Robinson attacks Equality Commission

Peter Robinson has launched an attack on the Equality Commission following a meeting with the body.

Mr Robinson said he was “appalled” that so few commission employees are Protestant, adding that he could not identify a single one of its 16 commissioners who would be “representative of mainstream unionism”. (List of commissioners here)

“It is outrageous that a mere 34 per cent of the staff of the Equality Commission is drawn from a Protestant community background,” he said. “Furthermore, if we look at the commissioners themselves, I cannot identify a single person who would share the views of the tens of thousands of people who vote for the main Unionist party in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Robinson said four new commissioners were to be appointed in September and he urged the Secretary of State Shaun Woodward to “fulfil his legal obligations” and address the commission’s “shameful past legacy”.

The commission has defended itself: In a statement it said that it had clearly and publicly stated that “we want a workforce whose composition more fully reflects the society in which we live.”
“As far as community background is concerned, the commission is doing everything that the law allows to increase successful applications from Protestants.
“That includes offering free, independent training on a religion-specific basis, exclusively for Protestants. This the first time that such a step has been taken by any employer in Northern Ireland.”

  • “That includes offering free, independent training on a religion-specific basis …”

    Huh?

    Anyone clarify this? Preferably in plain English.

  • fair_deal

    Point of Information

    The last time I checked the 34% isn’t the full story, the Protestant proportion of the workforce has been consistently dropping despite promises that it would be improved.

  • Should the employees of the Equality Commission – or indeed any public body – reflect how the electorate votes? I don’t see why it should. Robinson is mixing several different issues in this, in a very disingenuous fashion. In fact, it is illegal to keep information on the political affiliations of employees.

  • loki

    Quoting Peter Robinson “I cannot identify a single person who would share the views of the tens of thousands of people who vote for the mnain Unionist Party in northern Ireland”- neither can the rest of us and I’m not sure his party can still claim to be the main unionist party either. Yet more arrogance from the DUP-We don’t like the Equality Commission so no one else can. I hold no affection for this quango but I do find the DUP’s hypocsrisy laughable.

  • C

    Just a thought but maybe those of Peter’s political persuasion have little interest in working for a body focused on issues of equality. The two perspective are not exactly natural bedfellows.

  • Dec

    The last time I checked the 34% isn’t the full story, the Protestant proportion of the workforce has been consistently dropping despite promises that it would be improved.

    Short of pointing a gun at people and forcing them to join the commission, I’m not sure how such a promise could be made. There’s clearly no active discrimiantion here – unless you’re a Catholic seeking “free, independent training on a religion-specific basis”.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Garibaldy: “Should the employees of the Equality Commission – or indeed any public body – reflect how the electorate votes? I don’t see why it should. Robinson is mixing several different issues in this, in a very disingenuous fashion. In fact, it is illegal to keep information on the political affiliations of employees. ”

    So you’re saying the PSNI should quit their efforts to expand their Roman Catholic numbers?

  • Dread,

    I’m not saying that at all. Religion doesn’t equate to supporting a certain political party, though it obviously does correlate to a view on the national question.

  • Democratic

    “Short of pointing a gun at people and forcing them to join the commission, I’m not sure how such a promise could be made”

    Ask the peelers?…..

  • Democratic

    The situation at the Equality Commision is the ultimate irony though no matter where you may stand on causes of the issue…..

  • Driftwood

    Why not set up 4 separate equality commissions, 1 for each of the 4 ‘mainstream’ parties, with a staff drawn from their voting profile.

    I take it the Trumpton assembly has no power to abolish ALL of these completely useless quangos. If not, the incoming Westminster administration has some low hanging fruit for pruning.

  • kite flyer

    “Short of pointing a gun at people and forcing them to join the commission, I’m not sure how such a promise could be made. There’s clearly no active discrimination here – unless you’re a Catholic seeking “free, independent training on a religion-specific basis”.”

    Dec, are you privy to the ratio of applicants’ backgrounds? If so could you direct us to your evidence.

    While you’re at it do you know the ratio of the religious background of people living with commuting distance (say 15 miles) of Shaftesbury Square?

