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Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976

Volume 957: debated on Thursday 9 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the operation of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976.

Yes, Sir. I shall not however be completely satisfied until the objectives of the Act are fully realised.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but how can he give it confidently? In answer to 48 Questions tabled by me about the operation of the Act as it applied to municipalities, Government Departments and the Armed Services, including the Royal Ulster Constabulary, only the Ulster Defence Regiment was able to say that, of its total recruitment last year, 3 per cent. were Catholics. The Department made clear that all the others either kept no records or, for other reasons, did not know. Therefore, how can the Minister have any idea whether the Act is effective or ineffective?

We certainly have an idea of its effectiveness. If my hon. Friend found out that I was keeping records of who was Catholic and who was Protestant, I think that he would be the first to complain. That is not the way I act in Northern Ireland and I certainly do not intend to do so.

I am very pleased at the response to this legislation and by the signatures to the declaration of intent which over 80 per cent. have signed. Within a month of my decreasing the qualification as to the minimum number employed from 25 to 10, 35 per cent. of those eligible signed the declaration.

Does not the Minister agree that this fair employment agency cannot act except when there is a breakdown on figures? Surely if people sign this agreement they are under an obligation to be able to supply figures.

Those concerned are under certain obligations, but these will take time to percolate through the system. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that in certain factories and establishments over a period of years the only people employed come from a certain area. One can be 90 per cent. sure of people's denomination just by knowing where they live in Northern Ireland.