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State papers: Fair employment 'crucial' in Northern Ireland

The secretary of state said the 1989 Fair Employment Act was "crucial to the success of all our NI policies"
Éamon Phoenix

NORTHERN Ireland secretary Peter Brooke said implementing the 1989 Fair Employment Act was "crucial to the success of all our NI policies", declassified files show.

In December 1989 he wrote to his predecessor Tom King, then secretary of state for defence, reminding him that he and cabinet colleagues had a responsibility in their departments to implement the new act.

Brooke stressed that the new act required all employers to register with the Fair Employment Commission, monitor the religious composition of their workforces and regulate their recruitment, training and promotion practices.

He added: "As you know, the successful implementation of this tough and radical piece of legislation may be crucial to the success of all our NI policies .. in relation to perceptions abroad, especially in the United States."

The new legislation followed the British government's failure over several years to address the campaign for the MacBride Principles on fair employment, promoted by Irish-American groups in the US.

The Northern Ireland secretary added: "We have rightly given a very high political priority to this legislation. As Douglas Hurd [former Northern Ireland secretary] and you have said, it is unacceptable in a civilised society that Catholic males should be more than twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants in NI and it is understandable that that should be a source of grievance to the minority community.

"Even if we are not able in the event to improve the statistics very quickly, we can demonstrate our commitment to equality of opportunity for all by determined implementation of the new Act."

The principles were named after Nobel Peace Prize recipient Seán MacBride

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