Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)



  420. Thank you. Do you have any specific recommendations as to what should be done about the unemployment differential?

  (Mr Fitzpatrick) Obviously the Fair Employment Order will now allow employers to give preferential recruitment to the long-term unemployed and therefore it remains to be seen how successful a measure that is. Again, we find it disappointing that in the White Paper this proposal is shunted into another chapter than the question of unemployment and is distanced as much as possible from the notion that there should be any positive inclusionary measures which may be taken by employers in order to try and redress a lack of fair participation. At the end of the day, the legislative structure swings on the question of fair participation, equality of opportunity, and goals and targets, in order to achieve fair participation. So we do think there is in fact a danger of creating expectations which cannot be realised unless the means are given to conscientious employers. We are not in favour of simply jumping into positive quotas, etcetera. What we want to see is employers diagnosing why they are not achieving fair employment and out of that diagnosis emerging positive inclusionary measures which they feel will redress where they particularly seem to be failing to achieve fair employment. In looking at the idea of equality assessment, the purpose of equality legislation is to force employers to conduct equality impact assessments of their employment policies. To some extent, even the present regime gets sidetracked into questions of recruitment and nothing else and we want to see measures which encourage employers to assess what they are doing and not doing and, if necessary, have the ability to move on from beyond combatting discrimination into taking positive inclusionary measures without having to worry about direct or indirect discrimination proceedings against them.
  (Mr Cunningham) Obviously if there is going to be an effective Targeting Social Need programme that will have a positive impact on the unemployment differential. Martin is absolutely correct that there has been a lot of discussion (and some of the academic textbooks describe it as "methodological trainspotting") about what exactly are the specific factors and what percentage it is structure and what percentage it is discrimination. The fact is there are a lot of pockets of deprivation in Northern Ireland which need to be addressed and, if resources are going to be put into those areas, what we are talking about is a levelling up in terms of it has been recognised by people in all communities in Northern Ireland that by addressing social need and social deprivation that is where we can actually build proper institutionalised arrangements around equality.

  Chairman: I have a supplementary question of my own in this area but I think Mr Robinson has one too.

Mr Robinson

  421. Thank you, Chairman. I am not quite sure whether you have addressed Mr McCabe's questions fully. Maybe I can put it more directly. We had evidence yesterday from Dermot Nesbitt which indicated that if you are exercising fair employment, you cannot change the employment differential unless more jobs come into the job market because if those available for employment and those actually in employment are dealt with on a fair basis then they will move in tandem. So the only factor that can change the employment differential is more jobs and yet the employment differential seems to be the yardstick which is being used by Government for a number of other issues and effectively has been taken as the guide as to whether there is discrimination or not.

  (Mr O'Brien) I suppose the response I would make to that is that more jobs per se will not necessarily do anything to redress the unemployment differential, and, in particular, I think it relates to the point which Tim was making, which is if you want to address the unemployment differential and if you want to address social need, then we need to look at how, for example, employers who are investors and business people who want to come to Northern Ireland can be facilitated to invest in areas where there are, for example, high levels of long-term unemployment. If you do that, that will affect the unemployment differential. If you simply say all we need is new jobs those jobs may not at the end of the day do anything to impact on the unemployment differential. So I think we would argue very strongly that one of the ways in which you address this problem is by ensuring that investment is targeted at areas of greatest need and those areas of greatest need are both Protestant and Catholic, but are disproportionately Catholic. So that would be my initial response in terms of investment and how we can facilitate employers to ensure that they go into areas where there is long-term unemployment in particular, and then what you can do to ensure that people who are long-term unemployed actually get jobs.

  422. What you are saying is that we take a statistic that does not really mean anything as a basis upon which the Government will invest money in areas where its effect does mean something.

  (Mr O'Brien) I am not suggesting that the statistic does not mean anything. I think it is very clear that there is a disparity in Northern Ireland and a long-standing and persistent disparity in Northern Ireland in terms of who is unemployed and who is long-term unemployed and who are the people who fit into those categories. That, in our view, is a social problem that needs to be addressed. One of the ways we think it can be addressed is by ensuring that investment is targeted at areas of greatest need and that will in turn tackle that need. If we have a policy which is blind to where social need exists, then we may not actually tackle it at the end of the day. We think the debate around this issue has been what is the cause of this problem, and really I think our interest is in trying to shift the problem, and one of the ways I think you shift the problem is by targeting areas of greatest need.


