Are Good Relations an obstacle to Equality?

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Attempting to build good relations on the basis of denying the needs, frustrating the rights, and silencing the voices of the poorest is wrong in itself as it is destructive to the goal of building a shared future.” Inez McCormack, May 2012

In the last years of her life, renowned human rights activist Inez McCormack expended her boundless energy exposing how the peace dispensation has failed to deliver for the most marginalised. Despite the fact that the Good Friday Agreement had promised to direct resources where there

was objective need in order to combat social inequality, poverty actually deepened for the excluded. The work of Inez and human rights group, PPR (Participation and Practice of Rights) showed that this discrimination was most prevalent in North Belfast, where the call to address the chronic housing shortage for the Catholic community, has fallen on deaf ears, thus bringing matters to the point of emergency.

This reality was highlighted in a report published by CAJ (Committee on the Administration of Justice) last week entitled ‘Unequal Relations’ which showed a disproportionate emphasis being placed on ‘good relations’ in order to ‘consolidate peace’ regardless of its adverse effect on the delivery of equality in the fields of public housing, investment and the Irish Language. This discourse was predominant in the ‘shared future; document published by the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers (OFMDFM) last month, ‘Together: Building a United Community Strategy’. The term ‘good relations’, appeared 79 times in the document, without any definition given as to what it means.

The strategy document also proposed to strengthen the existing powers of the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland (ECNI) regarding equality and good relations legislation. The CAJ report, however, indicates that the current good relations legislation is already impinging on the administration of equality. The Good Friday Agreement enshrined Section 75 provisions in 1998 on the premise that priority would be given to equality legislation over and above ‘good relations’ to ensure that a sectarian ‘two communities’ discourse wouldn’t place obstacles in the way parity of esteem where there was

demonstrable need.

This meant that public bodies were compelled to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIAs) on all proposals to ensure that equality obligations were being met. However, the Equality Commission announced a change of policy in 2007 with the plan to include a ‘good relations’ duty on all EQIA’s as well. In practical terms, this meant that the ‘negative perceptions’ of the majority, especially when they wield significant political influence, could be used to hinder positive action on behalf of the disadvantaged minority.

It isn’t only the most impoverished communities in the north who are excluded by this state policy but also the Irish language community who have been typically neglected. In February this year, for example, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board placed an ‘English Only’ condition on signage funding for the Downpatrick area with good relation ‘concerns’ used as defence for this discrimination. The same logic, according to the European Committee of Experts (COMEX), informed the denial of requisite funding for the Irish language on the basis of ‘inappropriate claims for parity of treatment between Irish and Ulster Scots.

Resources and equality were thus denied to Irish speakers on the mythical assumption that the same assessment criteria can be used for the development of the Irish language community and the ‘promotion of Ulster Scots’. These good relation policies clearly subvert international human rights best-practice which argue that support for minority languages should never be withheld on the basis of the ‘concerns’ of majority language speakers. The CAJ report intimates that the Equality Commission have often endorsed this partial view, like when they provided advice back in 2003 that it was a ‘safe option’ to ban Irish:‘…on the basis of information provided in your letter, employers may feel the safest option is to simply ban the use of Irish in the workplace’.

With the shared future strategy pending by the end of the summer, it’s clear that the political establishment in the north are plotting for consolidation of this divisive discourse of good relations. This presents dangerous implications for equality, social justice and the revival of the Irish language
time ahead. This agenda must be challenged in the name of a just and lasting peace and in favour of a better future.

Dea-chaidrimh mar chonstaic in aghaidh an chomhionannais?

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Sna blianta deireanacha s’aicí ar an saol, chaith an gníomhaí cearta daonna iomráiteach, Inez McCormack, a dúthracht leis an tuairim nár éirigh leis an dispeansáid síochána cothrom na féinne a thabhairt dóibh siúd ar an imeall. Ainneoin gur gheall Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta go ndíreofar acmhainní ar riachtanais oibiachtúla chun dul i ngleic le héagothromas soch-eacnamaíochta, dhoimhnigh an t-imeallú do na pobail is boichte.

Léirigh obair Inez agus an grúpa cearta daonna, PPR(Participation and Practice of Rights) nach raibh áit ar bith ó thuaidh le hidirdhealú níos soiléire ná tuaisceart Bhéal Feirste, ina bhfuil cluas bhodhar tugtha don ghanntanas tithe i measc an phobail Chaitlicigh, atá ag pointe éigeandála faoi láthair.
Dearbhaíodh an tuarimíocht seo i dtuairisc dár teideal ‘Unequal Relations’ a d’fhoilsigh an CAJ (Committee on the Administration of Justice) an tseachtain seo caite, a léirigh go bhfuil an iomarca béime á cur ar ‘dhea-chaidrimh’, chun ‘síocháin a dhaingniú’, beag beann ar an tionchar ar chomhionannas i dtaobh leithéidí de thithíocht phoiblí, infheistíocht agus an Ghaeilge.

Bhí blaiseadh láidir den dioscúrsa seo le mothú ar an doiciméad ‘todhchaí roinnte’ a d’fhoilsigh Oifig an Chéad-Aire agus an LeasChéad-Aire (OFMDFM) an mhí seo caite dár teideál ‘Together: Building a United Community Strategy’. Luadh an téarma ‘dea-chaidrimh’ timpeall 79 uair sa cháipéis bíodh is nár tugadh aon shainmhíniú air.