    Why does the commission believe that protestants require “religion-specific” training? Do they detect some religion-specific failing on that community that requires specific treatment?

  • fair_deal

    Dec

    “Short of pointing a gun at people and forcing them to join the commission, I’m not sure how such a promise could be made”

    All employers who find themselves in comparable situations are expected to make such promises.

    “There’s clearly no active discrimiantion here – unless you’re a Catholic seeking “free, independent training on a religion-specific basis”.”

    With a consistently deteriorating proportion of the workforce I am not sure that can be assumed. I must admit I am extremely wary of the training notion but the endorsement of 50/50 opened that particular can of worms.

  • the joxer

    Aside from its lofty aspirations, what has the commission actually achieved?

  • cynic

    “There’s clearly no active discrimiantion here”

    Course not. After all it is only 34% Prod and falling

    If this were a Government Department the Commission would be calling for an investigation. Clearly it has a major problem as it is perceived to be a hostile place for people from the unionist / protestant community to work.

  • Paul

    Every one knows the “decent” prods wouldnt touch the equality commision.

    They do not really believe they are equal

  • danielmoran

    garibaldy msg 3
    i agree that there shouldn’t necessarily be an obligation on public bodies, although there’s a bit of an irony in this particular body not beingrepresentative of the community at large.
    as for peter robinson complaining. i would be more impressed if he had ever spoken out about thge historic discrimination in the opposite direction, but like his colleague mr campbell who is never out of the papers or tv whinging on, peter the punt seems to have no problem with, for instance, harland and wolf employing ten thousand men, of whom only about 400 were catholics.
    but that ok with the duppers especially.

  • If the shoe was on the other foot and the Equality Commission had a 34% and falling Catholic workforce, what would the reaction be?

  • GGN

    ” I cannot identify a single person who would share the views of the tens of thousands of people who vote for the main Unionist party in Northern Ireland”

    I am not sure if that relfects badly on the Equality commission.

    Surely being a DUP member on the Commission would be something of a contradiction in terms?

    Having said that, the religious balance is surely something which needs to be tackled.

  • fin

    Only Cynic has given a reason for the low Protestant numbers among the workforce, that its “perceived to be a hostile place for people from the unionist / protestant community to work” which I wasn’t aware off.

    Is it not Robbo’s responsibility to highlight the reasons for Protestants not joining, and for London, Dublin and Stormont to fix the problems (as much as possible) and then for Robbo to publically support the commission and encourage Protestants to join. Job done.

    To start the ball rolling why are Protestant numbers so low, do they not apply for jobs in the commission or do they not get past the interview stage?

  • fair_deal

    fin

    I can’t find data on the applicant pools but there is data on appointments

    “do they not apply for jobs in the commission or do they not get past the interview stage?”

    In 2007 only 26.7% of appointments were of people from a Protestant background. In 2006 it was 36.4%. In 2005 it was 33.3%.

  • spiritof07

    How come Jane Morris’ bio simply states that she was elected to the NI Assembly, without stating what ‘party’ she was a member of? Is someone embarassed at the prevalence of Women’s Coalition members doing the rounds of quangos?

  • Driftwood

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6722544.ece

    It appears all is not well at the commission. The sheer wastage in consultancy fees alone are mind boggling.

    What a waste of money.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Garibaldy: “I’m not saying that at all. Religion doesn’t equate to supporting a certain political party…”

    Sure… I’m sure SF and the SDLP are just chock full of Protestants… Can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one giving directions to the nearest garden center.

    Back to the question…

    You stated: “Should the employees of the Equality Commission – or indeed any public body – reflect how the electorate votes?”

    Is not the PSNI a “public body?”

    Now, you may piously stand there and tell me that religion doesn’t equate to a particular party, which, whilst technically true, is pretty disingenuous.

    Should the employees of the Equality Commission – or, indeed, *any* public body – reflect how the electorate worships? That would seem to be further removed from the matter at hand than how the electorate votes.

  • pam

    Driftwood, the link refers to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in GB, not the Equality Commission for NI.

  • Forgive me if this point has already been raised: the whole basis of this has been niggling at my barely-conscious while real life intruded.