  423. I will ask my supplementary, though to some extent Mr Robinson has, perfectly properly, pre-empted me. In terms of Mr Nesbitt's evidence to us to which Mr Robinson has referred—and I am now going beyond Mr Nesbitt's evidence and in a sense summarising it and he did not put it in this way—algebraicly if there is a reduction in unemployment and you skew the provision of jobs out of those extra jobs which are created through reduction of unemployment among the Catholic population, the differential will actually remain the same, therefore, in that respect you are not gaining a benefit. At least you are not gaining a benefit against that particular objective which you in your submissions to us have reminded us was very much a SACHR preoccupation two or three years ago. I do not think we need to have a long and continuing argument about this, but would I be right in interpreting that your view is that there needs to be a concentration on supply-side issues in order to change the balance, and that you are not actually looking for a change in the law itself in terms of further improvement? If I may use a specific example arising out of Mr Cunningham's answer, I can remember using as an example, when TSN was first set up, the fact that on any straightforward economic criteria if you were investing money in the roads programme you would invest it in the Belfast area because you would get a far sharper economic return from it. It was, however, the case that there were urgent roads problems and needs in the Strabane area and that if you improved the road networks you would improve employment prospects in Strabane. Are you actually arguing for a change in legislation or are you arguing for a change in public policy?

  (Mr O'Brien) I think the answer would be both. The legislative change, I spoke a little bit about the policy change, would be in the field of contract compliance and affirmative action measures. Those measures would go some way in our view towards addressing this problem as well, so it is not a focus on one or the other.
  (Mr Cunningham) Just as a supplementary to what Martin has said, one thing that was very clear from the SACHR research, the three volumes that were published, was that, by and large, there was an acceptance that employers in the private sector had gone on and done what was expected of them. There was a lot of concern that monitoring was going to be unfeasible but, by and large, it is accepted as a matter of course in relation to their obligations under the legislation. It was generally accepted it had not seemed to be the problem that was envisaged. The big criticism from SACHR research was of Government and Government policies and TSN and the PAFT arrangements and that seemed to be a matter of concern that was expressed in surveys by the private sector and employers saying, "We are facing up to our obligations but it appears that the Government has not gone along and done what it was supposed to be involved in doing." Just to reiterate Martin's point, we would see that as complementing TSN and the new statutory duty on public bodies which we think is going to be key in this area.

  Chairman: Thank you. Mr Salter?

Mr Salter

  424. Good morning, gentlemen. Why do you think the Government is so reticent to embrace or make progress in the area of affirmative action, particularly as, according to your memorandum here, back in 1973 the van Straubenzee report was certainly implying that was something that should be considered and enacted?

  (Mr Fitzpatrick) We think really that there is a reticence over what are perceived to be positive discriminatory measures of any description. To some extent, without being party political, there was obviously a grave resistance under the previous Administration to any interference of social objectives in terms of labour markets and public procurement issues etcetera. The whole SACHR process involved numerous representations being made to SACHR on the possibilities of a greater role for affirmative action measures, including the CAJ's own submissions to which I have already made reference. A distillation process seemed to occur then when SACHR itself took on board some of these ideas, particularly the question of employment for the long-term unemployed, and also the idea of measures like recruiting in particular geographical areas. It seemed to be that the White Paper was in some sense reiterating the rhetoric for the new Administration that we had heard from the previous Administration. As I have said, even the question of the recruitment of the long-term unemployed was distanced as much as possible from anything to do with affirmative action. This would seem to be just a notion of political sensitivity over positive discrimination. To some extent our solution is this notion of positive inclusionary measures. On the one hand, it is clear that the employer has diagnosed that it has not achieved fair employment, it is identifying circumstances in which it is failing to get a flow of applicants for recruitment, promotion, whatever it may be, for various reasons and it needs to take a directly contrary measure to try and include those who would otherwise be excluded. We feel, as long as those sort of measures are subject to oversight by the Equality Commission, that those conscientious employers should be allowed to pursue those sort of policies, short of quotas and short of direct discrimination, in favour of the disadvantaged group. And so to some extent we are disappointed in the White Paper and Fair Employment Order that wider opportunities for those sort of measures are not being permitted.
  (Mr O'Brien) Just as a follow-up to that. One of the answers we have received in relation to this concerns read-across—if this is done in Northern Ireland then people would want it in Britain. Read-across rarely works to the advantage of Northern Ireland but frequently seems to work to its disadvantage.

