; I find it a difficult question to be precise about. Because, as I say, the basic data are there, in the sense of the published data are there, from Sir Robert Cooper's, FEC's own monitoring returns. The Northern Ireland Economic Council has no further insight, other than that, in the sense that the Fair Employment Commission's monitoring returns are the most accurate current information available until possibly the next census of the population. We are not a data-collecting agency, if you think we are, we do not collect data in any sense.

  187.  Are you not economists?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Are we not economists?

  188.  Yes.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  The Council itself, no, not necessarily at all, the Council members, no, they represent the social partnership. The researchers, the full-time staff, yes, they are economists, but the Council members themselves are not. But we have a specific remit, which is, as I said, to provide advice on economic policy to the Secretary of State of Northern Ireland. We are not part of the Civil Service, nor do we have a sort of function in the sense of monitoring or collecting data of any description.

  189.  One of the reasons I predicated my first question on the idea that there had been a retardation of economic growth was that I am given to understand that the recent White Paper, or the assertion in the recent White Paper, that equality of opportunity would accelerate economic growth by maximising human potential was given approval by your organisation?
  (Dr Gorecki)  Yes.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Yes, but that is a fundamental economic concept, is it not; that applies whether it is in Northern Ireland or whether it is in the north east of England, or wherever.

  190.  So what evidence is there for the assertion in the Northern Irish context; given that you are a Northern Irish organisation, apart from sort of generally assenting to a general proposition that might have worldwide, in general, application, why do you accept that, in the Northern Irish context?
  (Dr Gorecki)  I guess the Council's discussion of this goes back to when we were looking at some successful European regions and trying to learn some lessons from them, and one of the things that came out very strongly from that was to be considered a successful region, you had to have economic growth plus development, and equality of opportunity clearly is a very important part of that. And if you have substantial levels of long-term unemployment in Northern Ireland, as it does, much higher than the rest of the UK, then, clearly, that means that you are not able to utilise a substantial portion of the labour force, and, furthermore, that has adverse consequences for the next generation of people, of children who see their parents who are unemployed, and clearly one wants to try to resolve those sorts of situations. And so the Council has done work on long-term unemployment, in our response to a Government paper there, and we have devoted lots of resources to trying to deal with the issue of educational underachievement, because, for a considerable period of time, Northern Ireland's tail of underachievement was much, much higher than the rest of the United Kingdom; now, that has changed a little bit in the last few years, but for a long time it was quite adverse. And so those were the areas where we devoted a considerable amount of resources, to try to ensure that disadvantage and perpetuating it through generations is reduced and minimised, and so we have done a lot of work trying to address those particular problems. And, of course, there is the added problem of Northern Ireland, that there is a religious composition to that, because Catholics are twice as liable to be unemployed as Protestants, both in the short-term and, I think, the long term. So, clearly, there is a major concern there, that without resolving these issues, the economic prosperity and social well-being of Northern Ireland will be less than it otherwise would be, and this legislation which you are reviewing and some of the work that we have been doing is to try to ensure that you can both have economic growth in a society which, in some senses, is at peace with itself.

  191.  So, in a nutshell, an imbalance in employment opportunities between the communities has caused unemployment to one community in particular, is that what you are saying, and that is what you need to address?
  (Dr Gorecki)  No matter what the cause is, and there certainly is a lot of discussion about what exactly the cause is, whether it is structural or whether it is due to discrimination, the point is, there is an imbalance, which is commonly accepted as being unacceptable. And once you try to design policy measures that, first of all, deal with reducing long-term unemployment, for example, the point is that it is very high in Northern Ireland, it is half those people who are unemployed, it is something like 27,000, so the main issue is how do you reduce long-term unemployment, I think that is first and foremost. If you get the level of long-term unemployment, for example, down to, say, 5,000, that, to some degree, is the major policy, well, they are both major policies, but if the ratio was 2 to 1, and you were down to 5,000 unemployed, surely that would be a better situation than having equality, being in proportion to the community, but you had 50,000 unemployed, which you did, say, five years ago. So I think what the Council is trying to do, in its work, is to deal with the problem of long-term unemployment, the problem of educational underachievement, the problem of trying to design an economic development strategy that will lead to growth, that will lead to high quality jobs, that is where most of our work has been going on, rather than looking at some of these other issues, that has been dealing with those problems and trying to put the solutions to those. And then maybe other bodies, such as a standing advisory committee, can perhaps tilt those aspects within that wider framework.