    If the gripe is about 34% of the workforce being Protestant, why is Robinson whining? That is well ahead of his quota.

    I suggest Robinson and others consider the 2008 survey of religious observance (it’s on the ARK site, appropriately). Curiously, the one question which is “redacted” is “Do you follow a religion or consider yourself to be spiritual?” Even so, the rest of the survey indicates about 30-40% of self-declared “Protestants” have absolutely no religious activity in the course of a year, slightly more than the proportion who say religion is not very important in their lives. As, for the real stinger, what about the 34% of “Protestants” (and 15% of “Catholics”) who deny that they consider themselves “Christian”? Nearly as bewildering as the 13% of those with “no religion” who “know God really exists and … have no doubts about it”.

    Strange place, Northern Ireland.

    I’m still baffled by that bit about “training on a religion-specific basis, exclusively for Protestants”. What does it involve? You lot are of no help at all.

  • Dec

    Kiteflyer

    I suggest you re-read the thread carefully and re-direct your questions accordingly.

    Fair_Deal

    All employers who find themselves in comparable situations are expected to make such promises.

    Surely they undertake to remove discriminatory practices and encourage applications from the ‘other’ community? (That at least, is definitely achievable).

    With a consistently deteriorating proportion of the workforce I am not sure that can be assumed. I must admit I am extremely wary of the training notion but the endorsement of 50/50 opened that particular can of worms.

    It doesn’t bother me a jot, though I wouldn’t mind reviewing the training material if only for the laugh.

    On a general point, under-represenation of one comunity or another in a workforce isn’t proof of discrimination which is a point many unionists often fail to grasp.

  • Dread,

    Robinson said there was no-one he could identify with his party. So the question is very much one of identification with specific political parties. And I see no reason why we should go probing into people’s politics when they apply for jobs.

    Like it or lump it, religion has been the key discriminatory factor here. That is what the legislation covers – perceived religious community, not perceived politics. Blame the legislators for that, and not me.

    What Robinsons was suggesting would leading to a PSNI that was 28% DUP, 25% PSF etc etc. That’s different than ensuring their is no discrimination on grounds of religion.

    BTW, where was the piety in me saying that religion doesn’t mean support for a particular political party?

  • Chris Donnelly

    “That includes offering free, independent training on a religion-specific basis, exclusively for Protestants. This the first time that such a step has been taken by any employer in Northern Ireland.”

    This is a development worth watching as, presumably, the Equality Commission will be disseminating this ‘good practice’ to other employers- all those catholics seeking employment in the highest paid categories will naturally be expecting religion-specific training ahead of interviews.

    Garibaldy has it right on the DUP’s primary cause for complaint- there ain’t enough rabid prod types for their liking on the commission.

    Perhaps the Lundy label could be dusted down and tagged onto those currently filling the prod quota.

    The timing of Robinson’s intervention suggests the DUP are looking a pack-courting decision in September, though the last time that happened (the DUP-approved Victim’s Commissioner) the kerfuffle went on for years.

    Plus ca change…

  • fair_deal

    Dec

    “Surely they undertake to remove discriminatory practices and encourage applications from the ‘other’ community?”

    That is how they promise to tackle it but the promise they seek to fulfil is the one the EC has in its press statement
    “we want a workforce whose composition more fully reflects the society in which we live”

    “It doesn’t bother me a jot,”

    Sorry as your earlier comment characterised this practice as “active discrimiantion” I’d assumed you didn’t agree with actively discriminatory practices.

    “On a general point, under-represenation of one comunity or another in a workforce isn’t proof of discrimination which is a point many unionists often fail to grasp.”

    No Unionists grasped that one a long time ago and if they tried to make that point that it was unionism trying to hide/minimise/deny discrimination etc. I happened to be at Queens when it was going through such issues and nationalism would have none of it. Now Nationalists seem to accept such an argument I wonder why?

    Garibaldy

    You are making a linkage Robinson didn’t. In the employment of staff he refered to religious breakdown not party politics. The party political comments were about the Commissioners. In public appointments political activity is required to be declared and there are legal obligations about representativeness (although IIRC the case law around this isn’t great in enforcement terms).