  425. Let me pick up on something you said first. You talked about differences between the two governments, but is it not ironic that William van Straubenzee was a Conservative MP whose report came out in 1973 before such things as affirmative action were being considered that seriously even in the States and here we are 26 years on and no further down the line; we are still no further on in terms of embracing that concept. To put people's minds at rest, perhaps you can give us the benefit of your views on how affirmative action can avoid becoming reverse discrimination which, as I understand it, is illegal anyway under the current employment regulations.

  (Mr Fitzpatrick) Even what we would call a positive inclusionary measure might well be indirectly discriminatory against another disadvantaged group, so if you decided to only recruit from certain geographical areas then you could well have indirect discrimination cases from people outside those geographical areas if it can be shown that the effect of the approach was to discriminate in favour of one religious group as opposed to another. So the present regime really only allows for very limited positive inclusionary measures, for example in terms of redundancy selection, in terms of training mechanisms, in terms now of the recruitment of the long-term unemployed. There is nothing to stop the Legislature permitting employers to either have positive inclusionary measures or positive discriminatory measures on the grounds of religion or any other factor, or even in European law now in terms of gender. The European Court of Justice is giving a much greater latitude to positive discrimination in favour of women. There is nothing to stop the Legislature from deciding that various forms of positive discrimination measures may be possible in the future, but we are in favour of an incremental approach whereby employers are forced to examine their own procedures in terms of direct and indirect discrimination. Where they find it impossible to achieve fair participation through normal anti-discrimination measures, they should be permitted to go further than that. Whether in some situations that might even lead to positive direct discrimination—where they cannot achieve participation through positive inclusionary measures short of that—would be another issue. For example, in the re-composition of the Royal Ulster Constabulary those sorts of issues might arise. In terms of normal employment practice, we feel that employers should do that and we feel that the regime in Northern Ireland should be looked at in its own right. If it means read-across implications, it is because Northern Ireland already has an advanced system of equality law and the rest of Great Britain should enjoy that as well.
  (Mr Cunningham) I think it is worth pointing out that in the specific area of affirmative action, the provisions in Britain are actually stronger in relation to training. It is frequently forgotten that the 1976 Race Relations Act contains specific provisions for affirmative action as does the 1976 Sex Discrimination Act. It is not something that generally receives a lot of focus but they are there and their training—specific affirmative action measures are clearer than the ones in the fair employment legislation. Going back to the point about reverse discrimination, that was in British legislation but generally speaking there has been a reluctance to adopt progressive measures over here. It seems that one of the arguments is there is the problem with read-across. When the Race Relations Order in Northern Ireland was introduced, for example, the same argument came up and none of the fair employment provisions were actually included in it other than one which pertained to national security, so it seemed a threat to national security was the only thing that ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland were perceived to be on a par with the two main communities.

  426. Can I put to you three other points that I might not necessarily subscribe to but which could be used to explain the reticence to embrace fully affirmative action as a policy. One is that by its very nature it could be said to be reinforcing the sectarian nature of society in Northern Ireland. Secondly, those who have the good sense not to ally themselves to any religion could find themselves squeezed in the process. Thirdly, there is the danger of making matters far worse in terms of a backlash from the majority community.

  (Mr O'Brien) To deal with the last of those first, I think that the backlash point and concerns about that would be one of the principal reasons we would not favour a move to quotas or overt reverse discrimination because clearly it is ineffective, it seems to us, and can actually aggravate the situation and lead to the kinds of concerns which you have suggested. I think on the point about other groups getting squeezed, as it were, in this process, I think that is one of the reasons why we are so interested and feel so enthusiastic about the opportunities which the new statutory duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity offers because that embraces a much broader range of disadvantaged people in our community and we think addressing those kinds of concerns. The broad dimension of equality is very important, and we have been able to work with a very broad alliance of people in Northern Ireland which embraces disadvantaged Catholics and Protestants but goes beyond that to bring in people from ethnic minorities, disabled people, women, a broad range of groups, and to actually take that agenda forward in cooperation, tackling the major disadvantages which exist within our society. This is an issue which is an emotive one and is a difficult one, but these divisions exist in our society and this inequality exists in our society and I think it is entirely unacceptable to suggest that you can have a peaceful society if it has got these profound inequalities within it. Good relationships, it seems to us, are built on fairness and that is what we should all be striving for.

  427. And the point about people who are not signed up to any religion?

  (Mr O'Brien) I think that is what I was addressing by my response in relation to the statutory duty and the breadth of the issues and the concerns which are raised there. That does go beyond religion and I think that that is very welcome.

