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Research: Martin Melaugh
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Devolved Government in Northern Ireland
Secretary Assembly Executive Departments Committees North- South British- Irish Conference Civic Forum

Programme for Government


Draft Programme for Government - An Equality Impact Assessment




Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act requires public authorities, in carrying out their functions relating to Northern Ireland, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity:-

  • between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation;
  • between men and women generally;
  • between persons with disability and persons without; and
  • between persons with dependents and persons without.


In addition, without prejudice to the above obligation, public authorities should also, in carrying out their functions relating to Northern Ireland, have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.


Schedule 9 of the Act requires public authorities to prepare equality schemes, which should state, inter alia, arrangements for assessing the likely impact of policies adopted or proposed to be adopted by the authority on the promotion of equality of opportunity. Schedule 9 also requires that a public authority, in publishing the results of an assessment, should give details of any consideration given to measures which might mitigate the adverse impact of that policy on the promotion of equality of opportunity and alternative policies which might better achieve the promotion of equality of opportunity.


In the Equality Scheme for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), submitted to the Equality Commission in July 2000, there was a recognition that the Programme for Government was not a conventional policy or programme to which the standard approach to an Equality Impact Assessment, as laid down by the Equality Commission, could be applied. As indicated in the OFMDFM Equality Scheme, the Equality Commission has been consulted on how best to assess the Programme for Government.


The Programme for Government identifies the vision and priorities of the Executive Committee and also sets out key policies, programmes, actions and targets associated with each priority. In terms of its vision the Programme for Government is very much equality oriented:-

Our vision - as set out in the Agreement - is of a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society, firmly founded on the "achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and the protection and vindication of the human rights of all". It is a vision also based on "partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South and between these islands"


The three themes - cohesion, inclusion and justice - are regarded in the Programme as relevant to the implementation of all policies and programmes. The New Targeting Social Need policy has also been adopted as a strategic approach to tackling social disadvantage by the devolved administration. This approach has been integrated into the Programme for Government.


Equality is also reflected in its priorities. The priority 'Growing as a Community' includes as a specific area for action the promotion of equality and human rights. It also includes actions on tackling poverty and social disadvantage and the regeneration of disadvantaged neighbourhoods which are likely to complement and reinforce actions directly aimed at promoting equality of opportunity as defined by Section 75. The priority 'Working for a healthier people' aims to tackle the underlying causes of ill-health including social and economic disadvantage. The remaining two priorities, "Investing in Education and Skills" and "Securing a Competitive Economy" can facilitate and underpin equality objectives. Education and training are often regarded as a means of ensuring greater equality of opportunity while a strong competitive economy can provide the growth in employment and incomes which allows equality objectives to be achieved more easily.


While it is possible to identify individual actions in the Programme for Government which directly promote equality objectives, it is not possible to carry out a detailed equality impact assessment on the overall, combined impact of the actions contained within the Programme for Government. These actions form part of Departmental policies which, when they have a significant impact on equality of opportunity, will be subject to equality impact assessment by individual departments as set out in their Equality Schemes.


Over time as this information becomes available it may be feasible to carry out more comprehensive equality impact assessments on future Programmes for Government, especially where the revisions seek a comparatively marginal shift in expenditure. The appropriate methodology to do this will need to be developed.




Consultation is a key element of any Equality Impact Assessment; it has been an integral part of the development of the Programme for Government. Prior to the publication and presentation to the Assembly of the first draft of the Programme for Government over 50 organisations were invited to make submissions on the key priorities and likely content of such a document.


This was followed up by a Stakeholders' conference on 2 October for the social partners including the community and voluntary sectors and a wide range of public services to further discuss their views. When making nominations each sector was asked to take account of the need to achieve balance of attendance which broadly reflected the composition of the community in terms of age, gender, community background and geographical distribution. Following the publication of the draft Programme and Budget documents a further consultation exercise, of which this draft is a central part, is planned. The draft Programme for Government is available on the internet and in a range of formats to maximise the opportunity for further consultation before it is finalised.


The review of the Programme will be an annual process. The timing of the production of this, the first draft Programme has proved difficult due to suspension, and because there was no existing template of a Programme on which to seek comment. The Economic Policy Unit will be examining how consultation can be built into the development of the Programme in 2001-02.


The following section gives an analysis of the equality impact of the different priority areas for action.



This Priority directly addresses issues of equality of opportunity through actions by OFMDFM and other departments.