  • iluvni

    What a waste of money it is. Scrap it immediately.

  • cynic

    “Should the employees of the Equality Commission – or, indeed, *any* public body – reflect how the electorate worships? ”

    In an ideal world no but we use Religion as a shorthand here. The law says ‘community background’ and institutionalises the view that there are only 2 of these, defined by what foot you dig with. The point is that, if a body consistently shows a serious imbalance then someone should be asking why. Normally that might the job of the Equality Commission …….

    To be fair in their Corporate Plan for 2009/10 they do mention it, wring their hands and then move on. They do have an affirmative action plan but from the figures its failing and here is a mention that mistrust by Unionst Politicians is a factor ….well perhaps but blaming that is hardly a way to ‘reach out’ or ‘engage’ and with those perfromance figures can you blame them.

    The interesting thing here may be why Prods seem to see the Commission as somewhere they wont get a job or wont be welcome. Certainly the preception is that it has done nothing at all to promote equality for Protestants even in areas where they clearly now suffer disadvanatge. Several of these are mentioned in the Corporate Report amd the most glaring seem to be in the public sector. So what has the Commission done about it? Well there are mow action plans in many organsiations but around 2/3 of those relate to under-employment of catholics. Protestants discriminated against must look on those figures with joy and ask what about them. In trems of the public perception too the Commission is almost invisible

    The make up of the Commissioners doesnt help.

    Aside from all this is the fact that overall the Commission just seems terribly terribly ineffective. Has it ever gelled since all the groups were merged into one? I am told they all kept their seperate structures inside the organisation and refused to merge into integrated teams so that all the squabbling outside was just recreated inside. Is this true? It certainly seems to be the position in E&W where the Equality and Human Rights Commission is in a state of collapse driven partly by Trevor Phillips style and partly by internicine feuding

  • Scooby

    Why on earth do we need to employ people on the basis of their religon anyway? Why can’t the best person for the job just get it? I don’t care if I’m represented by a Muslim as long as they carry out their job well. It’s not true that a Protestant couldn’t represent a Catholic and it’s not true that a Catholic couldn’t represent a prod. Can we give up this 50/50 rubbish already?

  • Dave

    Two nations sharing one state, eh? It requires that your ‘government’ is merely a puppet administration that is managed in its equality provisions (i.e. the carve up of the functions of state that cannot be trusted to even a consociational administration) by third parties such as the Secretary of State, rights-based legislation, judiciary, quangoes, etc, who will ensure that the state tries to function as if there was one nation of Northern Irish with one claim to national self-determination when the reality is that its new constitutional structure recognises that there are two nations sharing one state, making the state a schizophrenic entity wherein the role of the external mandarins is to tailor a straightjacket to fit the conjoined twins of Irish and British.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Several of these are mentioned in the Corporate Report amd the most glaring seem to be in the public sector.

    Cynic
    The under-representation of protestants in the lower-paid brackets of the civil service is noteworthy, as I’m assuming you’d agree is the stark under-representation of catholics in the higher paid brackets of the same civil service.

    Kinda reminds me of the DUP politician (think it was Gregory but not 100% on that) who complained about the under-representation of protestants amongst the cleaning staff at a certain Belfast hospital, after which it was pointed out in an interview with him that specific professional sectors within the hospital, employed on significantly higher wages, held similar religious imbalances, albeit in the other direction.

  • Dave

    “Like it or lump it, religion has been the key discriminatory factor here. That is what the legislation covers – perceived religious community, not perceived politics. Blame the legislators for that, and not me.” – Garibaldy

    Rubbish. Pretending that the conflict is between two religions rather than two nations, so that it is a religious conflict and not a political conflict is classic British state propaganda (now embraced, of course, by puppets of that state).

    The Patten report, for example, uses the terms “Catholic/Nationalist” and “Protestant/Unionist” throughout to make it clear that they the religious denomination and the political designation are interchangeable.

    So it isn’t the case that religious discrimination needs to be monitored – it is the political discrimination between two nations who are locked into a struggle for control of one state that needs to be monitored.

