December 11th 09
Comhghairdeas agus Lá Breithe Shona do Mac Bride Principles
The MacBride Principles--consisting of nine fair employment, affirmative action principles--are a corporate code of conduct for U.S. Companies doing business in the north of Ireland.
The Principles are named after Nobel Laureate Seán Mac Bride, a founding member of Amnesty International and former Chief of Staff of the IRA who launched them in 1984.
Their focus was on tackling the generational structured discrimination in the north and they were based loosely on the Sullivan Principles which were aimed at the Apartheid South African government.
In the USA the MacBride campaign was well fought by Irish America. The Mac Bride Principles were adopted in many States and Cities as law. Eventually in October 1998 the House and Senate passed the MacBride Principles -- as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1999 -- and President Clinton signed them into law.
It was a long hard battle which was resisted at every turn by the British government. Lest we forget they were assisted in this by the Irish government and a range of political parties and others from the north, including the SDLP.
This week in New York, a 25th anniversary celebration of MacBride takes place.
So, Comhghairdeas agus Lá Breithe Shona to the MacBride Principles and to all of those in Irish America who succeeded in winning this important battle.
This Blog once travelled to Norway, Sweden and Denmark to promote the MacBride Principles, and to highlight internationally the political and socio-economic realities of life in the six counties.
A friend of mine collects secret, confidential and restricted British government papers (legally, of course… using the Freedom of Information Act. You can imagine this Blog’s interest when he discovered the British colonial office’s internal papers about that trip.
On April 13, 1987, the then British Secretary of State Tom King saw an article about the trip in the Irish News. That same day, King instructed his civil servants in the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) to find out about it including the identity of the people whom this Blog met; what work was being undertaken “to counteract” this Blog’s lobbying; and – most importantly – asking for a commentary on “the statistical claims” this Blog was making during the course of the visit.
The most significant response to King from his advisors was a begrudging acknowledgement that the statistics being used “are not far off the mark:
(a) It is true that of the 10 Belfast wards with the highest unemployment 9 are predominantly Catholic.
(b) The total unemployed is around 126,000 (Adams only slightly exaggerated). There is no exact figure on the number of unemployed Catholics. Our estimate is about 70,000.
(c) We estimate (again no precise figures) that the overall Protestant unemployment rate is 17% and Catholic 36% - not much different from Adams.
(d) It is true that Catholics are over-represented in semi-skilled and unskilled occupations.
(e) Although Catholics are under-represented in some professions, they do well in others.
5. Since what Adams has said is not too inaccurate, we doubt there is any mileage in challenging it.”
That was twenty-two years ago, and a lot has changed since then.
For example, the MacBride Principles campaign to which Sinn Féin – alone of all the main political parties in Ireland – gave wholehearted support, has been increasingly successful in keeping the issue of socio-economic inequalities and patterns of discrimination in the six counties on the public agenda, particularly in the USA.
MacBride was also the forerunner to the equality elements of the Good Friday Agreement – tougher anti-discrimination laws, and new ground-breaking pro-equality statutory duties.
But despite those advances MacBride was essentially about the need for change and many of our communities – mainly nationalist, but also some unionist working class areas - still await this change.
That’s why the statistics from 1987 beg attention. Of course there has been significant progress for some sectors of society, but the current statistics – which closely mirror those highlighted by this Blog back in 1987 – still tell the tale of a society based on deep structural inequalities:
• nineteen of the top twenty most deprived Council wards are in West Belfast, North Belfast and Derry;
• over 100,000 people remain unemployed or economically inactive – the majority of them Catholic but some Protestant, and almost all working-class; and,
• the religious unemployment differential is once again rising in the economic downturn in 2009, with Catholic unemployment increasing faster.
Had the legal and policy tools that were won in the Good Friday Agreement been implemented positively then more progress would have been made since then. The problem is that there continues to be significant institutionalised resistance to change in the six counties.
The NIO’s 1987 documents show that fighting structural inequalities was never a priority for the British government or the Irish government. Their focus was on ‘counteracting’ any credibility that republicans might gain from highlighting the facts.
Equality is good for all of us. It is also a battle a day.
The adoption of equality measures and their effective implementation will remove the pretext or basis for sectarianism and division, and advance the goal of justice.
That is why the MacBride Principles are still important.