Molann an straitéis fosta go neartófar cumhachtaí reatha Choimisiún Comhionannais Thuaisceart Éireann (ECNI) maidir le reachtaíocht chomhionannais agus dea-chaidrimh. Luann cáipéis CAJ, áfach, go bhfuil an reachtaíocht maidir le dea-chaidrimh, mar atá anois, ag cur iarrachtaí an chomhionannais ó mhaith cheana féin. Daingníodh mír 75 i gComhaontú Aoine an Chéasta in 1998,

sa tuiscint go dtugfar tús áite don reachtaíocht chomhionannais thar cheann ‘dea-chaidrimh’ le cinntiú nach n-úsáidfear dioscúrsa seicteach an ‘dá phobal’ mar chonstaic in aghaidh chothrom na féinne san áit a bhfuil gá.

Chiallaigh seo go raibh ar chomhlachtaí poiblí, Measúnú Tionchair Chomhionannais (EQIAs) a chur i gcrích ar gach moladh le cinntiú gur chomhlíon siad dualgaisí comhionannais. Mar sin féin, d’fhógair an Coimisiún Comhionannais (ECNI) athrú polasaí in 2007 agus iad ag maíomh go mbeadh ar EQIA’s ‘dea-chaidrimh’ a ghlacadh san áireamh chomh maith. Go praiticiúil, cruthaigh seo an staid go dtig le ‘mothúcháin diúltacha’ an mhóraimh, go háirithe má tá iomarca smachta polatiúla acu, bac a chur roimh ghníomh dhearfach ar son an mhionlaigh atá faoi mhíbhuntáiste.

Ní amháin gurb iad na pobail is boichte sna sé chontae atá thíos leis an pholasaí stáit seo ach fágtar pobal na Gaeilge in áit na leathphingine mar b’iondúil. I mí Feabhra na bliana seo, mar shampla, chuir Bord Turasóireachta Thuaisceart Éireann coinníoll ‘Béarla amháin’ ar mhaoiniú comharthaíochta do cheantar Dhún Pádraig agus buairimh ‘dea-chaidrimh’ mar chosaint ar an idirdhealú. Tugadh an loighic chéanna, dar leis an Choiste Saineolaithe san Eoraip (COMEX), chun acmhainní cuí a dhiúltú don teanga trí bhréagchomparáid le hAlbanais Uladh agus an ‘éilimh mhíchuí ar son cothromaíochta idir an Ghaeilge agus an Ultais’.

Áiseanna agus comhionannais diúltaithe do Ghaeil ar an mhiotas go dtiocfadh na critéir mheasúnaithe chéanna a úsáid d’fhorbairt Phobal na Gaeilge agus ‘cur chun cinn’ na hUltaise. Is léir go sáraíonn na polasaithe dea-chaidrimh seo gach dea-chleachtas idirnáisiúnta ó thaobh cearta daonna de a dhearbhaíonn nach féidir tacaíocht do mhionteanga a chur faoi chois as siocair ‘buairimh’ chainteoirí na mórtheanga. Léirigh tuarascáil CAJ gur minic a thacaigh an Coimisiún Comhionannais (ECNI) leis an tuairim leataobhach seo, agus iad ag cur comhairle ar fáil thiar in 2003 gur ‘rogha shábháilte’ í an Ghaeilge a chosc san áit oibre; ‘…on the basis of information provided in your letter employers may feel the safest option is to simply ban the use of Irish in the workplace’.

Leis an straitéis ‘todhchaí roinnte’ i lár an aonaigh faoi dheireadh an tsamhraidh, is cinnte go bhfuil an bhunaíocht pholaitiúil ó thuaidh ag beartú ar bhealaí

chun dioscúrsa scoilteach an dea-chaidrimh a bhuanú. Tá impleachtaí contúirteachta ann don chomhionannas, do cheartas sóisialta agus d’athréimniú na Gaeilge san am atá amach romhainn. Ní mór dúinn dúshlán a chur roimhe seo, in ainm na síochána cothroime, inmharthanaí agus ar son na todhchaí.

One Response to “Are Good Relations an obstacle to Equality?”

  1. Feilim O hAdhmaill Says:

    I suppose a lot depends on how we define ‘good’ in ‘good relations’ and ‘shared’ in ‘shared future’. That’s why it’s important to recognise that ‘peace’ is as much political as is ‘conflict’. How we define all these terms reflects our politics and our view of how society should be organised. For me ‘good’ means ‘equal’. If some of our people are treated unequally or as second class citizens – as is the case with Irish speakers, homeless people in North Belfast (or anywhere else, regardless of their creed or ethnicity) or indeed former political prosioners – then relations in society are not ‘good’ and we are not engaged in developing a ‘shared’ future. In my view if is not the terms ‘good relations’ and ‘shared future’ which are problematic but the narrative which we have allowed others to develop and which is now associated with those terms. Like everything else in society ‘peace’ and what it represents, along with ‘good relations’ and ‘shared future’ are and should be ‘contested sites’. In my opinion those of us who believe in a new equal society shouldn’t allow others to colonise the terms with their own narratives, but should provide challenges to those narratives and embrace the terms are our own. ‘Good relations’ are only possible in the long run if those relations are equal and involve mutual respect. A ‘shared future’ means sharing the power, the economy, the respect, as well as rights – rights to to use our own language, to have a home, employment, etc., free form discrimination. Any policy purporting to be about promoting ‘good relations’ and a ‘shared future’ should therefore include a commitment to promote these basic rights. If it doens’t it should be chaleneged on the basis that it is not promoting ‘good relations’ or a shared future’ but rather an uncertain future of continued division, inequality and, ultimately, further conflict.


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