Effective Promotion of Equality and Human Rights

This underscores the fact that all parts of the devolved administration will be subject to Section 75 statutory obligations on equality of opportunity and to the provisions of the Human Rights Act. Equality considerations must be mainstreamed into the full range of their policies. In addition, it includes specific actions by OFMDFM and other departments which should enhance the equality of opportunity of specific Section 75 groups:

  • strategic frameworks for tackling gender and race inequality;
  • support for ethnic minority groups and projects;
  • training and employment support for people with disabilities;
  • access to cultural and leisure facilities for people with disabilities.

A proposed Single Equality Bill potentially could benefit a broad range of categories, taking into account developments in European Union law, as well as existing anti-discrimination law in Northern Ireland.

Other actions could also benefit a range of categories:

  • Senior Civil Service review;
  • provision of Health and Personal Social Services; and
  • strengthening of Fair Employment and Industrial Tribunal system.


Needs of Victims

Victims of the conflict are overwhelmingly male. However, many women are represented among the relatives of victims and those responsible for the care of severely injured victims. Many victims have disabilities and may require services specific to their disability.


Combating Social Exclusion and Poverty, with a Particular Emphasis on Children

This will operate in the context of the New TSN policy to which the devolved administration is committed. As social disadvantage is unevenly distributed through the population (eg people with disabilities and elderly people are more likely to be deprived) implementation of this policy may indirectly advantage certain groups within the Section 75 categories. This is fully justified by the primary objective of the policy, ie reducing incidence of social disadvantage.

Those actions which target child poverty are directly discriminatory on the basis of age. This is, again, justifiable in terms of the social policy objective and the specific needs of children. Similar justification can be made for travel concessions for the elderly. Specific provision for Travellers' accommodation and education is justified by the special needs of that ethnic minority group.

Actions dealing with the integration of welfare and employment services, and employability will have a beneficial impact on the unemployed. In carrying forward the work on employability, account should be taken of the fact that some definitions of "unemployed" under-represent the numbers of women who are available and willing to work.


Social Housing

These actions concern the provision of social housing by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Housing Associations. The provision of social housing is assessed by objective need on an individual/family basis. Within that general policy, particular provision for the elderly, people with disabilities and special groups (eg Travellers) is made.

Within the proposed actions, adaptations to buildings will clearly enhance equality of opportunity for people with disabilities. Other actions may involve prioritisation on an area basis. It would be necessary to ensure there is equitable treatment for areas with predominantly Protestant and Catholic populations, within the context of prioritisation by need.


Regeneration of Towns, Cities and Rural areas, particularly the most Disadvantaged

Most of the actions in this section target area disadvantage. This can be done using objective criteria of need. As with housing provision, it will be necessary to ensure that predominantly Protestant and predominantly Catholic neighbourhoods receive equitable treatment, within the context of targeting on the most needy neighbourhoods.

There is evidence that community development in Protestant areas is less developed than in Catholic areas. In the past, this is led to claims that Protestant areas are less able to avail of neighbourhood renewal programmes. Active outreach measures to disadvantaged working-class Protestant areas may help to ensure that this pattern is not repeated.

Community renewal projects also offer opportunities for enhancing the equality of opportunity of women. This will be particularly relevant in the Rural Development Programme and LEADER + to ensure that women play a full role in rural community regeneration


Sustaining and Enhancing Local Communities

This includes both actions to enhance local community infrastructure and to provide cultural and leisure facilities at local level.

There are imbalances in the extent and strength of voluntary sector activity within the two main religio-political communities. Traditionally, working-class Protestant communities have been slower to organise effectively at community level and to participate in community development programmes. This pattern can be countered by active outreach measures. One of the actions proposed involves work on housing issues to help strengthen areas of weakest community infrastructure.

Actions for developing arts, culture and leisure provision at community level should also aim for equitable uptake by Protestants and Catholics. In addition, the need to ensure participation in these activities by women, people with disabilities, children, old people and members of ethnic minorities should be taken into account at the implementation stage. The development of the role of libraries as Community Information Hubs will improve overall access to information and knowledge.

One action involves a pilot capital fund to improve physical infrastructure of sporting facilities. Sport in Northern Ireland predominantly caters for men and, in some cases, particular sports and teams are associated with one or other of the main religio-political communities. In the implementation of the fund, particular care will need to be taken to ensure that there is no indirect discrimination in terms of gender or religion. The needs of people with disabilities, both as spectators and participants in sport, should also be taken into account.