  • fair_deal

    CD

    There is one difference in the two issues of under-represenation one i.e. senior representation is generally improving (although slowly) while the other is generally deteriorating.

  • Chris Donnelly

    FD

    Can we take it from those ‘general’ observations that the DUP would be happy to champion the cause of improving the representation of catholics within the upper echelons of the civil service as well as the plight of protestants amongst the lower paid regions of the service?

    Perhaps you couldn’t possibly comment on that…

    LOL

  • Driftwood

    What % of the workforce at the equality commission are Atheist? I can’t seem to find this out.

  • Driftwood

    On a side note, I take it Wales and Scotland (and Republic of Ireland) have their own ‘equality’ quangoes? And I cannot seem to find any info on the religious breakdown of the Army garrison here. I assume the commission knows this but witholds it for some reason?

  • Fair Deal,

    This is from the Newsletter report linked above

    “if we look at the commissioners themselves, I cannot identify a single person who would share the views of the tens of thousands of people who vote for the main Unionist party in Northern Ireland.”

    I also saw him on the BBC lunchtime news say that there was no-one he could identify with his party politics.

    It seems to me he is making a suggestion here that the strength of his party entitles its supporters or members to positions on quangos. I don’t know how else to interpret that.

  • fin

    Lets do this properly and examine the religous makeup of the entire structure of the UK from the top down
    1) The Royal Family – has anyone got any data on how many Protestants v Catholics v Muslims v Jews are in the makeup

  • cynic

    “as I’m assuming you’d agree is the stark under-representation of catholics in the higher paid brackets of the same civil service.”

    Let me be clear that I am opposed to all discrimination at every level. And its not as simple as you would suggest. As I think the Commission itself points out there are some areas of the Public Sector in which one side or another is heavily under-represented.

    The key issue is, what the hell does the Equality Ciommission actually do about all this and does it offer value for money in doing it. I don’t see that it does. The targets in its plan are civil service waffle with few hard numbers – terribly difficult to measure you know!

    Its accountability structures are rubbish. It is established under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and its function is just to exist. The roles of the Commissiooners are ill defined. Are they to hold the Commission to account or do the work of the commission or what? The Act doesnt actually say.

    All it has to do is once a year lay a report before the parent Department. As it sets its own targets that is largely meaningless. There is no real accountability unless the Minister decides to sack them all for failing to practice what they preach and are supposed to enforce on other bodies.

    I also have to say that, while I am sure that the Commissioners are well intentioned and good competent people in their own fields, not many of them are well known. I also dont see any great, inspiring leaders here. If inequality is such a fudnamental issue why hasnt it attracted more big hitters withe experience of real delivery? Why has the Commission such a low profile?

    Still, never mind, There is a saving grace in all of this. On balance its still better then the Human Rights Commission.

  • Driftwood

    Fin, why not start at those who run the planet?

    http://www.bilderberg.org/

    The growth of an ‘equality’ industry/bureaucracy has become out of control. The UK and Ireland are spending billions on absurd agencies that produce only duplication and waste.

  • Scurge-of-the-Punt

    Wow….from the title of the thread, I though “Equality Commission” might be a sleepy hamlet just over the border.

  • cynic

    “It seems to me he is making a suggestion here that the strength of his party entitles its supporters or members to positions on quangos. I don’t know how else to interpret that.”

    Tha Act says that the Commisioners must be representative of all sections of the community in NI and in making appointments SOS is responsible for this ie its supposed to be rigged to fit all the religous / political/ social divides and commissioners arent appointed on merit.

    I asuksme that the DUPs have a few people lined up as potential new commissioners and are pressuring the SOS by making an issue of it …..or appearing to do so to give him the excuse when he makes the next appointments.

  • fair_deal

    CD

    Any chance of responding to the point improvement v deterioration rather than trying to shift the topic?

    “Can we take it from those ‘general’ observations that the DUP would be happy to champion the cause of improving the representation of catholics within the upper echelons of the civil service as well as the plight of protestants amongst the lower paid regions of the service?”

    For the nth time I’m not a party spokesperson.

