Sinn Fein representatives this week accused Castlereagh Borough Council of “under-representing” Catholics within its ranks.
James Irwin, Castlereagh South, and Laura Keenan, Castlereagh West, have expressed concern that despite Castlereagh having claimed in 2007 that they were working with the Equality Commission to address its poor record of employing Catholics, the council’s employment levels for Catholics has actually decreased.
Sinn Fein have referred to a 2006 study by the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) stating only 8.8% of council employees were Catholic.
The party expressed concerns about this “under-representation” in 2006 and have done so yet again since a 2009 Equality Commission Fair Employment Monitoring Report stated only 8.1% of the council's workforce is Catholic.
East Belfast Sinn Fein representative, Niall Ó Donnghaile, said: “Local government must be to the fore in tackling inequality and discrimination and obviously these figures are of serious concern.
“Ultimately it is Castlereagh Council who must take the lead in challenging these concerning statistics to ensure that they are doing everything they can to rectify what is a serious cause for concern,” he added.
Sinn Fein have stated that Catholics are “effectively being under-represented by 33.9%”. However, the 2001 census report for the Castlereagh Urban Area stated only 15.8% of Castlereagh's inhabitants were from “a Catholic community background” while 79.2% were from a “Protestant and Other Christian community background”.
A CAJ spokeswoman clarified the numbers: “The figures are based on the 2001 census, which illustrated that the Catholic proportion of those available for work,the economically active of working age, was 42.7% overall. Castlereagh Borough Council’s workforce composition consisted of 8.8% Catholics.
“Therefore, taking the overall percentage of Catholics economically active in the population as the reference point, Catholic under-representation stood at 33.9% in 2006,” she added.
Had the number of Catholic members of the community been gleaned from the Castlereagh area as opposed to across the whole of Northern Ireland the under-representation would work out at 7.7% as opposed to 33.9%.
However, the CAJ spokesperson said: “The proper comparative figure is the percentage of economically active members of the Catholic community in the whole of Northern Ireland, as to restrict recruitment to a particular geographical area (Castlereagh) would be unlawful under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order 1998.”
A council spokesperson said: “Castlereagh Borough Council complies with all statutory requirements with |regard to the appointment and employment of staff, and accordingly all |appointments are made on the basis of merit.
The spokesperson added: “In addition, the council has in place an |affirmative action plan to encourage |applications from all sections of the |community.”