Improving Community Relations

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act includes, not only obligations on equality of opportunity, but also a requirement to have regard to the desirability of improving relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group. This section directly addresses community relations issues. It does so against the background of a long standing Government community relations programme and the changing social and political context brought about by the Belfast Agreement and devolution. Among the actions is the review and development of an inter-departmental strategy for community relations. This review will need to take into account the implications of the community relations programme for all of the Section 75 categories, not only Protestants and Catholics. The actions on integrated education and citizenship in the school curriculum impact directly on children and young people. This is fully justifiable, given the specific remit of the education service.


Respecting and Celebrating Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

This is also related to the promotion of good relations between people of different religion and racial group. Several of the actions relate to provision for minority languages in the context of the Council of Europe Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. This Charter relates to indigenous minority languages (Irish and Ulster Scots). The Charter does not extend to the languages of ethnic minority communities. The linguistic needs of these communities will need to be taken into account, as well as those of Irish and Ulster Scots users.

Irish and Ulster Scots are closely associated with the Catholic community and the Protestant community respectively, though their promoters would deny that either is exclusive to those communities. It will be necessary to ensure equitable treatment between the two languages, taking account of different patterns of usage and levels of development.

The action on Diversity 21 will take account of the broad range of cultural heritage in Northern Ireland, including the traditions of the ethnic minority communities. It should also seek to ensure full participation by women, people of all ages and people with disabilities in cultural and leisure activities.

One of the actions relate to Irish medium education. Pupils and teachers in the Irish medium sector will be overwhelmingly of Catholic and Nationalist community background. To the extent that these actions are designed to provide pupils and teachers with facilities of a similar level to other sectors, this should not constitute indirect discrimination.



This Priority will potentially affect everyone in society and it provides opportunities to promote equality of opportunity in terms of all Section 75 categories. All individuals make direct use of organised health facilities at some point in their lives. Indirectly, the economy and society as a whole benefits from improvements in general levels of health. Reductions in the rate of accidents of all kinds make a positive impact on productivity.

However, some of the specific actions within this Priority have particular implications for certain of the Section 75 categories: men and women; people of different ages; people with dependants; people with disabilities.

In the following commentary on this Priority, special attention will be paid to those groups which have particular health needs - people with disabilities; women; children and young people under 18; people over 65.


Reduction of Preventable Disease, Ill-Health and Health Inequalities

This explicitly aims to reduce health inequalities and improve social wellbeing. Within the context of Section 75, several of the Actions are likely to have differential impacts on particular groups.

Children and young people - Reduction of teenage pregnancy and parenthood; primary immunisations; drugs strategy; increased participation in sport; road safety; reduction in proportion of the population who smoke.

Women - Reduction in teenage pregnancy and parenthood; increased participation in sport; reduction in proportion of the population who smoke.

People with disabilities - Increased participation in sport.


Ensuring that the Environment Supports Health Living

These Actions and Targets are of benefit to everyone in society and there is no evidence of differential impact or discrimination in terms of any Section 75 category.


Modernisation of Hospital and Primary Care Services

These Actions and Targets will potentially improve access to hospital care for all. Additional provision to meet winter pressures will directly benefit the medically vulnerable, including children and old people. Specialist provision for cancer treatment may have differential gender and age impacts.

Location of hospital facilities and access to ambulance services are often issues which give rise to concern at local level.

These Actions will directly benefit people with disabilities, elderly people and people with responsibility for dependants. Improved accessibility to cultural and leisure facilities will directly benefit people with disabilities. DHSSPS has undertaken to improve the quantitative and qualitative information it collects to ensure more effective monitoring of the implications of these actions for the Section 75 categories.


Enabling those suffering from chronic and mental illness, disability or terminal illness to live normal lives and contribute to society

These Actions and Targets will particularly benefit older people, people with disabilities and their dependants.


Health and Social Development of Children

These Actions and Targets will directly benefit children and young people. Legislation on the Pre-employment Consultancy Service register will not only have a direct benefit for vulnerable children, but also adults with learning disabilities.

In summary, many of the actions envisaged under this Priority directly target people with disabilities, women, children, and old people. This is fully justified by the particular health needs of these sectors of society. The Priority should make a genuine contribution to reducing inequalities. However, these actions also have the potential to improve equality of opportunity for other Section 75 categories and it is important therefore to ensure ongoing monitoring of the impact of the actions for all categories. Potential unjustified differential impacts may only emerge during the implementation phase, eg in terms of gender and age for acute hospital and cancer provision, in terms of religion/political opinion for the location of hospital and ambulance services.



