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The role of the Northern Ireland Government in promoting equality

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

The Good Friday Agreement was signed on 10 April 1998 and ratified in a referendum in May 1998. It brought an end to a period of conflict in Northern Ireland known as 'The Troubles' and it was an agreement that took place after a series of multi-party talks. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement ensured a new future for Northern Ireland and a commitment to promoting equality in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Assembly promotes equality through:

Power Sharing

The elected Members of the Legislative (MLA's) must register themselves as nationalist, unionist or other. Political parties have to share power. There needs to be cross-party support on major decisions. This avoids domination by one party. It also means that the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister must be represented by a unionist and a nationalist, with equal powers. The electoral system used for parties to gain seats must be proportional representation to prevent the domination of one party.

This promotes equality as all views are involved in discussions and decisions made are shared between unionist and nationalist politicians.

The Principle of Consent

This acknowledges the different aspirations that exist between unionists and nationalists. It promotes the right of self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland by allowing the people to decide by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to whether they prefer to continue to remain part of the Union with Great Britain or become a sovereign United Ireland.

This promotes equality as the people of Northern Ireland can now chose whether Northern Ireland should remain in the UK or become part of a united Ireland, there would be no change without the consent of the majority.

Dual nationality

This recognises the right of people born in Northern Ireland to identify themselves as Irish or British or both and so to hold both British and/or Irish citizenship.

This promotes equality as the people of Northern Ireland can now chose to be Irish or British (or both) and this choice is accepted by both the British and Irish Governments.

Pledge of Office

This is a set of promises that ministers commit to fulfilling when in office. They must carry out their duties in good faith, committed to non-violence, abide by the code of conduct, to work for the good of all their constituents and not takes sides. Ministers also commit to supporting the decisions of the Executive Committee and the Assembly.

This promotes inclusion as politicians have to commit to working for the interests of all the people that they represent.

Ministerial code of conduct

This ensures that ministers promote good public relations and equality of treatment, not use information for personal gain or private interests, to declare personal or business interests with may conflict with their responsibilities.

This promotes equality as people should trust that politicians work in an open and transparent and accountable manner.

Democratic Institutions were set up

Independent bodies such as the NIHRC, Police Ombudsman, Equality Commission were set up to promote and safeguard human rights, justice and equality.

This promotes equality as all people in Northern Ireland should be treated equally and fairly and have institutions to go to for advice if there ever was discrimination.

Recognition of linguistic diversity

This promotes respect, tolerance and understanding among people who speak Irish and Ulster Scots languages. This means that action must be taken to promote these languages.

This promotes equality as the Irish language and Ulster Scots language is allowed to be accepted, promoted and developed through education, TV programmes and community groups.

Equality Laws and the Promotion of Section 75

This was introduced to protect people from discrimination. It promotes equality by ensuring that people from vulnerable groups cannot be marginalised and face exclusion just because of their race, religion, background and/or political beliefs.

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