Monitoring Equality - Reflexive Regulation, Planning Systems, and the Role of Equality Law: Lessons from Northern Ireland

The Equal Rights Review, Vol. 14, 2015, pp. 119-247

Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper No. 16-01

30 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2015

See all articles by Tim Cunningham

Tim Cunningham

Ulster University at Jordanstown, Transitional Justice Institute, Students

Date Written: March 15, 2015


This article considers the impact of two different regulatory techniques within Northern Ireland established to promote equality of opportunity and eradicate unfair religious discrimination between members of the Catholic and Protestant communities. The first of these is the employment equality framework which, from the early 1990s, relied upon reflexive regulation augmented by an individual rights approach. Empirical research has shown that this framework successfully 'steered' labour market practices within Northern Ireland over several decades in a direction that produced a measurable and positive impact in terms of reducing labour market inequalities. The other equality framework which this article considers is that which relates to the area of public housing where a de jure commitment to eradicating discriminatory practices based on a framework of direct state intervention which began in the early 1970s was undermined in practice by another covert agenda within government which had security and counter-insurgency as its primary objective. This article will show that this covert agenda in effect undermined equality objectives by 'steering' the planning and provision of public housing in a direction that was predicated on segregating the two communities and which directly and indirectly discriminated against the growing minority Catholic community which experienced disproportionate levels of housing need. The central thesis of this article is that a key factor in ensuring the success of the employment equality framework in Northern Ireland was the existence of robust workforce monitoring data that enabled independent empirical analysis to be carried out in order to determine the extent to which equality outcomes and objectives were being realised and where problems continued to exist, allowed for remedial measures to be put in place. At the same time, the lack of publicly available housing data circumscribed efforts to identify and challenge policies and practices that were both directly and indirectly discriminatory. Moreover, in some instances, concerns about ongoing housing inequalities were dismissed either as unfounded, or explained as the natural outcome of a greater level of cohesion or solidarity within the minority Catholic community and a greater tendency among members of that community to 'self-segregate'. It is clear from the evidence considered here that if the framework provided within the Good Friday/Belfast peace agreement of 1998 to address inequalities in the areas of housing and planning are to have any hope of success then it is imperative that data pertaining to housing inequalities is not only collated, but also published and made widely available, so that this information becomes in effect as much a part of the wider social and political landscape within Northern Ireland as workforce monitoring data. This article concludes by arguing that these lessons regarding the necessity for robust equality monitoring data are applicable beyond Northern Ireland, especially where reflexive regulatory techniques are adopted. It also clear that the experience from Northern Ireland highlights more generally the ways in which urban planning practices, particularly those which are designed to address a perceived threat to the security of the state can serve to discriminate, both directly and indirectly, against minority communities. In turn, this points to the need for a greater level of understanding and cooperation between equality law theorists and practitioners and their counterparts within the field of urban planning.

Keywords: Defensive Planning, Reflexive Regulation, Equality Monitoring, Housing Inequality, Religious Discrimination

Suggested Citation

Cunningham, Tim, Monitoring Equality - Reflexive Regulation, Planning Systems, and the Role of Equality Law: Lessons from Northern Ireland (March 15, 2015). The Equal Rights Review, Vol. 14, 2015, pp. 119-247, Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper No. 16-01, Available at SSRN:

Tim Cunningham (Contact Author)

Ulster University at Jordanstown, Transitional Justice Institute, Students ( email )

United Kingdom

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