No sooner had the new 1989 Fair Employment Act, compelling employers in Northern Ireland to ensure equal opportunity for all, been passed into law than the British government was faced with a damning report on employment practices at Queen's University Belfast.
The report by the Fair Employment Agency was the subject of a letter from R J Minnis of the Stormont Department of Economic Development to British minister Richard Needham on December 22nd, 1989.
The letter, which is included in official papers released in Belfast today, pointed out that Catholics comprised 50.5 per cent of the Queen’s student population in the late 1980s, compared with only 19 per cent in the 1950s.
The agency’s report on the university, which employed 3,000 staff, showed 79 per cent of the Northern Ireland-born employees were Protestant and 21 per cent Catholic.
Catholics comprised 14 per cent of staff in the faculties of economic and social science, and 20 per cent in medicine, engineering and science. Among technical staff, the breakdown was 79 per cent Protestant and 21 per cent Catholic. Catholics comprised 19 per cent of clerical staff, 3 per cent of maintenance staff and 11 per cent of administrative staff.
The agency investigation reviewed the university's recruitment and selection procedures and highlighted its policy of using only the Belfast Telegraph to advertise vacancies and of filling clerical appointments by direct approaches to schools rather than by public competition.
Mr Minnis warned Mr Needham: “Critics have quickly seized on these statistical results as evidence of substantial discrimination against Catholics at all levels and are little impressed by the corrective measures taken [by Queen’s] over the last three years.”
He said this had been well illustrated in an Irish News editorial of December 20nd, 1989, headed: "A Sad Tale of Bigotry."