Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Imbalance in equality staff: Too few Protestants in anti-bias commission, says DUP

The DUP has hit out at the Equality Commission for having too few Protestants in its workforce, and the proportion is actually falling.

The commission is responsible for promoting religious, gender and racial equality in its workforce but it employs almost twice as many Catholics as Protestants and the disparity is drifting up by about half a per cent a year.

The commission says it has been unable to address the disparity because it has been cutting staff rather than recruiting.

Keith Brown, its head of corporate services and a Protestant, said that it was trying to redress the balance.

Measures taken include not advertising any vacancies in the Irish News (which is mainly read by Catholics), and offering more work experience positions to Protestant schools.

It has even tasked one of its commissioners, the DUP deputy mayor of Ards Stephen McIlveen, to address the Orange Order’s young leaders programme.

Despite this, Gregory Campbell, the East Londonderry DUP MP, was able to quote the commission’s own monitoring figures to show that it is losing the battle.

In 2011 the census showed that 41% of the population were Catholic.

In the same period 65% of the commission’s employees were Catholic and 35% Protestant.

That was a greater imbalance than in 2006, when 62% of workers were Catholic.

“They are doing the right things to redress it but they haven’t been active enough,” Mr Campbell said.

He pointed to the Housing Executive which had redressed an imbalance in employment.

“The Equality Commission has fallen short of the standard it sets on others,” his colleague Nelson McCausland said.

Ironically, the Social Development Minster is abolishing the Housing Executive.

Mr Brown said: “The workforces of equality bodies tend to over-represent the section of the population perceived to be at a disadvantage when they are founded,” he argued. “For instance the Commission for Racial Equality had more staff from black and ethnic communities than from the white community.”

He said it had proved hard to redress the balance because of budget cuts, with many posts that do fall vacant filled internally.

He said it tended to recruit from the legal profession in which Catholics were over-represented.

In an attempt to redress this it has formed links with the University of Dundee, which offers a Northern Ireland law course where the majority of students are Protestant.

Background

The Equality Commission is a statutory body answerable to the Executive which was set up in 1998 to combat fair employment, sex discrimination and equal pay, race relations, sexual orientation and disability. In his blog, Nelson McCausland, the Social Development Minister, criticised it for employing proportionately too few Protestants.

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