What exactly do we mean when we say we believe in ‘equality’?

Equality and JusticeThe word equality is bandied about in Northern Irish politics so much these days, it’s often not clear what exactly people mean when they say it. Is it about equality of outcome, or equality of opportunity?

Picture from Geek Fun.


  • TwilightoftheProds

    …and how did the boxes get to the fence?

    You’re leaving us behind a veil of ignorance, man!

  • Fortlands

    I’ll go for the Justice one, Mick, although I don’t think it’s just justice. And I’ll only go for it if I’m convinced the one on the right and the one in the middle aren’t being deliberately smaller….

    As to equality of outcome or opportunity, it might be neither. Equality of respect, equality support, equality of services, equality of emblems?? Equality between individuals, between communities.

    It’s a slippery concept but well worth raising. Maith thú.

  • sherdy

    The big guy in the true blue on the left is acting totally out of character by giving his support to the wee guy in the light blue.
    He’s forgotten the dictum: ‘What we have we hold’!

  • cynic2

    A perfect metaphor for Norn Iron

    They are now all getting Justice ……but they are still standing way back behind a fence while everyone else sits down in the good seats

  • Cric

    The picture is bias in favour of justice (there’s no cost in propping the kid up, no one else loses). Being a borderline Libertarian I’d have to declare myself more towards the equality side. As an example, shoehorning the likes of minorities or women into certain positions of power for the sake of equality of outcome annoys the hell out of me – the best person for the position should be picked with sex and ethnicity completely ignored.

    Steven Pinker wrote a great book called ‘The Blank Slate’ where he argues quite convincingly that one of the reasons there is inequality is that we (people, cultures, races, sexes) are all not actually equal, whether we like it or not.

  • cynic2

    The Equality One is also wrong

    The taller person seems clearly to be an adult. He has fewer rights than the child – I know that is daft but children are granted more rights than adults

  • That’s great Cric until you are on the receiving end then you will crave your justice and unless you have striven to put the society mechanisms in place – when you need it, it won’t be there (unless you are Liam Neeson with a particular set of skills earned over a very long time).

    Equality of opportunity is important as the first step, with that people can take responsibility for the next bit. of course everyone can’t be equal – but everyone should have access to the same “societal potential” – i.e. to get an education, equal access to health care when needed, to have access to the law. What they do with that potential is a different question and helping people fulfil their potential is of course (or should be) an underpinning principle of a liberal or social democracy.

    Despite people’s ambition to be libertarian there is no such thing in a society that works. Everyone wants the public goods but without paying for them – free riders!! This goes as much for clean drinking water, fish in the shops, vaccinated population, motor tax, protection from foreign invasion (or terrorism). Where do you stop.

    Despite the reality that people are not equal or don’t have the same life opportunities that in itself is not a reason not to strive for them.

    The Spirit Level – a book about equality demonstrates clearly that successful populations are those that are most equal. Funnily enough – it does’t apply to much of anglo saxon world.

  • cynic2

    And context is all. If it was a porn film over the fence is Justice right?

  • Cric

    Michael, I said borderline Libertarian as I do realise the need for a Government, and in particular I am very much for state Education and Health (both being much too important to happiness and equality of opportunity to leave to market forces). I actually agree with you on equality of opportunity and that’s why I put importance on these two aspects of government (equality of outcome, in propping up the lifestyle of people who have had the same opportunities as others is another thing).

    In regards to Libertarianism, I’m talking about small government, not no government. We can point to one or two Scandinavian states and say ‘they do socialism well!’ but then we could point to the other 100 odd states on the planet that do socialism terribly. What was once the ‘land of the free’ now inspects the bank balances of lowly paid waitresses to make sure they are not avoiding tax on their gratuities. A supposedly right-wing open state to the south of us put €250k debt on the head of every single man, woman and child so that private German bond holders would not lose on private investments. A history of Governments is a history of terrible decision making, and outside of the essentials for basic happiness, I’m well for the government keeping their noses out.

  • Charles_Gould

    Equality of health outcomes: we are far from that. People living in rich areas of the same city often live 10 years longer on *average* than those in the poorer areas.

    A great shame of our age and one the SDLP is focused on.

  • Charles_Gould

    In a United Ireland, Dublin would move to the Left.

  • sherdy

    Charles, – To Kildare or Galway?

  • gendjinn

    The image on the left isn’t equality, it’s equal possession of boxes. Not the same thing.

