Printer Friendly

Job discrimination worked in N. Ireland.

McBride principles can be effective way to create level playing field for Catholics

BELFAST, Northern Ireland - Job discrimination based on religious affiliation has been official policy in Northern Ireland since the British parliament created the state in 1920. This, government ministers repeatedly promised their Unionist/Protestant followers, would prevent employment of Catholics, curtail their economic influence, and ensure high emigration of prolific Catholics.

The policy was developed by the Masonic and Orange Orders and managed by the civil service and private employers. Catholic professionals were limited to serving their own community in areas of religion, education, medicine and law. Catholic business was ghettoed into betting shops, taverns, small farming and construction.

As prime minister in 1934, Lord Craigavon declared in the Stormont Parliament with disarming frankness: "I am an Orangeman first and a politician and member of this parliament after-wards. All I boast is that we are a Protestant parliament and a Protestant state."

Such a policy contains a built-in contradiction. That the poor produce more offspring than the rich is a sociological fact affected only marginally, if at all, by religion. The main causal factor is economic. Children cost the poor little to raise and they quickly become productive.

Thus, keeping Catholics poor guaranteed they would increase their proportion of the total population, thereby threatening the very existence of the "Protestant" state. To keep Catholics poor, Catholics had to be and were systematically excluded from all but the lowest paying jobs in both private and public sectors. They were thus forced to emigrate in sufficient numbers to offset their higher reproduction rates.

Despite recurring protests from civil-rights and other groups, the British government refused from 1920 to 1972 to exercise its right to intervene. Only when the violent Protestant reaction to the Catholic civil rights movement of the 1960s shocked world opinion did London finally suspend the subordinate Stormont parliament and reintroduce direct rule.

Catholics hailed the 1973 Northern Ireland Constitution Act, which outlawed discrimination on religious or political grounds. In the British legal system, however, calling an act "constitutional" adds nothing to its weight or permanence. What the Mother of Parliaments does today, it can undo tomorrow.

Within three years, implementing legislation - ironically entitled the Fair Employment Act (FEA) - effectively gutted the Constitution Act.

The FEA'S most outrageous change was to repeal any legal responsibility of the government for discrimination in the public sector. In all countries the government is the biggest employer of labor. In Northern Ireland it controls directly or indirectly, far more labor than all other employers combined.

Discriminatory government always needs high proportions of military, police, prison and other "correctional" personnel, and this was the situation in Northern Ireland from its creation. The breakdown of the social consensus in the late 1960s resulted in a shrinking in industrial employment and a massive increase in military, police and prison personnel.

Today, 40 percent of all those gainfully employed in Northern Ireland work for some branch of government. They include 19, 100 military and 12,900 uniformed members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. next year, it was recently projected, there will be an army/RUC member for every 3.7 Catholic males between ages 16 and 44.

Firms whose principal business consists of supplying goods or services to government agencies constitute another major segment, variously estimated at 20 to 40 percent of all employment. The government has it in its hands to end discrimination almost overnight by monitoring its own employment practices and those of firms that depend directly on it for survival.

In addition, the 1976 Act defined affirmative action so narrowly as to exclude most training and recruitment programs. The Fair Employment Agency set up by the act as a monitoring mechanism even ruled that a local government body was guilty of "benign discrimination" by looking for qualified Catholics to lessen the imbalance of its work force.

The act did retain the principle of damages against private employers. But the onus of proof was placed on the victim. And if bias was proved, employers were exonerated by claiming - without proof! - that they believed that the per. son held violent political beliefs.

If all else failed, the government could exempt a company from investigation or prosecution on grounds of national security or public order. After four years of litigation by a Catholic contractor against the Northern Ireland Electricity Board, Tom King, the top British official in Northern Ireland, quashed the proceedings by issuing a Public Interest Immunity Certificate.

In its first 12 years of existence, the agency investigated 605 complaints. It found in favor of Catholics charging discrimination in 52 cases, 8.6 percent. Fourteen of these cases were subsequently overturned in court. The final figure is 6.3 percent.

Those 12 years saw a significant increase in unemployment in Northern Ireland, as in other depressed areas of the United Kingdom. However the impact of depression was lessened by the already noted vast expansion in the public sector and in private enterprise servicing the public sector. Substantial new investment in building societies, insurance companies and finance houses in the 1970s and 1980s provided another opportunity to improve the discrimination statistics.

Instead, all these were immediately sucked into the system. Unemployment among Catholics was twice as high as among Protestants in the early 1970s. The gap had widened by the mid-1980s, and for males it would become two and a half to one by 1992, Even in heavily Catholic areas, the discrimination continued. Thanks to a contract with British Airways, Aircraft Furnishing in Kilkeel, County Down (a predominantly Catholic area), added 51 employees in 1987. Only 8 were Catholics.

An even more blatant instance occurred in 1988. Cross Channel Dock of Belfast advertised for dock labor. Of the 164 Protestants and 29 Catholics who applied, 41 Protestants and no Catholics were short-listed. None of the 15 Protestants who were appointed was a docker, whereas eight of the Catholics who applied were unemployed dockers.

