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++++BREAKING NEWS++++ Equality Schemes in Northern Ireland not as equal as they are supposed to be???

Read on and be prepared to be absolutely gobsmacked. This is breaking news, NEVER published anywhere else to my knowledge. How often can a blogger say that?

Family Court Support are assisting a man, who following an altercation between himself and his partner in the summer a number of children were put on the Child Protection Register. The father tells me that he was unaware of the case conference being convened, but as I wasn’t involved then I cannot confirm that. The father wasn’t in attendance at the Case Conference and the children were registered under the categories of Confirmed Emotional Abuse and Confirmed Physical Abuse. You will understand that I can’t tell you much more lest the children be identified. The categorisations are strange given the issues of Domestic Violence being contested vigorously by the father who sustained injuries following the altercation. The family court has made no findings thus far on anything approaching Emotional Abuse.  In my view the more appropriate category would have been ‘SUSPECTED’ for both. The Trust in this instant case is the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust but the strategic issue goes far beyond them.

In the Case Conference in this case Women’s Aid are directly involved in the matter, not as supporters of the mother, but as members of the Core Group. You might want to read here to see how the Child Protection Register works.

No corresponding group who support male victims of DV have been invited or are involved. The equivalent to Women’s Aid for men in Northern Ireland are the Men’s Advisory Project . I have spoken with Maxine McCutcheon of MAP and she confirms that MAP have not been asked to involved in any case conferences – ever, despite being members of the Regional Steering group on Domestic Violence.

MAP would probably need additional resources to provide that service, and as Women’s Aid wish to see the elimination of DV then they should be more than willing to help out?  However I note from MAP’s annual report for 2008 that Women’s Aid gave MAP the princessly sum of £146 in 2007, and nada in 2008. It’s not like Women’s Aid don’t have it? Or maybe the state should be giving MAP more money to support male victims of Domestic Violence in Northern Ireland?

Now what makes this an in anyway important case to the public generally, is that the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust have an Equality Scheme that gives them a statutory duty to promote equality between amongst other groups, men and women generally! Their scheme is here

Pay particular attention to Appendix A which is the list of who was consulted. It is replete with groups who work with women, but the main groups who work with men have not been consulted despite there being a directory of such groups at the Men’s Project of the Parents Advice Centre , and it also being public knowledge that there was an umbrella group for male groups in Northern Ireland called the Malelink since around March 1999

Michael McGimpsey, the Minister for Health Social Services and Public Safety in the Northern Ireland Executive is aware of the equality scheme issue and the Trust’s Equality and Human Rights unit are also aware  having been briefed by me by email on Friday 13th. Haven’t heard back from them on this one yet but it was a Friday…

My take on this is that a lot of these Equality Schemes are flawed as they have not consulted with groups that work with men, and this instance with this man is but one outworking of the lack of consultation. See how many more potentially voidable schemes you can find… but make sure you download them quick before they are taken down to save embarrassment for some unknown technical reason. If you want to see another example of an Equality Scheme that didn’t consult groups that work with men then have a look at the Northern Ireland Court Service Equality Scheme (at Annex C).

If there was no consultation of Men’s Groups when the Northern Ireland Court Service draft equality scheme was being drawn surely up it would go some way to explaining the fact anecdotal evidence that dads don’t get a fair crack of the whip in Residence and Contact hearings In Northern Ireland?

In the Court Services defence, they did tell the Equality Commission on the 17th April 2009 that  ‘the Northern Ireland Court Service is happy to amend the Consultation List in its Equality Scheme to include representative men’s groups among the consultees‘. Bit of admission that you weren’t happy to consult before?

Another burning question is how did the Equality Commission pass all these schemes from ‘Draft’ into ‘Approved’ given the glaringly obvious lack of consultation with Men’s Groups? What if no consultation had been done with groups that represent disabled people, ethnic minorities or gay, lesbian and transgendered groups? I doubt whether the schemes would have ever passed muster if that had’ve happened.

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