  428. Can I just put it to you that, to my mind, one of the dangers of a forceful affirmative action programme is that you could in certain circumstances end up with a situation where you have to sign up to a particular church to have a chance of employment opportunities in that area and that would worry the life out of me.

  (Mr O'Brien) I think what we were talking about was affirmative action measures which would be approved by the Equality Commission, and I would hope the Equality Commission would be vigilant to the point which you are making.
  (Mr Fitzpatrick) The positive inclusionary measures we have in mind are not directly on grounds of religion. Therefore, so long as an employer was careful he was not discriminating against people of no religion, there is no reason why people of some religion and no religion would not benefit from positive inclusionary measures. The employer would feel that more of one religion might well benefit from such a measure and it might well help to redress those kind of imbalances but, nevertheless, it would not be something that was based directly on grounds of a person's religion. I should also say that this employer has failed to achieve fair participation, so in a sense the employer has still established that they have an under-representation of one group as opposed to another and therefore measures to create fair participation ought not really to create the sort of backlash that you have in mind.

  429. I want to move on in a second to talk about contract compliance but I just want to read into the record, Chairman, that there is a fourth point that I failed to address and that is affirmative action would contravene the merit principle. We picked that up from the evidence we took from the Institute of Directors yesterday. Moving on to contract compliance, how effective has the existing limited linkage been between government contracts and fair employment? How effective has that been in practice in your opinion?

  (Mr Fitzpatrick) As far as we are aware, it has been very rarely used. It is at the very end of the line as far as the Fair Employment Commission is concerned and we are aware of cases where the measures have been brought into effect in relation to failure to register with the Fair Employment Commission, but I am not fully conversant with all the circumstances here. As far as we can see, the existing arrangements have provided a valuable threat for the Fair Employment Commission to ensure that the various monitoring requirements in the legislation have been complied with. To that extent, it is hard to say when something is rarely used whether that is evidence of a high degree of success or a high degree of irrelevance, but procedures have not been put into effect very often at the present point in time. What we would wish to see is the ability of public authorities to operate their own contract compliance regimes under the supervision of the Equality Commission.

  430. In his evidence to this Committee the Minister of State, Adam Ingram, put forward the notion that European law was a problem. In your remarks to the Chairman I think your rebuttal of that argument went along the lines that you do not think that the European Commission would pursue a Member State that did this within the spirit of the legislation. Can you amplify that because I am instinctively sympathetic to your point of view on this point, but I do not think that was the strongest argument you could perhaps make.

  (Mr O'Brien) There seems to us to be a quite remarkable lack of awareness of recent developments in European law in relation to these matters. In particular one thinks of a European Commission Communication in March 1998 which said that EC rules do not merely allow for the use of public procurement to promote social objectives but positively encourage Member States to do so. Member States are encouraged to use such mainstreaming mechanisms in promoting the employment of women or in encouraging the protection of certain disadvantaged groups. It would seems therefore that it is the Government which is out of step with Europe, rather than SACHR, by suggesting that the Standing Advisory Commission's recommendations were a bit at variance with European law and we think that people must not have seen this Communication.

  Mr Salter: Thank you very much, gentlemen.

  Chairman: Mr Donaldson?

Mr Donaldson

  431. Thank you, Mr Chairman. Before moving on to the issue of national security certificates, I want to pick up on the line of questioning of my colleague Mr Salter in reference to your proposals for affirmative action. I think he makes a valid point about the accuracy of determining an applicant's religious affiliation. You will be aware that in Northern Ireland it is very often an applicant's perceived religion that is taken into account and that sometimes (particularly by public bodies) that can be determined with reference to the primary school they attended. You do not have to have a wide imagination to come up with circumstances where people who have attended a primary school which is perceived to be either Protestant or Roman Catholic but who adhere to neither of those faiths, and therefore in promoting your views on affirmative action is it not necessary to ensure absolute accuracy in determining the religious affiliation, if any, of an applicant to a business or a public body that was operating those affirmative action proposals?

  (Mr Fitzpatrick) It is certainly the case that, as society changes, religious affinities change to some extent and therefore there is always a bit of a dilemma in any equality law regime between, on the one hand, seeking to remove inequality and, on the other hand, monitoring carefully who is actually suffering inequality. So it would certainly be essential in any monitoring exercise that the information gained is as accurate as possible, otherwise you simply end up following a false lead and you are seeking an outcome for something on the basis of false information. So the primary school rule is one way of examining religious affiliation. A person's perceived membership of one community as opposed to another is another way of seeking to achieve that same outcome. But it is certainly true that if fair participation is at the heart of the process then it is necessary to have accurate information as to whether or not an employer is achieving that.