Frustrated by the failure of the British government to perform on its promises, Irish civil rights activists and sympathizers in the United States decided in the 1980s to follow the lead of the South African civil Tights movement. Leon Sullivan, an African-American Baptist minister from Philadelphia, had developed guidelines for outside investors in South Africa that would ensure equal opportunity to workers, regardless of race or other irrelevant factors

With major support from the Internfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of 250 Protestant denominations and Catholic institutions associated with the National Council of Churches, the Sullivan Principles attracted worldwide support and quickly proved a major player in the antiapartheid movement.

The Irish counterpart was called the McBride Principles. (Sean McBride, 1904-1988, was cofounder of Amnesty International, a UN assistant secretary general, and secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists. He was the only person ever to receive the three major peace awards: the Nobel Peace Prize, the Lenin Peace Prize, the American Medal of Justice.)

The McBride Principles consisted of nine guidelines for corporations doing business in Northern Ireland that would promote equal hiring practices and the security and safety of employees.

They do not call for divestment of stock. What has been sought in the Unit, ed States is legislation at the federal, state and local levels that will direct managers of publicly controlled funds to investigate fair hiring practices and use their stock as leverage to influence corporate hiring practices.

Cosponsoring the principles with Sean McBride were three citizens of Northern Ireland, Jobn Robb and Inez McCormack, both Protestants, and Father Brian Brady. McCormack had resigned as a member of the Fair Employment Agency, saying it could "no longer claim to be independent of the government and employers. It has shown that it will retreat under pressure. It has been used by those who have power to effect change as a political excuse for not doing so."

A senior official of the Department of Economic Development, of which the Fair Employment Commission (formerly Agency) is a part, told a Belfast newspaper last year that they had not taken the McBride Principles very seriously at first, but they have "cost millions to try to counteract."

This is a classical example of the public-relations approach to a problem: Let's look the other way and hope it will disappear. Then, if it doesn't, lees deal with the image, not the issue.

How have the millions been spent? As in the case of the Sullivan Principles for South Africa, which the Thatcher government attacked relentlessly because of its alleged concern for the misguided black South Africans who would suffer most from disinvestment, the British government sent "Token Taigs" (the Irish equivalent of "Uncle Toms") to testify at legislative hearings all over the United States that adoption of the McBride Principles would hurt poor Catholics disproportionately.

Most of the Token Taigs were Catholics. One of them was John Cushnahan, former leader of the minuscule Alliance Party in Northern Ireland. According to the Cork Examiner newspaper (March 27, 1989), he had traveled 20 times to the United States to testify at legislative hearings against the McBride Principles, at a fee of $1,800 per visit. Cushnahan's only comment was that the $36,000 he had been paid was "less than the going rate for the job."

Of 36 U.S. companies that employ more than 10 workers in Northern Ireland, 24 have agreed to make all lawful efforts to implement the principles. They include AT&T, DuPont, IBM, Proctor & Gamble and Texaco.

The U.S. company most actively opposed is the Ford Motor Company. Located in an 80 percent Catholic area, it employs very low percentages of Catholics, especially in the higher categories. It is the only company that ever testified against the McBride Principles at a legislative hearing (Chicago, 1987). It is also the only U.S. company ever found guilty by the British government's Fair Employment Agency of religious discrimination.

Reacting to the impact of the McBride Principles, the British government admitted in 1989 that its efforts had failed. The extent of the failure was revealed when the Fair Employment Commission was finally forced to release statistics it had compiled.

All 87 public service organizations had "serious underrepresentation at every level." At least 559 private sector companies and 6 public authorities were found to employ fewer than 10 Catholics. They include two of Northern Ireland's biggest employers: the Harland and Wolff Shipyard, 94.5 percent Protestant; and the RUC, 92.5 percent Protestant.

That the new law was just more window dressing was soon established by a decision of the Fair Employment Tribunal that the statute prohibit disclosure of one's religion during the course of an investigation.

Oxford University's expert on discrimination, Christopher McCrudden, calls it "the law that will not ensure fair play." The London-based human rights organization Liberty (formerly, National Council on Civil Liberties) has reached the same conclusion: "The new codes of practice for the Fair Employment Act (1989) are so vacuous as to be meaningless .... Even the most blatant discriminator is still unlikely to be disqualified from receiving public funds."

The British government itself agrees. According to a leaked document - dated July 1992 and marked "confidential" - prepared by the Northern Ireland Office, "an analysis of the key area of employment suggests that the unemployment differential [between Catholics and Protestants] is unlikely to alter significantly over the next decade, in spite of the strengthened fair employment legislation."

The McBride Principles, it seems, still have a role to play.

Some in USA back McBride, some don't

Of the 14 states that have passed McBride legislation, only Connecticut mandates divestiture of stock. Four others allow divestment, but none of these has exercised the option. The 25 cities and counties that have passed similar legislation include New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Kansas City (Mo.) and Tucson (Ariz.). Institutions that have adopted the Principles include the Ford Foundation Pension Fund, Franklin Research and Development Association, Georgetown University Pension Fund, Harvard University Pension Fund, Radcliffe College Pension Fund, Wellesley College Pension Fund, and Wesleyan University Pension Fund.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Catholic Reporter
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:part 2
Author:MacEoin, Gary
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 29, 1993
Words:2004
Previous Article:Vatican's marked cards can give 'dissenters' a raw deal.
Next Article:Blessed are they who go to Catholic schools: finances force schools to close down.
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters