Denying Catholic Need

Posted By: October 30, 2013

Sixteen out of twenty most deprived wards in Belfast are Catholic.Yet Protestant politicians refuse to accept this indisputable fact. Brian Feeney examines this issue.

Brian Feeney. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday,October 30, 2013.  ONE of the funniest but at the same time most instructive items on Radio Ulster recently was ex-Red Hand Commando, now community worker Jim Wilson pontificating at some length about that fashionable term ‘social deprivation’ otherwise known as poverty.
It was funny because he was talking unadulterated nonsense.
Confronted with the fact that 16 of the 20 most deprived wards in Belfast are inhabited mainly by Catholics he replied that he believed the statistics were “done wrong”. Dontcha love it? This is a guy who couldn’t tell a chi-square analysis from a round hole in the ground. It’s only a pity there wasn’t time for the incredulous interviewer to ask him which of the objective criteria he thought were “done wrong” or which objective criteria he would prefer to be considered. That would have had them rolling in the aisles.
It was all reminiscent of Groucho Marx saying, “these are my principles and if you don’t like them… well I have others”. Poor Jim doesn’t like the criteria for multiple deprivation because they produce the wrong result – too few poor Prods. However, he doesn’t have a clue how they might be changed so he proposes abolishing objective criteria altogether and operating on a purely sectarian basis, namely 50-50. For him the advantage of that would be that six wards inhabited mainly by Protestants would receive money they’re not entitled to on the basis of need. The fact that six wards full of Catholics would lose out seems neither here nor there in his calculations. As the always admirable Newton Emerson has pointed out in this paper you can’t do that. Quite properly, legally and in justice there have to be official criteria.
What was instructive about Wilson’s muddled thinking was that he seems to have convinced the DUP that he’s right and that instead of allocating resources on the basis of need they should go disproportionately to loyalist districts because of a myth created of widespread poverty there. The objective criteria displayed by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and every other agency either the NIO or Stormont departments have employed,  produce the inconvenient truth that most impoverished districts are full of Catholics. Nevertheless the DUP refuses to accept that money should be allocated on the basis of need simply because they haven’t the guts or integrity to admit to their constituents that more Catholics are worse off. This DUP attitude is cause for concern because DUP ministers, notably Nelson McCausland, have been busily tasking their departments to devise new criteria which will justify allocating resources for housing and district regeneration. In McCausland’s case the money seems unable to resist the powerful gravitational pull of his north Belfast constituency, apparently approaching the political equivalent of the mass of the planet Jupiter.
Just ask yourself. What are the objective criteria which justified establishing a so-called pilot scheme for regeneration of housing in the north in six areas, five of which are in Belfast and two in, guess where, his north Belfast constituency? The criteria are in ‘Facing the Future – Housing Strategy for Northern Ireland’. They include areas which “have good potential for recovery with available land or properties that can be refurbished”. Would that be code for derelict properties and vacant ground in north Belfast perhaps? Areas unionist voters have left for greener pastures, or maybe for ‘bluer skies’ would be a more appropriate metaphor?
Of course McCausland thoughtfully included Albert Street and part of Andersonstown in his designated areas so Sinn Fein can’t complain without depriving important areas of their own support of regeneration money. It’s just unfortunate that Sinn Fein doesn’t insist on a universal set of criteria for such matters the way John O’Dowd has established free school meals as the basis for funding schools. The howls of incoherent protest, including from people who should know better, all boil down to objecting that money should follow need. The saddest role in that saga was the General Teachers Council (GTC) up at Stormont lending support to DUP crazies criticising O’Dowd’s plan but, like Wilson, failing to present any alternative criteria. Maybe O’Dowd should save a couple of million pounds by abolishing the completely superfluous GTC? They did in England. No-one noticed.