This Priority will impact not only on children and young people, but also on adults in employment or seeking employment. This Priority may have particular implications for the following Section 75 categories: men and women; people of different ages; people with dependants; people with disabilities; people of different religion or political opinion; people of different racial group.

Aspects of this Priority relate to tackling long term unemployment. Higher percentages of Catholics than Protestants in the labour force (particularly males) experience long term unemployment. Measures to address the problems of the long term unemployed are thus likely to impact differentially in favour of Catholics. However, this would not constitute indirect discrimination, as these measures would be aimed at dealing with genuine social need, provided that objective criteria were used to determine eligibility.


High Quality Education with Equal Access for All

These Actions and Targets are related to the school system and hence impact exclusively on children and young people under 18. To the extent that actions will ultimately be targeted on individual schools, their implementation will need to be monitored to ensure that there is no differential impact in terms of gender or religion, and that New TSN principles are taken into account.

The action aimed at countering bullying and disruptive behaviour will directly benefit the vast majority of children. However, it will be important to ensure that any arrangements for excluding disruptive pupils do not deny them opportunities for their own education. Bullying may often involve sectarian, racist, sexist and homophobic aspects. Pupils with disabilities may be particular targets for bullying.


Skills and Qualifications for Young People

These Actions and Targets relate to the Further and Higher Education sector. As with schools, they impact primarily on people within a particular age band (16 - 25). This is inevitable, given the nature of the service provided. However, obstacles to mature students accessing the services should be minimised.

DHFETE will monitor these actions in terms of gender, religio-political community background, race and disability.


Lifelong Learning Opportunities

The uptake of these actions should also be monitored in line with the criteria above. In addition, as they are aimed at people throughout their working lives, there is a need to ensure that older people are able to avail fully of the opportunities.

In some cases, active outreach measures could encourage uptake by older people, women, people with disabilities and minorities.


Socially Excluded Entering or Returning to the Workforce

These actions have considerable potential for enhancing equality of opportunity. They directly target people in greatest social need. Given the community distribution of unemployment, some of these actions may have differential impact in favour of Catholics and Nationalists. This is justified by the clear social objective of reducing long term unemployment.

It would be important that, in assessing eligibility for these programmes, there is no indirectly discriminatory effect on women. Monitoring of uptake by community background, gender, race and disability would be advisable.



This Priority seeks to create conditions for economic growth which should ultimately benefit all in society. However, economic development may not initially benefit all equally. Governmental tax and benefits policies (which are largely outside the control of the devolved administration) help to ensure that those who prosper from economic growth contribute to the general welfare and that a safety net protects those in greatest need. However, without sustained economic growth, there can be no increase in employment which is the most effective enhancement to equality of opportunity for the individual.


Transport and communications infrastructure

This section aims to enhance communications infrastructure, some of which lies in the public sector (public transport, roads) with other important elements in the private sector (telecommunications).

The improvement of public transport directly enhances the equality of opportunity of those groups which are most likely to use it: women, children, old people, people with disabilities. All of these groups are statistically less likely to have access to cars. Within the public transport policy area, DRD and the relevant agencies will need to carry out further impact assessments on specific policies flowing from the Programme for Government, including charging and ticketing arrangements, location of routes, times of services etc, all of which have potential implications for women, children, old people and people with disabilities. In addition, the location of services and routes has potential differential impact for the major religio-political communities. Future monitoring of the uptake of services could confirm that they are being accessed equitably.

Creating a world-class telecommunications infrastructure has wide potential benefits for the economy and society as a whole. However, the risk of a "digital divide" between those who have access to, and expertise in, information technology and those who do not, has been identified. Appropriate initiatives in the education and training fields should contribute to wider accessibility of information technology, ensuring that the benefits of this infrastructure benefit as wide a spectrum of society as possible.


Energy Infrastructure

A more efficient energy infrastructure should help to reduce cost for all consumers. The development of a gas network outside Belfast would bring benefits of competition and lower prices to consumers and industries in the areas served. As specific geographic areas would benefit from such extensions, it will be important that the relevant agencies assess the implications for equality of opportunity between the main religio-political communities arising from future decisions.