Mr McCabe

  192.  If I can go back slightly to some of the issues that Mr Robinson was raising, I think, if I heard correctly, you appeared to be saying to Mr Robinson that there had been a fair amount of research into the operation of this legislation, although maybe there were some areas where you felt there could have been more research, or it could have been pursued with more enthusiasm. If I understood that correctly, could I ask you, just simply, what are the areas where you think there could now be further research into the operation of this legislation, and why would that be useful, what would we hope to learn from it?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  I think, just following on, Mr Chairman, from Paul's answer to the previous question, one of the main problems is the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland, and it is an important area which needs research, and the Roman Catholic/Protestant breakdown within that is very important as well; so that would be one area that one would suggest perhaps, following on from our own paper, which was Occasional Paper 8, in June 1997, which dealt with the general concept of long-term unemployment. Speaking personally, I can say that I feel that there has been perhaps a lot of emphasis in the past in terms of the research, particularly on the academic side, as to trying to decide whether there has been discrimination or whether there has not been discrimination, in terms of the labour market, and, hence, also, in terms of the unemployment, the 2 to 1 ratio. Perhaps more effort could be put into research into solving the problem of the long-term unemployed and reducing the numbers, not that the problem solves itself, because it will not solve itself—effort has got to be put in, but that would certainly be an area that I would suggest could be done.

  193.  Can I just be clear here, I just want to be clear about what it is that would be researched, because, obviously, problems about long-term unemployment are fairly critical in communities all over the country; what, in particular, in relation to the operation of this Act, is it that further research would generate about long-term unemployment, what is it you think may be uncovered by that?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Uncovered; that makes it sound very subversive.

  194.  It is just my style.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  No, I was not suggesting that there was something to be uncovered. What I was suggesting was that, in terms of the programmes that have been put in place to deal with the long-term unemployed, which have been quoted by the Government as being religion-blind, those are the words that actually appear in the New Deal, that it is religion-blind, now that is one package, in terms of the long-term unemployed. Fine; okay. Now in terms of the Act and the Fair Employment Act then the idea would be, as far as the research is concerned, that some monitoring obviously has got to be done of the New Deal. Now, as far as the New Deal is concerned, as I understand it, it is that it will return the numbers, indeed, is returning the numbers, of people who have found work, regardless, obviously, of religion, because it is religion-blind; but, presumably, as far as this Act is concerned, there is going to be interest as to whether the New Deal has in any way helped the unemployment differential.

  195.  So that would be the critical area?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  That would be a starting-point, at least. I am not suggesting that that would be all, but certainly that would be a starting-point, some way of monitoring. Now, we run into the problems then as to how you do the monitoring, of course, but then that is sort of more detailed. That would be a start anyway.

  196.  You say that we were drawn into problems about how we do the monitoring; do you want to offer any opinions on that?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  The point is, by the monitoring I meant monitoring of religion. Obviously, the monitoring of numbers, presumably, would be easy to refer to; I am sure they will be headlined if it is successful. But, in terms of the actual mechanics of finding out, what you would be looking at, presumably, would be how many people who had found jobs, long-term unemployed who had found jobs, under the New Deal, the religious breakdown of that. Now, within the monitoring returns that firms return to the FEC, or, indeed, even under a Section 31, which deals with applicants and success of applicants for jobs, one perhaps could see, possibly, a way through that, that they could be monitored. But as for the actual details, they would need a great deal of thought, I think.

  197.  Are there any other areas where you would particularly like to see further research at the moment?
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Do you mean under fair employment?

  198.  Yes.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  Or under equality of opportunity?

  199.  I am talking specifically about fair employment; nice try.
  (Mrs Trewsdale)  I cannot think of any immediately. Do you want us to go away and think about that and perhaps come back to you on that one; Paul, can you think of anything other than the long-term unemployed?
  (Dr Gorecki)  One issue that clearly is important when it comes to religion is labour mobility and the importance of the chill factor and the degree to which people are prepared to travel. There is some work which has been done which shows there are very large labour flows of people into and out of areas of disadvantage, so if you get peace and political stability one could look at the degree to which you get labour markets functioning more efficiently and people prepared to travel, and the degree to which you can create neutral environments in places like, say, in Belfast, the centre of Belfast, and the centre of Derry, where people can come from lots of areas and you get integrated labour markets, to what degree can you do that, and will that begin to change. You could also look at differential migration patterns between the two religious communities, that is a fairly important factor, I think, in determining unemployment, well, to some degree, how the different communities react to that, but I think that will require a fair bit of work to work out how sensitive they are to differences in employment opportunities and the degree to which they migrate and react to that. Another one you might want to look at is intergenerational transmission of poverty and disadvantage; you can do that for Great Britain because you have the National Child Development Study from 1958, when a group of people were taken, born in March, I think, the second week of March, and they have been followed in ten-year intervals, and so there is a lot of work that actually tries to quantify the effects of that. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland did not participate in that particular survey, I think the next one is in 2001, so the answer will not be available until we are all dead in this room, but anyway. But there are certainly areas of research there which, if resources are devoted to it, one can have a much better handle on the way the labour market functions, and the degree to which disadvantage interacts with religion and location and affects some of those sorts of things that are reflecting the unemployment differentials and other aspects of labour market performance, by religion.

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