    Reminds me of dividing by zero to prove that 1 = 2.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Ireland is quite a conservative country and it consistently elects conservative governments. Northern Ireland is approximately similar and Irish reunification would not change the balance significantly.

  • BarneyT

    We are more equal that we were, at least to make the dissidents campaign pointless. There is a sense that the inequality has shifted to the otherside, but that is just a distraction.
    Lets look at the west v east equality
    each free to have no industry
    each free to draw the dole
    each free to fail.
    each free to be used and played by our respective big boys

    That’s equality….and equality that should engender social equality and a unification that asks the right questions. What about the now.

  • Reader

    Charles_Gould: Equality of health outcomes: we are far from that. People living in rich areas of the same city often live 10 years longer on *average* than those in the poorer areas. A great shame of our age and one the SDLP is focused on.
    What’s the plan – prohibition of alcohol, cigarettes and junk food?
    Why has no-one pointed out that the picture shows hundreds of people who have paid to watch a game, and three relatively privileged people who get to watch it for free?

  • Anaximander

    Equality is a word with multiple meanings in multiple contexts, therefore, before starting any discussion on it, it is necessary to define the boundaries within which we seek to use it.

    Equality in regard to identity would mean, so it would seem, something quite different from equality in regard to the labour market (opportunity or outcome?).

  • ” A supposedly right-wing open state to the south of us put €250k debt on the head of every single man, woman and child so that private German bond holders would not lose on private investments.”


    Sure, blame it on the foreign bond holders and not on the Irish investors who wrecked the economy by investing in inflated properties. Maybe the right-wing state did this so that its credit rating would not be destroyed?

  • Cric


    I blame it on private individuals making private mistakes (borrowing in a bubble, lending to fund a bubble) and then government moving these private loses into the public domain. German private investors were one of the culprits and it’s one of the reasons why the Germans were so keen to see Ireland nationalise the banks. A lot of Irish people borrowed, they are now in negative equity and so they should be – only they (and everyone else who didn’t speculate) are also now going to have to pay higher taxes so as to pay off the bad investments of private lenders…

  • Charles_Gould

    Hi Folks

    Northern Ireland is more left than The South. That’s why in a UI Dublin would move left. Expect the SDLP to protect NI’s NHS in a UI.

    Regarding the massive health differentials between rich ad poor, a need for more focus on *health education* among deprived neighbourhoods.

  • Reader

    Charles_Gould: Regarding the massive health differentials between rich ad poor, a need for more focus on *health education* among deprived neighbourhoods.
    Like gory warnings on cigarette packets, a ‘Units of alcohol’ campaign, and nutritional information on packets of food? Worth a try, I suppose. And I suppose if that doesn’t reduce the differentials then the warnings could be removed from posh food, drink and smokes.

  • Harry Flashman

    Ah yes, the infantilisation of complex politico-social issues by the left continues apace. Reduce society to the level of a kindergarten class and then nanny state gets to control previously independent adults.

    Let’s look at that picture, so it’s justice is it? Why? Cos the little lad gets to see the game on the same level as his mates, so he’s happy but is it just? Who owns the box he has taken from his bigger playmate? Who carried it to the ballpark, who will have to carry it home? Who gets to keep the box? Is the big lad being punished for the fact that he is taller than his buddies and made to pay more than his fair share for an inequality that is no fault of his?

    Next scenario, what if another small kid comes along and wants to watch the game, what will the “just” solution be? Will he demand that big lad lifts him up on to his shoulders to allow him to see the game? Is the extra burden on big lad, who has already given up his property to allow the other boy to see the game, be fair, given that he had to sacrifice his original vantage point for the benefit of one small boy and now has to support another small boy to allow the newcomer to enjoy the great view that he once enjoyed but no longer does?

    Getting complicated isn’t it?

    What if the ballpark administration gets fed up with all these kids freeloading on the expensive entertainment they are providing and raises the fence six inches? What is the just solution now, must all the kids simply, as Churchill put it, “share the equal misery” of not watching the game? Or will big lad not suggest, reasonably, that he would like his box back so that at least he can see the game?

    God I hate having to prick the obvious holes in leftist propaganda that adults in a previous, more mature, age would have seen through in a second flat.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Please explain exactly why you think NI is left given that it consistently elects centre or centre-right parties. It is way to the right on issues such as gay marriage, abortion and all of the parties in the executive openly promote monetarist economic policies such as cutting corporation tax.