Co-ordinated and Efficient Planning Process

Improvements to the speed and efficiency of the planning process would benefit everyone and should have no differential impact in terms of the Section 75 categories. As the programme of the adoption of area development plans will be focused on specific localities, it is anticipated that areas with a largely Protestant population and those with a largely Catholic population will be equitably represented in the programme, though the primary criterion for programming area plans is development land need.


Promoting Enterprise, Innovation and Creativity

This aims to encourage growth in new areas of the economy, such as information technology and creative industries. Often the motors for growth in this sector are innovative small and medium enterprises. It will be important to ensure that the New Economy SME's do not replicate the traditional patterns of participation in the Northern Ireland small/medium business sector, where women and Catholics have tended to be under-represented. Members of ethnic minorities have, however, played a role in small and medium enterprises and they should also be encouraged in the new sectors.

One of the actions envisages working with the community and voluntary sector to support projects contributing to the development of the social economy. This potentially could help in the economic integration of marginalised communities and individuals, including the long term unemployed. However, community organisation in working-class Protestant areas has traditionally been less developed than in Catholic areas. Active outreach will be necessary to ensure that both communities avail of the opportunities of the social economy.


Making Northern Ireland More Attractive for Inward Investment

Attracting international mobile industrial development remains a key element in creating employment opportunities. This section sets out a number of actions to create the conditions which would make Northern Ireland more attractive as an inward investment location. Incentives can be applied within the context of the New TSN Policy to increase the attractions of socially disadvantaged areas for such investors. There is, however, no power to direct investors to specific locations. There is scope for monitoring job creation patterns of inward investing companies to ensure that men and women, and the main religio-political communities, are achieving equality of opportunity in accessing new employment.


Increasing Attractiveness to Visitors

Tourism has the potential to create new employment opportunities. Though the private sector will inevitably create the bulk of these jobs, the devolved administration can contribute to maximising the regions tourist potential through promotional activities and developing Northern Ireland's natural and cultural assets. There is no evidence that the proposed actions are likely to have any differential impact in terms of the Section 75 categories.


Business and Consumer Services

Greater awareness of consumer services and rights should enhance equality of opportunity generally. The campaign to reduce the burden and cost of occupational accidents should impact on the incidence of preventable disability.


Regenerating the Rural Economy

This seeks to modernise and diversify local farming and fisheries.

Particular agricultural and fishery sectors in Northern Ireland may have a disproportionate representation from the Protestant or Catholic communities. This is explicable by geographic factors.

Women living in disadvantaged rural areas have lower rates of economic activity than the Northern Ireland average for women, reflecting more limited access to child care, fewer job opportunities and difficulties in accessing training courses.

It will be important to ensure that education and training needs are assessed, not solely on the basis of those currently working in agriculture, but also of women in rural localities.


Protection and Enhancement of the Environment

A high quality environment and a modern water and sewerage network will be of benefit to everyone, particularly children, old people and people with disabilities who are most likely to be medically vulnerable.

The location of actions will, to a large extent, be determined by geographic and biological factors.



The proposals contained in the Developing North/South, East/West and International Relations section of the Programme for Government aim to develop effective links with Europe and North America as well as the development of the structures - North/South and East/West - established under the Belfast Agreement. Many of the actions contained in this section will be implemented under the four key priorities outlined in the Programme and will be covered by the relevant sections of this Assessment.




The proposals contained in the Working Together section of the Programme for Government will ensure that government is more accessible to the public. There will be improved availability of information about government and wider consultation on the development of policies. The proposals aimed at improving the efficiency of public services put increased emphasis on policy review and on monitoring outcomes.


This increasing emphasis on openness, consultation, policy analysis and the monitoring of outcomes should facilitate the ongoing programme of equality impact assessments and the development of policies which promote equality of opportunity.


Care however will be needed, when developing policies aimed at modernising government, that particular groups in society are not disadvantaged. Policies on e-government will be required to ensure that the very real issue of the differential access to information technology is addressed and the potential social exclusion problems are avoided. Similarly new approaches to financing our public services, particularly those which involve direct charges on the public, will require careful consideration of the impact on different groups in society.


The administration will be conscious of its responsibilities, as an employer, in ensuring equality of opportunity in the Civil Service. Data will be published regularly on employment patterns within the Civil Service and under-representation will be addressed. The equality dimension will be taken fully into account in examining the scope for decentralisation of Civil Service jobs.

Contents     Preface     Consultation
Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3     Chapter 4     Chapter 5     Chapter 6     Chapter 7
Annex A     Annex B     Annex C


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