  432. Do you believe that that accurate information should be something which is volunteered by the applicant and that therefore you rely on the applicant to certify themselves as being affiliated to a particular religious denomination or is there some other methodology which would need to be much more accurate than some of the methodology adopted at the moment in terms of perceived religion or indeed one's primary school? It is one of the supreme ironies of Ulster politics that if Lord Molyneaux had applied for a job, he would have been perceived to have been a Roman Catholic because he attended a Roman Catholic primary school.

  (Mr Fitzpatrick) You have to balance the need for accuracy against intrusion into a person's own personal life. Certainly that balance would have to be struck and an employer's investigation into a person's beliefs would be something very difficult to countenance. It may well be that the best way forward to strike a balance between accuracy and the right to privacy which that person would enjoy would be to allow that person to designate themselves to one community or another. I personally would be wary of moving beyond that because it would involve investigations by an employer into a person's religious beliefs and activities which I think should not normally be made.

  433. Turning to the subject of national security certificates, you have already outlined your concerns about the Government's approach to this and, in particular, what you regard as a minimalist approach in the Northern Ireland Act in response to recent cases taken to the European Court. In terms of the national security certificate issue, could you just expand on the concerns that you have about the present process?

  (Mr O'Brien) I think our concerns are principally that this whole area is full of possibilities for the exercise of arbitrary decision-making because of (thus far) the real absence of any effective scrutiny. We were concerned about and would be aware, for example, of cases where inaccurate determinations have been made in relation to individuals and where individuals have had really no effective way of challenging those decisions. At the heart of our concern is a view that people should know the case against them and should be in a position to challenge the case against them. Effectively, what the previous arrangements did, and in our view there is a danger that the current arrangements will do as well in the eyes of individuals, is to deny them the right to know the case against them and the right to defend themselves effectively against the charge, in addition to that the right to be represented by someone of your own choice, which would be considered a fairly reasonable request. So that is really the gist of it. Obviously there are legitimate concerns in relation to this area which Government might have, but those now need to be weighed against the rights of the individual and we are not convinced that the weighing of that has come down at an entirely satisfactory position.

  434. Of course, there will be others who will take a different view, as you will appreciate, and indeed there have been cases in Northern Ireland in the past where people have found their way into sensitive areas of employment and have abused those areas of employment to assist, for example, terrorist organisations in the execution of their activities and indeed that has led on occasions to murder. Therefore, is there perhaps not somewhere in between the position that you hold which is that people in all cases should have access to the information being used to determine the issuing of a certificate as against the need to ensure that in sensitive areas of employment the protection of the wider community is also taken into account and that sometimes the decisions that lead to that are so sensitive they cannot perhaps be revealed to the individual?

  (Mr O'Brien) I suppose our preference would be that the system used in relation to this aspect of legislation would be broadly similar to the system which is used in relation to gender where for example there was a case, the Johnston case, and the outcome of that was changes to the law in Northern Ireland. So I could foresee, for example, in camera hearings before a court looking at these kinds of considerations to take account of the kind of points which you are raising. I think our concern is that the present arrangements may not fully comply with the requirements of the European Convention and that the balance—and I do very much accept there is a balance to be struck—is not in the right place. So it is only a matter of time to see whether the Government is correct in that they will be able to comply with the Convention or that we are correct.

  435. Finally, how do you envisage that that will be tested in terms of compliance with the European Convention? Are you awaiting incorporation of the European Convention, for example, or are there cases in the pipeline of which you are aware which will challenge the nature of the action that the Government has taken and their compliance with the European Convention?

  (Mr O'Brien) I think that could be dealt with in a number of ways. Following incorporation, there could be challenges potentially. There could already be cases. I am not aware of any Northern Ireland specific cases but there may be some English cases in relation to this because there are similar matters which have arisen in relation to immigration. I am really not sufficiently aware as to what the current situation would be. Even after incorporation of the Convention obviously if people pursued this kind of matter through the local courts here and were unhappy with that they could still ultimately go to Europe. I am not sure how that would be tested. I imagine someone who feels that they are unfairly treated would take the case to Europe but I am not aware of any at this point in time.