    It would seem to be me that now that equality/representativeness issues are a common concern that there is scope for something to happen unless like either SF or the DUP decide they’d rather have the issue than a solution. Also if there are a variety of other communities beyond P & RC that have issues too.

    In practical terms SF liking for positive discrimination measures would be a barrier to such a deal.

    “LOL”

    I’d remind you it was Robinson who made the commitment on the back pay issue that was to the disproportionate benefit of Catholic (and IIRC females) civil servant and made that clear at the time. So as finance minister there is one direct example of him acting out of the sectarian box.

    Garibaldy

    The additional comments specifically relate to commissioners not staff as you tried to claim in earlier comments.

  • Reader

    Chris Donnelly: would be happy to champion the cause of improving the representation of catholics within the upper echelons of the civil service as well as the plight of protestants amongst the lower paid regions of the service?
    Isn’t that going to sort itself out (and quite soon now) as the more recent recruits gain experience, seniority and promotion? You can look forward to the time when you are *defending* an imbalance in the senior appointments in the Civil Service.
    After all, the IRA, at various times, regarded all civil servants, senior civil servants, and civil servants in some specific roles as legitimate targets. That would have skewed recruitment from within your family at least, wouldn’t it?

  • Gertntfe

    Loving reading all the usual suspects (come on you know who you are) twisting themselves into knots trying to brush this one away.

    The bottomline for some is that it’s ok for prods to be on the ones losing out, hence all the whataboutery and avoidance.

    The PSNI (publicly funded) was required to go to what are discriminatory lengths to ensure a process that leads to a more balanced workforce, whereas for the Equality Commission (also publicly funded) it can go on its merry way employing a grossly unbalanced staff.

    Basically then a discriminated-against prod is an oxymoron. Won’t life in an ‘Ireland of Equals’ be fun.

  • Dave

    “I’m still baffled by that bit about “training on a religion-specific basis, exclusively for Protestants”. What does it involve? You lot are of no help at all.” – Malcolm Redfellow

    It’s a quango squandering taxpayers’ money in order to pretend that the reason why the board of the equality commission is not representative of the community it serves is not because it was crassly stupid to undermine its own agenda by operating with a board that could leave it open to being accused of discrimination but rather because there simply weren’t enough capable protestants out there that were up to the job of being board members. Therefore, the board has decided to rectify its own crass stupidity lack of qualified protestants/unionists by training them so that the board can then be representative of the community it serves and can thereby defend itself from accusations that it practices discrimination.

  • FD,

    A poor choice on words on my part. Nevertheless, my point holds. There is no reason that the commissioners – or the make up of any other public bodies – should follow voting patterns. What they should be is committed to the job in hand.

  • Balconite

    But that of course does not apply to, for example, the police; coz it’s themuns who are doing ok.

  • Chris Donnelly

    That would have skewed recruitment from within your family at least, wouldn’t it?

    Reader
    Do please tell- I’m intrigued!

    FD
    Regarding improvement v deterioration, as you point out yourself, the current position remains a clear under representation of catholics in senior posts in the civil service, so ‘action’ needed to address imbalances should include in this area- and I look forward to Bob Collins’ ‘religion-specific’ initiative being rolled out across the public and private sector.

    On ‘liking positive discrimination,’ I would suggest you think (hard) back to the exclusive PUL funding programmes of recent years for examples of how republicans are clearly not alone in liking that course of action….

  • fair_deal

    CD

    That old myth again. Addressing a need isn’t discrimination (positive or otherwise). Women’s group funding doesn’t breach section 75 neither does funding for men’s groups, single parent’s, family groups, ethnic minority groups etc etc. Funding a discrete group isnt a section 75 breach.

  • Reader

    Chris Donnelly: Do please tell- I’m intrigued!
    OK – if you aren’t from a Republican family, then my guess would be wrong.
    But if your family, statistically, shared some parts of the Provo analysis that Civil Servants were traitors and targets, while also living in nationalist areas where ‘traitors and targets’ were particularly vulnerable, then they would be that much less likely to sign up to work for the Brits.
    Like with the RUC, but not a 9/1 ratio.