  436. Is the United Kingdom's position on this issue unique in Europe or is it better or worse than other nations who are signatories to the European Convention?

  (Mr O'Brien) I am not sufficiently aware to give a proper answer to that.

  Mr Donaldson: Thank you, Chairman.

  Chairman: There is in fact a dimension in a current case, which is the case of the bomb attack on the Israeli Embassy where a similar national security certificate has in fact been issued. Mr Beggs?

Mr Beggs

  437. Thank you, Chairman. Good morning, gentlemen. I want to look at the statutory equality duty. The CAJ were critical of the Northern Ireland Bill's provisions on the statutory duty on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity. How far do you consider that the Act now implements an appropriate approach?

  (Mr O'Brien) As you say, we had a number of very detailed concerns about the Northern Ireland Bill in its various stages and we were involved together with a broad coalition of groups, disabled people, ethnic groups and groups from the gay community, women's groups, groups representing various disadvantaged Catholics and Protestants in pressing Government to amend the legislation and I think our view now would be that the amendments which were made, coupled with the undertakings which were given in the Parliamentary debate at the Third Reading and Report stages of the Bill, largely satisfied the concerns which we had in relation to the provisions of the Act, and those in particular focused on the clarity as to what an equality scheme, for example, should look like—the importance of impact assessments, the whole question of access to information, the right of consultation for affected groups. Generally, as I say, I think we would be pleased with that. We would still have concerns and one of our particular concerns now would relate to the extent to which adequate resources will be provided to the new Equality Commission to effectively deliberate and police the new statutory duty and that would be a matter of particular concern to us as would be the prospect of any delay in relation to the implementation of the statutory duty. So, as I say, generally we were very pleased with the response in terms of the final legislation. I suppose we were surprised that it took such a concerted effort by a very broad coalition of groups and indeed cross-party support in the Commons and in the Lords. Many of the recommendations which were made were cross-party both in terms of Northern Ireland and Britain, and I think we were surprised that there did appear to be some institutional resistance within elements of the Civil Service to the kind of measures which were there, and basically our concern was to see that the provisions of the Good Friday agreement in relation to these matters were effectively implemented in the legislation. That was the basis for our work.

  438. Thank you. How capable do you consider the CCRU is generally in the area of equality policy development?

  (Mr O'Brien) We were one of the groups which advocated that the review of the fair employment legislation should be given to the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights rather than the Central Community Relations Unit. That was in part because of SACHR's statutory remit in relation to this area, but also in part because of our view that it would be inappropriate for a unit within the Civil Service to have lead responsibility for this area which was effectively reviewing Government policy. We also had a concern about the resources available to CCRU and I think our view generally would be that the idea behind the Central Community Relations Unit, that it should be in a key position to influence Government policy which had an impact on community relations, has never really been fully realised. We were also concerned that when we embarked on a very major consultation on the whole question of the statutory duty and how you move on PAFT, that really the response from CCRU in relation to that was very much at variance with the breadth of civil society. There was a large desire on the part of a very large coalition of groups to see progress made on the statutory duty and to see PAFT effectively given real teeth. That was not the view which was forthcoming from the Central Community Relations Unit submission to our consultation process and, in addition, the research which was carried out by SACHR on the adequacy of PAFT and how PAFT had been implemented—obviously PAFT had a key central role in relation to all that—showed that the adequacy of PAFT had been found to be severely wanting. All of those things together would certainly lead us to have some concerns about the vigour with which the CCRU is able to pursue the broad equality agenda, and in particular I think the Unit has been very poorly financially resourced and has not been fully able to carry out the very important tasks which had previously been assigned to it. Maybe that gives you some indication and some focus.

  439. How confident are you of CCRU's current ability to act as an effective internal enforcement mechanism for the equality obligation in the Northern Ireland Act?

  (Mr O'Brien) I think the concerns I expressed previously would still apply. Clearly Government would have to work out a mechanism to deal with the internal aspects of the equality duty. We would want to consider very carefully any proposals which came forward in relation to that, and that is really an area in which there has been very little discussion and very little information forthcoming from Government on how exactly they intend to keep their own house in order in relation to the statutory duty. Certainly an argument was presented at one time that there were concerns about the ability internally to advance it, to police the equality duty efficiently and effectively, and that was an argument which was made for the establishment of an Equality Commission. I think we still very much feel that there should be a strong mechanism at the heart of Government addressing these issues. We have not yet seen proposals on that matter that would satisfy our concerns on that and that is something we would be interested in looking further at.

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